Too often, running your own business doesn’t work out as expected. Many of those who choose to start a business do so in the hope of spending more time with family, only to end up working more hours. Others launch their freelance career to escape a tyrannical boss, just to push themselves harder than their boss ever did. Still others dream of making more money, and yet struggle to find enough work to pay the bills.
Instead of the new business existing to facilitate their goals, they end up living to feed the company and keep it afloat.
If you find yourself in this kind of position, do not despair. Things are recoverable, and it all begins by having a clear vision of what you want.
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What do you want?
Problems often begin when people lose sight of why they started their own business in the first place. Admittedly, many of us were somewhat naive in those early days, but if your company cannot deliver at least some of those dreams, then you might as well get a job.
"If your company cannot deliver at least some of those dreams, then you might as well get a job."
Step back and ask yourself what you want from your life. What do you need your business to deliver? Do you want more time, more money, a more enjoyable job, or something else entirely?
Being honest with yourself about this is essential. For example, many people say they want the excitement of building a large agency, when they just want to earn more. Unfortunately, one does not necessarily lead to the other.
You must ask yourself why. If you want to grow your business, ask why. If you desire to earn more, you need to ask why. You will find there is often an underlying reason, and alternative ways of achieving that result.
With a clear idea of your actual goal for the business, it is time to get realistic about your current position.
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Are you being realistic?
A considerable number of business owners are fooling themselves. They kid themselves about their profitability and how hard they work.
Often, the root of the problem is that they dramatically undercharge. That results in them working ridiculous hours just to make ends meet.
They justify this ludicrous situation by claiming that the market won’t allow them to charge more, or that they are only working long hours while they get the business stabilized.
It is true that in the early days a business owner has to work long hours to get things started. But this is not healthy or desirable over the long term. Take it from me.
As for undercharging, this doesn’t have anything to do with market pressures. There are ample others in the same position who charge a much more sustainable rate. Instead, it is about overestimating how many hours you can physically spend on chargeable work, and not having a firm handle on the financial situation.
It is time to revisit your charge out rate and set it at something more realistic. That is something we have covered before on the Web Design and Development blog, so I would encourage you to check that out. Once you have established a more realistic rate, you can start reducing the number of hours you work and start considering how to address those long-term goals.
No doubt you think you cannot raise your rates. That just isn’t true. It is entirely possible if you have a robust sales and marketing funnel.
Start taking sales and marketing seriously
It is perhaps unsurprising how few businesses have a robust sales and marketing strategy. Many of those starting web design businesses come from a design or coding background, rather than business development. However, this means that their success is mainly reliant on referrals.
Without a doubt, referrals are an essential means of winning work at any company, but they do have their drawbacks. First, they are sporadic. You cannot guarantee a steady stream of leads that way. Second, they tend to generate more of the same kind of work. That makes it hard to break into new and more lucrative markets, which is why many feel that they couldn’t charge more if they wanted.
"What a web design business needs is a constant stream of leads, enough that there is no need to compromise on price just to secure enough work."
What a web design business needs is a constant stream of leads, enough that there is no need to compromise on price just to secure enough work. That means getting organized.
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The first step is to decide who you wish to target in your marketing efforts. Because you will only have limited time to promote your business, it needs to be done with surgical accuracy to ensure the best results. A scattergun approach of the occasional blog post will achieve nothing because you will not become known as an expert in anything. In fact, people are unlikely even to register your existence, unless they see your marketing efforts multiple times.
The chances are if you are reading this, you will be targeting ecommerce clients. That is an excellent choice. But don’t stop there. Consider what type of ecommerce clients you would like to work with more. Maybe you want to focus on designing for children and so will want to focus on toy retailers. Maybe you love working with rich imagery and thus might decide to focus on travel agents.
"Picking a sector you can get excited about is essential. It will make work enjoyable, and your passion will come across to prospective clients."
Picking a sector you can get excited about is essential. It will make work enjoyable, and your passion will come across to prospective clients. However, it is not the only consideration. Ideally, you are also looking for an ecommerce sector with a close community. You want a group that has industry events, online blogs and staff move from one company in the industry to another. That will make it a lot easier to become known in the sector. You can write for these sector publications, attend their events and network. When you write blogs, you can write about their specific challenges, and when you advertise you can target this particular niche.
Targeting an audience in this way does not mean turning away other work. Neither do you need to focus on one sector forever. What it does do is ensure that your limited marketing efforts will have a more significant impact, because they are concentrated in a relatively small group of people.
Scheduling your marketing activities
Then all you need to do is make those marketing activities happen. That means dedicating a small amount of time and money to the job. This cannot be a one-time activity either; it needs to be regular. Maybe an afternoon a week or two days at the end of each month. Whatever the schedule, you must stick to it, no matter how busy client work gets.
You may be tempted to think that when things get frantic, you can take your foot off the gas, but that would be a mistake. You’re busy because of your marketing activities. If you stop, the work will start to dry up. Sure, you could then begin marketing again, but it will take a few months before you see the results of those efforts.
Learn more about marketing
- Build a Winning Email Marketing Strategy to Acquire and Retain Customers
- 10 Successful Marketing Campaigns to Inspire Your Next Project
- 3 Simple Ways Your Agency Can Use Content Marketing to Build a Better Brand and Find New Clients
- How You Can Maximize Your Marketing With Any Budget
Consistency and control
That need for consistent effort and a laser focus in many ways sums up running a successful business. It is about consistency and control. It is about you organizing yourself and keeping going even when things get demoralizing.
Even the most successful business has its ups and downs. But through focused marketing, realistic pricing, and having a clear objective, your company can become all you hoped it would be in those early days.
What steps do you take to make your business work for you? Share in the comments below!