On March 2nd of 2009, I formally filed paperwork with the state of Virginia incorporating my small business as an LLC. Roughly a month before the interactive agency I worked for, Erickson Barnett, decided to close its doors after 10+ years. Thinking back, I wondered what messages I would relay to myself back in 09′, what lessons had I learned? What mistakes could have been avoided as a new business owner?
- Motion vs. momentum – Working for others its easy to let the two feel the same, but as a business owner it is crucial that you are able to distinguish between the two. Spending time writing business plans, developing your biz website, making fancy business cards = motion. Making calls to contacts, securing meetings with old clients, writing proposals = momentum. Staying busy is easy. Staying busy doing work that grows the business is the challenge.
- Your rates are too low – They will pay more. Seriously, a lot more. Starting out, lowering my rates was always an option to secure new business. When you have no clients, even low paying ones look like gold. This had a long-term impact on revenue. Raising an existing rate is much harder than convincing someone to pay the higher rate from the start.
- Don’t take work you don’t want – For some reason, I didn’t initially make the connection that work I didn’t enjoy at EB would become the same work I didn’t enjoy once I became self employed. If a project or client engagement is project management heavy, stay away. You hate project management (and you kind of suck at it) stop doing it.
- Life is too short for bad clients – If you spend all your time working on projects or with people who make your day unenjoyable, you won’t have any time to find clients and work that you can be passionate about.
- Focus. Focus. Focus. – Early on the job offers seemed to come out of nowhere, these are distractions (also, stop kidding yourself, they want your clients more than they want you). Do you want a job, or do you want to grow your business? You can only do one at a time successfully. Thinking about getting involved in a start up? Sounds fun, but you can’t grow two businesses at the same time. Whatever you do, set a goal and make sure you have a laser like focus on achieving it.
- You are your own boss, have fun – Its easy to spend all day everyday working. You are going to feel guilty if you take time off for a trip, or skip out early to play golf. Don’t. Things will be ok, checks will still come in. You can work from almost anywhere and you make more money than you ever did working for someone else; go do something with the freedom.
Its been a fun ride so far. Business has grown month-to-month for 22 of the last 24 months. You’ll be able to snag bigger and bigger clients, work on cooler projects….. and what do you know, the lights are still on.