lessons-learnedI think I took for granted the trappings of big business. Namely, lots of money that isn’t hurting your personal finances when you spend it and also large volume discounts. Now that I’m starting out on my own, all of the vendors that I love and am used to working with from my last role are either completely out of my price range, or don’t take low volume jobs. So I had to branch out, and work with other small businesses facilitated through 3 main portals that I have fallen in love with – fiverr, eBay and oDesk.

And it has been an education.  So many of the basics of customer service and just good business have been reinforced through my interactions with other SMBs in the last few weeks I just had to share. These are all lessons I will take with me as I get started in business.

  1. Know and understand your customer 
    You really can’t go wrong with fiverr. I mean you pay $5 and get a service. And so when I was looking for branded covers for my social media accounts I gave $5 to 3 different designers. One of the three came back to me and asked more about my business and what I was trying to say about my brand and ultimately she delivered the design I chose. She got all my business. Covers for Twitter, YouTube, Linked In, Facebook, Business Cards, Marketing collateral designs. Everything. And it’s because she didn’t just say “Here’s a random design”, she aimed to solve for me.
  1. It’s not always best to be the cheapest
    On oDesk you can post a job allowing freelancers to bid for your work. For my website build I had 10 quotes. Eight of them were around the same amount. Two of them were extremely low by comparison to the others. I completely disregarded the 2 low ones. They set off warning bells and red flags immediately. I just felt I wouldn’t get what I needed, that they didn’t understand the job, that they somehow wouldn’t be able to deliver at that price. Instead I reviewed the portfolios and feedback of the others to find my designer.
  1. Communication is King
    On oDesk I immediately disregarded any applications that had poor spelling and grammar. May be harsh – but if you can’t communicate with me in the initial stages, what about when I submit my complex requirements or need to give feedback. In addition, at one point I was undecided between 2 vendors for some pens I was ordering. So I wrote to both to ask about how they thought my logo would translate on their pen style and whether or not what I wanted was possible. The vendor I ultimately selected responded within a few hours, thanking me for my enquiry and assuring me that what I envisioned was possible. Great communications cost nothing, but are an important and often overlooked tool.
  1. Don’t be afraid to be the expert
    I was full of ideas for the look and feel of my website. But what I love about the developer I selected is that he read my requirements and came back with feedback. Had I considered this approach? What about trying that instead? And he had examples to show me of his suggestions. What I suggested was good – but what we decided on together with his input and guidance was infinitely better. Also when I ordered my branded pens I thought it would be best to have them printed, but the company in question contacted me and asked me if I thought about engraving at the same price. They then went even further and then sent me a side-by-side comparison of what the pens would look like printed and engraved to help me made a decision. The engraved ones were definitely better – what was I thinking? In a nutshell I don’t think “The customer is always right” should be applied blanketly. As someone just starting out I appreciate and value expertise – and it was a good reminder that my customers will value it as well.
  1. Follow up, Touch base, Build relationships
    Getting my logo designed was one of the first things I did. About 6 weeks ago. With all the other things that are happening in this exciting period I’ve forgotten all about it, although at one point it consumed my every waking thought. But then out of the blue came an e-mail from my designer – just checking in. It gave me a case of the warm and fuzzies. He wanted to know how I was progressing, if I managed to get my website up and running and of course if I needed any help. It was a reminder of how important it is to build relationships, stay in touch and keep yourself and your services front of mind

I look forward to sharing more of these lessons as and when I learn them – and to putting these into practice.