Articles about running a business, resources, finances, and organization.

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3 Biggest Business Mistakes I’ve Made in the Last 3 Years

My 3 Biggest Business Mistakes | The top 3 things I did wrong in my business and how to avoid them | Jenn Wells Design

It’s easy to forget that success is all relative. Sometimes I feel like my business is so tiny it barely counts as a business. I compare myself to the business owners whose blogs I read or podcasts I listen to, with their 6 figure income and 7 figure goals. It sounds impossibly distant and unreachable.

But then a friend or acquaintance will offhandedly say something about how impressive my business is. They congratulate me for taking the leap and quitting my part time job. They’re impressed when I host a class or speak on a panel. Somehow, in my head, each of those achievements is a one-off. It’s a stroke of luck, or a fluke, or not really THAT big of a deal. But I think we all think that about ourselves and it helps me stay grounded to hear from business owners who are still in the side-gig phase. I’ve come a long way.

My business has gone from 2 or 3 side projects per year, to several projects a week. From a tiny trickle of revenue that the IRS didn’t care about to headaches at tax time. From 3 total clients to 3 monthly clients, a handful of annual or sporadic clients, and too many one-offs to count. In the past couple years, it’s grown a TON and I can tell you why. But it’s more fun to talk about failures, so instead I’ll tell you the biggest mistakes I made and how overcoming them led to where I am now.

Mistake #1: Inactivity

Starting out, I was thrilled whenever I did get a new client. But I didn’t know how to get more. I tried networking – once. I had a website. Magnets on my car. And then…

I read a lot of books. I made a list of marketing things to try maybe one day. I waited. People would find me, right?

After 3 months of inactivity, I finally realized this was a losing strategy. I started poking around to see what opportunities there might be. I applied for a mentorship. Learned how to code responsive websites. Researched marketing and decided to give networking another go.

I didn’t always pick the right action. But doing something is always better than doing nothing. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you aren’t making any, and by doing nothing, you sure as heck aren’t doing anything right either. Inactivity is the surest way to stagnate.

Lesson: Do something. Even if you don’t know what to do. Research, ask peers for suggestions, try new things.

Mistake #2: Inexperience

What? But everyone’s inexperienced until they get some practice in. True. My mistake wasn’t just that I was inexperienced, it was that I didn’t take steps to rectify that.

When I said I read a lot of books up above, I’m talking fantasy. Fluff books. I didn’t read anything related to business, or research, or follow experts in my field. I tried to just work with what I had and learn the rest on the fly.

This is a huuuuge mistake! Think about the number of small businesses that fail. 80%. Each of those businesses failed for a reason and that’s a lesson you could learn and avoid. The much smaller number of small businesses that succeeded have even more important lessons to share. By learning things secondhand, we can save ourselves massive amounts of time and effort.

Lesson: Be a sponge! Read business books, listen to podcasts, follow blogs. There’s so much free information available.

Mistake #3: Introversion

You can be an introvert and run a business! But you’ll have to do a lot of things that push your comfort zone.

The book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (see? reading) taught me that fear of “being pushy” or “annoying people” is an introvert trait. We try to respect other people’s space because we don’t like having our own space invaded.

But introverts can take this too far. If you’re going to run a successful business, you will have to do some form of sales. It can be cold calls, or content marketing, but you’ll need to be comfortable telling people who you are and what you can do for them. You’ll need to be comfortable leaving humility behind to elaborate on your strengths. And you’ll need to talk to people. Probably a lot more often than you want to.

You don’t have to network. It works for me, after a lot of practice and forcing myself to get comfortable small talking strangers. But you have to do something. I hated networking the first several times I did it. It made me feel stressed and anxious and I felt like we all just traded business cards and accomplished nothing. It is now my 2nd biggest generator of new clients, after referrals.

Lesson: Sell, sell, sell! Pick the sales tactic that makes you feel least uncomfortable, and then become an expert at it. True introverts will probably be more comfortable with soft selling.

What mistakes have you made in your business and how did you overcome them?

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Operations Manuals – a How to from Kelli of Even Keel Ops

Operations Manuals: a How To | Creating clarity and efficiency in your business by creating an operations manual | Jenn Wells Design

 

Full disclosure, Kelli is my BBF (business best friend). I would be sharing her stuff with you regardless but this post I specifically requested because Kelli’s video on setting up your operations manual made a huge difference to the way I organize and run my business.

Here’s Kelli…

Your business is starting to gain traction, and you’re stoked. You’ve learned all about business finances, email marketing, and sales funnels. You’re hitting your business goals each month, and you can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Does Race Have a Place in Marketing?

 

Does Race Have a Place in Marketing? | Pros and cons of using traditional demographics | Jenn Wells Design

I recently read an article from ProPublica explaining why they “had to” buy racist ads. After my initial reaction, it ended up being a really eye-opening look at the marketing segmentation options on Facebook.

Did you know Facebook allows you to select custom audiences for ads and promoted posts? Makes sense – an ad for baby shower cupcakes isn’t going to be very effective if it’s sent to people who aren’t expecting. But the fact that these selectors include things like religion and ethnicity is a little disturbing.

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Business vs “Busy-ness”

Business vs "Busy-ness" | Ditching busywork so you can get more done with less effort in your life and business | Jenn Wells Design

Everyone is busy.

It always shocks me when I come across someone who seems to think “busy” is a novel way to answer the question, “How have you been?”  We’re slowly becoming aware of the drawbacks of being constantly busy, but it’s still often seen as a badge of honor.  It makes us feel important, or special, or deserving of praise and sympathy.  But the truth is, busy is a choice that the majority of us are constantly making.

Parents are busy, students are busy, people who run clubs or organize societies are busy.  I know literally one person who has ever told me that she’s not busy.  And it was a very deliberate choice on her part to avoid the constant temptation of activities and invitations.

So, fellow business owners, we are far from alone in our levels of “busy.”  But that’s not the main point I want to make today.

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My Objections to Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-Level Marketing | My objections to the business format and sales tactics used by MLMs | Jenn Wells Design

“Isn’t that a pyramid scheme?”

You can imagine how enraged a coworker was, after I naively asked this question about his wife’s new business.  He gave me a rundown on multi-level marketing which, frankly, left me a little confused about the difference between the two, but gave me the verbiage I needed to not offend other MLMers.

My personal opinion has wavered.  Initially I was wary, and maybe a little frustrated at the explosion of advertising in my Facebook newsfeed by family and friends.  Then it started to seem like a good opportunity to get into entrepreneurship for people who might not have the initiative or capital to strike out on their own.

And now…

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5 Misconceptions About Working for Yourself (at Home)

5 Misconceptions about Working for Yourself at Home | Annoying things people assume about you and your work when you work for yourself at home | Jenn Wells Design

“But you set your own hours, so you can do whatever you want.”

If you work for yourself, you work at home, or you’re self employed, I’m sure you’ve heard this. Along with other, equally annoying, misconceptions.

It can be frustrating, as a small business owner, to explain what you do and how you do it. You have to explain that working for yourself is still a job, and not every task is enjoyable, even though you choose to do them.

Sometimes you feel like you can never complain. After all, you chose this…

So let’s address some of those misconceptions and how to explain them to well-meaning friends and family.

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My Business Ethics Manifesto

Business Ethics Manifesto | The values and beliefs behind our business | Jenn Wells Design

People often say they want to make an impact, make their mark, effect change, etc.  But what does that actually mean?

The actions each individual takes may differ but the underlying desire is the same.  To leave the world better than we found it.  People who want to create change in the world see a problem and then take steps to improve it, instead of complaining and continuing on about their day.

I recently read an amazing article over at Yes and Yes about building ethics into your business.  I’ve had some vague ideas about values that were important to me, in and outside of my business, but I’ve never vocalized it or built it into my mission statement.  Remedying that now!

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Balancing Business and Baby – My Tips

 

Balancing Business and a Baby | My top tips for working from home with an infant | Jenn Wells Design

My number one, top tip for working from home with a baby is DON’T DO IT!

Seriously.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t listen to this advice, but you can better prepare yourself than I did. So I’ve made a list of things you should know before attempting this and some tips that might, hopefully, be of help.

Plan on a VERY Segmented Work Day

Babies “sleep a lot” but newborns also need to eat every 2 hours or so. It also takes 30 minutes to feed them, if you’re lucky, and upwards of an hour if you struggle with breastfeeding like I did. Plus changing diapers and soothing and so on. Realistically, you can plan for maybe 30 minute chunks to try to get work done.

As your child gets older, you’d expect those time blocks to increase, but the number also decreases. At 6 months my son takes 2 naps – a 30 minute one and a 60-90 minute one. So attempting to work during a nap feels like roulette. Will this be the long nap or the short nap? Can I get this project done in this time or should I just answer some emails?

Babies DO Need a Lot of Attention

I emphasize this because I scoffed at a friend when he said it. Surely he was just spoiling his child? Nope. Our pediatrician emphasized that you’re supposed to talk to your child once every 60 seconds that they’re awake. For the record, I find this quite impossible, but you see my point. Kids do take up much more time than you expect and they don’t “play quietly.”

As a 6-month old, my son has gone from needing constant feeding to just wanting attention all the time. I can’t even tell you how many days I’ve spent bouncing back and forth between my computer and the baby, feeling guilty because I’m not following the stupid 60-second rule. But even if he doesn’t really NEED a constant flow of chatter from me, he does need stimulation and interaction to grow. So even if you’ve got ears of stone and an iron will, you can’t count on leaving your baby to entertain him/herself while you work.

It Changes Constantly

You can’t make just one plan because babies are different month to month and sometimes different week to week. I had a couple good days during the second month where I rotated the baby through the feeding/sleeping schedule every 2 hours like clockwork and got in several 30-minute segments of work and felt on top of the world. Then his nap schedule changed.

Even now that we’re on something of a routine, I can’t with 100% certainty count on any block of time to do work unless someone else is watching the baby. The one night I sit down prepared for an all-nighter to meet my early morning deadline, he decides to wake up every 2 hours. Another day I just need a few minutes to get through my email and let my clients know that, Yes I’m still here and I haven’t forgotten you!, and that’s the day he’s so fussy I wonder if this is what teething is like. You just never know.

Give Yourself MORE Time Than You Think You Need

I tend to plan for the minimum. I budget the minimum I need to live, plan travel based on the fastest I’ve ever arrived somewhere, and price my projects based on a best-case scenario. It’s not good planning and, especially in the case of postpartum recovery, could be setting yourself up for a lot of misery.

I planned to take 6 weeks off from going into any offices, and started picking back up with my clients after 2 weeks. Phasing things back in worked fairly well for me, but I had an easy delivery and my body recovered quickly. If anything has gone wrong – a C-section, additional tearing, or even just a colicky baby – my plan would not have worked. It barely worked as it was and if I have any more children in the future, I absolutely plan on taking a full 3 months.

Your Brain Won’t Function as Efficiently

I’ve always rejected the idea of “pregnancy brain” or “mom brain” but, blame it on hormones or sleep deprivation, my brain is still recovering. The first couple months were absolute chaos. My husband and I noticed that we can count the number of photos we took those months on one hand, versus the mountain we take monthly now. Because we were too busy surviving to worry about whether we were “documenting the moment.”

None of which is to say you can’t keep working, but plan on being less efficient and effective and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t think of the word you want, or you know there’s a better solution to a problem. It happens.

Naps are Good for You Too

Severely sleep deprive anyone for long enough and they’ll go insane. Studies have been done. Having a baby won’t drive you to that point, but it can reach dangerous levels of cognitive dysfunction. I’ve had moments when I thought, “I shouldn’t be driving right now” and I’ve made plenty of stupid mistakes.

If you’re like me, naps make you feel crappy BUT according to a few different studies, a short nap once or twice a day can drastically reduce some of the side effects of sleep deprivation. Don’t force yourself to work every single time the baby is sleeping. Use some of those naps to get some sleep yourself.

Resources

And my last piece of advice is to find other resources! My experience will be different from someone else’s will be different from yours. Don’t expect your baby to fit into a mold any more than you yourself do. I’ve read tons of advice about “wearing” your baby while you worked – my son hated being in the body sling. Loved being held, just not in anything hands free. Go figure. So you can’t expect any one or even 10 people’s advice to work for you. You have to just keep experimenting.

I found these 2 resources particularly useful:

Hopefully some of this is helpful but if it’s not, the real point I want to leave you with is this: working from home with a baby is hard and it’s different for everyone. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t feel like you have to go it alone.

Have you tried working at home with kids? Do you have any extra tips from your experience?

The Value of Yes AND No

 

The Value of Yes AND No | Why saying yes and saying no are both equally valuable in your life and business | Jenn Wells Design

Yes is typically seen as a positive and no as a negative. That seems obvious. “Do you want some cookies?” Yes = cookies! No = sadness.

But what if I told you no could be just as much a positive as yes? That both have equal import in your life and business? I’ll start with yes.

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