Lessons I’ve Learned: Business Edition
I knew something was wrong when I was excited, neigh elated to have coffee to talk about a leads and referrals group in Vancouver, Washington. You see, I’m a busy business owner that’s in business all day, every day. Doing business, talking business, selling services….
All business and no play these days. It’s crowding out my life and I couldn’t be happier. I used to write short stories. I used to hike at noon on a Wednesday. I still do sometimes but now I’m busy. In the feast or famine cycle of business, I am gorging at the buffet table of digital marketing. Much of what I do, managing social media for clients, meeting with said clients and marketing don’t really feel like working. I gleefully open up Photoshop knowing my upcoming design tasks and image editing are going to be fun.
Until it’s not.
The tech part of what I do, coding, hosting management, random 3rd party software integrations, API’s, SDK’s, WordPress hacks and so much more. Playing in the sandbox used to be fun as a kid. Now it just feels like some haphazard developer pooped in the sand I’ve just troweled up an unpleasant gift. I call this applied beta testing.
What keeps me going: Fear & Money.
Starting a business is no simple matter. I didn’t cut corners. I took accounting and finance courses. I joined marketing clubs in college, I won awards, had all expenses paid trips to compete at increasing levels. I took coding and design classes from an accredited college. I’ve written freelance articles and traveled and listened. This all cost money and took time.
Now, like most young professionals that worked, scrimped, saved and paid our own way through college with skyrocketing tuition every semester and menial wages, I have debt. I’ve managed my finances well so I also have credit. Excellent credit. Here’s where the fear comes in:
I have much to lose as a small business owner. I’ve outlived virtually all of my competitors and 80% of all small businesses that began when I did, statistically. My industry is higher, much higher. Most of my fiercest competition gave up and got jobs years ago or stuck with their days jobs for the duration, doing web design as a side venture. Meanwhile, I learned to be a legit web developer, stay on the forefront of social media and find crazy awesome tools to use.
I stuck it out. I spent hours learning best practices, reading blogs, going to webinars, actually coding and designing, actively selling and marketing. 60% of my time was non billable hours in my first year learning through doing and study. It was very difficult. It was scary but it paid off, Big Time. I kept operations lean. I managed with minimal overhead. I worked at a loss on paper but gained a wealth of skill. I did everything myself, exhaustively, studying each problem, crafting spreadsheets, researching, learning and creating relationships with my clients.
I made mistakes. I did. I said yes to everything. I shouldn’t have done that. I learned many valuable lessons.
Here they are:
- I do what I do. I can’t be all things to all people.
- Ignore the competition. Pay careful attention to your customers.
- Keep my promises.
- Don’t overdeliver. In the beginning I was eager, I have 110% as my base standard. That’s not sustainable, create manageable, long term expectations for your clients.
- Hike in the middle of the day regularly.
- Play hookie. Not when a project is due. Make time to have fun when you think you’re not supposed to.
- Eat with clients. Business that eats together, stays together.
- Spend at least one hour a day NOT talking, thinking about or working. Obsessing isn’t billable.
- Love the work not the money.
- Feel the fear and keep going anyway.