Rules for Starting a Business

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a woman who was just plain interest in coding. I answered a bunch of her questions and the conversation turned to running your own business. I’ve gotten a fair amount of email in the past from students asking about running their own business out of school. (You can see a few notes I’ve written about that on my FAQ page.) Now that I’m in my third year of business, I’ve learned two really solid rules to start a business, that I wish I’d known before I started.

Firstly, save a big nest egg. When I started my business, I was fresh out of technical school but had worked for five years as a designer before that. I have to say that I didn’t start my business with much of a nest egg and I regret it, you’ll find out why in a second. Most financial planners would say that you need six-months of expenses in a liquid form before starting a new business. I obviously don’t disagree with that, but I think that three-months could be good enough. (Again, this is just my opinion, so you should really do what you’re comfortable with.) That tricky thing here, might be the definition of expenses. This amount must include enough money to cover rent, groceries, bills (phone, electricity, heat, water, whatever), debt repayment (if you have debt) and a bit extra to make sure that you don’t go mad while you’re trying to get your business of the ground. It’s perfectly okay to boot-strap it and get on a tight budget when you’re starting a business (trust me, you won’t have much time to spend money anyway), but you MUST remember to budget for paying back your student loans and have at least a little bit to take yourself out for lunch once in a while, on a particularly rough day.

So, why is the nest egg so important? It gives you the freedom to choose your clients. When you first start your business, your tendancy will be to take any work that comes your way. There is nothing wrong with that, but having a nest egg means that you can listen to that occasional gut feeling you get from a potential new client who just doesn’t seem like the right fit for you. You’ll want to build up your name and your business at first but there will be the occasional client that you just shouldn’t take. Someone recently said to me that if someone gives you more than one red flag, you shouldn’t work with them. Great advice, if you ask me!

How to Get Over Launch Paralysis

Get Over Website Launch ParalysisToday, I want to talk about something a little different: Launch paralysis. What is launch paralysis? Good question! Essentially, it’s a term (that I made up) to describe what happens right before launch day.

To explain further, I’ll tell you about when I relaunched my website, earlier this fall. I had a bit of downtime over the summer and wanted to rebuild and redesign my website. I was so excited! I was building a site that was more “me” and would show off my web skills much better than my previous site. It was even going to help me streamline my workflow, because my new-fangled contact form, would help me vet clients, right from the get-go. But in the two weeks after my site was done, but before my site was launched, I was totally paralyzed! I spent hours going through the site, certain that I would find a giant gaping hole in it.

Eventually, a huge and exciting request for proposal came across my desk and I knew that I had to get over my launch paralysis, pronto. I so did not want to send out my proposal with my old site as the link. I had to have a little chat with myself. Below are some points form that internal pep talk:

  1. Nobody’s perfect! Coming from a publishing background, taking a copyediting course early in my career and having a father who’s hobby was correcting his daughters’ grammar growing up, has set me up to be a bit of an editing tyrant. I’m trying to realize that it’s better to get imperfect stuff out there than to put out nothing at all. Great is the enemy of good, and all that. Not shockingly, this is a great life lesson too. But I digress …
  2. My website (and yours) is a living being. The beauty of WordPress, is that you can change and edit your content as much as your little heart desires. That means that if two weeks after launch, you suddenly MUST change the copy in your contact page, you can. Easy as pie! Just because it’s out there, doesn’t mean that it can’t change. Case in point, I originally listed all of the prices for my services. Recently I realized, that move was cutting down on the awesome potential clients that were emailing me. I always could make custom estimates and work in (most) budgets, but having my pricing up on my site, didn’t reflect that. So, presto, chango, gone.
  3. There’s no town-crier for website launches. As amazing as it would be to have a service that notifies everyone you’ve ever met, and the people you want to meet, that you’ve launched your website, that isn’t something that exists. (Well, actually we call it Facebook.) After most websites are newly launched or re-launched get a day or two of spiked traffic, but then it goes roughly back to normal. If your site’s design and (most importantly) content, are great, you’ll see an improvement in your viewership over time. You’re just not likely to suddenly find yourself with overwhelming traffic right after launch. Going viral happens, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the rule. Why am I telling you this? Well, it means you shouldn’t have any anxiety about who might see your site. Chances are, if you want Beyonce to look at your site, you’ll have to do more than tweet the link out with the message “Hey Beyonce! I’m a big fan, please take a look at my site.” Know what I’m sayin’?

All of this is to say, if you’re sitting on a website that is 95% done (the last 5% being writing an email to your developer to say “Let’s do this!”), just launch that sucker! It’s time and the world needs what you have to offer, so get out there. You’ll be so happy you did!

If you, or someone you love, suffers from launch paralysis, please write a comment below. Side effects may include: strong encouragement to launch your site, recommendations for proofreaders and less stress because you don’t have that mostly done site hanging over your head anymore.

Image credit: Jorgen Schyberg

Our Crossword Puzzle Wedding Invitations

Crossword Puzzle Wedding InvitationsAbout two months ago, I got married to my long-time boyfriend, Nick Hermes. We’d been dating for five years when we got hitched and had been friends for ten years before that. When it came to designing our wedding invitations, I had A LOT of history to draw from. I hemmed and hawed until one day Nick said, what about a crossword? Challenge accepted! The crossword theme really fit for us, because one of the things that we started doing together when we became a couple, was that we would often do the Saturday crossword puzzle together in our pjs on Nick’s old couch in a house he shared with five other guys. (So romantic …) It seemed to be one of those things that marked that we’d transitioned from being “just friends” to being “more than friends.” The concept for our invitations was born.

Crossword Puzzle Wedding Invitations

We picked some very simple questions for our crossword and used a crossword generator to make the actual crossword. Then I mocked the whole thing up using one of my current fave fonts: Bombshell Pro and the classic Century Gothic. We ended up doing a combination of print and einvites. I also mocked up an eggplant coloured envelope that could be emailed, and when it was clicked it would take the recipient to our wedding website. Even though, as most designers will tell you, designing for oneself is a big challenge, I was pretty happy with how these turned out.

invitations1And for good measure … a photo of our wedding. (Photo by Jenna Richard.)


The Best Things I’ve Learned After One Year of Business

This post is a little bit late. Technically my one-year anniversary in business was on October 15th, or the Monday after I finished the Technical Web Design program at BCIT. If you look at my paperwork, you could also say that my one-year anniversary was on November 8th. Regardless, I think I blog post is in order! Since starting my business, I’ve been approached by a few students and other people, asking questions about running a web and design business. I also have a friend from art school, who I’ve been chatting with about business a lot and it made me think that writing down a few of the things that I’ve learned this year would really help mark the occasion (that and the glass of sparkling wine I shared with my fiance on Thanksgiving weekend, so actually acknowledge the day). So, here it goes!

  1. Take Care of Yourself, First This is something that I am going to continue to struggle with, always, as a business owner. Due to my total type-A personality, I tend to want to get to the end of my to-do list and tie things up with a bow before I take care of myself even a little bit. WRONG! For a lot of the year, I would eat lunch at my desk, stay up late worrying about a project that wasn’t even off-track and feel the need to work at all times. By the summer, I was feeling so overwhelmed, that I said to a friend one day: “I can’t even begin to start thinking about how to start thinking about taking care of myself right now, because it just feels like another thing to add to my list.” Yes, bad. She pointed out that feeling was a surefire warning sign that I was headed to burn out. That woke me up in a hurry, mostly because I kept thinking, well I love what I’m doing … I don’t want to suddenly not be able to keep doing it because I burned out. And then there would be the financial repercussions for me and my fiance. Yikes.So, I started to try to deal with it. At first is was making sure that I got enough sleep. Since I’m not exactly a morning person, it meant letting myself sleep in a little longer than usual and just adjusting the rest of my day accordingly. It helped, but wasn’t enough.I hit another snag about a two month ago, when I got an esophageal ulcer. Contrary to popular belief, ulcers are not caused by stress. Mine was caused by some medication I was briefly taking, but the ulcer, which the fiance and I affectionately referred to as Ursula, was a wake up call. Not like a scary, cancer, wake up call, but one nonetheless. I immediately stopped drinking alcohol and coffee and the medication I was put on for Ursula, made me quite sleepy. It all added up to me getting a lot of great sleep! But we wanted to take it further and started eating a lot better. Nothing magical there, but eating your veggies, really makes you feel better!

    Sadly, I’m never going to be one of those people who can motivate themselves to do something, just because it’s better for me. What I found motivation in though, was my business. I realized that I would be better at my business and get more done, if I felt better. I know that a million people have said it, but since I’ve started to take care of myself, just that smidge better, my business is doing better, I’m doing better and I think that, even my code is more focused!

  2. Time Management is Serious Business One of the things that appealed most to me about working for myself was the ability to be in charge of my time. However, once I started my own business, I quickly realized that I needed to still manage my time. Yes, I can do laundry in the middle of my work day and occasionally take the afternoon of to hang with a friend, but I have to schedule it in, or else things just tend to get off track. (I wrote about that more, here.)Time management isn’t just about schedule though. It’s also about realizing when my plate is full and saying a firm ‘no.’ I’ve started mapping out my year now, so that I can actually see when I have time for a project. That way, if someone asks me for a website and needs it to start now, I can tell them yes or no, knowing that I have the goods to back it up. No more getting sucked into projects that I don’t have time for, which ultimately leads me to eat into my downtime, which brings me back to my first point!
  3. Get Help Running a business is super fun! But hard. Very hard. If you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, it’ll be harder still. I’m lucky because I have a built-in business partner at home. My fiance, Nick, runs a business too, so a lot of our conversations are about business. That said, it has been invaluable to have mentors in my own field. Some of my mentors know that they’re my mentors, and some of them don’t! What do I mean by that? There are a few people who’s businesses I watch, because I like the way they do things. I may not even know them, but I’m keeping an eye on what they do, to see if it sparks inspiration for my business. A little stalker-y, perhaps, but it helps! People I admire include: Natasha Lakos (who also happens to be a friend and collaborator) and Breanna Rose (love her work and have emailed her once, just to say that I was flattered that she included my logo on a mood board). I also have a more formalized mentor relationship with Curtis McHale. He and I have sporadic Skype chats, where he lets me run business ideas and general questions past him. He’s also a great resource for coding issues in WordPress.Help can also come in other forms. Good ol’ fashioned books and websites are infinitely helpful!

Though starting a business is hard (did I mention that already?!) this year has been one of the best I’ve ever had. I love being in business! And I love the freedom I have to design and code any great project that comes my way. I still have lots to learn, but I’m grateful that I’ve managed a rapidly growing and self-sustaining business for a full year now!

Happy holidays! I’m excited about the projects that I have lined up for the new year already and can’t wait to get started after a nice Christmas break. I’m closing up shop from December 23 to January 3, to enjoy some time with my family and friends. I hope that you can too! Until the new year …