Wednesday, February 17, 2016

This Journey of Being In Business For Yourself

New year, new beginning, new blog, and new website.

 If I look like I'm new here... I'm not. I scrubbed everything from the past few years and started again. Why would I do that? Because I became a little older and a little wiser and realized it was time to hit the reset button and go with what I "now" know.

In business and in life, it's probably the wisest thing we can do. Scrub the past once in a while, leave it behind us, and set our eyes and intentions on the new road ahead of us. There is so much to build on from where we've been, what we've learned, and what we've gained.

In being a website designer, graphic designer, and business owner, there are a lot of moments you find yourself wearing other hats you didn't realize were going to be worn. You begin to realize you are in a position of accountability with others who are going to allow you to help them market and present their dream, their art, their business, and their passion... to the world.

I've been designing for the web and print for 20 years. A little over three years ago, I finally decided it was time to stop dabbling in this between jobs, and just go for it all on my own. It was scary as hell when I decided I was no longer going to be able to rely on a weekly paycheck. I got right to work and began re-branding my design business, incorporated, and began networking and promoting. I had 20 years of portfolio built up, so what was I waiting for?

When Your Mojo Goes On Vacation.

The past few years definitely saw lots of growth, as well some cold hard reality checks. There were times I had so much business and so many leads, that I was somewhere between thrilled out of my mind, to mildly freaked out. Then there were those months I didn't know about yet, right around the holidays, where everyone puts you on hold. People are thinking about Christmas shopping and dinners, and family gatherings, and football. Not at all about business or websites. It took me three years to discover the definite pattern. For those first two years, I had seasonal slow times and thought I'd lost my mojo. Nobody was returning calls or emails and the well was running dry. Everyone was enjoying their holidays while I was suddenly going broke.

Then once the season cleared, the replies would come trickling in again. Everyone being so sorry they didn't get back and wanted to start their new project right away. Just as I was beginning to dig out my old resumes and wonder where I was going to end up working, it's as if the snow all melted and the levee broke, and I was back in the rushing river of being an entrepreneur.

While it can be scary and painful to set out on your own while rubbing elbows with failure, it can be a huge blessing and gift when you come out the other side and realize how much more knowledge and wisdom you've gained. This year, while knowing the slow season was fast approaching, it gave me time to regroup and re-brand my business. I was able to be free of pressing deadlines and let my mind wander creatively and do a mental reunion tour of what I've learned.

Do For Yourself, As You Would Do For Others.

Then it hit me. All of the things I recommend to my clients, I was not even doing for my own business! Not because I didn't want to but because I was so damn busy hustling and didn't yet know how to self maintain, while maintaining accountability to 10 or 12 clients at the same time.

I wasn't leading by example and how could I keep selling my clients on what I'm not even doing for me? Sure, I knew the answers to lots of questions in my industry, but how the hell would anyone know that unless they actually got to sit down with me? Its funny when I look at my previous website for my business. When I first designed it nearly three years ago I thought it rocked. And maybe it did at that time. But it wasn't even mobile compatible which is a huge no no in today's market. I got so busy that I simply never got around to it.

This last year in 2015, BubbleHouse Designs was voted as Western North Carolina's number one web design company in our weekly rag the Mountain Xpress. Plus we placed as number 2 for best graphic design company. Very exciting news and yet here I was sitting on this crap-ass outdated website and with very little time to do anything about it.

I knew without a doubt that my competitors... at least those I really admire..  probably were wondering who the hell I was and where I came from to sweep up the annual title for best of. So there they went I'm sure, to go online and check me out, just as I would have done. Only to find that my own website I use to promote my business, which primarily happens to be website design, was outdated, had lousy search engine rankings, and no mobile ability. Somewhat horrifying to think of how many opportunities I may have lost. And somewhat laughable maybe, to think of the competitors that went to my website and thought... what a joke, nothing to worry about here.

Keep Hustling. Your Goal Is Closer Than You Think.

So here's the thing  to all of this and the wrap up. In my industry of design, I meet a lot of startups and hear the worries and concerns. Being in business for yourself is a wild ride of successes and failures. Even the most smug of those who seem to succeed effortlessly and have it all locked into place, are guaranteed to have done their time with their own quiet failures and having to reinvent the wheel at least a few times along the way. But "time" is the key word here.

I can't tell you how many times I've been out on a hike trying to reach the beautiful summit I've heard and read about, only to begin saying in my head, "screw this hike and it's glorious summit". It's too long, too hard, too hot, too cold, too itchy, too buggy, and too thorny. Only to find my self so deep in it, I knew I'd only hate my self if I didn't at least finish the journey. I mean what the hell was all of that for otherwise? The yellow jackets, the twisted ankle, the bug bites, and the sole coming off of my favorite hiking boots?

I found most every time that when I was right at the breaking point and truly giving up... that the summit I came for was only right around the corner. The big payoff finally shows up and then it leaves you in awe and in silence and deep gratitude. 

I believe the key is to know where I want to be in life. To work hard, practice fearlessness, don't regret, choose again when you need to, embrace change, let go of what you can't change (like the past), keep hustling, take time to breathe, and have fun.

With that said, you can either choose a story that will be fun to share around the campfire, or one that will sound like a huge pissing on the campfire session about failure and bad luck. It's all about choice and perspective. Personally, I want to take the journey and share it with others. Successes and failures alike. That is what makes a good and complete story.


Be Valuable and Be Human.

One of the other things I've learned in business is to offer something of value. Even though we offer lots of valuable services, I believe today's world wants to know if your human first.  I know I do. I prefer local handmade over assembly-line manufactured goods any day. Or dealing with a helpful human rather than a voice menu robot that doesn't think at the pace of life. I want to give my money to businesses that have time to talk to me, time to give a crap, and appear sincere and grateful for your business.

Most of all, I believe that if you're in business only for the money, than you're missing out on it's greatest gift. Serving others. I often take more time with clients than some would say I probably should. Sometimes, I even lose money in the process of going the extra mile for someone. But I truly believe that it all comes back around for the better. There will be those who appreciate your efforts, and those who don't give a damn. I don't try to keep inventory of every success and failure. I simply try to continue doing what's right, adjust course along the way, and surrender to the flow of it.

I've found in business, that if you truly are serving others, rather than trying to manipulate them for their money, you will succeed. People love to share about how bad you screwed up. But they also love to share the stories of the jewels they find. People want to help each other find a better solution. Your brand will stand out on it's own if you stay reliable and accountable. If you don't have the answer, than you go seek it for them. You'll likely spend many hours sharing helpful information for free... if you really care about those you are serving.

In this brave new world of technology, I think most of us are missing the human factor. Large corporations these days can tend to make us feel more like cattle they are herding, rather than appreciated clients and community.

So, if you're just now setting out to begin the big journey of entrepreneurship, as many of my clients are, than have the vision in mind first of how you wish to serve others. It's not only about your amazing product or service. It's about building community and showing people you truly care.

I'd also add that you really need to make a plan when going into business. I could have done far better with this tip my self. But there is also a time when you need to walk away from the drawing board, and just dive in and hustle. You will not always have all the answers. Get over it. You will make mistakes, you will have failures, and you will fall and get burned on occasion. You will have self doubts, embarrassments, and no doubt have times when you're completely overwhelmed. But if you can keep going and rewriting your story along the way, you will most certainly grow and keep getting better. Not only as a business, but as a human.

Most important... remember to keep having fun along the way!