5 Tips from Successful Biz Owners

Last Friday, I took the day away from my regular office hours to attend the KC Design Week: Creative Entrepreneurship 101 mini conference. I believe professional development is so important as a full-time business owner. While doing the work for your client's and maintaining the needs for your business are important, sometimes you need to step away to just learn. The one day event was held at the UMKC School of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, which was the perfect educational setting for listening to local business owners share their tips and experiences from owning a successful business. I definitely felt like I was back in college sitting in a lecture hall, except in a modern and innovative setting.

While the content at the conference was more geared toward creatives that are in the early phases of launching a business or taking their freelance work full-time, (didn't realize that when signing up!), I still looked at each presentation as an opportunity to learn and ask questions. So, I wanted to share the five core tips that I took away.

1. Ignore everybody. Okay, let me explain. The context of this statement was discussed in the first panel discussion of the day, in which the featured speakers discussed having a business plan. They agreed that having a business plan is smart, but that it's more important to allow your plan to evolve, to change and to even be ditched. As Lindsay Laricks of Little Freshie stated, "business plans are rough drafts," which definitely struck a cord to me. We are often so focused on what we should be doing (based on advice we receive from others) that we forget to listen to what our brand is telling us. All of those articles that clog up our Facebook newsfeed don't have the answer. It's in your gut and in the statistics. Did something not pan out like you planned? Change it or even ditch that idea. The point of being a self-employed, self-sustaining business owner is because you have control of how your business works, is run and makes a profit. Don't forget that! 

2. The boring stuff matters. I learned this the hard way. Most of us creative entrepreneurs don't start a business to crunch numbers and work on things like billing, accounting, and taxes...but that is the reality. Luckily, we don't have to do these things on a day-to-day, but the more time you invest in the 'boring stuff', the less headache (and risk) you will have down the line. I mentioned that I learned this the hard way. My first time filing taxes self-employed was a nightmare - an unorganized mess that ultimately turned into me having a meltdown and complete panic that I was going to owe more than I planned for. The advice received to avoid this during the second session by Venture Legal would have been nice to hear three years ago, but I guess I'm more of a learn-from-experiences type of girl. Moral of the story: get your business logistics in order as early as possible. Set-up a legal entity (with the help of a qualified lawyer), start a business bank account to keep finances seperate, and invest in an accountant or program (I like Quickbooks Self-employed) to manage your income and deductions. Don't wait until the last minute to make sure everything is organized. I am now allotting 1-hour per week to just focus on the boring 'biz' stuff. 

3. Build partnerships that work. Seems obvious, but is definitely easier said than done. Whether you are building a business based on a partnership, hiring employees, or collaborating with other brands in your industry, it's all about finding the right partners that truly fit. In this session, the co-owners of Blkbird Design shared how they launched their business together and work collaboratively based on their individual strengths. It was inspiring to see a business duo that is respectful, supportive and completely in-tune with one another. I have made the mistake of jumping (or shall I say: diving) into a variety of partnerships out of pure excitement. I didn't let the partnerships evolve naturally and I didn't do my research, but instead tried to force something to happen. Who you align your business or work with is just as important as the work you do yourself. Make sure any person that you bring on, collaborate with or form a partnership with has your best interests at heart and is willing to put in the energy to make it happen. 

4. Take time to create, everyday. The fourth session may have been focused on how to self-promote as a business owner, but the information that I found the most valuable was when Whiskey Design owner, Matt Wegerer shared advice on taking time to create. Not creating for a client, project or anything billable, but creating something just for you. Let me break it down. As creative business owners, we are busting our butts everyday to put our clients first, to make sure our work goes above and beyond their expectations, and ultimately that we are getting paid as a result of said work. I mean, there never is any guarantee when you are self-employed! But Matt's point is that you have to keep the creative juices flowing. You have to get back to WHY you started, which was to create. So whether you are a writer, painter, graphic designer, photographer, or have some other hobby or talent, take just 30-minutes a day to create something...anything! Sometimes these 'brain dumps' of creativity can turn into something cool or even something profitable, but don't look at it that way. Just create!

5. Educate your clients. The fifth session of the conference was fun for me because it was more personal. The presenter was Lee Page of Page Communications. Owner of one of the top local PR agencies in Kansas City and also my first employer. Yup, I got to watch my first boss in the real world share his expertise on keeping and retaining clients you love and it was pretty awesome. (Sidenote: but also important to remember. The industry is small, so maintaining relationships -- even with your former boss or co-workers is key.) Knowing Lee and learning from him, I knew that he would have great advice to share on client management. He definitely addressed several points that are all great to hear from others because they are things that come up more frequently than not. 

  • Value your work
  • Don't offer discounts/trade
  • Define client expectations clearly

But what I liked most was the point of educating your clients. As someone that mostly works with *dream* clients, I've also had my fair share of bad apples. Lee's point is that you have to put yourself in the client's shoes. Maybe they don't understand the work or what's going on. Or maybe they don't understand what you plan to deliver. As the business owner, it's up to us to properly communicate what services/product we will provide and then execute that plan. We have to make sure our client's understand both the process and deliverables.

So there you have it. I had a great first experience at #KCDesignWeek and am glad that I took time to invest in myself. Congrats to the KC Design Week team on a great conference experience and week of events! Learn more about the events: www.kcdesignweek.com

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