In my original ideal world of freelancing I’d hang out my shingle and stellar clients would pour in. I’d have work to do all the time with no dry periods. All the clients would be willing to pay premium rates, beginning the day I started building sites.
Yeah it sounds silly now, but it’s a scenario common to most people who start their own business. We have to do this to ourselves because the chance of failure is so high we need this delusional sense of optimism. Without it we’d never do the work needed to run a business.
With time, I discovered there was much more to running a business and I’ve now developed these 8 rules a business owner needs to know, inside and out, if they want to run an awesome business.
1. Doing the work is only a small part of the job.
You may think that as a web developer all you need to do is to build sites.
You may think that as a designer all you need to do is open up Photoshop and start slinging those pixels.
You may be entirely deluded, though. The actual thing you do is only a very small portion of the business you run.
This first rule is one of the foundations of all other rules. By understanding this you know that you need to market, and you need to have stellar client services and communication. You know you need to learn to handle admin stuff, and taxes.
2. You only get paid for bringing value to clients.
The only thing you do which is valuable to clients is solving their problems. You don’t get paid for just sitting in a chair on your client’s time.
If you can’t solve real-world problems for your clients, pack up your bags and go get a job. It’s much easier to fool an employer into thinking you provide value simply by showing up in the morning.
3. There are no Clients From Hell.
If you have a client problem, it’s your fault. If you have clients that are calling you on weekends, it’s your fault for not setting boundaries.
When I have a client call me on the evenings or weekends I simply ignore the call. Do that enough and they get the hint that you don’t do business on weekends.
If you have clients who always want to add extra things to the project and not increase the price, it’s your fault for not vetting the clients properly.
So stop whining about your terrible clients. Figure out why you said ‘yes’ to letting them become clients in the first place and then build out a better client vetting process.
4. You are running a sales and marketing business.
No you don’t build websites or design them. You market and sell those services. Come to terms with that fact.
You are a salesperson!!
If you want to have a business you need to convince people that you provide value. That’s sales!
Accept it and start learning about how to do awesome sales and marketing.
5. Feast and famine is your fault.
If you’re in a time in your business when work isn’t coming in, then it’s likely your fault. Most small business owners get busy and let their marketing slide. Then they see the end of the projects that have filled them for months and realize there is a problem coming.
Unfortunately it often takes months to really see the benefits of a great marketing push, so in between you have a period of little work, your famine cycle.
Even when you’re busy, book out a few hours in the week to do your marketing. Write on your site at least once a week and then tell people about it.
If you can set up a marketing plan and continue to execute it, you’re going to keep having work coming in.
6. Communicate more and more.
No, you can’t get a project and then disappear into your cave of creativity for weeks on end. The client is going to be super pissed off because as far as they know you’re doing nothing.
You need to send an email at the end of every week telling your client what happened and then what’s on the schedule for next week. You need to follow that up on Monday with a recap of what’s going to happen that week. You need to have a call with your client every week to make sure that you’re on the same page about what’s important.
You’re almost never communicating too much. So give your clients more information about what’s going on with their project.
7. Meet people face to face.
If you need clients now, get out and shake hands. Don’t rely on digital communications, they have the lowest trust factor. Getting to meet someone in person and shake their hand and have a good conversation is one of the activities that builds the highest trust for your services.
The only way someone is going to give you their hard-earned money is if they trust you. If they believe you bring value to their organization.
Start shaking hands.
8. Schedule your time.
My first few months running my own business were super fun. The dog got lots of walks and I got in a bunch of kayaking. Unfortunately, they also didn’t have much income associated with them.
Start by designing your ideal week of work. Then stick to it ruthlessly so that you can get awesome things done for your clients. Don’t just take off on some whim and let your days waste away.
If you’re not proactive with your time, it has a way of slipping through your hands.
If these 8 rules seem like a lot of work, you’re totally right–they are. There is no magic pill to become successful with your business. It takes hard work.
Oh sure, a few people are lucky out of the gate and land some huge client that makes their name in one shot. But most of us do good work for small clients and just keep doing it, making a healthy living and paying the bills.
We keep working hard day in and day out, even when we don’t want to work hard. That’s the only way to get your business off the ground.
So go do the work!