What I Learned in 2 Years of Business
And just like that...I am celebrating two years of running KES Studio full-time! Technically, the two year anniversary was in mid-January, but last month was full of client planning and projects and I am excited to finally share my annual recap of what I learned on this journey of owning a full-time business. If you haven't read my first year story, I would recommend reading this first to better understand my story and how KES has grown over these two short years.
Year two, in a nutshell, was crazy...in both a good and bad way. After getting through the growing pains from year one of learning how to run a business (still a learning process), defining my ideal client and creating services that I truly love and provide incredible results, year two was all about going full speed ahead with my work.
I became very clear on who is and who isn't my ideal client. I rounded out my full-service client roster with some of the most incredible businesses based in Kansas City and continued to offer Strategy Sessions + Coaching for local to national start-ups, brands and entrepreneurs that needed strategy without the management. I said 'no' to a lot of brands that were not the ideal fit for my business or services.
But I also said 'yes' to a lot of exciting partnerships, projects and events that took a lot of energy and creativity. Most of the year, I felt like I was running on fumes trying to do so many things for so many people all on my own. So, I started to learn about delegation and began implement systems to keep my processes efficient. I also made steps toward building a team for KES. Part of which led to interesting experiences as I learned what it takes to hire, secure and create a solid team that would help me grow my brand.
So, here are a few of the key lessons I in year two. Read on...
1. Focus on quality over quantity. I have a lingering 'scarcity' mentality. I'm not sure where it comes from, but I've always had a voice in the back of my head that questions everything. Will all of my clients fire me if I take off today? What happens if it all goes away? What if a client decides to move on? I know it's irrational, but it's what I have to overcome. In 2016, I had a completely full client roster. One thing I did right was to stop adding on new clients and to turn away business during my peak seasons, even though it was incredibly hard for me to do so. Turning down money and opportunities will always be a struggle for me.
But I am so glad that I nurtured the business relationships I had in place and made sure that my clients were my first priority. I wanted to ensure that the brands that invested in me continued to receive the same top-level services and creative energy they need (and expect) from me. And I learned that if you provide an incredible service matched with an even better experience, those potential clients that you can't serve right now will wait for you. Timing is everything!
2. Take care of yourself first. I failed in this area for most of 2016. I let my health, fitness and personal needs get pushed to the side to make room for more meetings, client visits, time on my phone, and just more work in general. I started to not look and feel my best. I wasn't functioning properly. And worst of all, I wasn't connected in-person because I was so connected to work -- and my iPhone. I let my work run my life.
I learned that when you are your best version of yourself, you do your best work. So, I decided to focus on myself again and to let the texts, calls, emails and social media be put on hold for just a few hours each day. I found a workout and class structure that I love and look forward to (thanks to Health House), shifted my daily meetings to conference calls and only dedicated in-person time to bi-monthly or monthly for clients. I'm still getting better about shutting down, especially in the weekends and evening but am continuing to make baby steps. Tip: mark any personal needs, appointments or time for self-care on your calendar so that you have dedicated time set aside for yourself.
3. Under promise, over deliver. Always, always, always set clear intentions, goals and well defined plans when working with a client. I used to undercharge and work overtime on projects. I wasn't making any profit and was getting burnt out trying to keep up. As a service-based business owner, you have to be very careful not to overextend the services you initially promised. Remember, you were hired for a specific job. Do the job really well, but you don't have to also solve other projects at the same time (unless it's required to do so).
As always, I've learned this the hard way. I've always been one to over promise and work really hard to over deliver. This left me constantly running the hamster wheel trying to do anything and everything a client needed, while also trying to do my very best work. It didn't work. It's easy to undercut, undercharge and over serve clients. But it's so important to flip that switch. I created VERY clear contracts that outlined all deliverables, started tracking my hours and projects each month and set boundaries on what was and was not included. Plus, the more aware your clients are on the expectations, deadlines and project goals, the happier and more confident they will be!
4. Only do work within your 'zone of genius'. Speaking of over promising, it's very common for businesses to take on work that falls within in the 'gray area' of their services instead of focusing on work that falls within your 'zone of genius.'
For example, KES offers creative marketing services and provides public relations, social media and event support. However, in order to create great content for marketing, you need creative content (i.e. quality graphics and DSLR photography). I've had basic level training in photography and graphic design, but wouldn't say that is my strength. My strength is the strategy. That is my 'zone of genius.' It comes natural and easy to me. But instead of focusing on my strengths, I was trying to do everything in order to get to my zone of genius. I was acting as the marketer, photographer, creative director, and so on.
So, I hired a photographer and graphic designer that I now work with on a monthly basis to take my strategy, my style concepts and my client's marketing needs to actual make the concepts come to life. The cost of outsourcing outweighs the long hours trying to force yourself to be good at something outside of your zone of genius. If you can't hire, I would recommend having a list of preferred vendors to recommend to your client on projects that fall within the gray area!
5. It takes a team to build something big. Speaking of team...when of the biggest lessons I learned in year two of business was the importance of having a team. When you get a point where you have maxed out your clients and cannot add on more projects, you have to decide if you will be happy staying at that place or continuing to grow. For me, I realized in year two that it would take an extra set of hands to help me accomplish what I want to do.
I started this process by hiring an assistant. A part-time employee that would help with day-to-day office needs and coordinate small projects for my clients. But I did not hire smart. I hired out of necessity and what I thought would work. Plus, it turned out that the candidate I hired was not there for the right reasons. Instead, they were wanting to learn my systems and processes to mimic the experience on their own. This is very common, but I didn't think it would happen to me.
While this lesson is one I am still working through, I did learn from this experience and put a new plan into action. Instead of hiring another assistant with entry-level experience, I contracted two experts within their fields: photography and graphic design. Each work with me on projects for clients and provide me valuable services that I need. However, I don't have to worry about investing time into training them or risking losing intellectual property. For now, this is a perfect fit for me.
6. Learn how to bounce back from business burns' Year two of business was the year of being burned. I made so many mistakes when it came to trusting other professionals. I gave away too much without reciprocation. I wasn't smart about who I surrounded myself with. I was burned far too many times during the year. However, each burn was a lesson learned that I know will help me as I continue to grow.
My biggest takeaway here is to surround yourself with others that uplift, support and have positive intentions with you both personally and professional. While it's hard to always avoid situations that can harm your brand, it's important to be aware of who you surround yourself with.
These were just a few of the core lessons I learned in year two of business ownership. The wins and successes are all part of the journey and I can't wait to see where year three takes me!