I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. It may be because a lot of my clients are going through some major changes—growing, changing, firing and hiring—and my humble business has been evolving along the way. When I launched Small Coffee in January 2015 (with a big party at the now defunct You’re Welcome Studios), I thought I would be blogging every week—sharing insights about my business with my modest following. But the reality was, I was working 60-hour weeks, driving all across town (because I couldn’t afford to live central), and trying to figure out how to make ends meet. The last thing I could think about was writing my own blogs—but I’ve finally gotten to the point where I have a lot to reflect on. I’m no longer driving all over town, and I’ve also scaled to the point where I now have a little help, finally!
Launching my company was pretty scary, I’ll admit, and I honestly couldn’t have done it without the help and support of encouraging entrepreneurial friends and mentors. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the people who have helped me along the way, and from my own experience over the past 15 months.
Manage People’s Expectations
I met a very Zen web developer who said you should always charge more then you think the project costs, and calculate that it will take you twice the time to complete. That advice is sage because projects usually do take longer then I estimate. So, I never promise clients I can get them something right away because that always leads to me pulling all-nighters. Rather, I give myself at least a day or two of cushion time so I can do a quality job on the project, and I always give clients a deadline for deliverables. I never want to be late, and clients love knowing when they’re going to get their work.
Don’t Share Too Much
I had to learn this the hard way. A woman who decided to start her own social media company asked if I could chat with her about her new business. We met for lunch, and weeks later I found out that she emailed one of my clients, asking them if they would be interested in her services. I discovered she sent the email just days after I mentioned them to her. I confronted her about the incident and she denied that I mentioned my client to her—but now I’m extremely careful about what information I share with people. I love helping people, but once you’ve been burned a couple of times it becomes hard to trust people who just want to “pick your brain.”
I’ve discovered that it doesn’t do me any good to stay cooped up in my office all day when I’m trying to be creative. I don’t follow the Pomodoro Technique to a T, but whenever I find my mind wandering from work, I get up and take a little walk, work out, make a phone call or go for a drive. I find that this is like vitamins for the brain. Once I step away from my computer, I get reenergized and think of a million good ideas.
I struggled with confidence when I was first starting out. Despite having legitimate experience and a good education, I had a hard time telling people that I owned my own business and that, well, I’m a badass! I remember meeting a woman who was much younger than me who had people eating out the palm of her hand at a networking event, and I felt intimidated by her. Later, I realized the only thing she had that I didn’t was a good sales pitch. I consider myself a humble person, so I still struggle with being confident, but I’ve learned that by simply acting confident I become confident. The rest is easy.
Networking is Everything
Some of the best advice I received was to not panic when you don’t have work. Rather, use the time to work on your own business. When you invest some time in your own marketing—building out your website and portfolio, attending a conference, or just going out and networking—the work comes to you. One of my clients was referred to me through another marketer I met at a freelancing event who was in a pinch. She had to move out of town but needed somebody to inherit her client, so she made an introduction and I’ve been working with the client ever since. Another client of mine came about after I met up with a friend for lunch. We were catching up and she said, “You should meet.” The rest is history. In other instances, work has come from connections I’ve made through professional and recreational organizations. I can’t imagine not working with these clients, and I owe it all to the people I’ve met along the way.
During the first nine months of my business, I had about five distressing conversations with one of my best friends (another entrepreneur) about how I wasn’t making enough money and how I needed to find a real job if things didn’t work out after the first year. She repeated the same mantra to me: it takes time. The money doesn’t come right away, and you can’t predict what factors might influence your life. In fact, several people have told me that it takes three to five years before businesses really pick up. Now that I’ve been able to prove what I can do, several companies have approached me for work, and I don’t have those mopey conversations anymore. I know I’m in this for the long haul.
My grandma was one of the most inspirational entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. Before she passed away, she once sat me down, looked me in the eyes and said quite seriously, “Never look back. You want to constantly be looking forward.” Shit happens all of the time and a lot of people can’t handle the stress that come with being an entrepreneur. My clients frequently tell me about the fires they have to put out every week, but they always talk about them with a sense of humor. They don’t dwell. I always think of their stories, as well as my grandmother’s, when I beat myself up for making a mistake. There will be ups and downs. Always.
I’m still learning some great lessons along the way. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn this year come 2017.