Mistakes I made the first time I started my business
July 6, 2017
If you have been reading my blog for a little while now, you might have read one of my first posts about quitting my day job. In this article, I mentioned that this wasn’t the first time that I left a job and went out on my own. I actually started Jules Design in 2011 and went back to a full-time job, as a designer/developer, in 2014.
If I could go back in time, I would definitely change a few things about the first time I ran my business. I did a few things right too, but more importantly, I did a few very BIG things wrong. After accepting my full-time job, I reflected on my time as a freelancer and realized that I had, kind of, sabotaged my own business. I always wanted to return to freelancing but knew that I would need to set-up systems so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. When I left my job this year, to pursue Jules Design full time, that’s exactly what I did!
I didn’t register as an LLC
In the first 6 months of starting my business, I wish that I had taken the steps to become an LLC instead of remaining a sole proprietor. You can certainly run a successful business as a sole proprietor, but looking back, I would have felt a lot more secure had I taken this step earlier.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert and tell you what is best here. To briefly explain, an LLC is a blend of a corporation and a partnership. You get the liability protection of a corporation with the tax advantages of a partnership.
One of the main benefits of an LLC versus a sole proprietorship is that an LLC is only liable for their businesses income or investment. In other words, if you were sued as a sole proprietor you would be liable for the debts of your business as well as your personal assets.
Thankfully, I never go sued. I was never really too worried about that happening, but I still think it would be have been a safer idea to go ahead and become an LLC right off the bat. It only costs about $100 a year and, in my opinion, is well worth the small fee.
There are also more options available than just a sole proprietorship and LLC. So, make sure that you talk to a lawyer and find out what the best option is for your business.
I didn’t set-up a business banking account
Well, this is just embarrassing. But, the first time that I started my business I did not set-up a business banking account. I managed all of my invoicing through Paypal and would send my income directly to my personal account.
This is a very big no-no and if you’re an accountant or work in finance, in any way, you’re probably cringing here. Actually, if you’re a business owner of any sort, it’s pretty likely that you’re still cringing. Honestly, I’m pretty uncomfortable even sharing this one with you guys.
The thing is, I wasn’t making much income the first time I started my business. See the next section for more on that! The problem was that I needed all my businesses income to go towards my living expenses and I thought that a business banking account was an unnecessary middleman. So, I didn’t think that I needed one. Cringe.
Even if you’re just starting out and only taking a couple of freelance projects, on the side, do yourself a favor, and set-up a business banking and savings account. If you’re in your first year or two of business then I highly recommend Capital One Spark because it’s completely free and you don’t need to have a minimum balance.
This time around, I have a business checking and saving account in place. I move all of my income to my checking account where I manage things even more. I always put 30% of my income, for the month, into my business savings account for taxes. I pay myself a set paycheck every two weeks, which, is similar to what I earned as a full-time employee at my previous day job.
Most of my extra income stays in my checking account, to be used for monthly business expenses, like Adobe Creative Cloud or Hello Bonsai. Or, I might move a portion of it over to my savings so that I can save up for larger items, like a new computer or an online course that I know I want to take.
I’m sure that I still have more to learn about owning a business and finances. But, I’m really glad that I at least have the basics in place this time around. Please, please, please, set up a business banking account if you haven’t already!
I didn’t charge what I was worth
This is a big reason, well, the main reason that my business failed the first time around. And yeah, I said it, my biz failed – pretty hard.
I started my business on Etsy and made the mistake of basing my pricing off of what everyone else was charging on the platform. I think I sold my first website for around $150. If I remember correctly, the website included about 5 pages of content and I handled both the design & development of the project. Needless to say, I probably earned about 10 cents per hour. I didn’t actually do the math, but that’s my best guess.
I went over and above for my clients and didn’t skimp, at all, on making them happy. I put so much work into everything that I designed and developed and spent a lot of time making everything perfect. I even offered unlimited edits and revisions back then.
This was great, on one hand; because my clients were, over the moon, happy! And being the people-pleaser that I am, this also made me very happy too. But my success and confidence were short lived when I realized how little I had made after my first year in business. And, I was working SO hard! We’re talking balancing 5+ new clients, per month, to make a very small amount of income.
I was never able to save up money to purchase things for my business and struggled to even pay my taxes because I didn’t save up ahead of time. I was using all of my business income as personal income. I should have done the math to figure out how much income I needed to run a successful business and pay for my personal expenses.
This time around, I did the math and started charging what I was worth. I added up all of my estimated personal and business expenses for each month. I divided my personal expenses in two, since I’m married, and only responsible for one-half. That’s the amount that I would need to pay for my lifestyle and business expenses.
But, that doesn’t leave any room for business growth and doesn’t take into account the value that my services offer my clients. I’ve been creating effective custom websites for years and know what it takes to get my clients the results that they are looking for. If you’re working on your pricing, take into account your value and add that onto your rate. This number should be based on your experience, the quality of work that you provide and your efficiency.
I didn’t have a good marketing plan
When I started my business, I received a lot of inquiries and clients on Etsy. I put in some quality time perfecting my listings by creating unique graphics, writing quality descriptions, and using SEO keywords.
At first, this strategy was effective and I had a good deal of inquiries coming in. But, Etsy changed the way that their website looked – and put more of a focus on a few select categories like weddings, entertainment and clothing/accessories. Graphic design was hidden from the homepage and it became very difficult for anyone to find me.
I put all of my eggs in one basket and I was pretty screwed. I had a website but most of my traffic was coming from Etsy and not from social media, a blog, or from local outreach. Instead of creating a marketing plan and trying out new tactics, I froze. I didn’t know what to do, and, unfortunately, pretty much, did nothing.
I re-did my website to bring more clarity to my services, but, that didn’t help because nobody was coming to my site. I also tried posting a little bit on Facebook but didn’t really have a concrete plan. I did get a few new followers but never got any actual clients from my efforts. Looking back, the lack of a marketing plan, was one of my biggest mistakes and was one of the reasons that I, ultimately, returned to a day job for 2 years.
I should have fought hard to get my business back up and running. I should have explored other social media outlets besides Facebook – Twitter would have been a good option. Instagram was just getting started and I could have made more of an effort, there as well. If I had started a blog, I could have gotten traffic from Pinterest. But instead, I froze and did almost nothing.
If you’re in a similar situation and are having trouble getting clients, then try something new. For example, if Twitter isn’t working for you, try another platform. Facebook groups might be a better option if you like talking one-on-one with people. Or, Instagram might be a good use of your time if you love visuals. Another thing you can do is, to look at how you’re engaging with people and see if you can tweak your messaging, to provide more value to others.
My main takeaway from this mistake is that social media can change at the drop of a hat. I know that Etsy isn’t a social media platform but it was the main way that people found me. When they changed, my business was in a lot of trouble. Don’t make the mistake of putting all of your social media eggs in one basket, like I did. Remember, the two things in digital marketing that you will always have control over are your website and your email list.
I didn’t establish a niche
Back then, I was trying to be everything to everybody. I did branding, website, print materials, Etsy banners, packaging design…anything design related. This made me a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. I was unable to show that I had a specialty in one or two things and this made it difficult to market myself. It’s really hard to establish a target audience when you’re trying to appeal to everyone.
Now, I focus on website design and development because that’s my specialty. That was always my favorite part of designing back then too. I felt the most confinement when I worked with clients on websites because I knew the most about them.
I love learning, all the things, about user experience and website development. I always have so much joy on the day that a website launches! I wish I had put a focus on websites, earlier, so that I could have spoken to my audience sooner.
Now, it wasn’t all bad. One thing that I did right, both then and now, was to put my clients first. I built some great relationships with my clients and it was really hard to step away from them when I went back to a day job. I even still have one client, who has stuck with me, the entire time. I’m so thankful for all of the clients that I have worked with over the years and look forward to building websites, that get results, for my future clients.
I hope that some of the mistakes that I made, can help you if you’re just starting your business for the first, second, or even the 5th time. It’s never too late to follow your dreams and go for what you truly want. I hope you can learn from some of my mistakes and set up your business correctly the first time around. 😉