Business Lessons Learned After 5 Years

Four years ago, Tips Getting Started in Freelancing was created and I had been freelancing for about 9 months at that time. Recently, someone was asking “what other tips” do you have and what have you learned since being in business. This post will help answer that and hopefully help others. This post focuses on the qualitative items instead of the financial ones.

Long-Term, Scalable Mindset

One should have a long-term, scalable mindset. That means have systems and processes in place so that the business can grow as needed. For example, instead of doing everything in spreadsheets on your computer, use cloud-based systems such as Salesforce so if your computer dies, you’re not out-of-business since you can get another one quickly and probably be back up and running. Also, as new employees are added, they can quickly get up to speed since the systems and repeatable processes are in place.

The 10X Rule book by Grant Cardone expands on this further.

Grow?

Do you want your business to expand and have other employees? Most business owners are expected to expand but others, like me, like to keep it small. Perhaps you are happy with the way things are and more business requires more time away from family, friends and other activities so is it worth it to you to grow? This is an individual decision but something to consider. Periodically reevaluate this since things change over time and what you wanted 5 years ago will likely be different from now.

Relationships

Consulting is a people business. Build out your network and let people know what services you offer. This is done in many ways. For example, providing valuable content via blog posts, presentations, conferences, Youtube videos, Podcasts, and other channels. Use social media to connect, share, collaborate, and discuss your business and provide value to others.

Be a mentor for others and get mentors yourself. One of my favorite quotes is no one is smarter than all of us. This helps build relationships and people usually want to help others out. Instead of being jealous of others’ success, learn from them and apply it to your business.

I’m a Rochester, NY Salesforce Dev Group Leader that does periodic developer presentations on a wide range of topics. I do this because I like to share what I’ve learned and learn from others too. This is another way to build relationships and market even though I don’t actually market in the meetings.

Give-to-Get

I believe that if you give, you’ll be rewarded. This can be done in a variety of ways too. For example, providing free valuable content shows that you’re an authority and helps with marketing. It may not lead to business at first but it may down the road. Alternatively, it may have helped someone out and then they’re able to help you with something else later.

Another example is free consulting by answering people’s questions on forums, message boards, Slack, and others. People will recognize you as an authority and someone who can help them out. I’ve gotten customers this way but it takes time.

Customer Service

Treat your customers well and they’ll likely reciprocate by providing continued business and referrals. Simple things go a long way like:

  • Responsiveness – Respond to customers as soon as possible. Don’t make them wait a week for something that takes minutes to respond to.
  • Transparency / Honesty – Be honest about what you can and can’t do. Customers are often more flexible about timelines, requirements, and budgets than originally mentioned. If something changes, let the customer know.
  • Consistency – Keep your customer service level consistent by everyone. As one grows, this often goes down since it’s hard to keep.

Adaptive by Continuous Learning

Things are constantly changing so one has to keep learning and applying to stay ahead. This helps one adapt to changing market conditions, changing technologies, and others. Learning comes in many forms such as formal training through college and training programs, books, videos, online courses, mastermind groups, forums, social media, trial and error, and others.

I used to charge fees for non-payment but over time my policy has changed to work stops until full payment is received. My rationale is why keep racking up hours for a non-paying customer when it could be spent on a paying one. Also, it’s more likely to get the customer to pay since their project will be slowed and deadlines missed.

Cover Your Ass

Think about things that can go wrong and how to protect you and your business. What are your risks and how do you mitigate them?

Some CYA Tips:

  • Discuss Everything and then do contracts / SOWs. Discussing the work and expectations up front is great but write it up with contracts and statements of work (SOWs) so clear expectations are established by all parties. Have legal / lawyers review as needed.
  • Insurance – Get insurance as needed to mitigate against the various risks. For example, liability and errors and omissions insurance. Speak to an insurance agent or broker for more info.
  • Stay Current on Government laws – Keep up with what’s going on in government at the local, state, and national levels. New regulations can have a profound impact.
  • Employee Retention – Keep your employees happy by providing good compensation, training opportunities, and advancement opportunities. Get rid of the problem employees. It’s better to have a solid team than a bunch of brilliant jerks.

More than Hourly Pricing

“What’s your rate?” is usually one of the questions I get from new prospects. Usually, I’ll share what it is but there are many different ways to structure a deal. One can offer fixed-bid options, retainer options, managed services, revenue sharing options and others. Keep an open mind and give the customer 2-4 options instead of one. This keeps the negotiation going instead of them saying no to only one option.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss is an excellent negotiating book.

Say No & Be Selective

As enticing to saying yes to every deal is, one should only accept business that they like and is profitable. Admittedly, this isn’t always an option, especially starting out, but as the business becomes profitable, be more selective of the project you take on and who you do business with. If a prospect seems like a demanding client or the work uninteresting, I’ll refer them to others.

Endgame?

What’s your endgame? Do you plan on working forever, selling the business, let heirs run it, or dissolve it? None of us last forever so how do you want your business to end up?

What lessons have you learned after being in business a while?

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