On the importance of letting go and moving forward...

Dear fellow freelancer/small business owner,

I feel very lucky to be a freelance designer - I have the flexibility to work anywhere and to fit work around my young children, I regularly experience new challenges that interesting clients bring to the table, and quite simply, I get to do what I love every day. But lets get real…running your own business is hard work! Some days it is all-consuming and overwhelming as a one-person do-it-all. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, things go wrong (hard drive corruption in a 3rd world country anyone?), you make mistakes (poor contract/quote negotiation and subsequent regrets), or the uncertainty of your next job keeps you in a mild panic most of the time.

I wanted to say that you are not alone, and that one mistake does not define you or make you less capable of succeeding.

One thing I’ve found myself caught up in this week in particular is that I am obsessing over what I would consider “not ideal” decisions that I had made when starting out. Several months ago, in my excitement (and in hindsight, naivety), I landed one of my first freelance clients and accepted a payment and terms well below the minimum that I should have negotiated upfront. Now that the product has recently launched, I found myself frustrated that I didn’t negotiate more, rather than celebrating and feeling the excitement of seeing my designs on a new product. In the same week, I found myself completing a lot of unpaid work because I agreed to certain tasks in which I grossly underestimated the time it would take. Both decisions were poor from the start because I didn’t take the time to really consider if the opportunity was ideal for my business, and if I am to be honest, I was worried about losing the client if I negotiated a better deal or said no to particular parts of the contract.

So, what have I learnt from all of this?

  1. Growing a business (and growing as a person in general) means you WILL make mistakes, and that’s ok. What is important is that you learn from the mistakes and continue to grow.

  2. Always take your time. I have learnt to ask the client more questions and be more thoughtful about quoting my work. I factor in not only my time and experience, but also what value I add to the clients product (yes, you should factor that into your pricing!). If the client is truly interested (and a good fit), not only will they wait for a few days for your quote and answer your questions, but they will also be willing to negotiate. The key point here is that you are hoping to establish a good working relationship that mutually benefits BOTH parties. You provide a design (or product/service) that in turn grows their business, and you should be fairly compensated for the role you played in their growth.

  3. You do not have to say yes to every client. This is particularly hard when you are just starting out as you are keen to establish clients, and gain both experience and exposure. Building a business takes time, so take your time finding your ideal clients and do your best work. If after thoughtful consideration, the client is just not willing to agree to your pricing and/or terms, then they probably aren’t the right client for you. That’s ok. Find YOUR clients. Don’t waste your time with a client that doesn’t suit your business model or values because you could be limiting your time to work for the right client when they come along or diluting your brand message, therefore losing the clients you do want to attract.

  4. Put work out there that you want to do. Don’t try and be everything to everyone - find your niche. You will find the right clients, and you will be happier doing work for them. This does not mean that you have to say no to other opportunities that may arise, but you do need to consider if they are still right for you and your brand when they do arise.

Hopefully by sharing some lessons I’ve learnt from this experience, it has helped you feel better and given you the motivation to keep pursuing what you love. Today I’m ok with my flaws, and I’m off to buy a product with one of my awesome designs!

Wishing you great success…