Last month we celebrated Float Digital turning 2 years old. How the HECK did that happen!? When I first quit my job to launch my little digital marketing agency, I didn’t even dream things would go this well. I recently wrote a little piece on our company blog about what we’ve achieved in the last 12 months, and when I read it back, I honestly couldn’t believe we’d come this far.
People always ask me “What’s the biggest challenges you’ve faced running your own business?”. I’ve always felt a sense of guilt coupled with confusion, and responded every time with “I haven’t had any challenges”. I could honestly say I never found running a company difficult, and I certainly never had any hurdles.
I guess you could say I’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve been nominated for national awards, presented at some of the largest marketing conferences in Europe, and whilst turning over a healthy profit that we can both live on (and pay for an awesome wedding and honeymoon!). We’ve been doing all of this whilst enjoying long weekends and trips away. Seriously, what more could we possibly ask for?
Alas! Three weeks ago, everything changed. It’s almost like my 2-year trial was up and now shit was getting real. Our exponential growth has caught up with us, we soon realized we were completely out of our depth, despite working our butts off all week 🍑 It’s okay, everything is under control; it’s actually been really good because it’s forced us to change the way we operate *silver linings*.
The only thing is, I’m kicking myself. I feel like most of these things could have been avoided if I just did a little bit more research. Like I said though, it’s given us that little push now to get everything right, and I guess we’re always going to be learning. So here’s some advice I wish I had:
Hire based on recommendations
You’re probably thinking “I’m not planning on hiring anybody”, well I have news for you – you will. Outsourcing and hiring experts to help you run your business is a no-brainer. Sometimes you need to hire people because you aren’t qualified to do it yourself, such as a lawyer or an accountant. Other times, it’s just to free up your time so you can spend it doing stuff that’s really important. Technically, I could write my own contracts but I wouldn’t feel confident that they’re good enough to hold up (more on that soon!).
I used to try and do my own finances but a) it was so time-consuming b) I found that my accountant could save me heaps of money, so she was worth her weight in gold. Last year my company officially incorporated and is now a limited company, which changes how we do things. Now, even if I wanted to, I can’t file my own tax returns because I’m not qualified to do so. We have a bookkeeper and an accountant that deal with everything and I have the peace of mind that it’s being dealt with properly, and all above board.
We have an amazing content writer called Lee-Anne, great SEO contractors, and a team of experts that deal with our social media platforms, which saves us hours every single day. The time that they save us in invaluable because it means we can dedicate time to our clients. My fiancée and I are always throwing ideas back and forth but it’s nice to have a team of people that have input on the best things to do.
We’re lucky we have a team of people that we trust but it wasn’t easy to do. When I first began outsourcing I didn’t appreciate the importance of recommendations, I just welcomed people onboard that gave a good proposal. Turns out, this was a bad idea and almost ended up costing me a lot of money. I found out that the services I was receiving was actually going to do my business more harm than good, and I switched suppliers. At the time I wasn’t educated enough to understand this, but eventually, you work out who’s a pirate and who is a trusted supplier. I won’t go into it, but I’ll just leave it with this: Reviews matter.
You might not be ready to employ people but instead, you might have started using websites, like AppPaye, as your business is growing. So, don’t forget, recommendations don’t just apply to people; they apply to products and services, too.
Be firm with your clients on deliverables
When we first started delivering retained packages for our clients our proposals were quite vague in what the client would receive. This opened us up to clients potentially being unhappy! Luckily, this didn’t happen to us and we’ve always had positive feedback, however, if our proposals were a little bit clearer it would have saved a lot of unnecessary phone calls and emails. We decided to make our bronze, silver and gold packages much clearer so clients knew exactly what they were going to receive. This was never really a problem with us, but I can see how it could be for other businesses that deliver a service, especially on an ongoing basis.
We have run into trouble based on clients not really understanding what we do, and expecting us to do all kind of random jobs for them that don’t relate to our 2 core services, SEO & PPC. If you don’t know what these services are, I don’t blame you, not everybody does! It’s essentially Search Engine Marketing; or ‘Getting People to the Top of Google’, is how I like to word it! This means increasing visibility in the normal results and by using ads.
Pretty straightforward, huh? Well, here’s what we’ve been asked to do:
- Web development
- Newsletter marketing
- Web design
- Project managing content
- Calendar management
- Social media
- Facebook Advertising
- Bespoke CSS
- Shop refunds
- Transcript writing
- Malware clean up
We’re pretty clued up on all of these services and we can deliver them. This is great for us, because as business owners we don’t need to outsource this stuff if we don’t want to. For example, we built our own website and if we ever want bespoke changes, we can just code them in ourselves, saving us heaps of money. But our clients often ask for these services; for a while, we used to ‘umm’ and ‘ahhh’ about how we could help them. Why? We wanted to make their life easier, we knew we could help, and it was an easy way to make a bit of extra cash.
This soon turned into a problem when we realized we were spending more time on things we didn’t want to do, and we ended up running other people’s businesses for them based on ad hoc payment. We essentially turned into virtual assistants for a short period of time, and it got messy real quick. Stick to what you know because then you can be known if your industry for what you do best. Luckily, we didn’t entertain this idea for long but I already experienced the stress of offering all these services.
Your contracts must be watertight
We’ve got a pretty solid terms and conditions document, our proposals are very clear, and our investment packages clearly outline what we offer. The client has an onboarding process and we find out everything we need to know about them, they pay their invoice one month before we begin working, and then we deliver the project. The process is pretty straightforward and I feel like we covered all bases. Oh boy, was I wrong! Individual contracts for each scope of work with a clear Start date are so important.
We loved that we could offer a service with zero contracts, no minimum commitment and no cancellation fees. We’re real people, offering a service to make an honest wage. This is one of the things our clients love about us because there isn’t many other companies that are this flexible. We’re not trying to scam anybody out of any money, and so we don’t feel the need to tie our customers in. If they want our help, great! If they don’t, also fine. We’re so lucky that we have enough clients that we don’t have to lock people in, there’s always other clients that are on our waiting list, dying to get a slot in our calendars.
This was never a problem until a client decided they didn’t want to pay until the work was completed. We’re very understanding so we decided to deliver the project before payment was received. We began the work, after being told to go ahead. Two months later we’re left without payment. I only have myself to blame for being so laid back and not putting it into a contract. We learned our lessons, and we’ll always stick to our contracts, and we’ll always require payment upfront. Make sure you don’t forget how important these contracts are!
I essentially need a backbone. What lessons have you learned from running your own business? 🤔