Hi. I’m Alex. I’m a designer, a full-time web developer, and I’m restarting a small business. Recently, I’ve been asked how I have taken on this new venture and what I’m doing differently than a decade ago. I decided to write this article to give a bit of insight into where I’ve come from, my missteps, and what I hope to achieve as I move forward in my career.
Ten years ago, I left the world of IT to begin a path as a developer. I started out freelancing, taking on small jobs from logo design, videography, photography in addition to web development for small businesses and entrepreneurs. I had a family. Turning away clients meant income I would not bring home.
Eventually, I expanded into a small business, but I didn’t streamline the services I was offering. Not only was I inundated with a variety of projects, but I didn’t have an identity.
This approach wound up hurting my business and negatively impacting my mental state. There was also the case that I was not solely focusing on a certain path and honing my skills as I initially desired. Those small jobs wound up becoming larger while web development was becoming secondary. Quite the opposite of what I was intending.
I considered what I wanted to achieve this time with more careful thought. Sure, I still wanted career independence. I wanted to rid myself of toxic, disingenuous work cultures. Yet, there was more this time. The reason I missed being a business owner so much wasn’t because I just wanted more flexibility and freedom. As much as I love being a designer and developer, what was lacking in my work was the connection for who I was creating.
I missed my customers and I missed developing those relationships. I learn a great deal from interacting with my customers. It helps me become a better designer, develop better products, and improves the services I offer. I learn as much from them as they do from me, if not more.
When I was constructing my business plan, I didn’t just consider what I wanted to do, but why. What is it about my work that produces a sense of accomplishment? Why did I always have this desire to create?
In taking a few steps back and looking at the origins of my creativity, I found that I have always enjoyed creating for others. Since I was a child, I would design gifts on special occasions with the recipients’ tastes in mind. I wished to express how much I valued the connections we shared.
This has led me to where I am today. It makes perfect sense really. Creativity has always been a fundamental part of who I am. However, I don’t have to create everything. There can be a flow to my career path. I can have a clearer identity.
And so, I set forth a plan of action…
Taking into consideration both business and personal expenses, I set a specific monthly financial goal. I calculated how much I needed to earn in order to sustain my business and pay myself a salary as well.
Depending on the project, I traditionally offer my customers a recurring contract. For example, once web development projects have completed, a majority of my clients will sign an ongoing maintenance/management service contract per year which is paid out either monthly or quarterly. This not only gives them peace of mind and protection in their investment but also provides stability for my business.
Ease of use is critical to customers. Being able to hand off a web based product to the client and provide them with the ability to post their own content has also helped increase customer satisfaction. That is why I chose WordPress when I began my web development career. It is a CMS platform which my customers have found to have a short learning curve, and flexible for beginners to create and manage content.
When I started my first business, I didn’t scrutinize which markets to serve. I handed contracts to anyone and everyone. There were markets I knew very little about and which I had very little interest in. Thus, I was not conveying their messages with the accuracy they deserved.
I produced great designs for holistic therapists, local restaurants, cafes, and online retailers. Not so much, however, for law offices, accountants, or construction services.
I decided to focus on the markets which suit my strengths and that I am interested in as opposed to casting a wide net. Taking this approach not only is motivating for me personally, but it allows me to create better products overall and work with customers I am genuinely interested in serving.
A critical aspect of starting this business has been establishing a solid foundation. The first steps were to establish a brand, register my business, and acquire the proper licensing.
Then I made a list of the services I would offer along with a pricing structure. I have a set fixed rate for my projects. My prices are calculated based on the project complexity, the average market rate for the work, and my skill level at accomplishing the required tasks.
The next important step in the organization process was my physical space. Recently, I cleaned up my workspace considerably by switching over to an iMac once again. Reducing the wire clutter around the desk and removing the ginormous pc tower was a personal boost as I really love minimalism.
Digital decluttering and organization was next on my list. I overhauled my folder structures and created a more streamlined system. I wasn’t horrible at this before, but over the past year, I had varying content across my Dropbox, Google Drive, and local drives. One day I deceived myself to digitally declutter and establish a central location again with both local and cloud storage backups.
Adopting Notion has also helped considerably in not only getting me to focus on a proper workflow, but it has also helped me to become better at composing technical documentation overall.
Finally, I created project proposals, contracts, and purchased business management software in order to automate certain processes such as submitting invoices and notifications to customers.
Managing expenses is also critical to maintaining a business. I pay myself a salary from the profits after all business expenses and the appropriate taxes have been calculated. The remaining balance would be placed into a separate business account.
From my salary, I deduct housing, food, entertainment, and other personal expenses. I bank a portion of my remaining salary in a savings account each month. Should a client notify me they do not wish to renew their contract, I could use these savings for my expenses while I work to acquire a new client.
I know from prior experience that unexpected expenses can arise at any time, especially as a parent. Establishing a savings account can not only help to cover additional costs, but it also helps to reduce the stresses that can come along when these challenges arise.
Now that a foundation is in place, it’s time to reach out and acquire clientele. I first reached out to previous clients to let them know I was restarting my business. Then I followed up by adding a bit of promotion to my social media accounts. Reaching out to local businesses in my area has also been a great way to find potential customers. I also noticed there are a few local magazines in my apartment lobby. After grabbing a few of them, I found there are a few businesses nearby which could use both branding and website upgrades.
Unlike before, I am maintaining my position with the organization I work for and will transition over to my business full time once I have enough of a stable foundation.
The above is my personal approach. Composing this article is intended to answer those questions I’ve received recently from others wanting to know how I personally have reestablished my business.
Illustrations used in this article courtesy of unDraw.