Wow, pretty hard to believe…5 years ago I had just begun doing freelance graphic and print design and had not even dabbled into the world of web development (read my full story here). Now, five years older, nearly 150 clients later, this is a legitimate business providing web and print design services for businesses of all sizes across the U.S. It’s honestly been an amazing five years of learning, growth, lessons learned, failures, successes, long nights, happiness and hardships all in one. I’ve decided to write this post not as a pat on the back for making it to the 5 year mark, but as a reflection and thanks for the many lessons I have learned and for those who have helped me along the way.
I’ve learned MANY valuable lessons since starting In Transit Studios, but for the sake of my 5 year anniversary, I’m going to focus on 5. These are lessons that I wish I could’ve told myself when I started and hope they bring value to you as well.
1) Don’t burn your bridges
This should hold true in all aspects of life, but particularly in business. In Transit Studios is nearly 99% referral based, which means one bad review or bad situation can be very damaging in a word-of-mouth referral environment. On the other hand, one really good review or strong testimonial can lead to a wealth of new clients.
When I look at my client roster now, nearly half of those stemmed from one lead nearly 4 years ago. And it was a situation that could’ve gotten slightly ugly. Long story short; I was working with a friend and a client of his. Once the project was completed…I billed out the final invoice….but there was no final payment. I was very frustrated but knew that my friend had no control over the situation. He wanted to get paid as well but the client was unresponsive. Instead of taking my frustration out on him after loosing time and money, I tried to be understanding and he appreciated that. He then gave me a lead to a client that led to another client, that led to another, to another and to another and so on. Now by all means, you need to stand up for yourself and those situations can’t be frequent (kindness doesn’t pay the bills) but I learned to show grace where grace is needed and it worked out.
So, beware of burning bridges! You never know were that bridge will lead.
2) Don’t get too high, don’t get too low
Just recently, I had a bid out for one of the biggest potential projects in my short 5 year history. I was pretty excited but it fell through, I was bummed. In the same day, I wrapped up a project that had been on my plate for months and I got the green light for a big project that I was thrilled to start. In a matter of minutes, I went from bummed to excited. There are many peaks and valleys as a business owner and you often feel the weight of every situation on your shoulders. Thus why I’ve learned the value of not getting too high and not getting too low.
Now, do I celebrate when a big project is complete? Yes. Do I pull out a nice dance move every once in a while when I land a new client? Absolutely. Do I sink into a deep depression when I loose a client or potential project? No. It’s all about balance. There are going to be highs and lows, but it’s important to stay balanced and not get too carried away one way or the other.
3) Work on yourself
5 years ago I would’ve never thought I’d be an advocate for personal development, but I’ve learned that working on yourself is the greatest investment you can make. Personal development can include your health, your appearance, your speech, your knowledge, your skill set, etc. The sad part is, most people stop learning and developing shortly out of high school. How many people do you know who think, speak and act like they’re 18 at 28? Or maybe even 38?
Personal development sounds like a cheesy term but I’ve learned that it’s invaluable, it’s particularity crucial if you’re in sales. Why? Because you sell you, not what you’re selling. Let’s be honest, if someone tries to sell you a product as they’re sweating nervously, avoiding eye contact, sounding unconfident and wearing a used cars salesman get up, you’re probably not going to buy what they’re selling. But if someone comes to you looking nice, who is well spoken and confident in his or her approach, you’ll be much more eager to work with them and the more interesting you are, the more likely you are to strike the interest of a potential client.
So sharpen your presentation skills, work on your health, increase your vocabulary, learn your craft, be more interesting and become the better “you” that you can be. It’s the best investment you can make.
4) Learn perseverance
I often hear people say how great it must be to own your own business and work from home, and it is pretty awesome overall but it doesn’t come without it’s struggles and hardships. If I’ve learned anything over the past 5 years it’s perseverance. It’s monumental when times are tough or you’re mentally done with a project or client but you have to meet a deadline. It’s huge when you know that there is no one else to take the fall if a project goes south. Or knowing that if you don’t get this project completed as promised, you don’t get paid.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had many moments where I’ve felt like throwing in the towel and just getting a 9-5. A little security would be a welcomed change but in perseverance I’ve also learned to “beware the grass is greener syndrome.” Sometimes things seem terrible until you step into another pair of shoes and realize that it wasn’t so bad after all.
In any circumstance perseverance will be the trait that gets you to your goal, to the end of a project, or to the finish line. Keep your eye on the prize.
5) Don’t get too comfortable
If you haven’t figured it out already, technology changes fast. Most industries change quickly but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an industry change faster than the web. Websites, social media, SEO, browser technology, apps…nearly half of what I learned about web design just a few years ago is already out the window but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Well, it is if you get too comfortable.
I’ve learned to embrace change and be an avid learner. That is the mindset you have to have in order to keep up on current technologies and to stay on top of things today. If you’re still using Internet Explorer 6.0, it’s time to make a change. Don’t be afraid of new technology or business practices that may be a huge help to your workflow. As an example; I’m using new software platforms that I recently learned which have cut administrative work and client communication time in half.
New technology isn’t a bad thing but I understand as a creature of habit, change can be tough. I recommend setting time aside each week for learning. When you think of learning you probably picture high school, college or night courses but learning is constant now with online tutorials, webinars, workshops and blogs. Embrace the opportunity to learn like no other generation has ever had previously.
So, these are 5 valuable lessons that I have learned in my time so far with In Transit Studios. They have all made me a better business man and person. I hope this article has helped you as well and can be implemented in all areas of life if possible.