July 3, 2019
On May 31st, I celebrated the 1st anniversary of my web design business! To commemorate the occasion, I wanted to reflect back on the tough lessons I learned and as I started to brainstorm ideas the list kept growing! To say this first year of business was hard is an understatement. I’m sure those of you that have gone before me will agree.
There is so much learning – project management, marketing, bookkeeping, networking, personal development, business operations and the list goes on! And so, rather than sharing my lengthy and humbling list in its entirety, I’ve done my best to narrow it down to the top 5 lessons I learned in my first year of business. So, here it goes!
This may seem completely obvious but I have to say it’s really hard advice to follow. I have a strong work ethic – I believe in going above and beyond all expectations with my clients. I have no problem absorbing the extra time to ensure my client is thrilled and will become my raving fan. This is especially important in the first year of business when referrals are vital.
The thing is when you go from making a great corporate salary with full benefits to scraping by as a new freelancer, the goal of simply helping others gets lost in the basic human need to earn a living and provide for yourself.
I had done all the research. I know what designers charge to build a website. Honestly, it still amazes me that some of them make the money they do and I had a hard time asking for even a fraction of it.
I also spent a lot of time planning the perfect packages for my services. I launched my business with 3 simple packages, but you know what? None of them fit with what the people I was attracting were looking for! Trying to silo my customers into specific packages when I was just starting out was crazy.
All the jobs coming in had to be custom quoted and I would compromise my rate to get them. I was working long hours, struggling to book new clients and going long periods of time without pay. Money became the focus and I lost sight of simply helping people.
Talk about what you do, see who you attract, find out what they need and do that work. Over time, if you are consistently doing the same activities, look to see how you can package those services in a way that provides value for your client.
At about the 6-month mark, I was really struggling. I had no clarity and I was really unsure about what I was doing. And so, I started to consume content from all sorts of online business experts and other web designers. I joined every email list and watched countless webinars. I downloaded worksheets and listened to podcasts. Desperate to find the answers I needed, I read Facebook groups daily.
But you know what I realized? All that content just made me way more confused and frustrated. And the worst part? It made me feel like an imposter. I took a huge hit to my confidence. I felt like all these people were so much smarter and more talented than me because they had it all figured out.
Don’t follow everyone – pick 1 or 2 people to listen to and take action on their advice. Look for mentors that do business the way you want to do business. Pick someone that you aspire to be, someone whose values and work ethic aligns with yours and then go all in. Listen to them, ask questions, be a student and implement.
In the beginning, I worked evenings and weekends to finish the work and get the job done. The thing is, it’s not worth letting everything else around you crumble.
Don’t give up your family time. See your friends, exercise and clean your house. There will always be more work and people will always take more from you if you let them. Please don’t let them. To be able to perform at your best, you need to rest and take care of yourself. Remember, you started your business because of the freedom it provided so set aside time to enjoy it.
I may run an online business and all the work I do is from a computer but the biggest thing that’s propelled things forward is meeting people in real life. This is where the majority of my opportunities and projects have come from.
People want to work with those they know and trust. Your network can be a powerful thing, so use it and focus on growing it.
To successfully run my business I network for a few reasons:
It’s a fine balance when you’re in the first year of business. You need to make a living so you want to take every job you can get but you may not be excited about the work.
Taking the time to reflect on your business purpose and values is worth it. Values will guide you when you feel stuck. Defining an Ideal Client will give your business direction. When you know specifically who you are serving, speaking to them becomes so much easier.
Once you have these things defined, follow them! Don’t be afraid to say no to something that doesn’t feel right. Saying yes to something when you’re gut is telling you no, doesn’t usually end well.
What I’ve also learned is I would rather work for free doing a project I’m passionate about then doing a job just for the pay. When you are doing work you love and sharing it with others, you’ll attract more of the same. That’s how you grow a business that you’ll love!
Want to see more behind the scenes of my business. Come say hello over on Instagram!
I’m Vanessa, a west coast Canadian girl obsessed with all things design who left her corporate gig to build websites for like-minded creative entrepreneurs. I’d love to help you too!
Receive free checklists, workbooks, product & service updates as well as blog posts directly to your inbox! My gift to help you with all things branding & web design.