February 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

Starting this month, I’ve decided to share my monthly business reports. In these reports, I’ll discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I’ve made towards my 2017 goals. I’ll also give a snapshot my earnings.

Although I’m starting the recaps this month, I have to admit, it’s been one of the worst months I’ve had since I started my business in 2015.

Here’s what happened.

Positives

I should have done this so much sooner! Within a week of adding an easy-to-use contact form to my Squarespace website, I received two client requests. Ultimately, one did not work out, but the other did.

I got a brand new client without the effort of pitching or self-promotion. I have always had my email address in a visible location on my page, but adding the Work With Me contact form made a huge difference. If you don’t have one, get one!

  • Raised client rates

I had two long-term clients (1.5 years and 2 years) who had not had a rate increase since I started working with them. My work load had changed and my experience had grown so I knew I needed to raise my rates. I wrote about this topic as I was doing it so saying “feel the fear and raise your rates anyway” was as much for readers as it was for myself.

  • Started regularly cold emailing

As you’ll read in my negatives section, I unexpectedly lost two clients this month. Although, this was a negative, it led to a positive. I began cold emailing local businesses and organizations on a daily basis. I set a goal of sending out five emails/messages per business day. I began this practice near the end of February and have not had sales yet.

  • Set daily social media goals

I know how important an active social media presence is for small businesses, but I’m often so busy doing client work that I don’t practice what I preach and put time into my own business. In February, I set the goal of following 10 people on Twitter and pinning 10-20 things each day. I’ll continue to up my social media game once The Sturm Agency site is live in March.

I decided to shift some of my attention to making this blog more successful. I enrolled in Elite Blog Academy and have started working on the lessons. I’m really excited to see where this takes me!

Negatives

  • Loss of two long-time clients

A client that I’d be working with since Zirtual days (August 2014) who was also my highest paying client, made a business change and no longer needed my services. The announcement was a bit of a shock, but I had noticed a slowing down in usage over the past few months. There was a sudden problem with paying my invoices on time. This client ultimately refused to pay me for my last month of service.

Although this is not the only client I’ve lost, this experience was a learning lesson for me on several fronts. I was given no notice that work was ending, but was simply told “don’t work from today on”. That day happened to be my birthday.

I also lost a client who decided to use another company. This client loss surprised me because we’d also been working together for two years. Unfortunately, I’d made a small error about a month ago that the client was very upset about. I have to believe it contributed to my dismissal. This client gave me a week’s notice, but then canceled payment three days later.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Always have a contract in place. I had never put together a formal contract with these clients and I wished I had. It may not have gotten me anything more than 30 days notice or an extra payment, but that would have made a difference.

2) Don’t have too much tied up in one client. I preach diversification and am working towards that model, but one particular client still held too much of my monthly income (around 45%). Their leaving caused me to scramble for new clients.

3) Don’t assume that small business owners or entrepreneurs will give you the same courtesy that they’d want. I was very surprised to find that both clients ended the relationship with very little notice and showed a lack of caring, respect and integrity during our final interactions. These clients are entrepreneurs who have fluctuating incomes based on booking gigs or securing projects. This experience made me vow to have a more compassionate approach should I ever hire someone and need to stop services.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

The goal took a hit with the loss of two clients. I think I can recover from this, but it will be a bit of a struggle. I’ve had to look for more opportunities and ask for more subcontracting work in the meantime.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet. I hope to have at least one new local client in March.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

I think we’re going to use Squarespace for The Sturm Agency, but I’m not sure yet. I really love the simplicity of it and because I don’t intend on monetizing the site. I intend on keeping it as a “business information only” site while maintaining Freelancing Mama as my blog and future monetization opportunity. I plan to get something live by the end of March.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

Nothing jumped out as the right opportunity in February, but I will continue to keep looking for possible sponsorships in the Roscoe, Rockton or Rockford, IL areas.

Income Snapshot

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I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

Overall, it was a rough month, but I’m confident that March will bring better luck.

feb-2017-business-report

Defining and Setting SMART Goals

The beginning of the year is a great time to set goals. If you don’t have a concrete set of goals to work towards, you’ll spend all of your time fighting fires instead of making progress on your long-term objectives. To ensure your goals are achievable, you’ll need to make them SMART.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym for the characteristics of an achievable goal.

Specific

By specific, I mean precise! Your goals must be fully realized in your mind. If you aren’t totally clear on what you want your goal to be, brainstorm a list of things you’d like to accomplish in the next year. I recommend using Evernote, but a pen and paper will work too. Once you have a rough hunk of an idea, you’ll need to polish it until it’s a gemstone. Your goal shouldn’t be “grow my business,” because it’s too generic. Instead, it should be something like “grow my business 25% in three months.” We’ll iron out the time-bound and realistic aspects of goal setting later, but first, you’ll need to figure out what you specifically want to do.

Do: Make your intentions clear.

Don’t: Be afraid to make it a stretch goal (or a goal that will take serious effort to accomplish).

Measurable

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it?” Although there’s some criticism of this phrase, it works for goal setting. If you don’t know how your goal will be achieved, then it can’t be achieved. You won’t know once you’ve hit the stopping point. Not every goal is able to be measured numerically. For example, if you set a goal to improve your health, you may want to measure how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis after including exercise in your routine or how well you’re sleeping at night. Don’t get too hung up on numbers, but do make sure that you can measure your success in some quantifiable way.

Do: Source your inner accountant and find out how to quantify your goal.

Don’t: Let a dollar amount drive all of your goals.

Actionable

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Successful goals have clear actionable items, or next steps to completion. It’s pointless to set a goal that you’ll never be able to make progress on or one that’s so vague, there aren’t any obvious next steps. For example, a goal like “Feel better” doesn’t have a clear actionable associated with it. This goal could be about physical health or mental health or both. Right now, the goal as it stands is too vague to tell. If this were your goal, you should go back to the workshopping phase and make the goal more specific. However, if you knew the goal was referring to feeling better mentally, you could create some actionable next steps like booking an appointment with a therapist, meditating for five minutes each morning, or writing in a gratitude journal each evening. Once you have action items for your goal you can create To-Do lists. You should break down your action items into daily, weekly, and monthly lists. This gives you a task to do each day that brings you closer to achieving your goal.

Do: Figure out small, next steps you can take to achieve your goals.

Don’t: Attempt to do more than three things per day towards your SMART goal. You’ll burn out.

Realistic

Defining realistic is difficult. You’ll want your goals to be hard to achieve, but not impossible. You don’t want to set goals that require no effort, but you also don’t want to set goals that are so easy they don’t challenge you. Keep in mind, some goals that seemed very unrealistic to one person, like disruptive technologies, were realistic for someone else. Ultimately, only you know what is a challenging, realistic goal for yourself. You should take a personal inventory before deciding on what a realistic goal is. If you have a hard time achieving your goals then start with something a little easier to build confidence and gain forward momentum. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself by creating a list of goals that could only happen in perfect circumstances. Figure out what you’ve been able to achieve easily in the past and up that goal by 10-25%. If you can easily go to the gym once a week, strive to go six times per month.

Do: Be honest with yourself and know your weaknesses and strengths.

Don’t: Be too easy or too hard on yourself. You should be proud when you achieve your goal.

Time-Bound

Making a goal time-bound may be the most important part of setting a SMART goal. A goal without a deadline is a dream. It’s not real! It’s very easy to say, “Someday I’d like to do this,” but if you don’t set a deadline then someday will never come. Setting a deadline for your goal will motivate you even if you’re a procrastinator. Be firm with yourself, don’t push the date around or make excuses for why you couldn’t get it done on your self-imposed timeline. Treat your goal’s deadline as you would a client’s project. If you give yourself no wiggle room, you’ll find a way to complete your goal. Depending on the goal, you’ll need to determine an appropriate deadline. You’ll also want to create mini-deadlines for the Actionable items you’ve created. So, your ultimate goal may take a month to complete, but you’ll reach milestones each week.

Do: Time-block your calendar to ensure that you’ll work on your goals throughout the week.

Don’t: Rely on motivation or inspiration. The people who get things done are the ones that show up and do work regardless of how they feel.

Setting SMART goals will give you better focus and allow you to precisely track your progress. If you’ve had trouble with goal setting in the past, try setting SMART goals and see what happens!

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Do You Want to be An Employee or an Entrepreneur?

So, you have a great idea, product, or service to offer the world and you want to start your own business? Fabulous! There’s a lot of technical and logistical issues that you will encounter as you begin your new venture, but first things first, are you ready to start your own business?

The first question you need to ask yourself is:

1) Do you want to be an employee or an entrepreneur?

This question seems painfully obvious and most people will answer “entrepreneur!” without hesitation. However, you will need to dig deep to discover whether you really want all of the responsibility and stress that comes with running your own business.

Your Work Ethic

There are many perks to running your own business including setting your own hours and choosing what type and amount of work you do. However, there are many downsides as well. In a survey of 10 entrepreneurs, all worked more than 50 hours per week and many worked up to 70 per week. That’s a lot more than your standard 9-5! If you enjoy hanging up your hat at the end of the day and putting work totally out of your mind, you want to be an employee, not an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to make their businesses succeed. As with most things, it gets easier and less time consuming to run your own business the longer you are doing it, but the first years can be the most difficult. Over 40% of small business fail within two years. Can your personal relationships handle the stress of potential failure? If you don’t think so, you may want to stick with being an employee.

How do you feel about living on less? You might have to get used to it if you become an entrepreneur. It may take up to two years, after starting your business, before you can pay yourself a salary. Can you afford to work that long without pay? Would you even want to? If you’re dedicated to your business, is it possible to start it as a side hustle while working a full-time job? If you don’t have the energy to work on your side project at the end of a long day, you may not care that much about it or you may not have the work ethic that being an entrepreneur requires.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

When running your own business, you will ultimately be in charge of all day-to-day operations. You can hire someone to handle administrative issues such as bookkeeping and tax preparation, but that may not be feasible until you start getting customers. Any amount of business sense will be a boon to an entrepreneur, but the most important skills in determining whether you are suited to be an employee or an entrepreneur are critical thinking and problem solving.

While working for someone else, is your natural inclination to take problems or solutions to your supervisor? If you take problems to your supervisor and expect him or her to decide how to handle it than you may be better suited to be an employee. With the empowerment that running your own business brings, you may become more comfortable with problem-solving, but it may not come easily. A person who is naturally inclined to brainstorm solutions before asking their boss for help would do better on their own.

Assuming that you don’t have a business partner, you are going to be your own main resource for problem solving and critical thinking. You’ll need to be a fount of knowledge and ideas. Thankfully, there are thousands of resources at your disposal specific to whatever type of business you want to start. You will need the motivation to look for resources that can help you and the critical thinking skills to put what you learn into practice and modify advice to apply to your situation.

Your Personality

While it doesn’t take a particular personality type to be a successful entrepreneur, it does help to be realistic about who you are. A self-motivating personality is a good fit for entrepreneurship. Your success will have a lot to do with how hard you’re willing to work and how much effort you put into your business. Even if you have the support of a team, you’ll need to have the vision to carry your idea out. In the same vein, it’s better to be a leader than a follower when running your own business.

There is no right or wrong response to the question “do you want to be an employee or an entrepreneur?” Your dream job may be working for yourself or it may be working for an established company. Spending time thinking about what option is the better fit for you is crucial before deciding to start your own business. If you have self-awareness and can take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll discover the right choice for you.

 

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