Aug 7, 2017
We’re actually, really leaving for California in a week! And we’re taking two weeks off from podcasting to get there and attend Podcast Movement. We’ll be back with lots of new stuff and hopefully some good travel stories soon.
In the meantime, would you be kind enough to leave us a rating and review on iTunes or Stitcher? We had some great feedback on the Web.Search.Social podcast but those reviews didn’t come with us when we switched to the new feed.
We’d love and appreciate your reviews!
The subject came up during lunch with our business partner Michael last week. Until recently he had a “day job”. A 9-5 work-at-a-desk job. But he had enough freelance clients that he decided to strike out on his own.
When he asked us what he should be thinking about in terms of starting a business, first, we poured the cocktails. Then we came up with this list. It’s not an exhaustive list, but put it in the “what we wished we knew” category of stuff we learned. Feel free to add yours to the comments below!
When you’re an employee, someone else makes the decisions. Someone else sets the strategy, for everything from hiring to marketing. But when you’re the boss, it’s up to you to do that. And you can’t do it if you’re constantly in a whirlwind of client work.
Set aside a day – not five minutes, not an hour, but a solid day – each week to think about your own business. Plan. Strategize. Put systems in place. Brainstorm ideas. Learn a new skill. Go to the bank with your checks!
Make that day about your business, period.
We’ve talked about this before. And it manifests in a couple of ways. It can mean that you’ve pre-decided the outcome of a conversation. For example, Michael was working with a client and completely stressing out because he was worried whether the client would like the color he chose for the design. And whether the client would like the font. And whether the client was going to ask for changes and what he’d say about that. In the end, the client loved everything.
In other words, Michael spent a lot of time worried about something that never happened.
On the other hand, you might pre-negotiate your pricing before presenting it to a prospect. You’ll wonder if it’s too high. You’ll tell yourself they can’t afford it. You’ll second guess everything and that’s all before you even talk to the client.
Stop! Act and react when you need to. Don’t worry about what hasn’t happened. Have the courage of your own convictions.
We’re big fans of GTD. That’s Getting Things Done, an organizational system created by David Allen. It’s based on the premise that your brain is not a storage unit. You need it for thinking and creating and planning. So if you’re constantly trying to remember things, likes dates and deadlines and what color the client wanted, then you’re going to drive yourself nuts, be less productive and probably be miserable.
Ralph has notebooks by Field Notes that he loves. And he uses them to capture every thought, idea and note. Then he organizes them into an app called OmniFocus. This works well for him. You have to find your own system. Just remember that your brain needs space to think, so get organized by getting stuff out of it.
While you’re searching for that perfect organizational paradigm, just remember that there are a LOT of apps out there. And you don’t need to use or try every one. There will always be something new to try. From CRMs to proposal writing software to project management.
Skip the new shiny. As your business grows you’ll probably outgrow apps and need to find something else, but if you’re constantly trying new things then you’re wasting time you could be spending growing your actual business.
Pick something. Stick to it. You’ll live.
Solopreneurs often do everything with the good intention of "customer service." Talking, phone calls, emails, meetings. But more service is not better service.
When you talk and write less and save your customer valuable time, that's when they respect you more.
Here's an example.
When a client needs to have a conversation, what happens? They reach out to you and ask you when you can talk. You respond with options. They tell you those options aren't good. You go back and forth, sometimes forever.
A better approach is to automate the process. Use a service that lets you give clients a link where they can see your availability and schedule themselves accordingly. It saves both of you a lot of time.
When you’re an employee you have a boss. When you work for yourself you have two or ten or fifty bosses, and they’re called clients.
But that’s not how it should be. You control how your business runs. You control your time and services. You need to control your clients, too. Set expectations for how you work, when you deliver, when you can be reached, what you charge.
In our contracts, for example, we say that we don’t do in-person meetings. If you want us to drive 45 minutes to your office, that’s an extra charge.
Don’t set the precedent that you’ll go anywhere, do anything. Don’t answer emails in ten seconds. Set controls and stick to them.
That last thing you want to do is be on the hunt for an attorney in a crisis. Instead, find a couple of attorneys that look like a good fit. Ask people you trust and respect to suggest attorneys for you and then look them up online. Interview them. Most will give you an initial meeting for free. Use it!
Go to their office because you can see what kind of shop they run and how attentive they are to you. Don't be afraid if an attorney looks too expensive because appearances aren’t everything. But conversely, if you show up and the attorney is late and looks like he or she hasn't showered in a week, then that could be a bad sign.
Consider having multiple attorneys. First, some attorneys specialize in specific areas and second, there’s always the possibility that your attorney is also the attorney of an opposing party.
And don't hire a lawyer to write one. We started out with a legal contract. It cost thousands of dollars and nobody understood it. We didn’t even understand it. It took forever to close a job because our prospect would want their attorney to review it, then they’d have questions, then our attorney would have to review it again.
Instead, use your contract to set expectations in plain English. How you work. What you bill. What you do and don’t do. Add to it as you learn and grow.
Besides, if you’re ever in a situation where you want to sue someone because they haven’t paid you and you think the contract is going to help… it isn’t. It’s a lot more complicated and expensive than that.
When you were an employee, someone else was thinking about this stuff. Now that’s your job.
Taxes, fees, licenses, software, hardware, staplers. All of that comes out of your pocket now. Be sure you understand what your fixed expenses are and get comfortable with the idea that expenses can sometime be out of your control.
Period. At a minimum you need E&O (errors and omissions). It’s not that expensive. And it will protect you in the event that something goes wrong. In our business, let’s say we post something to Facebook and a client loses business because we said something stupid and they sue us. Insurance.
Depending on what you have or where you work, you may want property insurance as well. If your computers or desks or equipment go up in flames or get stolen, how will you compensate? Insurance.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the best way to get clients fast is to lower your rates. You may close more business, but at what cost? You’ll have less time to service those clients (and make less money doing it), and you may not have time to work on your business.
When you get swamped, you need to do one of two things: stop bringing in new business or make the new business worth your time. Don’t worry about losing clients. You may lose one or two or even more. But that will give you more time to work on servicing the ones you have, the ones that are paying you better. And it will give you more time to work on getting new – and better clients. You don’t want more clients. You want fewer clients paying you more money.
If you have to think about what you’re going to charge a customer, you’re doing it wrong. Don't customize your pricing every time. That costs you brain cells and lengthens your sales cycle. It leaves room for negotiating with yourself, and means that you’re probably not valuing your time and talent appropriately.
You need a rate sheet or formula. You don’t have to make it available to the client but you need it so that you can determine pricing without thinking about it. If you have materials costs, know what they are so if you have to put together a proposal you can just add them in.
Whatever you do, don’t line-item your invoices to the customer! The more line items you show someone the more likely they are to Chinese menu it. They’ll want to know what everything is and then talk about removing things. And you’ll burn time and brain cells explaining and over-explaining.
YOU need to know your pricing methods. The client only needs to bottom line. It also saves them the hassle of trying to understand and process a whole bunch of costs.
Here’s an example: we wanted to print t-shirts for Podcast Movement. I got a quote for $3 per shirt. It sounded great until the line items started getting added, then my three-dollar shirt turned into twenty. I get it. There are costs. But don’t make me (or your customer) figure them out. Nobody really wants a billion options or line items. They just want the bottom line.
A few weeks ago, we talked about a client that we brought on. That client did not want to follow our onboarding process and we decided to be flexible with him.
In the end we both lost.
You are the expert in what you do, and your most important priority is to make sure that projects get into and out of your pipeline as fast as possible so that you can churn out happy clients and get paid.
If you have to invent a new onboarding process for each client, then you'll never have time to grow your business.
That doesn’t mean you can’t modify your process or come up with a new one if the job is worth it. If it’s a great opportunity, and you want the job and the money is there, then go ahead and make an exception. But having a foundation will go a long way to setting expectations and keeping you sane.
Onboarding is a system. So is invoicing, project management, task collection. If you have to do something more than once then know how you're going to do it. Don't burn brain cells figuring it out every time.
While you’re at it, have a system for what will happen to your clients and their stuff if you get hit by a bus. Do you have backups, copies, contingency plans?
Can you leave for a day without your business falling apart? Most solos can’t just drop everything and run off to Tahiti for a month, but if you have systems you can plan and work around things that pop up. We’re driving to California so there will be days when we don’t work. We don’t have staff, but we have systems. That means we’ve planned for this trip and our business will continue to run even if we spend 15 hours driving one day or take a week off to attend the conference.
Would you hand a client a bunch of money? No? Then you shouldn't provide your service for free either.
If you want to do something for free – to build a relationship or extend a courtesy – then go ahead. But doing free work for a client that bitches and moans at you all the time ends up looking like an apology.
Your time is valuable. Be selfish with it. But if you do want to be generous with your time, do so for the mutual benefit or your relationship and not because you feel guilty or pressured.
And by the way, one of the most valuable things you can get is a referral from a happy client.
Unless you’re doing free stuff for that client and he refers you to a friend as “that cheap guy who does free stuff.” Those are not the kinds of referrals you want, nor can they sustain your business.
It’s sort of a cliché at this point. “Under promise and over deliver.” Well, I say no.
The more you do and the more available you are, the more it becomes expected. Then simply doing your job isn't good enough anymore.
Follow the schedule you set. Follow the expectations you set. Deliver exactly, precisely what you promised.
You CAN over-deliver but do it with intention. Maybe you particularly like someone or you feel compelled to help them out. Maybe they’re a potential source of good referrals. But be selfish with your time. Do what you say you’ll do. There’s no rule that says you have to do more. You can still do a great job and be ethical without going overboard.
You’re not in business to be a martyr. You’re in business to make money.
There’s a business adage that says, "Always be the dumbest person in the room."
Or maybe just not the smartest. You want to be around people who can help you grow, who can teach you from their mistakes, who have value to bring that elevates you and your business.
But you must give value in return. Getting in a good mastermind is not easy. You can’t expect to be the only one learning so you need to bring your A-game.
If you're just getting started and you can't find a mastermind, find a mentor who will be willing to advise you. There are plenty of organizations that provide free services for new business owners, online and offline. Learn from the mistakes of others. You have a lot to gain.
At work you'd quit at 5. At home you'll work all night. You need breaking points or you won't be productive. Your mental health will suffer. Your physical health will suffer. You’ll be less productive.
The more you do, the less you get done.
Your brain needs time off. So spend at least as much time taking care of yourself as you do taking care of your business. Or, as Ralph says, exercise, eat right and drink a lot of mojitos.
Consuming fresh ideas is a great way to stimulate your own ideas. The trick is finding the right books to read. We'll put a few recommendations in the show notes, but in general, stick to books that you love, books that you can relate to, books that speak to you and help you.
Don’t get caught in the trap that once you’ve started a book you have to finish it. Your time is valuable. Be selfish with it!
If your new office is at home and you’ve got kids or a family, someone is bound to ask you to do something during the workday. Take the kids to soccer, pick up the laundry. Even something as small as, “What do you think of these blue curtains?” can seem like a harmless conversation but it sucks your time up and takes you away from your job.
People who have a job leave their work at work. Solos don’t always have that luxury. It’s important to set boundaries around your time and space. Your family may not get it. So it’s your job to help them. Let them know that you’re working, that you’re not “home”. Let them know what to expect from you and your time.
Make compromises. Work out days and times and responsibilities with your family so everyone is on board. Then, when it’s work time, they’ll know what that means. Conversely, when it’s not work time then you need to detach and be present with your friends or family.
A lot of people walk around reacting from thing to thing to thing. You can't ask them to lunch because they are always tied up. They can't take your call because they’re always behind on something.
This usually happens when the business, and more specifically your clients, are making demands of you. If you don't process those requests effectively, you'll always be chasing time you never seem to have.
Schedule your time. Know what you’re doing and when. We used to take Tuesday afternoons off to see a movie. It was just part of the schedule. If you’re constantly running and jumping at demands, then the business will control you.
Grow your business, not your “presence”.
It’s a myth that you need to be online. Plenty of businesses do very well without a Facebook page. Retweets don’t pay the mortgage. Likes don’t get your book published. Comments on your blog don’t help you finish that project.
If you do engage in social networking, choose your channels wisely. If you get an influx of business from LinkedIn, designate some time to network there. Just forget this idea that you need a “presence”. You need to be present to your clients. Not to random person on Twitter.
Start with the premise that you don’t need to be online. Then if you choose to be, do it with intention. Have a system. Have a schedule. Have a reason.
New business owners are so afraid of losing new work that they instinctively say "yes" to everything. But you have to take on the work that is in the best interest of your business.
Recently, we gave a client some prudent advice. They chose not to follow it and the project exploded in their face. They came back to us and said, "Hey we're in a pickle now, please help fix this…"
And we said, "No."
Not because we didn't want to help, but because the “fixing” part wasn't in our area of expertise. It wasn’t going to be personally rewarding. It wasn’t going to be profitable. Not to mention the fact that we had advised them to do it right tin the first place and they chose not to.
Sometime opportunities are just distractions in disguise.
If you’ve got other ideas, or questions about anything we’ve talked about here, let us know. We’re happy to continue to conversation. We’ve been in business for nearly 20 years and have a learned a lot, and a lot of it the hard way. Maybe we can make it a little easier for you!
Read one of our faves, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Check out OmniFocus, one of our favorite productivity apps
See if you love Field Notes notebooks, too