Everything I Want To Tell You About My First Year In Business
Disclaimer: if you’re thinking about launching a business of your own but don’t know where to start, I would recommend reading Part 1 and Part 2 of my blog series on how to get started before reading my one-year business anniversary post. Happy reading!
On August 18, 2018 I celebrated my one-year anniversary of being in business with Lindsay Scholz LLC. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons in this first year of business that I immediately knew they needed to be shared in a blog post. I wish I’d been able to publish this post sooner, but it’s also something that I wanted to sit with and pour my heart into.
Since there is a lot to cover, I’m breaking this particular post into four sections: what worked, what didn’t work, my year-one income and goals for the future. So many wonderful Instagram followers and blog readers have reached out with questions regarding my year-one experience, so I hope that you all find this post helpful. Now, let’s get started!
• My processes and workflows: setting up systems in my business from day one has been huge in terms of growth and the volume of work that I’m able to take on. I have a process for nearly everything at this point: setting up an initial call and proposal for prospective clients; on-boarding new clients with a timeline; weekly workflows and expectations for my social media clients; project completion and file delivery for design clients. Tools that have helped me with these processes are Trello, HelloSign, Wave Invoicing and Hightail.
• Word-of-mouth and social media referrals: as of today, 60% of my new business inquiries come from Instagram and the remaining 40% is split between word-of-mouth referrals and traffic sent to my website via search. I find this funny since I use Instagram more as space to share business tips and insight into my day-to-day rather than a space to promote client work. Since I know that such a large amount of my inquiries come from Instagram, it’s the one social channel that I spend my time on. I don’t have a Facebook page for my business and I don’t plan to create one; I’m active on Pinterest, but not daily; I rarely (if ever!) use Twitter. Once you look into the analytics and determine which social channel is adding the most value in your business, I would recommend concentrating your content creation and marketing efforts there.
• Investing in a co-working space and virtual assistant: these are two fairly new business expenses for me, but I don’t know what I would do without them now that I have them.
Before joining my co-working space, (hello, RISE Collaborative Workspace!), I worked primarily from my home office. In the beginning, this was a dream – I had limitless time to myself to create, work with clients and build my business. However, I quickly began to feel isolated and uninspired without being surrounded by other creative peers. I joined a local woman-owned co-working space in June of this year and I’ve loved every second of it: I’ve been connected to so many incredible women working in an array of industries, doors have opened to speaking and mentorship opportunities for me, and weekly learning events have opened my eyes to so many helpful topics.
The second big investment for me was hiring a virtual assistant. To be honest, the reason why I now believe I put this off for so long wasn’t due to the expense – I simply didn’t want to give up control on any part of my business. I wanted to be the owner, content creator, designer, accountant, operations manager and more...and I could feel it wearing me down, fast. In August of this year I finally took the plunge and hired a virtual assistant to help me with the tasks in my business that I felt comfortable handing off and would allow me to focus on creating quality work for all of my clients without having to worry about my day-to-day admin tasks. So far, so good!
What Didn’t Work
• Saying “yes” to clients and projects when my gut was screaming “NO:” when I first launched my business, I was scared – scared of the unknown, scared of not making any money, scared of embarrassing myself, scared of letting myself and my friends and family down.
Because of that, I let my fear manifest itself in the form of a scarcity mindset that propelled me to initially say yes to every inquiry that came my way – even if I knew that it wasn’t a fit.
Now, I know that we all need to bring on projects that may not be our “dream” work because that’s how portfolios and reputations are built. However, I firmly believe that when an inquiry comes your way and isn’t in an area of your expertise or client niche, it’s best to refer the work to an alternate service provider.
• Negotiating on rates: when you’re a new business owner, setting yours rates can be tricky enough – but making sure that you adhere to them? That’s an entirely different ballgame! Whether you bill your work at package or hourly rates, there will come a time when a prospective client will want to negotiate or talk you down on what you charge.
This happened to me early in my business and landed me in a place where my client who had negotiated the lowest rate was taking up the most of my time – I’m talking constant revisions that fell outside of contract scope, popping up with last-minute requests and more. Looking back, I was probably making less than minimum wage when all was said and done in our short time working together. Not good!
To combat this, stay firm with your rates or if a prospective client attempts to negotiate to a lower rate, be transparent with how this will affect the scope of work. For example, if a client seeking branding help attempts to negotiate your rate, be upfront with them about how a lower rate will detract from the package (less brand assets, less time spent on the project, etc.). And if you’re not game for negotiating on your rates at all, that’s 100% OK, too. Your business, your rules, friend!
• Coffee dates: this is a topic that I approach very carefully, for fear of coming off the wrong way. Jenna Kutcher put it all so eloquently in this Instagram post, but as of mid-2018 I’ve drastically cut down on the coffee date invitations and “pick your brain” emails that I accept from strangers.
I love helping others and sharing my story. I love meeting other established and aspiring entrepreneurs. And saying “no” isn’t in my strong suit. So as you can imagine, up until earlier this year, I said yes and threw my time and heart into emailing, meeting with and holding calls with every pick-your-brain request that came my way. After uprooting myself from Atlanta, to Denver, to St. Louis I so desperately wanted to forge genuine female friendships and I thought that this is how I would do it. But it hurts when you arrive to a coffee date hoping to make a friend and it turns into a rapid-fire session of, "So how can I do what you do?,” “What about finding clients, how does that work?,” and “I’m trying to figure out what to charge...what do you charge?”
I never realized how drained of energy I had become until someone graciously said to me during coffee, “Thanks so much for your advice, I appreciate it. So, how can I support you in return?”
How can I support you in return? This gesture meant the world to me.
I built this business off of 5+ years of freelancing outside of my 9-to-5, investing in educational business courses and Googling all of the things. I’m proud to provide free educational content on my blog, my Instagram and through speaking engagements. There are no secrets here – I want my story to serve as encouragement for everyone to succeed. Now to protect my energy, for every email inquiry I get for advice, I write a blog post (like this one!) addressing the topic to share my advice publicly on a platform that is easily accessible to anyone and everyone.
My Year-One Income
I used to be weird about money. I don’t know exactly why, but I’ve slowly but surely grown away from the “hush-hush” mindset about money into a more confident and empowered place where I’m happy to talk about making it, investing it and how I steward my own money in my life.
So when I knew that I wanted to dedicate a section of this blog post to my year-one revenue, I got a little nervous: “Should I share what I made?”, “Should I not, I mean, what if people laugh at me and are unimpressed or think I’m boasting or think I’m being ridiculous, GOD, MONEY, WHY ARE YOU SO AWKWARD?!”
I’m going to share a breakdown of what I made in year one simply because of this: I wish I had known what kind of income was realistic for a solo creative business owner in year one, because had I known, I would not have spent so many years of my life in turmoil and depression, mulling over the decision and telling myself “someday” - I would’ve just done the damn thing.
For year one, I wanted to set a manageable-yet-challenging income goal for myself: $50,000. I decided on this number because it was slightly less than my corporate salary and would account for slow seasons, client contracts not getting renewed, etc.
In my first year of business working for myself (August 2017-August 2018), I made $52,731.35.
Am I happy with that? Heck yes! It's so rewarding looking back and saying, "Wow – and that all came because of my hard work and the clients who believed in me. Crazy."
Let’s break this down:
• 65% came from social media client work
• 27% came from branding and design work
• 5% came from freelance writing (this is something that I did for my first three months in business, but dropped when my client workload became too much to continue writing)
• 3% came from Vowed Box Co. sales (I include this as Vowed is currently operating as a separate DBA under my LLC)
I was able to hit my year-one income goal by reverse engineering my packages based on the hourly rate that it would take to help me hit my desired income – and working toward booking out my calendar with the retainer social media clients and branding packages that I would need to hit my goal each month. Now that I've proven to myself in year one that I could hit my goal, I'm in growth mode.
If I can do this, you definitely can. There is nothing special about me and there aren’t any secrets that I hold – I just built a foundation to launch my business on, set a goal, put my head down and worked, hard! I share all of the above figures to encourage you and show you that creating a sustainable business for yourself a reality, and I can’t wait to see you make it happen.
• Grow my client roster: of course, I want to continue serving and working with awesome small to mid-sized woman-owned businesses – it’s my jam! Now that I’ve brought on a virtual assistant to help me with the day-to-day tasks in my business that I used to spend so much time on, I'm now able to put those hours toward marketing my services more and putting myself in front of brands and business that my services may be a great fit for.
• Create passive income streams: we’ve all heard it – passive income is #goals. How great would it be to create an online course, product or service offering that runs on its own and makes sales in the background while you continue focusing on your daily client work? Sounds amazing to me. Although I haven’t given too much thought to how I’m going to set up passive products in my business, I’ve gotten helpful feedback from my social media audience on certain templates and process guides that would assist them. I look forward to working on these soon!
• Grow Vowed Box Co.: outside of my social media and branding business, I also run Vowed Box Co. – a curated collection gift boxes for non-traditional brides. I haven’t had the time to dedicate to Vowed to grow the business in the way I’ve wanted to, which has been a point of frustration. However, I hope to harness my extra time to invest into Vowed’s product line, brand positioning and more so that sales can be moved from online-only into bridal boutiques and gift shops across the country.
Was this blog post about my first year in business helpful to you? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to chat with you and hear all about the big ideas you’re working on to launch the business you’ve always wanted to turn into a reality. Thanks for reading!