Ok, About This Small Business Thing...
I made a commitment when I first started this small business journey I would allow full insight into the good and bad it had to offer. The nights at 3am in the office trying to determine whether I wanted to update my website or clean up my distribution list or tell someone else asking for my (free) services "no"… while missing time with those I care about most. The calls from my partner letting me know we just locked in our first major client - partly because they know us well, partly because we’re starting to do something right. I have to be transparent.
So without any true formatting, I’m going to provide some lessons learned on my journey to date. August 1 officially kicks off Phase 2 of my year long roll out plan, which means I have to decrease my mistakes by 95% and start implementing more automation tools built on streamlined processes. We’ll get to that later in Part 2:
- Your name means everything when starting your business. Period. There’s no doubt all initial business I received came purely on the strength of my reputation from college. I can humbly admit to this. When I first made an announcement about my business and what it truly was, colleagues like Aaron Lide and Taylor Calamese hit me up on some “…bout time, I have something for you”. Earning business is 85% relationship building and the rest just pure skill. When first planning the launch, I used the weeks leading up to relate my social media captions to business related things. Kind of like that movie Inception, I had to start planting the idea of me facilitating business projects for people before I actually told them I wanted to do it and get paid. It reminded people I knew what I was talking about and that I also understood their unique needs, so the conversations thereafter became more organic as to what a business relationship looks like. I got new business because of my name, they got good service from a trusted friend. Keep it in the family.
- Saying “No” is the easiest way to make sure you don’t fail within the first few months of running your business. It’s been the toughest thing for me to accept, especially considering the opening point. One of the more fascinating things about how the black community “shows support” is by asking for free stuff in promise they’ll promote your business online to the same people you’re marketing to everyday… Nah fam. I’ve done full commercials, websites, strategic business plans and other little small things without a simple “thank you” from the client. It’s wild, but it’s to be expected. It’s even to be appreciated. Even with those initial cases, I was still able to fine tune my offerings and perfect my craft without feeling any guilt for messing something up or missing a deadline or two. For that reason and that reason only would I say accept free engagements - no more than three per service/product you offer to make sure you got it right. Then market until you hit the wave of people willing to pay.
- The only skill you must have perfected before you start your business, regardless the space you're in, is communication. This is honestly the most important note of this article… everything progressive I’ve done on behalf of my business is built on communication. Updating a client on timeline changes, setting concrete expectations upfront, sending the note admitting you dropped the ball on something… man, it was one client I legit waited for two weeks before I hit them up just because I didn’t want to deliver bad news. It’s tough. It’s worth the growth. Be proactive, if you know things are about to go left with an order being shipped, let your customers know you are experiencing delays and the projected resolution date. If a service you are fulfilling is a little off, hash out the requirements again with your client to share the ownership in moving forward. It’s about keeping people involved and making sure they know their time is valued.. that’s all they really want anyway.
- Sidenote: People aren’t supporting you because what you have to offer is trash. It’s that simple. Either your product is trash or you are trash which reflects poorly on the service you are trying to offer. You can’t spend all day on twitter talking about the time you are wasting and then turnaround and tell people to give you money based on you providing a timely service. That’s not going to work in the long run. No one is going to buy your t-shirt with the nice screen print message on it, if they know you don’t even represent the message. Make sure that you have your brand in line with the success you are trying to receive.
- It’s ok to stop and get it right. That’s the phase I’ve been in lately. Changing up my target audience. My services. Rebuilding my infrastructure. Forming strategic partnerships within the family. Getting it all right. It’s worth noting, I’m able to take my time with it all because I still have my “desk job”. You can do both. You should do both.
That’s it. I’m tired of writing now and I still have to finish building an app for my alma mater… crazy, right? Part 2 of this note will be a little more granular in terms of key business moves to make in the first six months. I'll try to have it ready by Friday - deal? Deal.