I started my web design business over 12 years ago in the living room cupboard of a 1 bedroom apartment in Sydney, Australia. I have been growing steadily with a small to medium client base, some of which I have been working with for over 8 years. I choose to work remotely, am currently based in Hong Kong and was previously based in Singapore for a couple of years for my partner’s work. I get to travel pretty much whenever I like due to managing my clients’ expectations and being honest with them.
How have I stayed in business? I put it down to a few simple rules I’ve followed over the years. My business is web design and development with some other stuff thrown in, but a lot of these things could be applied to any small business.
I’ve kept my existing clients happy
It’s much easier to keep the clients you already have happy by continuously providing them with exceptional customer service rather than finding new clients. Happy clients will see the value in what you do and will keep coming back. They will also recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Be honest with them about what you are willing to provide and when you can provide it and they will be loyal.
You may lose clients along the way or find you need to move on from the ones that take up too much time for little benefit. This is part of doing business and helps to refine the quality of your clients.
I’ve kept on top of finances
I would have to say for me this is the most important factor. It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep. Keeping on top of expenses and knowing exactly where you’re at financially will make a huge difference to your ability to keep your business running during those inevitable quiet times.
- Set up a separate business bank account for your client payments.
You need to appear professional. Having your clients pay into your personal savings account doesn’t look pro. It’s cheap and easy to set up a business account. Be sure to put aside enough to cover taxes in the future.
- Pay for ALL of your business expenses on ONE credit card.
This will ensure you have a clear record of you expenses. Don’t use this credit card for non-business expenses. Pay off this credit card in full before the due date each month to avoid interest charges. Try and find a credit card with a good award points system so you get some rewards for it.
- Keep on top of invoicing your clients.
Keep good records of what jobs you have done, for who and how much. Schedule a time each week or each month, whatever works for you, to send out invoices. It’s easy to fall behind with this and will get harder to get on top of the longer you leave it. I do this on Friday mornings.
- Know where you stand.
Every Friday I enter my total balances for all bank accounts and credit cards into a spreadsheet which gives me a total balance. It includes my total sales (not paid jobs, just new jobs that came in that week) total income as seen in my business bank account and total expenses as seen in the business credit card. That way I can see exactly how much cash I have in the bank less credit card balances and how much the business made and spent each week. You can even generate some cool charts and graphs if you like.
I have recurring income
This only really applies to a web design business. Offering things like domain name or hosting services isn’t for everyone as it can require some ongoing management. For me, the potential income compared to the amount of work required convinced me that I should provide this service for my clients. It also means everything is under one roof which means you don’t have to rely on someone else to action things. Some of this income seems small on its own, but it all adds up over time.
I have a routine
One of the hardest things about running a small business from home is getting up every day and getting to work whether you feel like it not. There are going to be days when it’s way easier or more fun to stay in bed or binge-watch a series on Apple TV.
I make sure I get up every day, make the bed, brush my teeth, have a shower, get dressed (sometimes), have a cup of tea or coffee, and get to work. Sometimes I go out to get a coffee which is a nice way to separate home from home office.
I keep learning
Technology changes all the time which is exciting but also overwhelming. I try and stay up to date with things related to my industry as much as possible without getting too obsessed with knowing everything. I also read books and listen to podcasts about business, mindfulness and other topics that are related to being productive and effective.
I don’t work nights or weekends
Everyone should have a life outside of work, otherwise what’s the point? Having time away from the screen gives you time to enjoy the rewards of having your own business and time to reflect. Get involved with hobbies or sports and switch off. Sometimes you might have to put in some extra hours to get on top of things but be sure to make up for it by taking time off when you can.
I play the drums and guitar, am involved with a couple of bands and love playing and writing music. I also love photography, skateboarding, surfing, getting out into nature and a heap of other activities that aren’t business or web design. I believe it’s important to spend time away from your business in order to keep things fresh and to stay motivated.
Of course there is a lot more that goes into running a small business successfully online. I could go into a lot more detail about many specifics, but the points above I believe are the main things that have kept me going.