Two years ago I started Simple & Soulful over a weekend.
Up to that point, I had spent weeks going on job interviews.
I spoke with a lot of nice HR directors, managers, and teams—which required all the enthusiasm I could muster.
I tried to see myself happily hustling to and from downtown everyday—with its pricey parking garages, badly lit office bathrooms, and sterile conference rooms . But the truth is, while it was necessary to generate an income (teenagers are expensive;) I dreaded getting hired.
In a moment of inspiration (and perhaps a tinge of desperation) I sat down to my computer, bought the Simple & Soulful domain, and created my own website—where I packaged my skills, talents, and interests (website design, copywriting, and life-coaching) into tangible services for hire.
I had no clue if my idea would work and I certainly didn't plan it out. I just knew I didn't want to work in those offices. I died a little each time I thought it was the only way.
My new website gave me enough confidence (even though I was scared) to take action:
I pounded the pavement—attending business networking meetings; holding little classes; writing a weekly newsletter to the few people on my email list (mostly family friends); and eventually my brother called saying a friend of his needed a website. I landed my first client.
Growing a new business feels like raising a child. It requires more energy, patience, creativity, and resilience than seems personally possible. But somehow you adapt, figure things out, and coax that baby (after many months) onto stable legs. My kids didn't come with a guidebook (oh, how that would've helped!) and neither did my business.
It required me to face some big business challenges head on...or pack it all up and start sending out resumes again.
Based on my journey with Simple & Soulful over the past two years, here's my best advice for new business owners:
Quit your addiction to feeling inadequate.
This is a constant challenge because it seems there is no shortage of people who are more talented, courageous, or successful.
I grew up dancing and guess what? When you're a dancer, you're never good enough. There's always someone with a taller body, higher arches, and better technique. Eventually (if you want to stay sane), you need to put on blinders, shut off the surround-sound of self-criticism, and manage your focus.
I'll never NOT need to overcome this challenge. I help myself through it by limiting the amount information I ingest. I'm selective about the quality of my social media feeds, the time I spend on Feedly or Bloglovin, and how often I hop on Pinterest and Instagram. I read inspiring things and journal my crappy thoughts onto paper (so they don't hole up in my brain like a cave monster). Uplifting podcasts and audio books are also a must for me. I like to listen to them while I walk.
Understand that social validation isn't everything.
One time I was watching a business coach on Periscope who said, "If you don't have any social engagement or blog comments, you know your business has a problem."
This really screwed me up for a while. It felt so disheartening because I rarely get blog comments and I'm not naturally social in a digital way.
Eventually I had to wrap my brain around something (and it was a challenge):
This was a woman was merely expressing an opinion...NOT a fact.
When I believed her, I felt desperate to fix my business by getting more popular. BUT the variables in my world didn't line up with her opinion:
- I've more than replaced my former full-time income as a software project manager.
- Email newsletter readers regularly hit reply and respond personally to my weekly notes.
- I have a comfy roster of clients I love; and thanks to strong referrals, am regularly on-boarding new clients.
Of course there's ebb and flow—but overall, my business continues to grow in proportion to the action I take.
I'm creating my version of success quietly, organically—by taking steps on and offline. This may not work for every business model, but it fits me and I like it this way. If you're using social media and it's helping you make sales (not just make you popular), that's great! If you're doing it, hating it, and it's not working—don't be afraid to follow your hunches and your heart.
Besides, I've discovered that not every successful person subscribes to that coach's opinion. I've also learned that different audiences have different personalities. Mine are a lot like me, silent obsessors.
In the past two years there have been many pockets of time where I blindly accepted well-meaning people as expert authorities who could give me blueprints, formulas, or checklists for fast success. But I can honestly say, that in many cases it was a waste energy (and money). So, I quit believing everything at face value, which felt very similar—I suspect—to leaving a cult. It's scary to venture outside a set of beliefs that are ingrained into you and reinforced by your culture. But that's what I had to do.
Keep track of your time.
During a recent consulting session, I was helping a client figure out her rates. She was putting together a proposal for a prospect and planned to attach her regular package price to the project.
We took a quick inventory of all the steps of the project, estimated how much time each step would take, crunched some numbers—and to her shock and horror, we discovered she'd been working for $14 per hour.
No wonder she felt so burnt out by her business!
This is non-negotiable: keep track of the time it takes for you to complete tasks.
When you don't track your time each day, you can't evaluate your pricing structure, or manage a client calendar, or realistically estimate projects—which means you won't be able to understand your business' cash flow. And this can spiral into feeling addicted to your work (because you'll always be running behind) and ultimately you'll burn-out (because you'll never give yourself a break).
Set up systems.
A system is a series of things that need to happen to generate a specific result.
For example, writing on your blog is a system. There is a sequence of steps that need to happen in order to publish a post.
When you systemize things in your business, you conserve brain-power and save time because you don't need to reinvent the wheel each time you do a repetitive set of tasks.
Setting up business systems can feel challenging. But it's not as complicated as you think. A system is nothing more than a checklist.
To create a system, you just need to keep track of the steps you take (in list form) to create a result. Each time I use one of my systems, I hone it. Your systems will and should evolve as you learn through your experiences.
Here's an example of a client on-boarding system for a life coach:
- Prospective client goes to website & reads offers
- Prospective client clicks a button to schedule a consult & learn more
- Prospective client fills out a short questionnaire & hits send
- A Thank You message displays with a link to your scheduler, where prospective client can book consult
- You receive the questionnaire (via email) & reminder from your scheduler regarding the session time
- Your scheduler syncs with your Google calendar so you can see daily appointments at a glance
- You conduct the consultation
- Client says YES
- You send an invoice
- You receive payment
- You set up your client's files on Google Drive
- You send your new client the welcome kit; and links to the pre-work and your client session calendar
When you can see your system from this vantage point, you can apply tools (if needed) to streamline it. Some tools I love are: ASANA (to keep track of all my systems or checklists), 17Hats (to seamlessly on-board prospects and automate my billing), Calendly (to manage my session calendar), Google Drive (to organize collaborative client files), and Evernote (to keep track of resources and inspiration). I recommend Satori to my life coach clients (similar to 17Hats, but specifically designed for life coaches). Of course, Paypal is a great way to bill clients if you're just getting started and not quite ready for the robust features (or monthly subscription fee) of 17Hats or Satori.
Be open to adapting if things aren't working.
Prior my job hunt two years ago, I had attempted to build a private life coaching practice. You can read about that here.
What you'll learn from that story is: I had to adapt. If I had been stubborn about the form my coaching needed to take and had refused to deviate from it—even though it wasn’t working—I couldn’t have grown. When something isn’t working I believe it’s really a nudge to try something more aligned with the true you.
Have a plan for tense conversations.
There's this whole notion that as a business owner you need to develop thick skin.
Well, I never did. In fact, I'm extremely sensitive. I used to see this as a challenge.
Over time I realized it's what helps me connect so deeply with my clients.
Highly sensitive business owners can get wiped out by tense conversations; and when you're in business, believe me—there will be some tense client moments.
Here's what I do...
I set strong boundaries upfront:
Each new client gets a welcome kit that clearly explains: how I work, how I manage projects, the payment schedule, the best way to reach me, my average email response time, the timeline for our project, and exactly what I want the client to be working on before we begin coaching or design production. I also give each a client a contract (signature required) that spells out other variables (i.e. refunds policy, detailed project timeline, art asset ownership, etc.).
Navigate conflicts with ease:
Misunderstandings happen. Humans are complex and communication can feel tricky at times. When a client and I don't see eye-to-eye, I have a choice to make:
- I can get dramatic and defensive; or
- I can open my mind, listen, and actively try to see their perspective.
Generally speaking, we're all trying to get our needs met.
If I can understand what a client is needing and communicate it back (very important), tension goes away—instantly. This practice doesn't make me a push-over by any stretch (you saw my boundaries above, right?). Experience has taught me, when someone feels heard, they become open to hearing your side too—and that's the space from which mutually respectful resolution can happen.
Learn new skills.
I'm totally cool with jumping in and figuring it out as you go along (that's how I did it), but you need to be honest with yourself when it comes to your skills and shore them up. I'm always increasing my skill-set—to be a better designer and business owner.
The challenge is—you have to be very careful not to become disproportionately addicted to learning over taking actual action. Learning something new isn't very helpful if you don't ever implement it. And it's super easy fall into a pattern of endless learning—especially with the current e-course mania trend. I wrote this post to help you determine if you need another e-course. Maybe you really do because it will give you some solid skills you're currently lacking. But maybe it's a distraction from real action (because you're feeling squishy and scared).
Be different. Connect for real.
It's a challenge to discover and become comfortable with the ways you're unique, especially when you look up to others who seem to have figured out what works.
Here's why originality matters:
When someone is considering hiring you, they also have other websites open. They're comparing and contrasting. Assessing their risks.
Clients feel really good about purchasing services and products from people who look professional and legit (a great website with a clear message is important). They also feel safe spending money with someone they've made a real connection with.
Make it your mission to stand out from others in your industry by giving your products and services a unique and refreshing spin. What do you bring to this work—thanks to your story, perspective, and life experiences— that others simply can't (because they're not you)?
Then... really focus on connecting—in person, on the phone, and in your marketing message. Here are some tips for connecting with a potential client during a consultation.
Understand your sales process.
If you think launching a website is the only thing you need, to start making money--oh my...we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Your website is not your business. It's an important tool to help you grow a profitable business.
Being consistent with your sales-nurturing efforts and patient enough to allow them to take root can be a big challenge in the early days. Sometimes it'll look like everyone is whizzing by on the road to success, while you're stuck in the slow lane.
To overcome this challenge, I had to get clear about how I actually make sales (and to make sales I had to take real action...refer to the first item on this list).
Once I could see the recipe, I mapped it out (and created a video and printable worksheet for you).
Having a realistic sense of how sales work in your business will help you create an action plan that fits your personality, clients, and goals.
Take care of yourself.
My final piece of advice for new business owners is a huge challenge because it's very easy to let the journey to success and validation become all-consuming.
But what good is money and prestige if you don't have a sense of mental, emotional, or physical wellness?
I have to make myself close my computer at 5pm and create a nice evening meal for my family.
I have to make myself not check emails on my phone when I'm grocery shopping.
I have to make myself stay away from Adobe Illustrator on the weekends.
I have to make myself get up from my chair and take walks during the day.
I have to make myself not reach for my phone first thing in the morning.
I have to make myself go to bed at a decent hour, when I really want to stay up late and get a few more things crossed off my to-do list.
When I don't actively over-ride my workaholic tendencies and take good care of myself, I end up feeling cranky, depressed, obsessive, and stagnant. And it's during those crash and burn times, that my business feels draining and (surprise!) suffers.