Unlike a lot of good stories, I started my freelance business, not because I wanted to move, but because I had to.
I had just lost my full time job, which was the first time I’d ever experienced that in my career. And to make matters even more complicated, I had recently moved across two states. My wife and I were trying to set up new routines at the time I was in survival mode.
I made a lot of decisions on the fly without much experience about how I was going to set up and run my business. Over the years though, I’ve learned a lot of things that I did right and the things that I did wrong.
It’s so easy when you’re in the middle of setting up a business to think that you’re making the right decisions. Then things that sound right at the time catch up with you and create new headaches.
Looking back, I have a few things that I would have done different. Things that would have made my first few years a little easier and set the business up better for success.
Like I said, I started my freelance business because I lost my job. It’s difficult to plan for losing your job. That said, I wish I would have had more foresight to build up a savings account. You hear this a lot from many entrepreneurs. A common recommendation is to have at least six months of income saved up.
For many, that’s a lot of money. But if I had saved at least three months, it would have made a difference. Because I didn’t have that when my business started, it put me in a position where I had to build up my income right away. As a result, I said yes to a lot of projects that I shouldn’t have. Often, they weren’t a good fit.It’s difficult to get out of this situation, because what you say “yes” to is often what you become known for doing.
I didn’t start out with the intention of wanting to do web design. But it was one of those things that I could quickly and easily do. As a result, my business grew and people expected me to more web projects. It got me away from the doing branding and logo projects, which I originally wanted to be known for.
Accounting and contracts are another biggie. If you’re living in the United States, you know that tax time can always be a wonderful time of year. I say that slightly sarcastically.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, especially as you’re starting out, it’s easy to get behind the eight ball on paying your taxes. If I had a good accountant from the onset, it would have been easier for me to stay ahead of my tax payments. Even better, April 15 wouldn’t have been so stressful.
Same with hiring an attorney. When I started, I piecemealed a contract together based on what I thought would work for me. What I realized in practice, was that it wasn’t protecting me from a lot of very basic things. As a result, I would go back and rewrite my contract more and more and more again after getting burned by something that went wrong.
I know hiring an attorney costs money, and when you’re starting out, that can be dauting. But finding someone who has experience working with small businesses or freelancers is invaluable when it comes to contracts. They have the experience to make sure you have all of the right things in your contract. That leads to saving you time, headaches, and money as you’re getting your business off the ground.
Similar to saying yes to everything, I should have learned to say “no” and stick to it. I put myself in a lot of places where I would change a “no” to a “yes” because someone was being persistent.
As I started getting further along into my business over the last three to four years, I would start saying no more often. And it was interesting how difficult it was at first. because people will just keep coming back. And assuming that that really wasn’t my final answer.
These days, I’m better at saying no. But, it took some time to understand that because somebody waving money in your face, it doesn’t mean it’s worth taking it.
Unfortunatly, clients see this kind of thing from a mile away. There’s no shame in saying “no” and sticking with it as your final answer — no matter how persistent a potential client is.
Last, I wish I would have built up my network more. I did a good job networking with potential clients, but I never did the same with other designers. I think it would have been indispensable to have people that understood what I was doing, where I was coming from and the struggles I had.
Having a group I could have turned to would have helped push me and grow my my talent, my business — the whole nine yards.
So those are some of the things that I would have done differently when I was starting my business. It’s not easy to start one — especially when you’re in the midst of getting things set up and going. There’s a lot to keep track of, but hopefully some of these tips will help you — especially to help make it a profitable and fun venture for you as you begin to grow.