This year marks five years since I opened Hoot Design Co. FIVE YEARS!
And I'm slightly embarrassed to say that my saving of my business only happened this year... In my fifth year of operation.
My business didn't collapse in those first four years; it didn't shatter into a million pieces on the floor; it didn't even break down. In all honesty, from the outside it looked I was maintaining a normal, healthy operation.
But in reality, I had felt like I had been struggling each year since its conception.
So I wish I could say I saved my business in year two. But in year two I was moving into a new studio – not to mention having my first child. And I wish I could say I saved my business in year three. But in year three I was recovering from having my first child. And made the decision to have a second child. I wish I could say I saved my business in year four. But in year four I had that second child and found myself juggling two children while trying to keep my business afloat. And somehow time just kept zooming forward. And then suddenly I was all the way at year five. And this year is the year I saved my business.
So what did I do?
Let me tell you the story.
Early this spring
I was lamenting how demanding working with people during high-stress times in their lives can be (i.e. when clients are planning weddings, launching a business, going through a major rebranding) in a conversation with an advisor from the University of Missouri Economic Development Program.
"The shit is always going to hit the fan!" I remember saying in a burst of frustration. And do you know what the advisor said?
"If you know the shit is always going to hit the fan, why don't you plan for it? Charge accordingly."
Light bulb moment.
It seems so simple when I say it now. And yet for me, at that moment, those two sentences were like lightning that turned my business thinking on its head.
Those no-bullshit sentiments were exactly the spark I needed to hear to change my thinking about how I charge for my time. For the entire existence of my business I had been charging for a "perfect world" scenario.
When pricing my services, I hadn't been taking the most basic fact of life into consideration: life is never perfect.
So when I was handling a job and the printer broke down, or the order didn't come through, or someone called in sick, or USPS didn't deliver 25 of my client's $12 wedding invitations (??!??!?!?!?!!!!), I was eating the cost. Consistently. On every job. And the hate in my heart for the consistently non-perfect situations life threw at me from every direction was real.
When clients would come to me demanding I fix something that to me was completely out of my control and out of my pay grade (!) – the mail order didn't deliver on time, or the printer broke down – I would feel myself turning livid at the injustice that I was expected to cover the setback, to shield my clients from the random acts of life, to put in three, five, ten extra hours to fix something that had nothing to do with me out of the blue. Something like "SONOFA$HITWTF???" might have crossed my mind. It was constant frustration.
I was getting trapped in the middle every time the world didn't function perfectly according to plan because "perfect" was all that I planned for.
...and this my friends, was completely unfair to myself and to my clients. Owning my own business meant that I, as the expert, set my prices. When I asked clients to pay me a certain fee or rate, in their mind I was charging them an all-of-life's-fastballs-included amount – while in my mind, I was charging them an only-if-everything-goes-perfectly-according-to-plan amount.
What was I expecting? For them to say "Wait, that doesn't seem like enough! How about $100 more?!" Not gonna happen!
My realization that life is never perfect – and that I need to take that fact into account with every business decision I make – is what saved my business.
So what do I do differently now, post-lightbulb moment?
Friends, let me tell you. Oh, let me tell you.
1. I Plan for the bullshit
The bullshit's going to come. It's a fact.
Experience in my field has made me an expert in every aspect of marketing, branding, and design services: I KNOW projects will take detours, and I know when to expect those bumps in the road. Part of the reason I am good at what I do is because I am excellent at dealing with the bullshit: I think on my feet, suggest alternatives to clients, and am always prepared with a backup plan.
Whether it's a brand reveal presentation or a major print piece for an event, part of what I offer clients is my expertise in planning AND executing said project. By setting aside time and resources to make like a boy scout for all life's curveballs, I can lead clients confidently through each step of their project when it's smooth sailing and keep calm and carry on when the seas get choppy – all because I know I've planned for snafus down the road.
2. I Charge fairly – actually fairly
I take into account the bumps I know will come up – the extra hours that I'll have to spend dealing with whatever life throws at me – when pricing my services. Instead of charging for a perfect world, I charge for the real world, where the one thing I know is that the world isn't perfect.
Pricing to include life's curveballs has been life changing. It means peace of mind. A weight off my shoulders. I offer clients the service I know they expect, at a price that reflects the time and resources I know I will be putting into making their project amazing – and do it with a smile because I know I'm being fairly compensated for my time, experience and skill.
3. I Define my parameters up front
I make sure to firmly set the boundaries for each project when I first begin working with a client. If I know I don't have the ability to answer calls or texts after 8:30pm, I make that boundary crystal clear from the get-go. If a client does call or text after 8:30pm, I don't answer: I've defined that parameter, and now that boundary has to be respected. If a client is sharp or disrespectful in an email or calls me angrily the next day demanding to know why I didn't answer them, I pointedly refer to all of the boundaries we set when we first began working together.
Where I used to let clients guilt me into going back on my boundaries and end up taking on more work than we'd agreed – and more than I'd charged for – I now hold firm to the parameters I define up front. It's part of the same mentality for pricing your services actually fairly: know how far you're going to go at the price you set for your services, make sure you communicate those boundaries firmly and honestly with clients, and hold to the client and yourself to those parameters. Always treat clients as you want to be treated in their shoes – and that might include some real life hugs or at least heart emojis.
4. I have confidence in myself
None of the above strategies will actually work if you don't believe that you have the expertise and experience necessary to achieve success in your field. I know I've worked through a lot to make it to where I am now in this business game. That doesn't mean that I don't learn new skills and strategies every day – I definitely do – but because of the experiences I've been through before, I know that I know what I'm doing, I know that I can deliver high-quality services to my clients, and I know that I know which areas to watch out for.
So there you have it friends.
What do you think of my lightbulb moment? What suggestions do you have for nailing the lift?
PS: You might have noticed more action on our blog recently. We're working hard to show you what five years in business looks like. Comment here or on Facebook with topics or questions you'd like to see us cover. Or maybe just links to your favorite GIFS.