Exactly one year ago today I arrived in Los Angeles to start my new business. At the time I had almost no revenue and only vague plans for how I was going to get more.
Today I have a small but growing collection of small business clients and they are people I am really excited to work with. I have dozens of contractors who work under me as well as an excellent client rep (Denise!) in the Bay Area. What have I learned?
Startup Lesson #1: Do great work for your clients and it will pay dividends far into the future. Happy clients will be your evangelists and will bring you more clients and will give you powerful word of mouth advertising. Many of them will even allow you to use the work you have done for them to showcase your abilities in case studies for future sales.
Startup Lesson #2: Raise your prices (thanks Levi). Don’t just charge the hourly rate you were paid when you worked a corporate job- you need to be able to pay for all the offline time and work it takes to run a business. Office space, computers, employees, and marketing all are expensive and need to be factored in. Also a dirty little secret of business I have discovered that some of my clients who pay 1/3 as much as others actually require the same amount of work as the others. I now track the time & effort required and allocate it according to the client’s budget.
Startup Lesson #3: You can’t do everything. As you grow, you will begin to find yourself stretched beyond your human limits of work ability and will need to hire other people to help carry the load. Recognize this and try to deal with it before you break. I have had a couple of times where I became so overwhelmed I lost track of everything I had to get done and dropped some balls. I now try to allocate tasks to other people before I reach this point because my clients deserve the best possible service.
Startup Lesson #4: Build relationships. People are far more likely to entrust you with helping their business if they have met you, shook your hand, and talked to you about their issues. If you do extra work for people that goes above and beyond what your initial scope of work is, they usually will be grateful and understanding. Some won’t, but it will be worth it to do anyways because most will recognize it and help you in turn.
Startup Lesson #5: Be honest. This builds upon the last lesson- if you are honest in your promises and assessments to your prospects and clients, they will trust you and want to work with you much more.
Startup Lesson #6: Backup EVERYTHING. Modern business is run heavily on computers and servers, and as we all know computers and servers are FAR from reliable. Always make sure to keep backups of all your websites independent of your web designers and also keep backups of your personal computer systems. You should also keep online backups of paper records in case of emergency (fire or water damage, earthquakes, robberies and other events do occasionally happen).
Startup Lesson #7: Be persistent and keep your head up. Starting a business is really tough and requires many days of work when it seems like you will never make any headway. Stop every so often and pull your head out of the details and look at the big picture to keep yourself motivated to achieve your goals.
As I continue to move my business forward, I am really excited about the prospects for the future.