An Honest Recap of Year One
The Highlights, Lessons Learned, and What Lies Ahead
Lately, a popular topic of discussion among my friend group has been the impact of COVID on dating. The prevailing theory is that one year in a pandemic-era relationship is the equivalent of four years in a normal-world relationship. All the lessons and learnings are simply accelerated.
I've come to the conclusion that it's no different with running your own business during COVID. It's been just one year since I took Word of Web full-time, but I feel like I've already gained years' worth of experience and insights. And luckily, our relationship is stronger than ever. Here's a brief recap of Word of Web's first year.
Building a Team
There was a point in the year (mid-June, according to my frantic diary entry) when I became totally overwhelmed with all of the tasks I had to juggle each day. I started to feel like I was working for my business instead of on it, meaning that I was spending more time running day-to-day operations than actually steering the ship. One of my biggest turning points was outsourcing some of the work that was taking up too much of my time, and that I knew other people could do better. Anyone who knows me can tell you that delegating (AKA relinquishing control) is not my forte, so this was a huge step for me. I now work with an amazing team of contractors, including:
Two writers/brand strategists
A social media manager
Working with them has been a total game-changer. It has given me the time and mental space to focus on sales, business growth, and project management, while also ensuring that my clients always get top-notch results. Plus, I'm able to spend more time doing what I really love – meeting with clients and translating their vision and goals into a plan of action.
Expanding to New Verticals
When I started my business, I was intent on sticking to Wix (a popular website builder) for website development. It's what I knew, and it's what I was comfortable with. I quickly discovered, however, that this was limiting my reach and forcing me to decline projects that were otherwise a perfect fit for Word of Web. Over the course of the year, I started reaching beyond my comfort zone and saying "yes" to non-Wix projects, including Shopify, WordPress, and Squarespace websites. This required a lot of self-teaching, several new partnerships, and some hard-learned lessons (including projects where I undoubtedly lost money because my pricing was so off), but tapping into these new markets was well worth the hard work it took to get there.
Also, midway through the year, I started marketing to new industries in an effort to make Word of Web's services available to a broader audience. Now, we have worked with 22 companies spanning over a dozen industries: real estate, retail, financial, legal, healthcare, restaurant, beauty and wellness, fitness, creative, manufacturing and industrial technology, information technology, political, non-profit, and even pet care.
Partnering with Local Agencies
Early in the year, I met with several local web design and marketing agency CEOs to discuss opportunities for collaboration. I remember this being a super stressful period of time for me. As a newly minted business owner, I was full of self-doubt and feared that these CEOs would quickly discover my ineptitude (you can read more about my experience with "imposter syndrome" here). Turns out, these meetings were my best investment of the year. Not only did they allow me to meet some amazing local talent, but they also opened up a whole new world of opportunities. I feel much more secure in my role as a business owner knowing that I have a network of mentors, colleagues, and (now) friends that I can leverage any time I need support and guidance.
Double Your Prices
Last summer, I found myself in a rut where I was regularly working 12-14 hour days – with no time for breaks or weekends off. I was exhausted, the quality of my work was suffering, and my bank account didn't reflect the work I was putting in. One day when I had reached my breaking point, I decided to just double my prices. The first time I showed someone a proposal with my new prices, I was convinced she was going to laugh in my face. But she didn't. So I tried it again – and again. It kept working, and I became more and more confident with the numbers I was saying. Now, looking back, I can't believe I ever charged what I did starting off. Raising my prices has allowed me to do better work, and feel better doing it. Not to mention, it has made me feel infinitely more confident in the value I'm providing to clients. I no longer have to hide behind the "affordable web designer" label. I can proudly own my prices, and the outcomes they produce.
Just Say No
One of the biggest struggles in my first year was saying no to clients who weren't a good fit for Word of Web, or who I knew would be a huge pain to work with. Part of the reason was that I was desperate for clients. The other part was that I was determined to help anyone and everyone who wanted a website – even if that meant barely breaking even on the project. After several disastrous projects, however, I learned three important lessons:
A bad client is never worth the money. (For me, ageism, sexism, and disrespect are all no-go's).
If someone wants to work with you, they will find a way to afford you – even if it's down the line.
If you're not a good fit for a client, or they are not a good fit for you, it's best for both of you that you decline the project.
Schedule Time for Thinking
I can't emphasize this one enough. As a business owner, it's easy to spend all of your time in "action mode" – firing off emails, making sales, leading meetings, managing projects, etc. It's an important part of running a business, but it can be a dangerous trap when it causes you to lose sight of the bigger picture. A few months ago, I kept having this nagging feeling that I was running as fast as I could but not really going anywhere. I realized it was because I wasn't giving myself time to simply sit down and think – about where I wanted my business to go, how I could learn from past mistakes, and what I could be doing better. I had been confusing motion for progress, and as a result, I had constructed a hamster wheel. To keep myself from falling into the trap again, I now set aside time each week for sitting down with just a journal and a pen and thinking.
The Road Ahead
Now that we're turning the corner into year two of Word of Web, I'm excited to keep learning, growing, and discovering new opportunities to serve our clients. Here are some of my biggest goals for 2021.
Redesign the Word of Web website to reflect our new services
Expand to new markets beyond Greenville, SC
Hire more contractors – writers, designers, and maybe even a project manager
Create and sell website-related education materials (online courses, E-Books, etc.)
Grow our agency partner network
Introduce two new blog series (details coming soon...)
To all of my friends, colleagues, mentors, and clients who have supported me along my crazy startup journey – I can't thank you enough. Cheers to big things ahead in 2021.