In August 2009, Blue Turtle Graphics celebrated it’s first year in business. Looking back, I can only say that it’s been a wild ride! Over the past year, I’ve learned many important lessons about running a small business and I wanted to share a few of them with you:
1. Create partnerships and network. As a designer, I tend to want to stay holed-up in my office with my Mac. The thought of going to networking events where I don’t know anyone doesn’t appeal much to me. I do realize that networking is extremely important and have decided to embrace it. Creating partnerships with professionals in related fields, such as copywriters, printers or PR firms is another great way to network and get business. Since word-of-mouth has proven to bring in the most business for me, I highly recommend getting out of the office and among other business professionals.
2. You win some, and you lose some. Most graphic designers are passionate about their work. It’s easy to get caught up in a project where you want your best work to shine through. At some point, you will come across a situation where a client doesn’t agree with your particular design or vision and wants you to change it. While you may disagree with changing the font or color to what the client wants, you must remember that they are the customer and ultimately, you want them to be fully happy with the outcome of the design. You can politely let them know how you feel about the style change and give reasons to back up your side of things, but if they still insist on changing to their way, then it’s time to let it go. Learning the importance of picking your battles not only makes your customer happy, but can help save your sanity as a designer.
3. Step away from the iMac. Starting a new business is both exciting and overwhelming. For me, it’s easy to put in long hours since the business is mine and I am passionate about it. Juggling both a new business and personal time can be quite a challenge. I’m guilty of burning the midnight oil on occasion, but I’ve learned to shut the computer off and take time for myself and family. It’s an absolute must to keep from burning out.
4. Always request a deposit before starting a job. Sounds like standard operating procedure, but when first starting out, I was a bit squeamish about discussing payment with a new client. I would get so excited about a project and want to start right away that I would forget to ask for a deposit. Unfortunately for me, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. When you collect a deposit, your client is showing you that they are committed to the project and to moving forward. It’s really a great feeling when you know that your client is on board and respects the work you do.
5. Write a business plan (and rewrite it every year)! Someone highly advised me to write a business plan when starting out on this venture. At first I thought they were crazy—me? Write anything related to business? I’m an artist, I argued. I just want to make pretty things using Adobe products. Then I realized that to make this work, I did need a plan and am so glad I created one. Every business needs a detailed plan to give them an idea of how they will acquire new clients, grow the business and set future goals.
Well, that’s it. I’m sure there are many other lessons learned that I’ve missed, but these were the first to come in mind. I’m hoping to have even more advice after the second and third year in business. If you are a small business owner or freelancer and would like to share your lessons or tips, please feel free to leave a comment.