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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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Client Spotlight – On N Up Coaching Website Design

Client Spotlight: On N Up Coaching Website | Header graphic | Jenn Wells Design

The Client: On N Up Coaching

If I had to do an elevator pitch for Paul, I would say, “Running a business, working with a team, and finding a new job are all drastically different segments of professional life. But they have one thing in common: transition. Business owners, coworkers, and job seekers all need to be able to adapt to change. If they want to make the most of their lives, they need to take it a step further and optimize change. Paul helps professional people to do just that – adapt to and optimize times of transition in their lives.”

In other words, Paul is a business coach. And he needed his coaching website to reflect the reassurance and encouragement his clients seek from him.

Initial Concepts: Website Redesign

I’m already kicking myself for not taking a screenshot of Paul’s previous site. Since I didn’t I’ll have to describe it and hope you get the picture. Aesthetically, the old site wasn’t bad, but it had some issues with mobile responsiveness and the navigation was unclear. A big part of Paul’s social strategy involves blogging and his blog posts weren’t emphasized, nor were they easy to access. Stylistically, I decided to stick with the color and style since they matched Pauls’ logo and the company feel he wanted, but we decided to modernize it a bit and really overhaul the user experience.

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Social Media – Why You Need [Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn]

Social Media: Why You Need It | Social media is a tool that can benefit your business in many ways: marketing, branding, sales, networking, and so on. Are you getting all the benefits from your social accounts? | Jenn Wells Design

 

I was reading an article that said the term “social media” is outdated because users don’t think of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a collective. People don’t say, “I use social media” they say, “I like Twitter.” Or Snapchat or Vimeo or whatever.

I don’t fully agree – I think the term “social media” is out there often enough that it’s not confusing anyone. BUT it is true that no one needs to use every social media network there is. Nor is that possible.

While we can’t be present everywhere, we do all need to be present somewhere. Rather like networking, your target market is probably not at conferences, marathons, volunteer events, AND the bar. But they’ll be at one or two, so it makes sense to visit once in a while and get to know them.

Let’s talk a little more about that.

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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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Client Spotlight – ETOS Consulting Logo & Website Design

ETOS Consultant Branding | Design process for a business consultant logo and website | Jenn Wells Design

The Client: ETOS Consulting

I met Olivier, the founder of ETOS Consulting, at a networking event a little while back. (See? Networking does pay off!) This relationship has been amazing for me, because without even intending to, Olivier has given me ideas for better structuring and organizing my business from day 1.

Also from the beginning, Olivier was very clear and consistent about what he wanted: a clean, modern design for his consulting brand. Professional but unique enough to be eye-catching. Quite frequently professionalism is associated with the tried-and-true, so we had to toe a fine line between creative and traditional.

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Setting Goals for… Your Brand! (aka Brand Effectiveness)

Setting Goals for Your Brand | How do you measure your brand's effectiveness? Learn how to set goals and create metrics for your brand | Jenn Wells Design

 

Happy New Year, everyone!  Naturally, my first post of 2018 is a goals post, but I’ll be covering something that too few people discuss.  How to set goals for, and assess the effectiveness of, your brand.

As a graphic designer, I know exactly how hard it can be to set concrete goals for something as intangible as your brand. After all, ask 100 different people what branding is and you’ll have 100 different answers. Well… maybe 95 different answers and 5 people will say “your logo.” But we do all want an effective brand, don’t we?

So What IS Your Brand?

Here’s my quick and dirty summary: a brand starts with its target market. You think about who you want to appeal to, what they need, and what they like. Then you think about what differentiates you from the competition. What special personality quirks can you bring to your brand? Only then, after deciding how you want your business/organization to “feel” to your target market, do you start talking color swatches and fonts.

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