Brad and I have been working together for a while now running Infinite Web Design and we’ve learned a few things about how to and how not to run a small business. The life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Hopefully a few of the following tips will help out those of you who are getting started or considering running your own business.
Be Damn Good
Brad and I spend time everyday learning something new and honing our design and development skills. If you want to run your business you need to kick ass at what you do. You’ll never know everything or be perfect so you have to work every day to push yourself closer to that goal. If you don’t then the competition will eat you alive. They will take your clients, overshadow your projects, and run you out of the market. You need to keep up on the latest trends and technologies, learn what they are, how they work, and when it is appropriate to use them or not use them.
Skill and talent are not a guarantee of success, but good luck won’t help you if you’re not prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
Save Your Money
When you run your own business there is a lot of risk involved. Make sure you save as much as you can. Land a big client? Get a big check? Don’t splurge on all the cool gadgets you’ve been drooling over or a bunch of new clothes. Put it away for when you need it, and you will need it. Even when business is good you’ll have a leaky roof, big medical bill, or something else that will come up and you’ll need that money you put away. Having cash in the bank can also free you to take more risks for greater rewards and invest time and energy in potentially great projects. This lets you take advantage of more opportunities if and when they come up.
Track Your Money
Related to the point above. You should make sure you keep good records. This helps you make sure you are getting paid on time for your work and that you have an easier time come tax season. Use a well organized spreadsheet or a program like QuickBooks. Hire an accountant to help you out. Brad and I use a fellow named Warren who does our taxes and reviews our accounting to make sure we aren’t throwing our money away through poor recordkeeping.
Take Time Off
Working non-stop leads to burnout. Sometimes it’s okay to just tell a client that it’ll take an extra day or two. It’s okay to stop and take a walk, ride a bike, or go to a movie instead of working that extra few hours. Stopping to enjoy life and recharge your batteries is important and improves productivity over time. This is not advice to slack off when a real deadline is pending, but occasional breaks are important. My wife will be the first to tell you that I’m still learning how to do this well, but as they say you should Work to Live not Live to Work. It’s sound advice and it will increase your happiness and success in life.
It’s Not Just What You Know, It’s Who
When I was coming out of school this is the one piece of advice my sister-in-law gave me about going into business. Almost all of our clients have come through referrals. Word of mouth and a good reputation can go a long way. Take the time to talk to people and avoid burning bridges or closing doors by making assumptions about the people you meet. Clients come in all shapes and sizes and you never know when the person pumping gas three feet from you is married to the head of a large company looking for a new web designer or when the guy at the bar dancing like a fool also runs a large advertising firm that will bring you years of business. Rushing to judgment on people can bite you in the ass. My parents always told me that it costs you nothing to be nice, and I’d add that it only costs you a few cents to hand out your business cards everywhere and to everyone.
Be a Good Person
Yeah, it sounds like advice you give to a 5 year old, but it’s just as sound when you’re grown up. Do the right thing. Unless you’re a sociopath you know what that is, even when it’s harder or unpopular or you could make a killing doing the wrong thing. I don’t believe in karma in the cosmic, My Name is Earl sense. But I do know that if you always do the right thing people notice and they respond in kind. Brad and I look for clients that work this way. The ones where we never have to worry how sound the contract is because we know they will never screw us (still get the contract though).
It will come up that you have a chance to make money by doing something wrong to other people. This can come in the form of enforcing unfair policies on a website you build (super restrictive DRM and lousy return policies come to mind), not letting people unsubscribe from a service you provide (I’m looking at you AOL), or stealing from others when you think you can get away with it (and online, you often can). Don’t do it. Don’t use the copyrighted photo without permission. Don’t screw your customers to save a few dollars, don’t act like a jerk for profit. You’re making the world worse when you do. Be good, do good, make the world better for your being in it.
In the end maybe all you get is the knowledge that you were a good person, but more than likely people will notice and you’ll be rewarded for your good actions. Customers who you treat well will tell others and clients will refer more clients.