I have been working with Arianne Foulks, founder of web design company Aeolidia, since I ran out of time and patience with my website for Rare Device, many years ago. Aeolidia specializes in working with small creative business owners. Word of mouth is obviously working and now the shop has multiple employees and can also handle marketing, logo design, copywriting and many other of the aspects of business that need professional support.
I started off by designing (and re-designing and re-designing and re-designing) my own website, and then moved on to making websites for friends for free – mostly for bands and record labels.
My “real job” at the time was customer service at a hosting and web services company. I was unofficially our liaison between the geeks (system administrators and developers) and the marketing and sales-types, because I managed to talk to both of them while seeming like “one of the guys” and could usually get them both what they wanted without ruffling feathers.
That job, while not glamorous, directly prepared me to be successful running my own web design company. When the dot-com boom went bust and we all got laid off, I was newly working as a project manager, which I loved. Luckily, I’d been moonlighting as a web designer, so it was a pretty seamless transition.
Pricing always has been a challenge. When I first started working for myself, I chose an hourly rate that seemed luxurious at the time, but is laughable to me now! I innocently forgot all about taxes, health insurance, and the many, many unpaid hours I would end up working to manage the business. Now it’s all about balancing – charging enough to pay us all fairly (after paying for software, services, taxes, etc.), while still being affordable enough for our favorite type of client – small and creative businesses.
The other challenge has been growing! I resisted the concept of growing for years, instead turning down at least 75% of the potential clients who contacted us. Family would hear about that and suggest that I hire new people and expand, and I would just flap my hand at them. I was worried that I would end up being the boss and not having time for my own work. Well, now it turns out that I’m finally in a place where that’s what I want to do (I think having kids helped me not want to stay up until 2am every night trying to meet a design deadline!), so I’ve taken the plunge and am working on figuring out how many projects we can take on at a time, and sorting out the best designer to developer ratio, etc. The biggest change of all is training my brand new project manager to take over most of my routine tasks – very exciting!
Tips for Business Owners
Whether you sell a service or a product, my top advice would be to have AWESOME customer service. If you make people super super happy they will tell their friends, blog about you, tweet about you, and all that good stuff. Of course, it’s best if you can find someone who has a lot of people to tell! For years and years, all of our business (and I mean ALL of it) has come from word of mouth. I’m only now experimenting with other ways to get the word out, because I just haven’t had to yet.
We hear from a lot of people have worked with a web designer in the past who was unresponsive, quit working on the project before it was done, or set it up but wouldn’t help with updates. People are very worried about giving someone their money and then being let down, so if they hear from a friend that you were cheerful, competent, communicative, and did everything on time, you may find you quickly build a lot of interest in your work.
I also had a personal mission that if a client wanted a certain feature, I would find a way to make it happen, whether I had any experience with how to do it or not. So I’d say being open to giving things the ol’ college try can be beneficial. My reluctance to say “no” led me to learn a huge amount of useful skills!