7 Things One Year of Business Ownership Has Taught Me

If there’s one thing I am, I’m honest. Sometimes to a fault. If you want honest feedback on how a pair of pants fit, I’m not the person who will tell you that they fit great, skirting the point that they’re baggy in the butt and too tight around the waist. I’ll tell you to change.

I don’t think I was always like this. But for the last almost 1.5 decades, critiquing has just been an essential part of my line of work. I’ve learned to take it, and give it honestly, just the same. In critiques, the point isn’t to criticize the person or project or design. It’s to give good, intelligent feedback so they can make it better.

And like feedback for improvement, I also like to openly share my experiences. I don’t really feel they’re unique, but talking honesty about them may help someone in the same situation learn something new about theirs and make it better.

So here we are ONE YEAR after officially starting my business -albeit a side-hustle at the time - and I thought I’d share the top things that this last 365 days has taught me. It’s mainly so that others who have just started theirs, or are still just thinking about starting a business, can maybe learn from my mistakes and from my achievements.

1. Just start.

This is my first bullet because this is a motto I learned and I tell everyone who will listen. If you do not start, sure, you have nothing to lose. BUT if you do not start, you also have nothing to gain. So, just start. This time last year I still had the one friend I was doing a little logo work for here and there, but no “clients”. And I still wasn’t registered with the govt. (see below), BUT I consider this my anniversary date because this was the month I finally just started.

I took some cash I had saved (no debt in this business), and purchased my first year of website hosting and domain name with Squarespace, and started just writing up a list of tasks I could make a part of my business. Now I only do a handful of what I originally wrote, BUT that list got my juices flowing and helped me to continue to pull together my website. If I hadn’t just started, I’d still be without business, no Instagram, and no clients.

No cash saved? Ok, well work what little side hustle you can to start saving up, or you can get a free website, or even just a Facebook page. But excuses aren’t going to get you anywhere.

2. Getting legit is great, but paying taxes sucks.

It’s probably the sh*ttiest part of owning a business, but becoming a legal entity with your state not only makes you sound more professional (hello, LLC!) but protects your personal assets from your business assets in the event that god forbid you go bankrupt or get sued. The sucky part is that you gotta make sure you continue to put a portion of your revenue away for taxes. Of course, whether you register or not you still need to pay taxes, so make sure you plan accordingly.

My accountant (not necessary if you’re good with your books and organization, and you’re the only one getting paid), said to put away close to 50% just to be safe. It’s my first year, and since thankfully we’re not too dependent on my income, so it’s easy to do. But keep that in mind when you’re pricing a service or a product - close to half of what you pay yourself will need to go to taxes!

3. Have a few key systems in place before you get too busy.

I created a blog post a while ago with a list of tasks you should have in place before you get started, and I pretty much still stand by it. Wish I had them a little more cemented, and more of these in place before I started, but like my first bullet says, “just start”. So I did, and don’t regret it.

4. Get well organized.

I’m a really organized person. But for some reason, I didn’t really have a plan for how I was going to organize, save, and share back my client’s work. Once it started coming, I kinda just put it on my computer, and sometimes on my Gdrive too, but nothing was, and kinda still isn’t, consistent. Like my systems, I wish I had planned this out before getting too deep with too many clients, and now I need to go back and reorganize.

5. Really think about how much work you can take on.

Granted, I had 2 little kids when I started my side-hustle, while working a full-time job, and then baby #3 joined us pretty early on in my business venture, however, I did plan for how many hours I could take on each week (“Ok, so I can work evenings, when the kids are asleep, during naptime, and weekends…”) However, things don’t always go as planned. So with a baby who didn’t nap well, me being too exhausted to work too late, and at the same exact time Brooks was born, my husband’s workload increased substantially, I wasn’t pulling the hours I thought I would.

Thankfully, I didn’t have clients knocking down my door. I managed with what I had, and at a point, decided not to take on anymore new ones. But even today, I don’t work the hours I once thought I’d be able to - that is, not yet. As soon as this 6 month old starts dosing off for longer stretches I may be able to fit some more time in.

6. As long as you’re productive, it doesn’t matter how nice your office or your hardware is.

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know my laptop is failing. I’ve been using it for as long as I can, but when it restarts itself during a video conference with a client, you kinda give it the last straw. You may also know my office is far from Pinterest worthy… BUT you know what? Besides a conference call delay, I’ve been able to get all the tasks I need to get done without problem. Sure, I may not have as many likes when I post a picture of my free IKEA desk I scored on Facebook, and it’s certainly not getting any re-shares, but I’m also making the same amount of money, and not spending it on new stuff for my office… yet. I do have plans to invest a little, but I’ll be using my husband’s old laptop (new to me) once I save everything over, and I’ll be painting and decorating myself.

7. Do what’s right for you and your business.

Let me say it this way:

Name the top 3 closest grocery stores to your home. For me, it’s a Klein’s Shop Rite, a Safeway, and another Klein’s Shop Rite. But you know what? Today, I drove all the way to Aldi’s Grocery because they’re WAY cheaper, and have just as good produce as anywhere else. (WAY cheaper meaning my grocery bill is only 2/3 what it was, even with Walmart, and most of which is healthy veggies!)

“OK, so what?”, you say. “They’re a cheaper grocery store.” Yeah, but do you know how they get their prices so much cheaper? 90% of their products are Aldi branded but meet big brand standards, they have a cart “rental” system so they don’t need to hire someone to continue to collect carts, and encourage customers to bring their own bags by charging for their paper or plastic bags, all of which create savings that are then passed onto the customer.

My point? They are running a grocery store - one of the most common and long-time businesses there is. BUT they’re doing it differently, and the customers notice!

There are tons of others out there doing services or selling products that are similar to yours. Trust me, I’m right there with you. Figure out what sets you apart, and what’s right for your business, and of course makes you happy. However, I’m pretty sure if it makes your customer’s happy, it’ll make you happy too

For me, it’s that I have a strong love for branding, but I have the long-term professional experience to back it up. Not many can say that. So sure, I can do graphics, and social media, and websites, but I understand how to make it cohesive, and how to incorporate and strengthen your brand. How many can say they worked with well known brands for 13 years?

I hope this information has taught you something, or if anything given you a heads of of some things you might encounter on your first year of business. Have you started yet? Or are you in your first year? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email - I’d love to hear and respond to you.

 
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5 Things I’ve Learned About Brand Identity (Working For A Fortune 500 Corporation)

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Designing products for 13 years for a large Fortune 500 Corporation, you’re bound to learn a few things. And I’ll be the first to admit, I learned way more working for Stanley Black & Decker than I ever did in school. There’s so much you learn with real-world experience you just can’t be taught.

As a Product Designer, I not only learned how to design products for their specific brands, but learned some key brand information that will help any business get their brand on the right track.

1. Brand Identity is more than logos and colors.

The clean and sweet way to say it is Brand Identity is the visual part of what makes you recognizable to your customers. It’s the message and feel they get from your product, service, or experience. This is why the consistency of your brand identity is so important, (but more on that below).

A brand identity includes so many different components. There’s your business name, logo, typefaces, and tagline. There’s your color palette, packaging and print, social media, advertising, and website. And then there’s shape, textures and patterns, imagery, and graphics. But even those aren’t the entire list. A brand identity encompasses all of the touch points and applications. How many of those touch points and applications depends on how widely the brand is seen.

Strong businesses with recognizable brands make sure the brand is appropriately covered on all aspects seen outside (and even inside) the corporate walls. Wearing a branded T-shirt? The color yellow should be as close to the brand yellow as possible. Selling a high-end and expensive product? The customer service should be right up there with other high-end brands, treating the customer like the big spender they want to be treated like.

2. You can have multiple brands selling similar products.

It’s no surprise that large companies own multiple brands. It can be an incredibly lucrative and smart move on a business’ part, as long as it’s done correctly and the brands are created and run specifically to their own identity.

You’re familiar with the brands PANTENE and Herbal Essences for hair care right? They are both brands that sell shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products. You can buy them both in pretty much any drug store, supermarket, Walmart and Target around.

But did you know they’re also both sold by the parents corporation Proctor & Gamble? P&G also sells the brands Aussie, Head & Shoulders, and Old Spice in the hair categories. You may ask “Why would they sell the same type of products in the same locations under different brands?”

Well, the products, although very similar, and some (although I have no proof) may be exactly the same, are marketed to different customers. Taking a guess here, but based on the brand identities for each brand, PANTENE seems to be marketed to more adult women who are looking for a higher feeling, but cheaper drug store product, while Herbal Essences is typically cheaper, and has a more fun and laid back vibe, catching the eyes of teens and college aged girls. Even the smell is marketed that way.

The benefit for P&G is the ease of selling more product to a larger range of customers. This = more $$$. But the key it to make sure they have a clear brand identity for each one.

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3. The best brands have consistent brand identity and follow clear brand guidelines.

Think about the best brands you know. The most popular. Maybe Coca-Cola? Nike? Apple? What do all these brands have in common? They’re always consistent in their appearance, use, size, scope, color, feel, etc. Unless they’re purposefully going outside their own guidelines (think a new product, or changing the logo guidelines to allow the NIKE Swoosh to be broken up on a new shoe design), they’re always recognizable.

The best brands are one you can recolonize even when OUT of context.

Have you ever played that game, maybe online or on your phone, where you see a logo and guess what it is? Maybe the logo is mostly covered? Or maybe the logo is there, but all the colors are gone? Even harder, when the product is there, but the logo is gone? Can you tell what brand it is now?

You can probably at least guess the big brands because they’re strong, and have always been so consistent, that when parts are missing your brain automatically fills them in. Didn’t think those ads were getting to you, did you?

Brands are made to be kept consistent. Don’t let yours get too sloppy.

4.  You must educate all your employees on your brands and the consistency needed to reinforce those brand identities.

You can be the biggest advocate of your brand and follow all the rules, but at the end of the day, if your employees cannot be consistent with your brand, you’re going to loose brand strength. I’ve sadly had experience where designers, and those who should be the largest advocates for the brand, weren’t following the guides correctly.

But even the lowest gal or guy on the totem pole should know how to use the brand correctly for the job they do. If that means training, then so be it. But treating the brand like it’s not as valuable as it is should be taken seriously. Educate not only how, but educate as to why it’s so important. Make them understand so that they’ll want to be just as much as an advocate as you are.

5. Listen to your customers.

You get to decide what you want your brand to be. BUT, and that’s a big BUT, your customers give some of the best insight of your brand could be.

Here’s and example:

Sildenafil was a pharmaceutical drug created by the labs at Pfizer to reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure. During research the drug didn’t do as well as they had hoped. However, one of the side effects patients were getting was penile erections. Yep - the drug known as Sildenafil turned out to be the early marketing of what we know as Viagra today. The drug became the first oral treatment approved to treat erectile dysfunction in the United States. But had the company not listened to what the patients (customers) were telling them, they may have continued on their path trying to come up with another hypertension drug. By listening to their customers, they sold the same product, but decided to change branding and marketing course, making millions in revenue.

Sure, you may love your brand, but it doesn’t mean people will buy it. Make sure you get in tune with the customers who buy your product, and continue to stay in tune. Don’t stop researching. There’s always something your customers can tell you.

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So, knowing all this now, do you feel like your brand identity is up to snuff? Or maybe your own brand needs a boost?

I’ve created a completely FREE 12-day Branding Boosting Challenge for small business owners who needs a little help refocusing on their brand.

This isn’t a step-by-step PDF on how to create a brand board. No. This is a daily guide sent directly to you with a short challenge you can do that gives you more insight and understanding of your own brand. Think you know your brand now? Just wait.

 
 

Subscribe to the Challenge here and each day you’ll receive a new 15-minute task you can do to take your brand to the next level! We’ll cover everything from your competition to positioning, and everything in between. You can’t afford not to try it out. And who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Viagra.

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