After talking about our history yesterday, I think it's also important to discuss what you've learned during that time too. While owning a business is a constant learning environment, the first couple years (especially your first year full-time) are probably the most challenging. I've not only learned a lot about business, but about myself. And while this year has been one of the toughest years and there were days where I wondered what the heck I'm doing (there still are), it has also been one of the most rewarding and best years of my life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
While there are endless things to learn about being a small business owner, here are a few things that I have found incredibly valuable during my first full-time year.
When I first started out, I offered all kinds of services to keep my work load interesting and my options open. Other than being a graphic and web designer, I didn't really have any niches or areas of total expertise. As my work load and client base grew, I realized that I couldn't keep offering items that I didn't like as much or that I wasn't as good at. If the project intimidated me, I would push it off until the last minute. But the projects I LOVED, I put my heart and soul into and it didn't seem like work. Slowly, I have been assessing my services and cutting down on my offerings so that what I do offer is what I feel I do best.
Oh man, this one is HUGE. I say yes to EVERYTHING. It is so hard for me to turn anything down because I want to help everyone. It is in my nature to help and take care of everyone who comes to me needing something. But I am learning (it's still a daily struggle) that it's totally acceptable to say no, in a really nice way of course. Some clients come to me that I just don't feel I am the right fit for, or sometimes I just don't have the time for they need it. The reasons are endless.
But even if I say no to a project, I help in the best way that I can: referrals. I love staying in touch with other designers and businesses. Just because I'm not taking the project, doesn't mean I can't send them to another great designer who they might work better with. It's important to stay in touch with others and maintain professional relationships for this reason.
I love my clients. SO MUCH. And it's because when a client chooses me (and I choose them too!) it's because we have a connection. A lot of times when I meet a client or we talk about what they were looking for, we immediately started building a relationship. And that initial relationship is one of the most important parts of working together. If you can connect, then communicating comes easily because there is an initial foundation of trust. The bottom line is that I want my clients to be completely happy and satisfied with their end result. And this can only be achieved by communicating honestly and openly from the beginning.
This is my toughest one. When I worked in a corporate environment, it was easy for me to stay organized. I had a to-do list, a schedule, reports to write, and was able to keep it all organized and managed in a very timely manner. It was weird. As soon as I went full-time into Twila, it seemed like all of that went straight out of the window. Some days it is REALLY hard for me to keep myself organized and on task. I'll get an email that will throw me off or a project that needs completed ASAP. While I still follow my to-do list and make all of my deadlines, I also realize it is important to not get in a tizzy when a wrench gets thrown into my plans. It's important to get things done, but it's also important to not get overwhelmed.
For me, this is so important. I can only do so much before my brain gets fried or overwhelmed and I need a break. During the day, I try to take a few breaks to reset. Sometimes this means sitting outside for a bit, running an errand, taking a nap or watching Ellen in the afternoon. You know that 2pm slump that often gets us? I suffer from it all the time. I started looking at it this way: I can either sit here and drudge through work haphazardly for the next hour or so, or I can lay down for 30 minutes and wake up feeling refreshed and work more efficiently when I do. It works so much better that way. It's amazing how a 30 minute nap and a cup of coffee can change your attitude.
But this doesn't mean just during the day, but also on weekends. While I do work on weekends sometimes, I have learned the importance of stepping away for a day or two and giving myself time away from my computer. Make plans! Have fun! Then when you get back into the office on Monday, your mind is clear and you can work better, faster, and more efficiently.
I realize most if not all of these are talked about all the time. These are some of the biggest lessons we learn as a small business. But they are so important. As I learn and grow in the business, I try to keep track of these thoughts by keeping a journal. It's both for personal and professional thoughts. Every morning before I check my email or get on Facebook and start my day, I answer 4 questions.
- How did I do yesterday?
- How will I do better today?
- What am I going to do today?
- What am I thankful for?
It seems a little silly sometimes, and some weeks I'll write similar things everyday, but at the same time, it makes me stop and reflect on what's going on in life and business. It allows me to breath and think about how I'm doing. Because ultimately, this is MY business. And I have the freedom to run it however I want to. But it's important to know what that looks like.