Business

How to run your ‘business as usual’ while you take a break

Running-your-business-while-taking-a-break

One of the best things about freelancing is that we can decide when it’s time to take a break and for how long. We don’t need to coordinate our holidays with work colleagues, or get supervisor’s approval. We have the freedom to take time off whenever we want.

However, as opposite as many other jobs, taking time off for us also means not making any money during that time. That’s why many freelancers feel they can’t afford to take a long break and go on a holiday.

After three years running Grafika Studio, I finally managed to take my first five-week holiday without causing any financial stress to my business. How I did? With a lot of planning and a little bit of help.

1.    Plan your finances a year in advance

When you work for others, the money you get at the end of each month is all for you and for your own personal expenses. When you work for yourself you must set aside a big part of this money earned every month to pay for many difference things in your business.

Most if this money will be spent in taxes, some more in business expenses, marketing and advertising and other unforeseen expenses such as repairs and replacements, sick days, etc.

When you work for yourself you don’t get paid holidays either, so you must set aside some more money for them. You need to save enough to be able to afford an entire month of inactivity and still be able to pay your bills and your holiday expenses.

HINT: to take one month off with no financial stress, save 9% of your monthly income for 11 months.

 

2.    Find the right time

Many businesses have low and high seasons, mine it’s one of them. People usually want to get their projects started at the beginning of the natural or financial year, and launch them just before Christmas or the 30th of June.

The beginning of every natural or financial year is always full of new project enquires. The end of them is full of project deadlines. These months are never a good time for me to take time off.

TIP: to know when it will be a good time to take a break, observe the seasonality of your business for at least two or three years before.

 

3.    Close projects a few ways in advance

As I was planning on being away for the entire August, I stopped taking new projects in June. That way I’d have at least four weeks in July to finish all my existing projects and schedule the new ones for September.

With new projects scheduled from September on I went on holidays knowing that there would be work waiting for me when I was back.

TIP: To ensure every project is finalised before going away, reserve at least the week before leaving for possible delays or last minute issues only.

 

4.    Let your clients know

A month before leaving I started to tell my clients I was going to go away for five weeks. This put a clear deadline in every project and helped many things keep moving at a faster pace.

After coming back from holidays I contacted my entire client list to let everyone know I had now opened for business again.

TIP: Always set up your out-of-office. Even though you have informed every client of your absence period, they will easily forget and ask ‘when are you coming back?’ a few weeks later. Let your out-of-office agent answer that question for you.

 

5. Automate your content marketing

Your business may be inactive for a while but your content marketing can be easily automatized and keep bringing new leads and opportunities while you’re away.

You can write and schedule your newsletter, blog posts and social media stories in advance so that they automatically go live while you’re having a cocktail by the pool.

TIP: Most platforms allow you to schedule content for future publishing, but you can also use Hootsuite or Buffer for social media scheduling.

 

6.    Find a business babysitter

Prospect’s enquiries and quote requests might come while I was away and I didn’t want to miss any opportunity. However, I didn’t want to be constantly reading and answering emails either. So I hired some help.

A virtual assistant answered some email enquires while I was away, booked some meetings for when I were back, quote some jobs and wrote some new posts for the upcoming months.

TIP: if you only have one email address for your business, create a second address for general enquiries. Your website form enquiries and social media notifications can go directly to that inbox and be attended by someone else.

 

7.    Have an emergency plan

When you tell your clients you’re going to take a long break, the first question that comes to their minds is ‘so, what do I do if I need urgent help?’.

It can be very reassuring for your clients to know you will be available and easy to reach in case of emergency.

That’s why I prepared myself for any emergency by bringing my laptop with me and letting my clients know that if something urgent came up, I’d be available to receive phone calls or chat online and help them virtually.

TIP: If you want to leave the laptop at home upload your documents to a Cloud system so that you can have access to them from anywhere 24/7.

 

What I learned…

This experience has been a trial for me in preparation to take another longer break soon without impacting too much on my business: 3 months of maternity leave.

Having a good plan in place and counting with a bit of extra help will allow me to remove myself from my business for a while with the reassurance of being able to run many operations as usual even though I’m not around.



10 strategies to get your first clients

You have a great business idea, built a fantastic website and start offering your services, but there’s just one problem: you don’t have any clients.

Your first clients are the hardest ones to get, and unfortunately, no fancy marketing strategies will bring clients to your door if you just started business. Why? Because the first step to getting clients is building trust.

The main purpose of getting your first clients is not to make money; it’s to build trust in your business. Use these first clients to:

•    Build a portfolio
•    Add testimonials to your website
•    Get referrals and recurring work

AdWords, Facebook Ads, SEO, and a lot more advance marketing techniques require money, time and a good understanding to be effective. Even if they lead traffic to your website, your visitors won’t convert, because they don’t find any signs of trust. Who has used your services before? What was the outcome?

*crickets chirp*

In today’s post, I’m sharing what worked for my business and my clients’ businesses in this regard, so that you can save time and money trying to figure out how to get your first client.

 


1.    Email everyone you know

Your first client will most likely come from someone you already know that wants to give you a chance.

When I started my business I emailed all my friends and family members to let them know about my career move and my new business. I asked them for help to find my first clients and mentioned how they could help:

  • By following my business in social media
  • By liking and sharing all my posts
  • By keeping my business cards in their wallets just in case one day they found someone who could use my services.

And that’s exactly how I found my first client: my husband shared my business with everyone he knew too, and his boss’ wife was in need of a new website. (well done John!)

I designed that first website for a third of what I charge today for similar jobs but it was totally worthy, as it has referred me dozens of new projects since then.

HINT: When emailing everyone you know, don’t start with a ‘Hi everyone… blah, blah, blah… I need your help’ and copy everyone in the same email. Send personalised messages, one by one, and take that opportunity to show interests in your friends and families’ lives.

 

2.    Use your previous work connections

You may quit your job to take a completely different career path, but if your plans are to continue doing the same type of job that you were doing in your previous company, your work connections are gold.

They've already worked with you, so they know you and your work standards. If you were a good teammate in your previous job, you already have their trust.

Don’t just think about your old boss or work colleagues, but also about suppliers, sub-contractors and other people who used to work with you, and can now give you the chance to work with them on a new project.

This one was the sole strategy that my husband used when he quit his corporate job to work for himself and was effective enough for his business to take off.

 


3.    Introduce your business to your local community

Do you buy from or use the services of a small business in your neighbourhood?  Then bring your cards and some flyers with you and introduce your business to them. Small business owners love helping other small businesses.

Your local gym, your hairdresser, your newspaper agency… any of them could need your services at some point, and even if they don’t, they can still help you promote your business among their clientele.

When I started my business I offered my help to my boy’s childcare centre. Also, I never miss any of their parent’s events, always with a bunch of business cards in my pocket.

 


4.    Collaborate with a charity

I must admit I didn’t think about this option when I first started my business, but I was lucky enough to be found by Kelete Studio, a dancing school for kids with disabilities. Since I’ve been collaborating with them they promote my business everywhere.

Charities usually don’t have funds to hire a professional, but they can write testimonials, add jobs to your portfolio and spread the word about you, while you help a worthwhile cause.

 


5.    Offer obligation free consultations

One of the main concerns when hiring a designer is whether you will work well together. That’s why I offer obligation free consultations. Everyone can come and discuss their projects over a coffee, and decide after if we’d make a great team.

Use this consultation to answer your client’s questions and address their concerns. Be helpful, not pitchy or pushy. Give them some information to take with them, and let them make the final decision when they’re ready. This is a great way to build trust.

Small jobs can also let your clients try your services and decide if they like working with you. For that reason, it’s not a bad idea to start offering small design jobs at a low rate, so that people can sample your services and build trust in your business.

Some of my current clients started with just business card designs and other small jobs. Months later they requested an entire rebranding and new website.

 


6.    Network offline

Industry associations and meet-up groups can put you in touch with people who could potentially need your services at some point.

The main challenge here is to find a group where there are no competitors, only potential clients.

However, if you’re in business, then you’re in the business of building relationships. You never know where you are going to find a new client, so network even when you’re not.

When I take my boy to the park in the afternoon, I bring a brunch of business cards with me. You meet other mums at the park every day, so who knows if maybe one day I meet someone who needs my services there.

 


7.    Network online

Many business owners only use fan pages to find new clients. Wrong! There is a more effective way to find a client on Facebook: join relevant groups and participle in conversations.

I find many Facebook groups are a great source of information for my own business, but also a great channel to find new opportunities. I’ve also seen young designers offering free help with small jobs, just to add projects to their portfolios.

The trouble with Facebook groups is to find the ones that are actually useful. Some of them can be a waste of time.

On that note, Facebook groups have landed me a couple of clients so far, Instagram none, so:

Facebook 2 – Instagram 0

HINT: when joining Facebook groups; turn on notifications to not miss a thing.

 


8.    Team up with established agencies

Design agencies sometimes find themselves overcapacity and could need some extra help. If they like working with you, they can turn into repeat work and referrals.

If you are a new designer, working with other established businesses would also give you the opportunity to learn and grow by collaborating with more experienced professionals.

 


9.    Free speaking

Although I’m still fighting my fears of public speaking, some of my clients have mentioned many times how effective this method is.

If you can find a free space to host a seminar or workshop, don't hesitate to use it. People are usually quite interested in learning anything that can help grow their businesses and networking with other similar business owners.

If you don’t have a physical space, you can take your presentation online and organise a free webinar on a topic of interest for your potential clients.

You can also get in touch with industry organisations, such as the Chambers Of Commerce, as they like to bring speakers to their meetings.

 


10.    Pitch work in freelance marketplace sites

Although this wouldn’t be a long-term strategy, as jobs are usually low paid here, these sites can be a great way to find work quickly when you are just starting.

Some websites are Upwork, Elance or oDesk. I use Ozlance for Australian clients.

In summary, the only ways to get your first clients is getting out there and talk to people and spread the word because no marketing technique is going to bring clients to your door while you wait comfortably on your couch.


If you liked this post and want to learn to build and run a successful creative business, join my Creative Business School, where you can access all the must-know strategies and tools to explode your business growth in just 6 weeks.


20 things to do before starting a business

Something is changing in the professional world today. Many professionals are quitting their corporate jobs to work for themselves.

Technology has made possible to run a business from anywhere and reach clients everywhere. Parents can now look after their business while they spend time with their kids. Young professionals can travel the world and take their jobs with them.

New business can be started with a minimum investment, few resources and no inventory. Setting-up a business is now easier than ever, but it also requires a lot of planning.

In today's post I'll take you through 20 important things to do before starting a new business. If you're thinking about quitting your 9-5 job and starting your own business this post will help you get ready for the transition.

1 | Choose a business name + entity

Coming up with a great name can be difficult, finding a name that is not taken even harder. To find my own business name I used this Name Brainstorm Worksheet, by Fuze Branding, with 4 simple steps for naming your business.

As soon as you find the name, register your business name and your domain before someone else takes it! If you are based in Australia, you can download my Business Registration Checklist (for Australian businesses).

2 | Find your ideal niche

Trying to sell anything to anyone can result in selling to NO ONE. Finding a niche will give you an opportunity to offer a more refined solution for particular problem or satisfying the needs of a specific group of people, where the competition is lower. In this other post I take you through the process for finding your ideal niche.

3 | Decide on your product or service offering

There are thousands of products and services available to consumers today. To enter the marketplace with a new product or service, you must be able to offer something that's different or better in some way than what's already being offered by your competitors. Don't try to sell anything, only sell your best product or your best skill.

4 | Study your competition

There are other professionals who are probably helping your ideal client to resolve the same kind of problems that you are. Know who your competitors are and how they are already helping your ideal client, and come up with other different and better solutions for the same client.

5 | Find your differentiation

In today's over-saturated world, it’s very difficult to get noticed. The only way to stand out in your market is by finding a differentiation. Find what values and benefits you can deliver that no one else can.

6 | Establish a clear brand direction

Purpose is what differentiate a superficially pretty brand from a meaningful brand with strong personality and clear direction. Define your brand direction by putting together your vision and mission statements, as well as your core values.

7 | Design an effective logo

Your logo is the heart and soul of your brand. It identifies your business in its simplest form. In spite of its simplicity, a logo is always full of meaning. An effective logo design needs to be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile and appropriate. In this other post I share my process for designing a effective logo.

8 | Build a professional visual identity

Your brand can be styled by adding other visual components like typefaces, colour, patterns, etc. These components are assembled within a set of guidelines - a style guide - to determine how to apply them in different mediums. You can download my template to create a professional visual style guide here.

9 | Brand your business

Every piece of communication that your clients see speaks volumes about the way in which you do business. Make a list of documents that you will need put in front of your clients and create branded templates, email signatures and printed business stationary to show how much you care about your business.

10 | Invest in high quality images

Images are the most powerful way to deliver your message and the number one thing that can kill your business image if they are not right. So hiring a professional photographer to get high quality photos of your products, your work and yourself will be the best business investment you can do.

11 | Decide your pricing

Pricing is a sensitive aspect of any business that can significantly impact in people’s perceptions. Before starting your business you need to determine how much your products, time or expertise worth. Make a price list and have a quote template if you sell services. You can download my quote template here.

12 | Choose payment system and set conditions

Invoicing clients and getting paid on time are challenging aspect of any business. Before starting your business, decide your pricing structure, payment methods, return policies - if you will sell products - etc. In this other post I shared some strategies to build steady income as a freelancer.

To invoice clients you can use free invoicing software like Wave and Paypal.

13 | Start a cashflow statement

As soon as you start your business you need to keep a record of the money flowing in and out to know how much much you made after expenses. If you're unsure about how to keep track of your finances, you can get my Finance Planner for small businesses, available at my Etsy shop.

14 | Get your contract ready

If you're selling professional services, a contract is extremely important to ensure a satisfactory professional relationship between you and your client. This document clarifies the terms of service and sets expectations and limitations. You can get a Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services from AIGA.

15 | Establish a communication workflow

A good communication process can set the basis for a successful - or disastrous - project or client relationship. Having a good communication process in place will save you time and headaches and deliver a great client experience. To learn how to streamline your business communications also read this other post.

16 | Launch your website

Your website is the base of your communications and needs to go live before creating any other brand element, as you will want to include the website address in your stationary and other marketing materials. To ensure you get your website right from the beginning read this other post, with things that you should do before getting a new website.

17 | Create social media profiles

Social Media can be powerful and cost-effective tool to promote your business. However, keeping your profile active requires time, dedication and resources. Before taking your business to social media, determine first which platform is best for your business.  You can learn more in this other post on Which Social Media Should I Choose To Promote My Business?

18 | Start a mailing list

Your email list is the most effective way to connect with your audience after visiting your website. Building an email list can take time and a lot of work. Connect your website with an email system, such a Mailchimp, and start collecting email addresses as soon as your new website goes live. Learn more about how to build your email list in this other post.

19 | Promote your business

Let everyone know that you are about to start a new business. Then you can develop a 12-month marketing plan for your business that combines some online and offline actions To help you create a comprehensive marketing plan you can get my Small Business Marketing Planner at my Etsy shop.

20 | Find your first client

You won't officially in business until you don't have your first client. Your first referrals and clients may come from people close to you, so ask your family and friends to help you promote your services or shop. If you can't find any client start doing some charity work to build your portfolio or simply help people with small jobs. Most of us started that way.

If you dream about having your own business but don't feel confident enough, join my Creative Business eCourse. I'll show you all the secrets to build a creative business from scratch and set yourself for a huge success!

My 6 module program has been designed to fast track your creative business and help you achieve an elusive work-life balance.

FIND OUT MORE HERE!

 

 


Lessons learnt from my second year in business

My business has been two years on the go this month. How cool is that, right? It’s exciting to see my “baby” growing up year after year, and it’s also great to see my own growth as a professional and sole-entrepreneur.

Constantly learning is one of the best things about running your own business. Quite often, you have no one to teach you how things have to be done; the only way to know is by trying. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, but there is something you always do, and that’s learn.

Last year I wrote this other post on the lessons I learned after surviving my first year as a freelancer. In today’s post, I’m sharing three more valuable lessons that this second year has taught me.

 

Lesson 1 | The value of time

I didn’t learn this lesson until my second year in business, probably because my first year wasn’t as busy. But half way through my second year I started a waiting list, with clients requiring to book their projects 3-4 months in advance.

Looking back at my days in the corporate world, time wasn’t so precious. I had to be in the office from 9 to 5. Time wasted on the phone, emails or unnecessary meetings wasn’t a big deal.

Now, as a freelance designer, every minute counts. Time spent on anything that doesn’t generate revenue is costing you money.

Companies have different teams to look after many different areas of the business: IT, accounting, marketing, operations… But freelancers are all in one. We have to look after clients, IT issues, website updates, bookkeeping, etc, and these tasks don’t generate any revenue.

In my typical week, there are usually 3 types of tasks:

  • the ones that generate direct revenue, i.e. client work
  • the ones that hopefully will generate revenue indirectly, i.e. marketing, advertising, networking, etc
  • the ones that don’t generate revenue but are necessary for the business: accounting, invoicing, office maintenance

Reducing the amount of time spent in the third group of tasks – the ones that don’t bring revenue - means that I can dedicate more time to work with clients and build profit.

For me, managing my time effectively means to find the right balance between billable and non-billable work every week. For example, spending 1 hr a week on invoicing can be necessary, but spending 3 hr could be time that my business cannot afford.

An activity book – or time sheet - helps me plan in advance the right amount of time I can afford to spend on each group of tasks along the week and track hours to ensure I stick to the plan. My typical week is split like this:

50% Client work
30% Marketing and blogging
10% Business development and client care
5% Self development
3% Accounting and invoicing
2% Business management and planning

You can download my activity book template below (in Microsoft Excel)

Grafika-studio-activity-book

Time and money spent in marketing and promotional tasks are a gamble. If these activities don’t generate new leads, opportunities or sales, they are also a waste. Here is when conversion rates become critical.

Takeaway: Plan your time ahead each week and make sure you minimise the number of hours spent on non-billable tasks by automatizing processes with the help of templates, software and other online tools.

In this other post, you can find a list of tools that I use in my business to save time and work more efficiently.

 


Lesson 2 | The importance of having a process

In my first year, I didn’t have a standardised process to work with clients. I used to set-up a process after meeting the client and understanding their specific needs. But that tailored approach had more disadvantages than benefits.

Now I have streamlined my process to work with clients.

For my website design projects, I’ve defined a single work process with 8 stages. Each stage is broken down into small steps to be completed by either the client, a third party or myself. A deadline is also assigned to every step to ensure that the project is completed on time and doesn’t cause delays in other projects.

As described in this other post on How To Streamline Your Process To Impress Your Clients I’ve also set up a communications process for every project to deliver a great client experience.

Having a pre-defined process to work with clients has many advantages:

  • Project management efficiency - After having gone through the same process many times I know it by heart. Every new project is easier to manage, I can complete tasks quicker and minimise errors. Deadlines are also easier to meet.

  • Clarity and trust - My process is easy to explain and simple to understand by clients. They know what to expect from working with me since day 1. They trust my expertise.

  • Accuracy - By knowing the amount of time that I need to complete every task and possible issues that I could find along the way, I can calculate how many hours every project requires and quote accordingly, avoiding nasty surprises in the final invoice.

  • Consistency - Every client receives the same service, the same value for money and the same dedication and attention, creating a consistent experience for anyone who works with me.

Having a streamlined process, plus the help of a project management tool which is Freedcamp, allows me to take 5 or 6 projects on a time (I used to take 1 or 2 in my first year) increasing my monthly revenue and managing projects more efficiently.

Takeaway: a clear and well-defined process can set you apart from your competition in the over-saturated design industry and make your clients fall in love with your work.


Lesson 3 | The freelance income roller coaster

Did I say how much I miss my steady paycheck from my old job? I think I’ve said this a few times already, but I’ll say it again: I miss the days when I used to know how much money I’d have in my bank account at the end of the month. Now, my monthly income is quite unpredictable.  

The freelance work usually comes inconsistently. You can go from being overcapacity to have several months with no new projects or leads. These months can become quite stressful and put a lot of pressure on the family finances.

Bringing revenue as often and consistently as possible is one of the biggest challenges that any small business owner has to face. In this other post, I’m sharing some tips to build a more consistent income when you are a freelancer.

To not only depend on client’s work, I’ve diversified my offer by selling digital products. But here is another common problem of making money online: digital products have a very short life.

Starting a new business has never been easier. Amazon, Etsy, Kickstarter, etc make it possible to start selling online with no inventory, no investment and no overhead costs. Selling online is a great source of passive income for many small businesses.

But everyone knows that. If you’re making a quick profit selling something online, chances are that many others will soon replicate your idea taking a piece of your pie.

Sources of income come and go quickly. Seeing some of my ideas growing up and slowing down as fast as the speed of sound has developed a need to be constantly rethinking my business, measuring results and implementing new ways to make a profit and grow within my niche.

Takeaway: Any self-employed designer goes through times where work slows. Managing finances during the ups and downs is vital for your business to survive.

Are you considering taking the leap into the freelance life? There are so many things I can share with you! Join my 6 weeks creative business ecourse and let me tell you the secrets to becoming a successful sole-entrepreneur.


3 Simple Strategies To Build Steady Income As A Freelancer

Freelance-steady-income

There is only one thing I miss from my old corporate job: my monthly paycheck. I miss those days when I used to know exactly how much I was going to get paid every month and when. Now, that monthly income is always a big question mark.

The first challenge any freelancer has to face is getting enough clients to make a living.  But, even when I managed to have regular clients and projects, I still never knew when the money would finally hit my bank account.

This situation drove me crazy for months. I used to have 2 or 3 big projects being paid in the same month and then 2 or 3 months with no more payments. The issue ended up causing a lot of stress and constant concerns about my business profitability.

After analysing the problem with my finance expert husband, we developed three simple strategies that totally changed my business, bringing a more consistent income to my bank account on a monthly basis.

 Grafika Studio monthly income comparison: 2014 vs 2015 income. Just three simple strategies allowed my business to make a lot more income and in a more steady way.

Grafika Studio monthly income comparison: 2014 vs 2015 income. Just three simple strategies allowed my business to make a lot more income and in a more steady way.

Although there is not such a thing as steady income when you are a freelancer, here are three ways to ensure money comes to your bank account regularly:

 

1.    Milestone payment schedules

Getting paid for a design project should be an easy task: the client hires you, pays the deposit invoice and a few weeks later you deliver the project and send the final invoice. What could possibly go wrong in this simple process?

Client’s revisions, holiday periods, indecisions, changes, technical issues, more changes… anything can delay the project completion.

Design projects often take a long time to complete, even the small ones. Many things can put your project on hold for weeks, which means you won't get paid at all, even though you have already done most of the work and the project is almost finished.

For this reason, I saw the need of changing my payment structure from two simple payments (deposit and final invoice) to the following:

  • Projects on an hourly rate (usually under $1,000) – total hours are billed at the end of each month, even though the project has not been finalised yet.
  • Projects on a fixed price (usually over $1,000) – a percentage is billed at the end of each phase (design, development, launch, etc) The larger the project is the more phases it will have.

It takes me an extra hour every month to track all my billable hours through my activity book and invoice everyone, but this way I ensure I get paid for the time I worked along the month more consistently.

From a client perspective, they usually prefer to get smaller bills every month as their projects develop, rather than a bigger final bill at the end of the project, so everyone wins.

Also read this other post to find out more about how I price design services.

 

2.    Project Size Mix

You’ve probably heard before that it’s better to make $10,000 from just one client– or a project - than from 10, which means you should always target big clients or projects. In my opinion, this is not always true.

From a client management point of view it’s easier to manage only one big account than 10 small accounts, but from a business strategy point of view, this is a risky tactic, as your business depends on one client only.

If your project gets delayed, postponed, or you just simply lose your client, you lose 100% of your sources of revenue. But, if you have 10 small clients and lose one, you only lose the 10% of your business revenue.

Solution: work on a combination of big and small projects at a time. Big projects take longer to complete but generate bigger revenue. However, if a big project payment fails at the end of the month, you can still have smaller projects to bring quick cash flow.

At the beginning of each month, I set my priority projects and plan my work around them. I put in my pipeline a combination of 1 or 2 big projects and 4 or 5 small projects. This way I don’t take the risk of working just on one big project that could be potentially delayed, put on hold or even cancelled, and I don’t multitask working on too many small projects that will only generate a small revenue at the end of the month.

To manage multiple projects, track time and invoice clients you can use:


3.    Diversify your income stream

I said it before and I’ll say it again: passive income saved my business in my first year as a freelance designer.

Building a portfolio of clients who request design jobs on a regular basis and refer you to others takes time. Until you get to that point, there are other things that you can sell online:

  1. Your services (what you are already selling to your clients)
  2. Your products (digital or physical)
  3. Your knowledge (i.e. e-book, e-course, webinars, etc)
  4. Your audience (i.e. advertising)

Many designers only focus on selling customised services to their clients. But you can also develop your own designs and sell them online. In my first year in business, I created a shop in Etsy to sell digital planners which last year generated over 18% of my total revenue. In my second year, I opened another shop in Society6 to sell artwork.

Selling knowledge is also another great source of passive income. Your knowledge can be sold in many different formats: ebooks, e-courses, business coaching, etc. Since I started my business paid guest posts and media contributions have generated around an 19% of my monthly revenue. This year I’ve added the e-courses for creative entrepreneurs.

If you have a blog you can also sell advertising or sponsored posts, by allowing others to place links and other information on your website. I don’t allow advertising or paid content in this blog, but my other lifestyle blog, www.chic-deco.com, generates around 11% of my monthly income in advertising.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t be able to make enough through my passive income by itself but this source of revenue brings around a 48% of effortless and consistent monthly income.

 Grafika Studio income streams in 2015. The addition of the shop, a regular collaboration with an industry magazine and advertising from my second blog ChicDeco achieve a more steady income

Grafika Studio income streams in 2015. The addition of the shop, a regular collaboration with an industry magazine and advertising from my second blog ChicDeco achieve a more steady income


Take away

Freelancing brings exciting opportunities to double or triple your income in a short period of time. But at the same time, you need to keep an eye on your finances and ensure you bring money into your bank account on a regular basis.



How to streamline your process to impress your clients

clients-communications-workflow.jpg

Behind any design project, there are a few essential steps that set the basis for a successful - or disastrous - project or client relationship. Many of these steps are project documentation and administrative tasks, which are usually overlooked when you start working with your first clients. However, they can significantly impact on your work, your professional image and your business continuity and success.

Many freelancers and small business owners learn these lessons the hard way, and I include myself here.

Nobody taught me how I had to manage an entire client relationship when I first started this business. So I had to make a few mistakes along the way to learn how to do it properly.

Almost three years after starting my business I now have a clear communication process in place which saves me time and headaches along the project development and leverages my client’s experience.

Today I’m taking you through my entire client communication workflow to show you how to streamline your business to deliver a great client experience. This process can be useful to any service-based business.

So let’s start from the beginning…

With every new project I always have 3 objectives to accomplish:

  1. Creating an outstanding product to impress my client as well as other potential clients.
  2. Making the project as enjoyable as possible for both, the client and myself.
  3. Getting more business from the client in future, as well as new referrals.

With these 3 goals in mind, I have crafted a comprehensive communication process that starts with the client’s first email and ends with a very happy client and even happier designer!

 

1.    The first email

Getting an email from someone who is interested in working with you is very exciting. This email can be the beginning of a new amazing project. But the reality is that not everyone who contacts you becomes a client.

Many people are just shopping around. They have an idea in mind, and want to get a better understanding of possible costs and timeframes, but are not ready to get their project started just yet. In some cases, that idea will never go ahead.

Although getting a lot of expressions of interest is great, you want to minimise the time spent in answering emails and questions from people who ultimately won’t become a client.

The answers to those questions frequently asked in these first emails should be on your website. This way a potential client can find all the relevant information in your site before contacting you, and you can minimise the time spent answering those questions by email.

If you get a lot of emails that don’t convert into projects, make sure you have two important pieces of information on your website:

  • FAQs page (see mine here)
  • Pricing page (see mine here)

Yes, I know every client is different and the total cost of a project can vary a lot from one client to another. And I’m aware of how much information you need to collect first to properly quote a design. But you can give your potential client an idea of the project cost simply by packaging your services.

Put together the most common things that a standard project involves. Make 2 or 3 examples of standard projects, a.k.a. packages. Set a fixed price for each package and publish your packages and prices on your website. You will significantly reduce the amount of time spent replying emails.


2.    Welcome pack

When you get the first email from a potential client there are 2 important things that you can do next:

  • Collect more information about the project, to make sure you understand every possible requirement that can impact in the project cost. To do that, send the client a design brief questionnaire.
  • Offer more information about your process, your fee structure and payment conditions, etc. To do this, I have created a PDF brochure with all the relevant information for potential clients.

Take this opportunity to schedule an obligation free consultation with your potential client, face-to-face or via Skype, if the client is not local.


3.    First consultation

Every long-lasting relationship starts with a first date to decide whether you and the other person are a good fit.

Sometimes the project may be too big or too complex for you. Others may require someone with very specific technical skills that you don’t have. So this first meeting is key to understand what the project involves and whether you will be able to help your client.

If you aren’t the right person for the job, you can still offer assistance to source the right professional/s and liaise with them to facilitate the process for your client.

During this first consultation your client and yourself can:

  • Discuss the project brief and fill in the blanks to ensure you understand all the requirements.
  • Clarify what information the client needs to provide beforehand.
  • Explain what’s included and what’s not in your service to manage client’s expectations.

After the meeting you can send a quick email to thank them for his or her time and outline next steps to get the ball rolling.


4.    Secure the project

After your initial consultation, the client has agreed to start the project. But a design project can take weeks, sometimes months, to complete and a lot of things can happen along the way, including your client changing his or her mind about working with you.

For that reason NEVER start a project without formally securing the deal through a design contract and a non-refundable booking deposit.

Signing a design contract

This document ensures a fair business relationship for both parties. Some of the benefits of having a design contract in place are:

  • You will look more professional and have your clients taking you more seriously
  • You ensure the client reads and understands the terms and limitations of your service
  • It protects you in the case of project cancellation, payment issues, and copyright and intellectual property issues.

Paying a booking deposit

This upfront payment is the best way to ensure that you get paid even if the client changes his or her mind about the project, finds someone else to work with or simply gets stuck on their own projects and forgets about yours.


5.    Manage your project communications

During the design and development phase there are two essential documents that will ensure you and your client are always on the same page:

The Design Proposal

The most common questions that a client always has about their project are: “How much is it going to cost?” “What will I get for that price?” and “How long will it take?“. The best way to give a concise answer those questions is through a design proposal.

This document also helps you double-check and triple-check the project goals and specs with your client before getting hands with the design.

A design proposal contains a lot of information about the project and has to be customised for every client, so you would typically have a proposal template that can speed up the writing process.


Project Plan

The best way to work collaborative with your clients and other virtual teams on the same project is by using a live project management tool.

I personally love Freedcamp to manage multiple projects at the same time and work virtually with my clients and collaborators. The benefits of using a project management tool are:

  • You can get the project documentation organised in the same place
  • You will be less dependant on email by taking project conversations and discussions in this system
  • The client can follow-up the progress of their project reducing the number of “how is my project going?” emails.


6.    Thank You Pack

The Thank You pack marks the closure of the project. It’s a sweet way to clearly estate the project is over and every extra task that needs to be done from now on will be billed separately. But it’s also your last chance to make your client fall in love with you.

Don’t just say good-bye, take this opportunity to strength to your existing relationship with your client and leave the door open to work together in future projects, as well as get new referred work from them.

Some things you can include in your thank you pack - or good-bye pack - are:

  1. Thank you note and a gift – make the client feel special by thanking them for their business and giving them a small gift.
  2. Email subscription - stay in touch by adding their emails to your newsletter list.
  3. Free premium content - Give them free access to paid content and private Facebook groups.
  4. Referral discounts - Reward them for any new referral with discounts in future designer jobs.

Take action

Download my Client Communication Checklist to streamline your workflow and deliver a great client experience.

If you want to see some real examples of these documents mentioned above, learn how to write effective proposals or working with project plans, and download templates to create your own client communication workflow join my 6 weeks Creative Business e-course! You will find all of this information there and much more! Coming soon in March.

If this sounds interesting, sign up with your email address to receive updates and sneak peeks of this course.


How To Find Your Ideal Niche

how-to-find-your-ideal-niche

'What’s a niche?' and 'how can I find mine?' is a common question asked by many new entrepreneurs. Everyone knows finding a niche is key for any business to succeed, especially small businesses, but many struggle finding theirs.

There is common a tendency in both life and business to try to please everyone. But we know not everyone will like us the same. Some people will love us, some other won’t. There’s no difference in business, we cannot be the perfect fit for anyone in the market.

For example…

A freelance web designer may not be a good fit to develop a complex website for a medium/large corporation. That website may require a team of professionals specialised in different areas of web design and development. On the other hand, hiring an agency to create a simple website could blow up a small business budget.

Targeting smaller groups will allow you to easily connect with them, understand their aspirations and needs, as well as come up with better solutions to their problems. Also, in smaller markets, the competition is typically lower.

A niche is an opportunity to find a solution for particular problem or satisfying the needs of a specific group of people, which is typically called target market.  This solution can be:

  • A product
  • A service
  • A platform or website

In this post today, I’ll take you through the process of finding your ideal niche with real examples from my own business.

 

advantages of being niche

Many business owners feel that by establishing a niche will reduce opportunities and narrow their sales. However, it’s the complete opposite. Finding a niche means your business will have better chances to success because:

  1. you get a deeper understanding of your clients’ needs and can offer a more refined service
  2. you can simplify your business model and streamline your process and marketing efforts
  3. your message gets clearer and easier to understand
  4. your competition is lower which makes easier to get noticed and stand out
  5. your specialised solution can gain customer's loyalty quicker and you come easily to mind for referrals
  6. your fee/price can be increased, as specialised services or products can usually command higher fees than generalists.

 

 

How to find your ideal niche?

Step 1 | Finding your specialty

When you are a small business, you cannot be an expert in everything. There are always things that you can do better than others. That’s your specialty.

A specialty is a combination of things you love doing - your passions - , are really good at - your abilities - and have done many times before - your experience -.

Being an expert on something also implies knowing something in depth. For example:

  • A technique – when you are an expert on a particular area, subject or tool. For example, as graphic designer you can be an expert in 3D design.
  • An industry – when many of your clients belong to the same industry you can claim an industry expertise. This is a common approach in bloggers.
  • A geographic location –many people prefer buying from locals or hiring local professionals. So proximity and local knowledge can also give you a competitive advantage.
  • A group of people – you can be specialised in an age-bracket (massage for babies), in a gender (men underwear), etc.
  • A style – when your aesthetic is different and unique to everyone else’s. This specialty works quite well for creative businesses.

As I explained in this other post on Lessons Learnt From My First Year In Business, one of the mistakes made when I first started my business was to offer as many services as I could.

On my second year, I niched down my services to focus on graphic and digital design, and took the other marketing services out of my offer. I also was lucky enough to have a variety of creative businesses among my clients, so I could claim my specialisation in this industry too.

A good example…

One of my lovely clients, interior visualisation company Living 3D, combined the owners’ passion for interior design with their experience in kitchen design and fantastic SketchUp skills to start a business specialised in 3D visualisations for kitchen and bathroom companies.

TAKE ACTION: To find your own specialty ask yourself the following questions:
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you skilled at?
  • What are your knowledgeable on?
  • What are you more experienced on?


Step 2 | Finding your ideal costumer or client

Knowing what you can do and love doing for others will lead you to the next question: who are those “others”? They are those who need and value your product or service, and are willing to pay for it.

For example…
 
Who may need my graphic and web design services? New businesses and start-ups will always need a new brand and website. Also, young company with a few years of market success they often need to take their businesses to a next level having a more professional brand and website.

TAKE ACTION: to find your ideal client ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who's in need of my products/services?
  • Will they value what I can do for them?
  • Will they be willing to pay for my time/product?

This other post by Lauren Hooker of Elle&Co describes7 Tactics to Help You Get to Know Your Ideal Customer.


Step 3 | Identifying problems or needs

The more connected and knowledgeable you are about your target market the better you will understand their challenges and specific needs.

For example…

After launching a new brand and website, my clients usually want to start a marketing plan to promote their businesses. They need search engine optimisation, media exposure… but they rarely have the budget to hire SEO specialists, social media experts, public relation agencies, etc.  So, I identified the need to develop a marketing strategy on a small budget.

TAKE ACTION: to identify opportunities ask your market the following questions:
  • What would they like to achieve through their business?
  • What's stopping them from achiving it?
  • What would they like to have in order to achieve what they want?

I found client conversations, Google searches, blog comments and forum questions the best ways to understand my target market struggles. Surveys can also be an excellent way to get this information from your market, although conducting a survey requires specialised software and professional knowledge on market research techniques.


Step 4 | Researching competitors

Now you can find out who is already providing solutions to those needs and how. Ideally nobody else would be already offering a solution, but if they are, then try to find a way to resolve the same problem in a different and better way than the others.

For example…

Back to my target market, in the Internet you can find many marketing books, guides, blogs, marketing plan templates… But I could barely find anything specialised in the creative industry. I couldn’t find any marketing workbook/planner either, so I found here a possible niche.

TAKE ACTION: to research your competition ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who is already serving the same market needs? (your competitors)
  • How are they doing it? (their solutions)
  • What hasn’t been done yet? (your possible niche)

 
Step 5 | Designing specialised solutions

Working with a small group of people will allow you to quickly identify specific needs and easily study how others are already serving those needs. So you can come up with a solution to satisfy the same needs in a different –or just simply better - way to your competitors.

For example…

I developed a solution to help creative businesses to identify marketing priorities and plan their promotional activities by themselves, on a small budget and with no marketing knowledge. Although there were some marketing books on the same topic, I presented my solution in a format that others didn’t: a printable marketing planner/workbook (you can find this product at my shop)

This digital format makes my product conveniently available everywhere 24/7. The workbook format makes it very actionable and easy to use.

TAKE ACTION: when designing your solution ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is my solution unique and different to everyone else?
  • If my solution is similar to others, how do I differentiate myself?
  • What are the benefits of using my solution vs using the competitor’s solutions?

 

Step 6 | Evaluating profitability

You may come up with a great solution for a market, with very low o none competitions, but unfortunately you make no money with it. Before spending your time, money and energy in launching a product or a service ensure that:

  •  Your target market is not too small,
  •  People in your market understand your product and find it easily,
  •  They can and want to spend the money you’re asking for it,
  •  The product has good profit margins.

For example…

For many months I researched the possibility to produce printed copies of my marketing planner, but it wouldn’t have a global research, and the local market was too small to make my planner profitable. I also tried many different ways to sell this product online, until I found Etsy the most effective.

TAKE ACTION: before developing your product or service ask yourself the following questions
  • How can I reach my target market?
  • Who is influencing my target market?
  • How much should I sell my product for to make a profit?
  • How much the competitors ask for their solutions?
  • Does my solution have better value for money than the others?
  • Ideally, how many monthly sales should I make for my product to be profitable?

Wrap up

A niche is a combination of passions, skills, knowledge, experience and ability to make money with all of this. If you’re very passionate about something but there is no one willing to pay for it there is no market out there for your passion. If you just follow the money, not a passion, you will be easy to beat by your competitors.

To know more about finding your niche also read:


My 5 Professional Resolutions for the New Year

 Top right corner. Beautiful Paper Lettering by  Charlotte Smith

Top right corner. Beautiful Paper Lettering by Charlotte Smith

New Year means new starts, new beginnings. It’s a chance to start over and reinvent ourselves. Now is the time to start working on a better version of ourselves, happier, healthier and more successful.

As any small business owner, I have both personal and professional/business New Year's resolution lists. Both lists need to be in-sync and cannot work separately. If your business is healthy and successful you will be happier, if you’re a happy and healthy person your business will a have better chances to succeed.  

 

The Process

My process to set professional resolutions is quite simple:

STEP 1 | Business Clarity Questionnaire

First, I take some time to go through my business clarity questionnaire. This simple exercise helps me identify what worked well during the past year and what needs to be improved. You can download my questionnaire in the link below and put your business under review too.

STEP 2 | SMART Goal Setting

Once I know my areas for improvement I can set my business goals for 2016. The SMART Goal setting process is a great tool to ensure that every goal has clarity, is specific and can be measured.

STEP 2 | Action Planning

Finally, I create an action plan for each goal, so I know exactly what I have to do (or stop doing) to improve each area, and set time frames to review the progress and make sure I’m on track.

 

The resolutions

After taking this simple exercise I resolved the following for the New Year:

1. Improving my time management skills

When you love your job it’s easy to lose track of time. What is worse, you can end up working on things that don’t add any value to your business, or bring revenue. You work on those things just because you love it.

During 2015, I learned the importance of finding a good balance between client work and other tasks non-billable tasks, as well as prioritise revenue generation.

THE GOAL - Working 30 hrs. a week divided between 70% client work and 30% other.
THE PLAN - To accomplish this objective I’ve organised my week in blocks and set a limit of time to work on each block. The objective is to fill the week with 70% of client work and 30% of self-promotion, learning and development.

 

2.     Focusing on Client Care

88% of my new clients were referred by existing clients last year. So leveraging existing clients has become a priority in this New Year.

THE GOAL: to dedicate 8 hrs a month to client care.
THE PLAN - putting together an action plan with two main objectives:
  • Strengthening client relationships through informal coffee catch-ups, events invitations, etc.
  • Adding value to their service, though post-service technical support and a resource library for clients only.

 

3.     Finding Industry Mentors

We’re all aware of the importance of networking, especially with potential clients. But we often underestimate the power of networking with other industry fellows to grow our business.

Over the past year, I had the opportunity to meet other professional women whose conversations have impacted on my business significantly. So this area has also become a priority for my business this year.

THE GOAL - to meet 12 inspiring women in my industry, one professional woman a month
THE PLAN - I’m putting together a list of 12 women I’d like to meet face-to-face to get in touch and arrange a coffee with each of them. The plan is to exchange some industry insights and business tips that can help each other’s business.

 

4.     Expanding my Skill Set

In the current fast-changing world, technology is quickly outpacing. If we don’t skill up we can easily fall behind the industry requirements. So this year I resolve to leverage my profile and enrich my knowledge learning something new every week.

THE GOAL - to dedicate 8 hrs a month to self-development
THE PLAN - to expand my skill set this year I’ve created two essential tools:
  • a calendar of courses I want to take and seminars – or webinars - I want to attend.
  • a library of learning resources that includes industry magazines, ebooks, blogs and podcasts to read in my free time.
Podcasts are great to learn something new every day while you perform another task (like driving, ironing or going for a long walk to stay active).

 

5.     Finding awesome teammates

Since I’m planning to grow my business, I’m aware I cannot do this on my own. I need to find collaborators in some specific areas of expertise that I’m not an expert in, like copywriting or SEO, so that I can deliver more specialised jobs.

THE GOAL - to create a network of collaborators to team up
THE PLAN - I’ve created a Facebook Group called Design & Creative Business to connect with the local community of designers and marketers, explore their portfolios and explore collaboration opportunities.

Your turn

What are your New Year resolutions for 2016? Do you have any resolution that we can steal and add to our own lists?



My Formula To Price Design Services

Pricing design services is trickier than what it looks like. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration to properly price a design project.

Design rates vary a lot depending on the designer’s physical location, experience, specialisation and demand. As Steven Snell, editor-in-chief of Vandelay Design, says in this other post on 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services:

The variety of prices is as wide as the variety of talent levels

Price has a big impact on your client’s perceptions and your business success. If you low-price your services, clients may think you must not be very skilled or experienced. On the other hand, with high prices also come high client expectations, that when they aren’t met lead to huge client disappointments and negative public reviews.
 
Putting price to my time and skills has been one of the most difficult parts of my job. However, this is an essential exercise for any designer. As just not only clients but also other designers usually ask about how I price my services and why I do it that way, today I’m sharing my pricing formula.

 

How do I charge my clients

There are typically two billing methods for design services:

  1. Hourly rate
  2. Fixed Price

Clients usually prefer the fixed price method, as they know up front the entire cost of the project, while charging per hour is favoured by many designers.

While an hourly rate method is usually easier for small projects, for large ones this pricing system could scare clients off. You never know how many hours it will take to complete a project, so the final invoice can be a nasty surprise for the client.

For that reason, my preference is to charge a set price for any project over 4-5 hours of work.

You can find out more about pricing creative services in this other post by The Design Trust with 15 different ways to price a create job.


How do I set fixed project prices

Not every project is the same. For example, there are simple websites and others with a lot of information and complex functionalities. So it would be unfair to charge the same for any website project. The same thing happens with any other piece of marketing material or design in general.

On the other hand, large projects usually involve many different tasks; each task requires different levels of specialisation or expertise, from design, art direction, coding or project management. Depending on the specialisation and complexity, every task usually has a different average hourly rate in the market.

To know how much I should charge for each task, I determine the market rate first. To do this, I check other competitors’ rates through freelance marketplaces. Some useful tools are:

When a potential client requests a quote, to ensure I have a clear understanding of the project requirements, I ask them to fill a project brief questionnaire. Once I get the information I need from them, I can calculate the project price with the help of own price calculator, which is basically an Excel file with a long list of project tasks and a separate price for each of them. The formula is:


{ Hourly rate (Expenses + Average Market Salary) x Estimated Time To Complete } x ComplexityLevel = Base Price

There are also some add-ons that will impact on the final cost of any project, like hosting services, SSL certificates, stock photos, photo editing and retouching, customised illustrations, customised coding and CSS, etc. Most of these added costs don’t usually go to the designer but to thirds party companies or subcontractors.

If you are a designer, below you can download my quote template in Excel for your reference and customise it with your own prices and creative services.



Minimising fixed price risks

The main risk of fixed pricing methods is that if the client ends up being a bit picker than expected, the designer will need a lot more extra hours to complete the project. If you bill all those hours, the client will receive an invoice ridiculously above your initial quote, if you don’t, you will end up working for free.

To make the flat rate billing system fair for everyone, it’s extremely important to clarify what is included in the price and what’s not, and therefore, it will be charged separately. For example, I include 3 rounds of revisions and every additional round of revisions and changes has a cost of AUD$75.

If you do this in a simple conversation, the client may forget quickly about it. If you put it in writing, they may never read it. So I do both, just to be safe. In our first face-to-face meeting I discuss the project budget, possible costs and what’s included on the price, and then I send them a contract to sign-up, that specifies:

  • How many rounds of revisions are included and cost of additional revisions
  • Payment methods and conditions
  • Cancellation policies
  • Additional fees if the project requires more work than expected
  • After sale support
  • Fees for payment delays
  • Etc



Structuring my payments

When I was a young designer I learned this the hard way. Some clients didn’t pay. So I always ask for payments upfront. It’s just a security that the client won’t easily go to another designer; change his/her mind in the middle of the process or will be just simply unwilling to pay.

My payment structure varies depending on the total cost of the project:

  • On small projects under $500 I require full payment upfront
  • On mid-size projects between $500 and $2,000 I ask for a $500 deposit and the balance prior to the release of production-ready files or to go live.
  • On larger projects with several stages of deliverables, I require 40% deposit prior to starting any work but break up the fee schedule based on deliverables.



Covering indirect costs

The total amount of phone calls, Internet bills, software, licenses, bank and PayPal fees and, of course, taxes, was an unpleasant surprise after my first year in business. These indirect costs are very difficult to charge to the client, and have too be part of your hourly rate. But at the end of the year, they are just too much to pay them out of your own pocket.

So I quickly learned that a freelance designer also needs a second source of revenue, in the form of passive income. In my case, selling pre-made design and digital products online has been a great way to generate extra cash flow, not just to increase my monthly revenue but also to cover all those indirect costs.


Packaging services

Most of my new businesses are referred by existing client’s. For that reason, great project outcome and excellent client service during and after their project is key to ensure the continuity of my business.

Rather than giving discounts to new clients I prefer to provide client value by creating service packages. The benefit of packaging my services is that I can offer some extra free-services or discounts to existing clients, aimed to build long-lasting relationships with them. As part of my service packages I include, for example:

  • Face-to-face meetings and free consultations for local clients
  • Free post-project technical support and trainings
  • Discounts for new business referrals
  • Free access to my small business resource library
  • Etc


Wrap Up

When it comes to price design services there is no right or wrong methods. Both hourly pricing and project-based fixed pricing have pros and cons. Every designer will have to identify the pricing method that works better for him/her.

Sometimes you will probably realise that you underestimated the amount of work that a project was involving, in which case, you will have to learn from the experience and calculate your price better next time.

Finally, do research the market, don't under-price or over-price yourself and make sure you always add value to your services to ensure repeated business and referrals.

If you are a designer or a client, your thoughts on this topic will be very appreciated.



How I Managed To Achieve An Elusive Work-Life Balance

Work-life-balance-inspiration-board.jpg

One of the main reasons why I became a freelancer was to find the perfect work/life balance. But it wasn’t as easy to achieve as I thought it would be.

Everyone wants to find a good and healthy work-life balance. Many of us quit our jobs to go and work for ourselves in pursuit of that lifestyle.

However many sole entrepreneurs and small business owners still struggle to find a good work/life balance. We face different challenges to those who work for others, but we still find it hard for reasons like:

  • We’re passionate about what we do, what makes it difficult to take breaks away from our jobs and focus on other daily routines.
  • We have to wear too many hats. We do everything ourselves and there are always too many things to do and not enough time.
  • We often don’t have specific working hours. We work while our kids sleep, weekends and public holidays. We never have a 9-5 job.

Building a business and looking after your family while staying productive, happy and healthy is the ultimate goal of any small business owner. So today I’m sharing some of my best tips to achieve an elusive work/life balance for those who work for themselves.

 

1.    Start the day with a good morning routine

When you work from home, who is going to notice you didn’t have a shower this morning or you are still in your pyjamas at 4 p.m.?  Your morning routine could be reduced to go from bed directly to your computer.

But something I learned from working from home is that a good morning routine sets a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Anyone’s routine can be different. You may want to start your day with a beauty ritual, a healthy breakfast or going for a run. But don’t rush to start your computer, instead identify a few tasks to help you start your day in a healthy and positive way before jumping into work.

This other article on How To Craft A Morning Ritual To Supercharge Productivity by Richard Lazazzera gives great tips to start your day with a good morning routine.

 

2.    Plan the day ahead

This is a topic that I personally love - and why I have an entire shop specialised in planning. All those hours spent in researching organisational methods and creating planning solutions for my shop has taught me a simple but essential thing about productivity: 10 mins of planning a day can save many hours of unproductive work every week.

My Mondays start by making a list of things to do along the week, combining work responsibilities with family activities. Then I schedule time to do each task, book appointments and prioritise.

To help you get yourself organised and plan your week ahead download the Free Printable Organisational Set that you can download from my Printable Library.

 

3.    Set timeframes to do things

When you do a creative job it's easy to lose track of time. That’s why it’s important to plan not only what you have to do but also for how long.

While some ideas come easy, others take time. The longer I spend on seeking a great idea the harder it gets to find it. For that reason, I try to limit the time I spend working on a project to no longer than 3 hours a day. Having a timeframe helps me know when it’s time to stop and do sometime else.

 

4.    Take breaks and days off

One of the best things of being self-employed is you can take breaks and holidays whenever you want. I sometimes stop working for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to do some outdoor activities with my 3-year-old son. Others my husband and I take a day off in the middle of the week just because it’s our wedding anniversary.

Some people feel they can’t afford to take time off when running a business. They work every weekend, every public holiday and their life become a long working session. Breaks are essential to disconnect for a few hours or a few days, reset yourself and go back to your work activities in a better frame of mind.

 

5.    Focus on one big project at a time

When you are new in business you try to get as much work as possible to grow your business fast. But one thing you soon learn is that trying to manage several projects at the same time can bring a lot of stress and have a negative impact on your business.

Multitasking increases the chance to make easy mistakes, and make it harder to meet deadlines, which could end up damaging your professional image.

By taking on no more than one or two big projects a month I ensure I dedicate as much time as need to work on each project, giving my clients the attention they deserve and reducing significantly my level of stress.

 

6.    Reduce the use of the phone

Being constantly on call is one of the worst sources of stress. I try to avoid the phone as much as I can. Trying to help a client while I’m chasing my 3-year-old boy all over the playground and without having the project information in front of me, won't prove to be very helpful.

Instead, I tried to schedule phone calls or set face-to-face meetings when I can. This way I make sure I’m well prepared before talking to a client, to answer their questions or address their concerns.

 

7.    Eliminate low profitable jobs

When you love your job, you could make the mistake of working on things just because you love what you do, but not because they make money. If you want to see your business growing, focus on revenue generation.

Identify areas of your business that generate more revenue, or clients that bring more profit and focus on growing your business on these areas while reducing the amount of hours spent in less profitable ones.

When you have built a good client base, you can set a minimum fee per project and turn down jobs that don’t make the minimum fee.

 

8.    Build production processes and automate tasks

As I explained in this other post on How To Resolve Common Challenges Of Marketing Design Services by identifying repeated tasks on a project and automating processes you can save yourself time to spend on other critical parts of your business or just enjoying family time.

For example, one of the things that I found easy to automate is client communications. Let’s say that a new potential client wants a new logo, clicks on my Branding Services page, see my logo design package and click on Buying Package. The system will ask for company and billing details that will automatically be sent to me by email. The client will receive a welcome email with the invoice, a design questionnaire and further information about timeframes and next steps. These automatic communications usually save me a lot of time while providing the client punctual and quick information on the project.

 

9.    Choose freedom over money

An elusive work/life balance usually costs money. Not money that you have to spend in achieving that balance, but money that you won’t be able to make, because you will have more time for yourself.

You will have to turn down opportunities or outsource work just because you are over-capacity. We all have to learn to say no to work to be able to spend more time with your family. Making less money is the price of living a healthy and happy life.

 

In this other post published previously on my blog you can also find a list of Free Essential Tools for Small Businesses. Many of this tools can help you work smarter and spend less time working more time living that the life.

Inspiration board image credits from Kikki.k; Fantas-tisch and Fashion & Style

Your turn

As a sole entrepreneur or small business owner, what are your main struggles to achieve an elusive work/life balance? What are your best tips to overcome those challenges?