The Absolute Best and Not-So-Great Business Advice I’ve Received as a Business Owner

January 30, 2018

My 4 year business anniversary is fast approaching and my business seems to transform and get better everything single year. When March is here, I love looking back on the last year and see what worked and what didn’t. Throughout the year, business advice is thrown at me from all sides (I bet you can relate). Business advice is plentiful between blog posts and courses, conferences and Facebook Groups.

It can feel like you’re missing out on the next best thing or you should be using a certain app or process instead of the one you already love. There has been advice that helped me in spades and some that set me back with missteps. I’m sharing with you the good, the bad, and the ugly to hopefully help you avoid the type of advice that just adds to the noise.

The Good

Speak to one person when you create content marketing

Having a specific ideal client profile helped me to create better content. Think about it, when you’re speaking to a large group of people, you speak more generally and building a connection is made a lot more tough. But talking with a friend or meeting someone new one-on-one is not only easier to be yourself but you can be more comfortable.

Choosing a niche also helps you find the one type of person you’re speaking to. You don’t want to simply be known as a photographer, designer, café, or event planner. That is an industry and no one becomes a go-to expert without specializing in something. Writing with one person in mind and focusing your content to be about your specialty will set you apart and bring the right clients to your business.

Be genuine and true to who you are

Being yourself applies to every facet of your business. Not only do you want your content from your website to your Instagram captions to sound authentic, but it can become difficult to sound like someone else consistently for a long period of time. You don’t want to break trust with your audience!

When creating for your clients, you also want to be true to your style (because it’s uniquely you!) and comparison can drain you and make you feel less confident in your own work. If you start to look at someone’s work and start feeling negative rather than inspired, it may be time to take a step back and find inspiration around you in the non-social media world.

You don’t need a huge plan every time you launch something

When your business becomes a legit thing, during a major rebrand, or when you’re offering a new service or product in your business that is targeted at a new audience, you definitely want a launch that drums up excitement and gets eyes on your website. But there are many times in your business that you’ll be fine tuning, refining, and upgrading your offerings and a huge launch with all the moving parts shouldn’t be your focus.

Make sure your message matches your visuals. Your website will never be “done” so launch it when you can express what is important: who you are, what you offer, and why the audience should work with you.

Keep your paperwork as simple and streamlined as possible

One of the first complications I had in my business was my paperwork. I tried so many applications and systems that my head was spinning (and I’m sure my client’s too). How simple your process is from inquiry to launched can make your client feel confident or terrified. I’ve switched to Honeybook since last April and it was a game changer for my business. Not only did I book most of the inquiries I received, but I was able to build trust with my clients before their project start date.

Find out more in my post about how designers (and non-wedding professionals) can use Honeybook.

The Bad

If your brand looks good, clients will start rolling in

Oh boy, was this one wrong. Even as a brand designer myself, I would create the perfect patterns, adorable icons, and a website that was pretty to look at. I was sitting there, posting pretty Instagram squares and getting some likes but no engagement. I could hear crickets every time I opened my inbox. But then I shifted my focus.

I still have a pretty brand but my content is key. On Instagram, I write captions that I hope make a difference most of the time in the reader. I share blog posts now so I can help creatives in some way have a better business. My story is part of the narrative within my business. Your words will make the biggest impact to those special people you’re speaking to. I saw a huge, positive change in my business as soon as I put more focus on what I said, not how it looked.

If you hate writing, you don’t need a blog or newsletter

Now, I love to write so I understood this wasn’t directed at me. I thought it was such a missed opportunity for the business owner I saw who posted in earnest in a Facebook Group, “how do I create more content to market my business?” So many comments were telling her to not stress herself out writing blog posts or starting a newsletter if she didn’t like to write (which was the reason she gave for feeling lost). Here is what I’ve found…

Even with a love of writing, I struggled to come up with blog posts and other content for my business. When I started a content calendar in Asana to keep track of my ideas I felt more in control and less stressed. I keep a set schedule for blog posts and newsletters that go out to my list. When there is something I absolutely want to share on Instagram, I set a reminder on that day. It’s so helpful to have a plan so in the moments when I need to create the content, there are less questions.

Gauge your individual clients to create a process as you go that works for them

This was a huge mistake I made for the first 2 years of my business and I look back and regret it all the time! I would play it by ear quite a bit when I worked with a client because I was offering all a la carte services so every project was custom. This also meant sometimes I’d be working on my least favorite parts of a brand design in one project. I wasn’t focusing on the types of projects I wanted.

Once I revised my packages (or created them in the first place) and created a true process, one that is outlined and easy to follow, not only did I book a lot more projects that were straight up fun, but I enjoyed working on them that much more. My clients benefited from a set schedule and timeline that would result in a beautiful and intentional brand and website each time. Giving your clients guidance is not bossy, it means they have put their trust in you and you’re returning that trust with a proven method that will make their investment worth their time and money.

The Ugly

You should invest in a custom website, DIY templates are inferior

When you’re first starting out, you won’t have a super clear vision of what your business could be. The first things you need to focus on is your message and your foundation.

Your content needs extra care as I mentioned above. Be genuine and intentional when you share about your business. A DIY website template may be right for where you are in business. That is completely ok! When your message is consistent and you know who you want to hear your voice, a professional and custom brand and website will elevate you to that level.

The foundation of your business will be important to set straight. Your process, content marketing, and apps/templates you’ll need are the starting point. Once you’re getting inquiries, these elements will make onboarding and making money so much easier.

If you can do everything yourself in your business, you can keep more of your money

Ah, the old “don’t hire anyone” trick. This may seem like a no brainer. If you don’t pay anyone to do any tasks in your business, that money is also yours! But not so fast. Do you spend 2 hours a month bookkeeping? What if those 2 hours were used for marketing and extending your reach? Small amounts of time here and there can drastically pull away from more projects or new opportunities. You also don’t want to sacrifice more time away from your business enjoying life to do small tasks that another person could take care of.

If you feel overwhelmed, look into getting a bit of help. It can do a world of good and give you back the valuable time you need to grow and rest.

You should be using XYZ website platform because I am

Every business is different. When choosing a website platform, you want to choose something that works perfectly for your needs. I shared which platform between Showit and Squarespace may work best for you based on what you want your website to accomplish. With your website being a living and ever-changing entity within your business, you want to work on a platform that is easy to update for you.

You are in competition with other people in your industry

I know community over competition has been a welcome movement within the creative industry for a couple of years now. I’m constantly reminded and rewarded for following this idea in my business. The more I’m open and make friends with other creators, the more my business flourishes. Between collaborations (a fun one is coming soon!) and referrals, I feel truly cared for by my fellow designers. When I see underhanded tactics and sneaky salesman language and behavior, I know those approaches won’t bring you more clients because they stem from insecurities. Building your network and genuinely sharing with others will help the whole community grow.

My absolute favorite way I built my network was at the Creative at Heart Conference. I went to rounds 2 in Roanoke and 7 in Raleigh and both times transformed my business for the better. Hear more about my trip to Raleigh here.

And amazing news to anyone interested in attending yourself! The details for round 8 are available and tickets go on sale tonight at 8pm EST! I swear, I’m not a sponsor in any way other than truly loving the conference and the network of amazing women I’ve been able to learn from as a result. Don’t miss your chance to go, tickets sold out in 12 hours last time!

I hope today’s post help you sort through some beneficial business advice and how you can better your business through small shifts in your mindset. I’d love to know in the comments, what has been the best or worst business advice you’ve received?

  1. Nicole says:

    This is a great list. Community over competition is such a welcome change from how things were even just a few years ago. We are all so willing to share our knowledge when someone asks and in return we receive that same help when we need it ourself.

    • Stefani says:

      Exactly Nicole! I was very fortunate to start my business right when community over competition was beginning to take hold. I’ve met and learned from some amazing business owners. I’m so glad I’m able to share knowledge now as well and I hope I’m helping many people through my blog.

  2. Rhiannon says:

    What a great list! It’s so hard to decipher what is truly needed when you’re first starting out and the things you really should be focusing on. I was always under the impression that a blog and newsletter weren’t that big of a deal, and I’m still trying to play catch-up years later. You live and learn though. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Stefani says:

      Thank you! When you’re first starting, you definitely hear things that you think, “That means I need to do this.” But it’s something to focus on after a year in business. I am catching up on the newsletter stuff too!

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