What Six Months of Running a Business Taught Me?
Updated: May 5, 2022
There is a difference between running a business and working FOR someone else's business. I wanted to be transparent about my journey as a new business owner. My hope is that you or someone you know can take something positive away from this.
I started Aphelion Editing and Consulting back in October of 2021 and signed my first client in November of 2021. My initial mission statement was as follows: Aphelion Editing and Consulting seeks to nourish marginalized writers and business owners, through proactive solutions and education. This mission statement has expanded to include more elements of the present, but retains all aspects of the former.
With a clear goal in mind and a decade-plus of experience in related industries, I cultivated a pipeline, created the necessary legal (lawyer approved) contracts, maintained a solid bookkeeping structure, outlined the logistics of both consulting and editing pathways, and proceeded to grow the business. Due to my medical history, I made the decision to develop AEC (Aphelion Editing and Consulting) gradually. 2022 would be devoted to finding my footing as a new business owner.
I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but I've been very blessed. Up until recently, I've done minimal marketing and garnered a steady flow of clients since my launch. Some of that has to do with my standing in the community and the resourceful bonds that I've formed, but mainly, I'm damn good at what I do!
Yet, I fell victim to an age old obstacle that a lot of people tend to struggle with (business or not)...setting boundaries. In my personal life, I've gotten much better with this, when it came to clients, I was inconsistent. While, this happened with the minority of clients as opposed to the majority, it took me away from leading and prompted me do a lot of chasing. Pro tip number one, never take on a client that you have to endlessly chase around. Some clients may need a gentle nudge now and again (I've been there), but that should be a rarity, not a constant.
On paper, on the contract that everyone signs, all of the right words are there. Everyone is clear about how much services are, what the expectation is, what AEC will and will not do, and is advised on other matters of technical import. However, me holding them to this standard was in lack.. at first.
When clients start rolling in you want to work with them, there's a wild excitement that comes from someone daring to take a chance on you. It's easy to get complacent and decide to work with clients indiscriminately as opposed to vetting them. FYI, you need to vet EVERY client.
That "wild excitement" that I mentioned earlier was part of the issue, while the other factor was that I was leading with my heart and not my head. I saw someone in need and wanted to help them make their dream a reality. At face value that sounds like a good thing and it can be, but the sweet spot is balance. As a CEO you have to be methodical and thoughtful.
When you bring on clients you have to ask yourself these kind of questions:
Are they motivated?
Are they willing to take and utilize feedback?
Are they able to pay me?
Do they have S.M.A.R.T. goals or a mission statement?
Have they adequately developed their business or project?
All of these questions or variations of these questions should be things that you keep in mind when deciding whether or not to take on a client. I gave a lot of slack to a few clients early on, be it with paying invoices, the contracted rate, or the expectation around being invested in our agreed upon time. I've made a decent amount of money during these six months, but could have made more, could have had less headaches. So, I started setting boundaries and standing in them.
Now, the phrase "setting boundaries" gets thrown around a lot. So, let's briefly talk about what healthy boundary setting is and how it equates to running a business. Setting a boundary consists of several parts:
Clearly identifying the boundary via pointing out a behavior or action
Inwardly understanding why the boundary is important
Being straightforward about what your needs are
Not apologizing or backtracking for the stated boundary
Presenting information in a calm and clear manner
Addressing violations of said boundary early on (present potential consequences for violations)
Don't make it personal
This could be equated to any area of your life. As a business owner, you need to be boundary and goal-focused. Someone not paying an invoice on time or constantly pushing back the date of when they are going to pay it, hurts you. Someone shirking meetings or failing to put your hard work into practice, hurts them and you. At the end of the day, you can't force a client to do anything, but you can advise them of what's expected upon contracting you and what will happen if those expectations aren't met. Advocate for yourself and your job will get easier, you'll be able to lead and grow. I was able to.
I came into this space prepared, in terms of the back-end things. CRM, website, social media, accounting systems, templates, automation, and legal stuff was on lock. Learning how to frame and advocate for my business needed work. It's ironic, because that's what I advise clients on, but it's an entirely different thing when you're doing it for yourself. I learned that having a clear framework and having contingencies in place for that framework is paramount to success.
It can be a scary thing to step outside of someone else being the leader. I've led in a variety of environments before, but running a business requires a different kind of leader. You have think about every facet of your business and be equally invested in your long and short term pursuits. The biggest thing I've learned is to ask for help, to befriend other business owners, to learn from subject matter experts in and outside of the industry, and to delegate, delegate, delegate!
I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about what I've learned in the coming years and am looking forward to the journey. I'd love to hear about yours!