Every new project presents an opportunity to grow. Each new client gives you an opportunity to become a better leader or improve your communication style or refine your process. Each new design project gives you a chance to improve your design skills, explore new technology, or challenge yourself creatively.
Are you intentionally taking advantage of these opportunities in your business?
It took me a few years as a freelancer to spot my own growth opportunities.
In the beginning, I had trouble balancing the work my clients paid me to do and the work I needed to do inside my own business. As a copywriter, I understood the theory of marketing but as a new business owner I just couldn’t seem to find my own marketing rhythm. I knew how to manage my time in the corporate world… but I couldn’t seem to find enough time in my schedule to get everything done.
I didn’t know how to prioritize and I didn’t know how to lead myself or be intentional about professional development. But, as C.S. Lewis once famously said, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but by God we learn.” Over time, I learned to be intentional about expanding my skills – both creatively and in business – in order to avoid learning the hard way.
How did I do it? I created a few “operating rules” for my business to keep me growing and improving. Feel free to use these in your own business if you like…
Intentionally select creatively challenging projects.
When I was first getting started as a copywriter, I felt a little insecure about my ability. When a client asked me to take on a challenging project or do something a little out of my comfort zone, I would get intimidated. In those early days I would find myself talking about my lack of experience or being hesitant with potential clients. I wouldn’t even propose things that felt a little foreign – like ghostwriting a book or creating a marketing funnel. I wanted to stick with what I knew… website copy and blog posts.
But – it’s pretty difficult to learn new things without taking risks.
Things changed when I started looking for projects that challenge me. I explored new services and formats (like eBooks and special reports) and I tried new industries and markets. In the process, I learned an awful lot about myself and my ability. I discovered the types of projects I enjoy and the kinds of clients that make me truly happy. More importantly, I moved from insecurity to full confidence in my ability to give my clients a good outcome every time.
These days I get excited about challenges in my work. I love learning new things from my clients, challenging my writing style in new ways, and refining my skills as I serve my clients.
Turn challenging conversations into process improvement.
Sometimes projects aren’t smooth. We run into trouble and we find ourselves in the middle of a challenging conversation with a client. Maybe we need to ask yet again for a client to make a payment or provide photos or share feedback. Perhaps we need to explain why a client’s expectations are unrealistic or advise a client of a problem or delay. UGH!
In the beginning, I tried to avoid these conversations. Now I use them to improve my business.
Problems in a project are indicators that something needs to be improved. I’ve learned that client delays, for example, can be a sign that my communication isn’t clear or client’s find my process difficult to follow. When clients have unrealistic expectations, it can easily be because I have not educated them properly or fully identified their needs. When the fault is mine – like a delay or missed deadline – it’s typically a sign that I’ve overbooked myself or not allowed enough margin in my work.
These days I try to separate myself from the emotion of the moment and look beyond the current conversation to identify the root cause of the challenge. Then I take action to adjust my process so I can avoid the issue in the future.
Use questions as an opportunity to improve client experience.
Can I just be honest for a moment? Sometimes questions annoy me. In my early days as a copywriter, I got a bit impatient with clients… especially in the middle of projects. It’s one thing to ask a bunch of questions before the contract is signed – I expected that type of thing – but questions in the middle of my process felt like a sign that the client didn’t trust me to do my job. An indicator that they were challenging my expertise or feeling insecure about the decision to work with me.
Guess what? They were feeling insecure… and it was my fault.
Over time – and after a lot of pain – I realized that client questions were a valuable indication that I was simply not communicating clearly or often enough to put my clients at ease. I expected my clients to trust my process and leave me alone to work behind the scenes. I would go for weeks (sometimes) without sending an update or providing information that they needed to feel confident that the work was going forward. They didn’t trust me because I didn’t nurture a trusting relationship with them. Oops…
These days I communicate clearly with my clients at multiple points throughout my process. I am very intentional about asking for feedback regularly, providing progress updates, and nurturing trust between us at all stages of a project. And – more importantly – I use client questions as indicators that I may need to provide more information or revise my process.
Growing your business means stepping outside your comfort zone to expand your skills – both creatively and in business.
Are you feeling stuck in your business? Feeling like you can’t seem to reach a higher level client or reach your financial goals? You’re not alone. If you’ve reached a plateau in your business, it may be a sign that you need to intentionally challenge yourself in order to grow. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you step out of your comfort zone. Head on over to the Drama-Free Design Collective on Facebook and tag me… I’d love to help you get unstuck.