Lessons Learned My First Year in Business

Around New Year’s, people inevitably start posting about their #yearinreview and offering their reflections on their growth, change, and goals. This year I was reflecting on the decision I made one year ago to step outside of an organization I had been with for the past decade– and to take what had once been a “side hustle” into a full-time business of working with clients. It was exciting, painful, humbling, stressful, freeing, and ultimately the best decision I made in 2019. 

In the spirit of self-reflection and encouragement to others who are taking that first step in their business journeys, I wanted to share a few lessons I learned in my first year of business.  

Take the time to know who you want to reach  

When I started my business, I wanted to work with “women entrepreneurs.” And yes, I still do, of course,  but I also realize that for a target market, that was incredibly vague (like the ambition of your genitals would determine if we should work together?!?). What it really meant is I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about what I could really offer my clients (because if I had, I would have thought more about who needed what I was offering). 

As the year went by and I started really considering what value I could offer clients, I realized that what my clients had in common was their needs, not their gender identities.  This realization helped me reframe the way I spoke to them on my website, wrote proposals to them, and found my niche of service offerings. 

Now, when work with clients begin, the first thing we talk about is who their target markets are.  If they don’t know, I strategize with them to get clear on this first, as it will inform the other design decisions we make from there.

Set up structures from the beginning

I made the decision to go full-time when I got to the point when I had more work than I could manage while also keeping my day job and so I launched with the primary goal of getting a simple site online so I could get down to business and look legitimate.  However, as I continued to gain new clients, I found myself spending a lot of time doing repetitive tasks because I hadn’t taken the time to set up processes and utilize technology to automate these tasks. Once I finally invested a bit of time and money into this area of my business, I was able to free up time to spend working on the parts of my business that I love–working on design projects! 

When I work with my clients, we utilize the Creative Discovery session to talk about what the operational side of the business will look like and how to integrate tech tools into clients’ websites and workflow in order to streamline operations and still look fabulously on brand! I love being able to provide solutions for them for problems they hadn’t even thought of yet! 

Invest strategically, but don’t skimp on the stuff you need at perform your best. 

I’ll admit it, I love DIY.  I’m a believer that with a little grit and elbow grease, you can pretty much accomplish anything you really want to. After this past year, I still absolutely believe that, but I’ve become a lot more selective about where I spend my precious resources–names time and money– especially when I weigh the outcome. 

For example, I started the year off thinking I could do my own bookkeeping, which is technically true.  But I was spending a lot of time trying to teach myself the basics and still feeling unsure about whether or not I was actually doing it right. Finally, after attending Denver Freelancers Week this year, I bit the bullet and invested in working with an accountant who helped assure me that I wasn’t going to be in the slammer for tax evasion (or paying unnecessarily more than I needed to!).  I recognized my business deserved more than some janky DIY quickbooks tutorial in order to be its best self. 

I often see potential clients weighing this too when considering to work with freelancers and other small businesses.

Most successful business owners would agree: if you are a soloprenuer or run a small business, using technological tools (such as automations and booking calendars) are essential to maximizing your productive outcome. However, it’s fairly common for clients to be doing a lot of manual processes that are inefficient and a time-suck; during our Strategy Session, I prioritize time to talk about your processes and your needs. Integration of intuitive and simple processes in your website will help you provide the best customer experience–not to mention that since they help you reach your goals faster, then they pay for themselves!

In terms of your branding and design, I’ll admit–the Wix commercials and Squarespace Facebook ads make creating a website seem so easy; and actually, I started learning web design on DIY block-builer style web platforms–but it took me years of learning and hard-earned experience to understand how to build out a website that not only looks pretty, but is also user-friendly, brand-centric, and offers the solutions that clients actually need. When I work with clients now, in addition to taking care of all the technical stuff that can really mess with the functionality of a site, I also give my clients option for how to improve their businesses through a strategic design lens. Our Creative Discovery session is a 2 hour strategy meeting that dives deep into your business.  Yes, maybe you can do it all alone…but is it really best for your business? 

Contact Me

Niko Kirby
Freelance Designer nik0@growdigitaldesign.com