In this post, I chat about the lessons I learned in 2017. These are connected to business and entrepreneurship, and I hope they will help you on your journey.
2017 Lessons #1: Don’t under-value your work
This is a trap that all business owners fall into. We think that because we can do our work that everybody else can too. This causes us to fail to see the value of what we do. If you don’t believe in the value of your work, nobody else will either. This won’t help your business at all.
2017 Lessons #2: Don’t under-quote on projects
I fell into this trap often this year. Ask the client questions about the project before putting together a brief and a quote, find out more about the client and their business, ask questions about the client’s expectations for the project. Talk about the information you need sent to you before the project starts and talk about budget.
Projects always take longer than you think they will. Client communications always take longer than you think they will. The admin around a project will take longer than you think it will. If you don’t get an overview of the scope and scale of the project before talking money, you’ll under-quote and end up regretting it (and potentially lose money on the project as well).
2017 Lessons #3: Don’t over-communicate
Your clients don’t need to know every single detail of the project. If they ask about specific aspects, then of course it’s necessary to answer those queries with detailed answers. But writing long emails and having drawn-out meetings about all the miniscule minutiae of a project doesn’t benefit either party. Your client just wants to get an overview of the deliverables and current progress.
2017 Lessons #4: Outsource
To build and grow a successful business, you don’t have to do everything yourself. You shouldn’t do everything yourself. I’ve learned to put systems in place and then to outsource the work that doesn’t need my full attention. This has helped me to take on more clients and more projects that I wouldn’t have had capacity for. I also wrote a blog post about my outsourcing process and how it saved my business.
2017 Lessons #5: Enforce contracts
This sounds harsh, but it is for your own good and the good of your client. More importantly, you should send a contract to your client before the project starts. Insist that the contract is signed and sent back to you. You don’t have to make your client print the contract out, sign it, scan it in and send it back to you. A digital signature works just as well and creating PDFs with fillable fields allows for a much easier process.
A contract not only protects you, but it protects your client as well.
2017 Lessons #6: Make communications clear
Clear communications makes your life and your clients’ lives easier. Communicating clearly helps to manage expectations, shows that you care about the project, that you’re an experienced professional and that you have control of the project.
Communicating clearly at each stage of the project also gives your client a better idea of what’s involved in the work you’re doing for them.
2017 Lessons #7: Don’t have meetings on a Monday or Friday
This is a personal preference, but I feel that Mondays are for making progress on projects (personal or client work), and Fridays are for personal and business admin. Breaking up your days with meetings causes disruption in your flow. It takes time to prepare for meetings (especially if you’re travelling around town to have them), and, once the meeting is over, it takes time to get back to what you were doing.
I feel better when I can start and end the week with very productive days.
2017 Lessons #8: Don’t have meetings in the mornings
This is related to my point above. My peak working hours are between 7 and 12. This is when I do my thinking-heavy work, including writing and design. Having meetings during this time is a waste of my most valuable hours. Meetings are necessary, but they arguably take less brainpower than writing and design do. This is why I prefer to schedule meetings in the afternoons when I know that I will have had a productive morning behind me.
2017 Lessons #9: If someone requests work you don’t do, pass it on
Often, we take on work because we don’t want to disappoint people by saying “no”. Taking on projects that don’t fall in your specialisation usually cause you to create sub-standard work. Then it takes longer to rework, refine and improve that project. It may end up costing you more to do the project than you originally estimated. This is obviously not an ideal situation.
If you had passed on the project, the client receives better service from someone who does specialise in the work, the specialist gets to do more work in their zone of genius, and you don’t have to feel like a bad creative for doing work that isn’t your best. Everyone’s a winner.
2017 Lessons #10: Don’t feel embarrassed about what you charge
Feeling embarrassed about what you charge for your work is easy to spot. It will give the impression that you don’t think your work is worth the rate you put on your quotes. If you don’t believe in your skills enough to charge money for them, improve your skills or change your mindset.
Hesitating about the cost of a project or mumbling and fumbling through a discussion about money with a client causes the client to doubt your ability. If you don’t come across confidently when talking about money, it’s likely that a client will go somewhere else.
2017 Lessons #11: Projects take longer than you think they will
Every project takes a few hours longer than estimated. Usually when creatives quote on projects, they fail to take client communication and the admin surrounding the project into consideration. Very few people can bill for emails, but what you can do is look back at your “average” projects, and get an overview of the time spent on billable work, and the time spent on communications. Then factor a few extra hours into your project for revisions and communications, and add those to your quote.
2017 Lessons #12: You have to plan for the quiet months
If you’re in a service-based business, some months will be busier than others. The trick to surviving those months is to build a buffer for yourself. In the busy months, save a bit more money than you think you’ll need. This money is to keep things running and to pay for expenses while you work on your marketing, get your admin in order and source new work.
2017 Lessons #13: Don’t email clients over the weekends
Emailing clients over the weekend sends the signal that you’re available around the clock, which isn’t healthy. You may work over the weekends (I’ve worked most weekends this year), but don’t send clients emails with requests for information or feedback.
Also important to remember is that your clients have lives outside work too, and they’re most likely spending time with their families and loved ones. Even if they don’t reply to your emails, they’ve probably seen the “new email” notification and that just claims mental energy they weren’t planning to expend on thinking about work.
2017 Lessons #14: Don’t check emails first thing in the morning
If you’ve planned your day the night before, or if you’ve planned your week on a Sunday, then you’ve got your daily tasks organised so that you just get to your desk and begin. Excellent way to start the day in that you don’t have to wonder about what needs to be done. Starting the day with the least obstacles to productivity is the ideal situation.
Checking emails in the morning is likely to throw out that neat plan you’ve created for yourself. The immediate reaction you’ll have is to want to put the urgent above the important on your to-do list, and this is a mistake, as you will be chasing the urgent tasks and the important things fall to the bottom of your priorities, and may end up not getting done at all.
2017 Lessons #15: Reply to clients’ emails in a timeous manner
This is just good manners. I’m not saying that your inbox should be open in a browser tab (if you’re using Gmail in your browser) or programme window all day (if you use Outlook). That’s distracting and likely to disrupt your workflow.
What I think is good practice is to check your email twice a day (early afternoon and late afternoon is what I prefer), get through as many emails as you can and leave the rest unread for the next time you open your inbox. Try to keep your replies to within 24 business hours (2 days). I know there are special circumstances where 24 hours isn’t attainable. In this case, I suggest setting up an auto-responder with a brief explanation that you’re taking a bit longer to reply to emails but that you will respond to the sender soon.
2017 Lessons #16: Be transparent about what you’re charging for
I may sometimes give clients too much information in my quote documents, but it’s because I believe in being clear and precise about what a project entails and how much work is involved.
I think it’s better to be transparent about pricing upfront so that the scope of the project is clear and so that clients understand your costing structure. When you’re clear about the way you cost your projects, it becomes easier for clients to adjust their expectations, and perhaps potentially their budgets. This way you can come to a collaborative understanding of how best to fulfil the project requirements.
2017 Lessons #17: Collaboration over competition
When practitioners in the same industry collaborate and share knowledge, everybody benefits. Business owners in the same physical (or online) space sharing information, tools and resources means that a larger number of people feel empowered to do better work and run better businesses. I have noticed that as soon as members of a community succeed, they spread their success by teaching, giving back, donating their time and/or money to causes, and generally work for the upliftment of more people. This can only be a good thing.
These were my lessons learned this year. I hope you had a successful 2017 and that you’re preparing for a fantastic 2018.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.