I launched my business on 1st June 2013. The 1st 12 months were a real learning curve for me. I had 4 clients and an optimism to make it work. I didn’t really have a business plan or long term goal, I just thought if I can make it through the 1st year, by then I’ll have some sort of stability and I can have a re-think. Here we are now at the end of the 1st quarter of year 2 and there have been some quite significant changes in my business, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned for the benefit of anyone in a similar situation or thinking about going it alone. Here’s what the 1st year in business has taught me.
image source: Flickr
The move from salaried employment to “Company Director” was exciting and daunting in equal measure. It’s exciting to be your own boss, make your own decisions, set your own schedule, etc… The process of setting up a business is exciting; meetings with the bank, discussing your service offering, creating branding and company logo, I felt a sense of achievement in all this, I was creating something. On the flip side, responsibility has some unexpected facets. For example, sick days don’t exist when you’re the boss. When I take time off it feels like losing money. Expenses and ‘cost of business’ felt like they were coming out of my pocket, I had to learn to budget and allow a budget for things. Similarly, the temptation to spend money when you don’t have to is always nagging; I’m typing this post on the same laptop I had then, even though I’m well overdue an upgrade, just because I can’t bring myself to justify it when this one hasn’t broke yet!
Plan for growth
At the start, I was on site with clients every day of the week. It was part of my sales pitch; I would be the closest thing to in-house as they could get without actually having to take on staff. It made sense (for them), but I had no time to look for more work. This hit home when I lost a client and found myself with a gaping hole in my bank balance for a month or 2. I spent hours hunting around for work trying to fill the gap. It shook me. After that, I made a strategic decision to give myself more time to nurture leads and protect the business from such a sudden shock happening again. It took time to work this out and meant I had to change the way I was working to accommodate less of a freelancer attitude.
What I do now is very different to how I started. Back then, I wanted to be all things to all men. I was doing bits of everything, whatever the client asked. “Hey Matt, can you manage our PPC?” They would say. “Sure,” I’d say, “no problem… and hey, no extra charge, I’ll just put in the extra hours for free.” I didn’t want to say No, I thought it would be seen as a weakness. The truth is, I don’t like Adwords, it’s not what I want to do. All I was doing by agreeing to it was over-burdening and over-working myself and letting other areas suffer. So, over time I’ve stripped out a lot of stuff I used to do, leaving just the stuff I’m good at and enjoy most. I know have a team of writers and the business is growing in the right direction.
Value your time
Don’t work for free. I’ve made this mistake a few times. I’m not talking about the PPC stuff above, those guys were already paying me and just wanted a bit extra, I’m talking about entering into an arrangement on the promise of payment, then realising you’re not gonna get paid. There’s nothing more frustrating. Here’s what happened to me. On one occasion, Christmas of all times, I’d just lost a client and was in a panic. An opportunity came up to do some work but it would have to be done over the break. It was a decent amount of money so I agreed to it. I worked 30 hours while the rest of the world was on holiday and have never been paid. In retrospect I should’ve taken a deposit before starting work and walked away if it wasn’t forth-coming. I had invoiced in advance so thought the money was in the bank – that’s a false economy and it taught me a lesson. On another occasion I entered into a profit-share type arrangement where I carried out the work upfront for a portion of the spoils further down the line. The problem with this is not the concept itself, but that the client doesn’t value something they haven’t paid for. So while I beavered away to make it work the client dragged their heals on anything I asked them to do, which hampered the project so much I eventually just gave up and cut my losses.
If this last section comes across as sounding a bit bitter, it is. I hate being mugged!