Learn from my mistakes! Read on...
5 years ago this week I accepted my dream job. I was hired to lead the online team for a high profile, high traffic site, and I was thrilled. Up to that point in my career I had led online marketing (aka: website, email, social) for some major brands, but none with the traffic of the site I was taking on. Further, I was going to have the opportunity to develop my own strategy and hire my own team.
Fast forward 4 years.
My team was KILLING it on paper. We had accomplished so much of what we wanted to get done. The site had industry-wide recognition. The team I was leading contained nothing but top-notch, talented, creative, smart, hard-working professionals. Their work product was second-to-none, and I was so proud. But I was deeply unhappy.
OK, so that's not the truth. I was more than deeply unhappy. I was constantly anxious, seriously angry, and deeply depressed. I mean like - couldn't put my makeup on at home because I knew I would cry it off during the commute - depressed. I had a big problem, and I had to do something about it.
Yes, there were some issues at the 'dream job'. But there was an even bigger problem feeding my unhappiness.
For years I had drudged along in corporate America, trading freedom for security, while an entrepreneur drowned inside me. It made me resentful and ugly from the inside out. I tried to fight it. After all, I was living the American dream, right? A good salary. A nice house in the 'burbs. Blah blah blah... So why was it that I couldn't even get excited about a nice vacation at the beach?
When the feedback at work became more about me than about my work product, I knew I couldn't do it anymore. This 'dream job' and its issues were my last straw.
So, one year ago this week I resigned. My husband and I were optimistic, and terrified. There was a lot of pressure on me to make this work - we didn't have a plan B. I needed to make money.
Immediately I got started. I took no time off, working for anyone that would throw work my way, that very next Monday. My goal at the time was to muddle along for a year, then figure it out. I'm happy to say it didn't take me a year to figure out that muddling wasn't going to cut it. And I am also happy to say I have figured some things out.
My main product is, and will remain, strategy creation. I believe that every company should have a documented plan for marketing their brand in every channel they are going to use (website, email, social, billboard, print, etc.) You must understand the audience, probable responses, costs, risks, message, and timing for each type of marketing you are going to do. It's the only way to create a program that makes sense and gets results. So I document that all out for my customers first. (If you have never documented your marketing strategy, let's talk. Here's the link for more info: Strategies that get results.)
Once that is done I either stay on with the client to execute the plan, or train their staff to execute on their own for themselves. This brings me all kinds of marketing work from brochure creation to full website redesign to email marketing campaigns.
Also, I am creating a training course that will teach basic online marketing skills to small business teams. (I have a theory that a large portion of the business Facebook and Twitter accounts in this world are being run by interns and assistants with no social media training. I aim to support those brave souls with some training resources!)
The business plan has changed, evolved, and changed again. I have talked to hundreds of small business owners in my obsessive quest to understand their needs and my place in the business service market. With the help of some seriously talented freelancers, I have done some great work. My clients include government agencies, small and large businesses, and entrepreneurs.
And, I paid myself a salary for the first time this week!
I haven't been in business for long, but I want to tell you what I have learned. If I can give you ideas for your business or save you some learning time, then hot dog! It's been well worth my trial and error.
Value your relationships
Business relationships for an entrepreneur tend to fall into one of three categories: fan, team member, or collaborator.
Fans are the people who are paying attention. They are watching your twitter feed, reading the things you write, paying attention to your product. They may hire you at some point, or they may have already hired you.
Team members are the people you work with. They may be employees, freelancers, or consultants. They are the people who enable you to get your work done.
Collaborators are the people who are doing what you are doing. You bounce ideas off each other and help each other out. You help each other define and shape your businesses.
Here is the point - know who you want in each of those categories. You need all of them. Some people may fall into more than one category, and that's OK. The more excellent these people are, the better your work product will be. Make sure you have super-talented, exceedingly honest, and hyper-motivated people around you. Don't forget - you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
OK, so here's a big one. You must charge enough that you can happily stay in business. If you aren't charging what you are worth you aren't doing anyone any favors. Clients who hire you at a cut rate won't appreciate you or your work product because they will know they got you on the clearance rack. You will resent your clients because you know you are worth more. And soon you will be back working for the man, and building someone else's dream. If you don't charge what you are worth you won't last.
Now let's push that even further. You have to charge enough to make sure there is some money left in your business account after you pay yourself and your team. My friend Sarah Thompson at MoreMoneyMentoring.com calls it the puke test. If you don't feel the chunks rise when you quote a price, you aren't charging enough.
For me, I have no interest in competing with anyone on price. My skill set is unique, valuable, and cultivated over a decade and a half of hard-won experience. I charge based on the value I bring to the organization I am working with. (That being said, I'm still not very good at following my own advice here. Just today, I tripled the price of a strategy, and it should probably even be more.)
Invest in yourself and your business
If you don't charge enough, there will be nothing left over to invest back into the business. You need money for conferences - they are important to your development. You need a business coach. You need courses for you and your team. Make sure you are making this happen. If it's not then go raise your prices. Right now. Stop reading and go do it.
In the immortal words of VanHalen: Jump!
OK, so here is the best part of my little "one year in business" story. I was driving down the road the other day, and I realized I was smiling FOR NO REASON. For the first time in years I felt genuinely satisfied, and even excited. That's right, I am happy!
When I left my job I knew I wasn't going to replace my salary right away. But I also knew I wouldn't be making nothing. So we found a way to make it work, and it's working. I am learning my way through it, my business is growing. This can happen for you.
I don't want to be responsible for anyone making any bad decisions here. So all I can say is this - if you have solid experience and a marketable skill you can make it work. Give it a try. Nobody is going to die if you don't get rich tomorrow. It IS a marathon.
As for me, I know one thing for sure. I no longer have an entrepreneur drowning inside me.
Kelly Coulter is a marketing consultant and coach with almost 20 years experience helping businesses win customers online.