When you’ve been in business as long as I have – over 17 years now – you learn some things along the way. I’ve learned from business experts, coaches, my dad, and so many others. But the lessons I really took to heart are the ones I taught myself, by making missteps, having to course-correct, or flat-out failing at something!
Those experiences may not be fun, but they do give you a real-world lesson. And they taught me that I can fail at something and come back even stronger. So here are the 5 lessons I learned the hard way over the years:
1. Bigger is not always better. I thought I had to have a big office and a huge staff to be taken seriously and to get everything done. I just thought that was what you did as a “real business.” Boy was I wrong. I’m now in a much smaller office (more about that in the future), and I not only have a leaner staff, but they are based in several different states, too! We are a much more efficient and cohesive team that functions at a high level with a lot of online tools. And business is better than ever!
2. Profit margins are where it’s at. I’ve told you over and over how I had to face some hard truths early on in my business, and get super-serious about my financials. And the one thing in that painful process that really rocked my world is the realization that profit margins are the key. Small business owners like me can fool ourselves into thinking we have a ton of money coming in. But once we weigh that against the expenses going out, or against our REAL hours spent on the project, we can get a cold slap in the face when we realize we aren’t making a 10th of what we think we are. I watch my margins like a hawk today!
3. Think local. Now I love the major shelter magazines more than you can imagine, and they are always my goal for publishing. But sometimes we forget that our local magazines are fabulous vehicles for getting published, too! In fact, they can often bring in more clients for a designer than one of the national magazines. So even though I will always earmark projects for submission to the premier magazines, I really love to support my local and regional publications, too. In fact, as I always say, At Home in Arkansas really helped me get to where I am today!
4. Niche is key. If you’ve spent time with me, or read this blog for any length of time, I know you’ve heard this before. But defining and refining what makes me different from other designers and businesses was the key to everything for me, from getting covers of publications, to forging new partnerships, to attracting new clients across the country. In the early years, I wasn’t clear on that niche. It took me a while to really settle into what was my “sweet spot.” That happens for a lot of us, we’re afraid to be pigeonholed. But being clear about what makes us different is really what sets us apart!
5. Leap into new ideas. This one is actually already part of my DNA – I love to come up with new ideas and strategies for my business. But where I’ve made missteps in the past is on not pulling the trigger! Whether it was fear or overthinking, I’ve missed out on some really great ideas that I then saw someone else execute and put out sooner than I did. And good for them! However, it did teach me to trust my gut and leap when I have a great idea. After all, if it doesn’t work, I’ll have another good idea to replace it!
What do you think about the lessons I’ve learned? And what are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way? Let me know in the comments section below!