Running a business means making a sacrifice or two, both professional and personal. With summer officially over, fewer personal sacrifices need to be made: festivals are winding down, vacations are recent memories, and everyone has their minds back to work or school.
Not so for the small business owner and operator. They never stop. At least I didn't this past summer.
There were many events, parties, and get togethers I couldn't attend. It got so depressing, I avoided using Facebook since everyone was talking and posting pictures of the fun they were having. It wears down the spirit knowing you missed out on so much with the people you love. But when you're in charge, that's one of the sacrifices you have to make; putting work before your personal life.
In early May, I took a weekend job to make ends meet financially. Studio work was slow and I had my eye on landing an office space. I gave up the prime hours of my weekends to make extra cash to afford renting the office. It was the best move I made professionally this year (so far) and I don't regret working to make this dream a reality. But it came with a cost, a personal one. One that I've had to repeat to friends all summer, "I can't go. I'm working."
I put work first because I wanted it to succeed, and I knew the price I would pay for that effort. Even now, I make those choices everyday. It's impossible to cram everything into every free moment with no regard to burn out. I can't sacrifice my well being just for a few hours of fun. It will drag down the most valuable thing I have: my health.
While business has slowly picked up, it's important to take care of the one in charge. Sacrificing all the time will make work a terrible place to be and ruin the point of going solo. I did take a few small trips over the summer to alleviate my itch for traveling. I have one more trip planned in the next few weeks which will have to hold me over till next year.
On the smaller scale, taking a half day from the office to just catch up with house-hold chores is sometimes relaxing. Even one day off a week to do nothing is enjoyable, until I get bored and end up back at the office later. It's a curse wanting to work so much. As long as I can find enjoyment in small things, I don't feel quite as bad when I miss the bigger things due to work.
There's no reason not to make plans for bigger vacations next year. It's just a matter of keeping clients in the know of when you won't be available. Everyone is entitled to some time off, and your clients will completely understand. And it's all about balancing work and personal life.
I've pushed my personal life aside for a while but I know it's only temporary. If I earn enough to not need my weekend job, maybe I'll bid them farewell or take a month off during their slower season. Being in charge means I have to make all the big decisions. I have to pick what is best for myself in tandem with what's best for my business. It's only just started, so I'm sure I have lots of time to learn.
Spring has sprung and that means kids will open their lemonade stands soon. There is one in every neighborhood run by a group of friends or siblings. Kids just trying to earn a buck or two in this economy. As an adult, we don't take these small operations seriously. They're playing pretend. They have no idea what they're doing. They're kids. But when does that mentality towards entrepreneurs stop? Does age matter when a business is trying to be taken seriously? Does gender?
Speaking only from my own experience as a woman, gender does have a lot to do with it. I've had both male and female clients in my career. There is a distinct shift in how I'm treated depending on who I'm addressing. Women treat me more on an equal level. We understand what we've been up against to get this far. We get it. Men have an air of patronizing superiority. Not all of my male clients, but it isn't not there (excuse the need for the double negative). Most are probably not consciously aware of their behavior because they have had different experiences than I have. In the more politically correct world that I grew up in, I've become hyper aware of how I'm treated by people.
Women continue to confront issues of gender inequality in the professional world. I've been running my business for almost a decade and I still encounter professionals that don't seem to take it seriously.
"So you have your own business then?"
"Oh, how long have you been doing that?"
"And how successful has it been?"
"Think you'll be able to retire doing that?"
Much like the example of the lemonade stand, some see my business is a cute concept with a short shelf life. What do I need to convince potential clients of my viability as a business owner? A large office building filled to the brim with staff? To be publicly traded on Wall Street? To have several offices in North America? To earn a few millions dollars a year?
No amount of business paraphernalia is needed to convince people that my business, or any business, matters. What matters is how I treat it. What matters is how I approach people and introduce myself and my business. As an adult, it's harder to dismiss someone when they speak sincerely and passionately. When you speak with confidence it shows. You could have a staff of two or two thousand, being proud about your crew and the work you've done will speak volumes more than a fancy office will.
More than just treating your business like it's made of gold, you have work that backs up your claims. To be successful in the long run you need both equally. Passible work but a lot of confidence might fool some people but will leave them unsatisfied. Amazing work and not enough confidence will make you easier to dismiss. If you don't believe in your product, why should anyone else?
It is difficult to shrug off negative and condescending remarks, especially when it's something you're deeply involved with. There will always be people that doubt your abilities in one facet or another. Pleasing everyone is exhausting and a waste of time. Focus on what you're great at and you'll attract people who believe in your message. Take the lemons others give you and make your lemonade stand amazing.
No one likes rejection. Whether it's a romantic relationship or a business transaction, it's a similar sting to the heart. As a business, there are right ways and wrong ways to handle how you react when a client either rejects you or replaces you altogether. I can't help you on the romantic issue, sorry.
If you discover a project you were slated to work on was passed off to someone else, don't get upset. Well, don't call your client screaming and yelling about it. They won't respond to that very well and it might kill your professional relationship with them. Feeling bad from the discovery is perfectly normal, but don't be controlled by your emotions. Instead, walk away from your computer/phone, take a deep breath, have some coffee, grab a snack, do literarily anything other than press SEND on that email you drafted. Take as long as you need to come down from your rage. It could take hours or days, but give yourself a chance to soothe your emotions to a calm state. Once you've calmed down enough to be rational, move on to the next step.
If you emailed or called your client about that project but heard nothing back, contact them again. Clients get busy, just like the rest of us, and maybe they lost your email in an inbox that is swimming with notices and meeting requests. They could have forgotten to get back to you about an update on the project. The date moved, or the money fell through, or something outside of their power occurred and they simply forgot to inform you of it. The likelihood it was something personal is very low, as long as you have been professional with them. Never take rejection personally.
If you want to know more about what happened, be honest that you'd like to know if it was something you did. Was the project not going in the direction they wanted? Was it over budget? Were you not emailing them often enough? Were you emailing too often? Open the lines of communication and inform your client that you'd like them to be honest about what happened. Let them know that you'd like to avoid similar situations in the future, either with them or with other clients. This will make your client feel more in control and assure them that the truth won't hurt your feelings. It's a big reason why clients don't confront their designers. Rejection isn't easy for either party. Imagine how they might feel having to inform you that you've been replaced.
Throughout the entire process of discovery and inquiries, always be professional. If you see the end result of the project that was taken away, don't bad mouth it. Even if the quality is below what you would have produced, say nothing to your client about it. Again, the reasons for switching to another freelancer could have been outside of their control. They might not like the end results either but needed it done for one reason or another. Even if you never find out the real reasons why things fell through, don't forget to be professional.
The first few times you get rejected or replaced will hurt, but you'll get through it. It will happen again too, even with all the safety nets in place, it will happen again. The best practice is to learn how to deal with it like a pro and move on. Unless your client shuts the door of future opportunities, never shut one on them. They might come back later when the budget is bigger or someone else is in charge. Keeping an open door policy with past clients is better than shutting them out because your feelings got hurt. Don't take rejection personally.
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I've decided to start a weekly blog called Tuesday Tips! It will be short and sweet (maybe) and contain useful information (definitely).
This week's topic: Professional Robots Suck
It might be difficult to put on a smile when you're feeling low, but in business you have little choice if you want to do well. There is also a difference between being professional and being a robot.
Recently I received an email from a fellow designer, specifically a web designer. This individual was polite and professional in their message, but there was something missing from the message. They were pitching their web design and marketing services but failed to point out parts of my site that they thought could use some work. I don't know this designer personally, but I checked out their site. Seemed legit enough but I politely declined their inquiry, stating the site was fresh and I got the design side already covered. I didn't receive a reply from my reply, so I assumed they moved on. I was wrong.
I received an exact duplicate message just a week or so after the first message. Complete copy and paste job on the content, word for word. Really? I mean, really? The original message didn't sound like they looked at my website at all. There was no hint that they explored beyond the Contact page. That was a turn off. Then I got an exact copy of the first message, that I turned down already, not more than two weeks later. This feels like a dial-up telemarketer with a prerecorded message. Nothing human about it.
This is not only slightly annoying, but gives the wrong impression about you as a professional. Not only did you not bother to explore the site of your possible client, you didn't read the first message that said "No thanks" after first contact. Rejection sucks but you have to be professional no matter what.
If you're a freelancer and are trying to make some new contacts by pitching your services, do some research before you send your cold-call (email). Customize your message, make a point to mention parts of their current site, maybe sprinkle a suggestion here or there, make the effort to sound like you want to help (which you want to). Yes, it will take a lot longer and might not reap a lot of results even with the customized content. But it will reflect much better on you when you do get an email from a long ago cold-call recipient who noticed you took the extra time and effort. It will make you look like a living human being that is easy to approach and worth working with.
This is how you build strong professional relationships. It's always worth the extra effort.
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