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There are lots of things I wish I did differently in the beginning stages of my business. I made a lot of mistakes and had some awesome wins.
I was fearless, but that’s not always a good thing and it cost me more than I hoped to pay.
From being depressed, to getting back into debt, to learning to be location independent, it’s been a crazy ride.
There are no right or wrong answers for everyone. And after four years of being a freelancer, I can truly say that I’ve learned a few things that will hopefully save you the headache I experienced.
Here are five small business tips and lessons I wish I knew when I was first starting out as a business owner.
1. Don’t ask for permission
Do you remember why you wanted to be your own boss and set your own hours? You wanted more flexibility with your schedule, to work on projects you actually enjoyed, and not have to ask permission to take time off work.
At least, those are the reasons why I quit my job two years ago. In over 10 years of working for the same employer I only took 2 sick days. I was tired of asking my boss for time off work to spend with family, to recover if I was sick. I was thrilled when I no longer had to ask for permission.
But then I landed 10 other clients who became mini-bosses, and I started asking for permission all over again. Can we move this chat? Can I submit this assignment a day late? Is there a way we can move this around? You get the idea.
It was only this year, four years after starting my online business, that I realized I don’t have to ask for permission from anyone. Work is abundant, and if clients want to work with me then I’m happy to have them on my level. Now, I let clients know that I will be moving our talk from Monday to Tuesday, and they can let me know if that doesn’t work.
No requests. No more asking for permission.
2. Hire (or ask for) help before you need it
Being a freelancer is a deceiving position. You may run a business of one, but it doesn’t mean you should work alone. In the beginning of my blogging career I thought I had to do everything myself, because of my limited budget, or limited trust I had in other people to get work done the way I wanted.
Now, however, I’ve learned the importance of asking for help, and even hiring team members to take the load off my shoulders. There are only so many hours in a day and if you want to accomplish everything to your high standards, you need people to help pick up the slack. That’s a fact, so you might as well embrace it!
When you need the help is when you become desperate, so start creating a process now so you can hand over your projects to someone else, when the time comes. Don’t wait until you’re in emergency mode, or feeling burned out.
If you’re not ready to hire help, seek out an accountability partner who can offer support, guidance, and feedback. This is someone who can bolster your confidence and who you can bounce ideas off of — both of which are vital for being a successful freelancer.
3. Your workspace affects your bottom line
Ever since I bought the carefulcents.com domain name, my regular routine included working from my home office. I occasionally work out of a coffee shop but since I have such a small bladder (seriously I feel like I pee like every hour), I always have to pack up my stuff and head to the restroom — which isn’t very effective for being productive.
Anyways, my home office in my apartment is where all the magic happens and it was only a few months ago that I finally embraced the fact that my bad productivity energy was because my workspace was super inefficient.
I gave myself $100 budget and spent two months looking for inspiration, and furniture, for my home office makeover. I scoured the Office Depot Business Solutions Center for ideas, tips, and tricks for creating the perfect home office space.
I used to move around my office furniture once-a-month, trying to find the best layout. But since the makeover, I haven’t moved anything at all, and I’m more creative and productive than ever.
In fact, I’ve been able to double my freelancing rate since. Yes, I’ve done other things to make more money, but I know for a fact that my energy levels and creativity have greatly improved since updating my workspace.
4. Put your work first every day
For the longest time I struggled with making enough time to write for clients (since they pay the bills) and finding time to write for my own blog. My own projects always got pushed to the side so I could work on someone else’s tasks.
I worked endlessly on trying to find a way to balance everything, without overloading myself and working crazy hours. I finally found a solution by simply prioritizing my work during the first time slot of each day. I started out with just 10 minutes in the morning — before I started any client work, checked email, or jumped on consulting calls.
Then I diligently put my work first every day, for a week, a month, and then several months. Some days I failed at this, but as time went on, I found that I was more excited than ever to begin my work day. And because of this extra passion, I found the time (imagine that!). In fact, I started getting up earlier just so I could have extra time to work on my own blog and community.
That 10 minutes in the morning morphed into an hour every day, and now it’s become a regular part of my schedule. Some days I’ll spend 4-5 hours on my site, creating blog posts, newsletters, and course content. And I still balance this with doing client work and getting paid on time.
By applying this strategy to my workflow I’ve gotten more done in the past 3 months that I have in the past 3 years I’ve been in business. #nojoke Now I look forward to every day of work, and am happier and more creative than I’ve ever been.
Put your projects first every day. Do your best to stick with this and make it a priority. Block off 10 minutes in the morning for the next week and see what happens.
5. Your currency is time
As the breadwinner my small family, I have the added pressure of paying the bills on time and making sure that I provide everything we need. This usually means I’m completely maxed out with my time, and barely have a free moment to exercise or take a lunch break.
Can you relate? When you’re a freelance business owner your currency is time, not money. Yes, you have to earn money to pay the rent and keep your business afloat, but the real exchange of value comes in with your time. You have to be vigilant with where you spend your time, what projects you work on, and balance this with taking care of yourself.
I am constantly evaluating where my time goes, asking for small business advice, and testing out ideas for how to be more productive. At the end of each month I calculate all my working hours and divide that by the income I made during that time.
This allows me to see if I’m making progress on my hourly rate, where I’m wasting time, what clients need to be let go, and if I need to raise my rates. I also spend a few hundred dollars a month working with a super smart tech guy, handing off admin tasks to my Project Assistant, and combing through copy with my Assistant Editor.
All of these things allow me to leverage my time so I’m not always working, and I can enjoy the business that I’m building. That’s why we quit our jobs, right?
You want more freedom and more money, without working more hours. Viewing your time as currency will help you reach your goal.
What’s an important business lesson you’ve learned this year? Share your small business advice so we can avoid your mistakes!
In June I celebrated my blog’s 6th birthday of being in business. So today I’m sharing five things I wish I knew in the beginning, inspired by the Office Depot Business Solutions Center. This is part of a sponsored series I’m doing with Office Depot via Socialstars. Join the conversation on social media, using the hashtag #GearLove.