Learning to take your business seriously might be one of the toughest personal hurdles. As someone who runs their own business and usually works from home you will find that people ask you to help them do something during working hours, want you to do things for free or “exposure”, avoid paying you, and so many other things that my eyes are literally rolling back in my head right now.
In general, it seems like people just don’t seem to realize that you still have to work even though you work from home.
When I was starting my design business I would get pushed around the people I knew in real life, so often. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it.
People would often ask me to design something for them and then usually when it came time to get this thing printed, they would realize that design and printing actually cost quite a bit. So they would either ignore me completely or “go with Vistaprint for cheap.”
It was heartbreaking at the time. I spent HOURS searching for the perfect types of paper, requesting samples from printers (sometimes paying for those myself), plus the time it takes to actually design things. only to be disappointed so many times
It got to where I decided that I would no longer work with people I know. Unless I’m willing to do the work for free, then it’s a hard pass. Learning these types of boundaries is a whole other blog post.
What it comes down to is that I learned to take my own business seriously the hard way. When you don’t take your business seriously, the people around you won’t either.
Here’s the thing, “exposure” won’t pay your bills. The key is to establish your business from the start in a way that means business. (sorry for the pun!) You will have a much easier time being firm with your decisions if you have a few things in place.
If you are not familiar with the term, a domain is the www.YOURBIZNAME.com for your business. A domain usually costs around $10-15 per year. But you can find a good deal if you shop around and buy more than one year a time.
Even if you aren’t setting up a website right away you want to grab the domain name for your business right away because domains tend to get snatched up all the time. It’s also a good idea to make sure the name you’ve picked is available before officially settling on a business name. You might have to make some tweaks to find something you love and is available.
Pro-tip:Use Namecheckr to see if your name is available across most platforms
A professional website where you can send clients to find more information about working with you is going to prove to your clients that you are a real business. Think of it like showing up to a job interview wearing pajamas or suit. Which one shows that you are serious about your work and ready to take action? Of course, you are the same person in either, but one shows you are serious and one does not.
A professional website helps you put your best foot forward. It shows people that your business is legit. With a good website, you are going to be PROUD and excited about what you are doing and want to send people to check out your services.
This is especially helpful when someone you know “doesn’t get it” you can send them a link to check it out.
Keep in mind, I don’t mean a website that was custom designed for you. In fact, I don’t usually recommend a custom-designed website until you’ve been in business for at least a year. (I have too many clients who have paid big bucks only to change their mind a few months later.) You can use a template or DIY your website but you need to be paying for your website hosting. None of the free options (like blogger or wordpress.com) are professional enough to be taken seriously by other humans.
You can find website hosting for super cheap if money is your biggest hurdle or even pay monthly. When I started my business I used the Squarespace monthly plan because $26 a month was more manageable than $200 for a year. Once you’ve started earning more money you can set aside money to pay for your annual fees and save more in the long run.
If you are going the self-hosted Wordpress (not the same thing as wordpress.com) route, I highly recommend SiteGround for hosting. The service is the best around. Just last week I used their services to save two separate clients from website doom. I swear, I will never use another host.
Using a free Gmail or Yahoo email address is simply unacceptable in the business world. It makes you look very amateur and cheap. A simple email address for your domain is really cheap. You can get it from your domain host like GoDaddy or use something like G-Suite (It's included with SiteGround!). You can set up your custom email for less than $10/month. In fact, I only pay $50 per year. It’s really affordable. (I’m not sure if the pricing has changed since I signed up.)
If managing two inboxes seems like it would be too overwhelming you can forward your address and set up an alias in your main inbox. There are tons of tutorials on YouTube for this kind of thing.
A contract is a must. I admittedly had to no idea that I would need a contract when I started my business. In none of my previous design jobs did we have a contract. Even saying that shocks me now. I can’t imagine doing business without a contract.
I think the word contract seems scary but it’s not. It’s just a simple contract that explains what is and isn’t included in your services, and what will happen if certain situations arise such as a client ghosts you or a natural disaster prevents you from being able to perform your job.
This doesn’t have to be a super complicated thing. Do some research on the web to find out what types of things are included in contracts for your industry. The client management service I use, Dubsado, has free sample contracts that you can tweak for your own business.
I personally purchased my contract from The Contract Shop. They have legal contracts that were written by an actual lawyer. It’s a bit pricey but it’s peace of mind which means I don’t have to worry about “what if.” Everything is covered. I also met Christina Scallera the owner of The Contract Shop at an event this year, and she was the opposite of every bad lawyer image you have in your head. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with one of her contracts.
I resisted using a scheduling system for way too long. I was worried about seem pretentious asking people to book a call with my system. But there’s a reason why a service-based business makes you book an appointment! It’s because we are busy! And time zone math is the hardest math of all. (right? no. Just me then.)
There are so many scheduling systems out there. I like and use Acuity. It’s very easy to use. I have the $15/month tier (which is actually free with a Squarespace business plan!) but the free version is plenty for most people.
You’ll be able to set up your hours of availability and different lengths or type of appointments. It’s easy to embed on your website or you can send a direct link to anyone who needs to book. With my Acuity plan, I can even accept payments through the system, which I use for my coaching clients so they can schedule and pay in one step.
Facebook Business pages are like the yellow pages of the internet! If you do a search for a local business near you and they have a Facebook page it will appear in your search results. That part alone makes a Facebook Business page a must.
Facebook is a very powerful platform. It’s great for building your business, although you don’t want to 100% rely on Facebook. It can be really a great way to connect with locals or other like-minded people.
You can also use Facebook pages to sell products and services, although personally I still recommend having your own website.
Having a separate bank account for your business might be the most important on the list. When your business money is in your personal account its called co-mingling. It makes it way harder to keep your books organized. Which of course make taxes harder, and taxes are already hard enough on their own. Depending on the way your business is set up legally, co-mingling can be really bad. So just don’t do it.
It’s best to just set up a separate bank account for business expenses and then pay yourself from that account. If you haven’t applied for a business license you may just need to open a “personal account” that you use for business purposes as opposed to a “business account”. That’s totally fine. Just don’t use that account for personal spending.
You need to be able to send professional invoices to your clients. You don’t want to get in the habit of just having people send you money with no paper trail. If you are an Excel pro you could even make a simple spreadsheet. But you need something that includes the date, the goods or services you provided, and the cost of those.
I have a local client that pays me in cash every month but I ALWAYS give them a printed invoice. This acts as a receipt for them and helps me keep my books organized.
This is another thing that I now do in Dubsado because I love how simple it is to set up automatically. But in the beginning, I was using PayPal for invoicing and it was good enough to look and feel professional for my clients.
But there are tons of options for this type of thing like Quickbooks or Wave that will also link to your bookkeeping software to make it easier on you.
CONNECT WITH ERIN ALEXANDER:This blog post contains affiliate links.
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