The learning curve
With deep shame, I see that my last blog was written in May 2016, almost a year ago, in the (not quite) first bloom of spring. In fact, this is a good sign, as it means I’ve been busy with work ever since and keeping my head down. So this third blog means that another ebb (see blog one) has arisen, which is fine. Good in fact. Time for more reflection, and some writing (which makes a nice change from copy-editing and proofreading).
Anyway, this little lull seems like a good opportunity to look back at what’s been happening at the Perfect Words office since I left full-time employment nine years ago. But let’s make it a bit more interesting and give it some focus. I’m going to stop myself from indulging in prosaic waffle by coming up with some (hopefully helpful) bullet points (there are, of course, many more that I could list). The aim of this exercise is to evaluate the MOST IMPORTANT things I’ve learned about running a small business. Here goes:
Go with the flow (see blog one). Rise to the challenge of the busy periods and then relax and enjoy the down times. Use the quiet times to get ‘other’ things done, to review your business or just to relax. It always balances itself out.
Keep meticulous records (see blog two). You never know when you will need to look back at someone’s file, for any number of reasons, from providing a seamless and personal service, to defending your honour and reputation.
Believe in yourself (see blog two). Self-employment can be a lonely place and you have to toughen your skin and learn to praise and believe in yourself when necessary. If you’re both boss and employee, then learn to be nice to yourself, when you deserve it.
Know when you need to improve. Valuing ourselves is important, but we are human, and therefore fallible, and we are allowed to improve and learn from our mistakes. Like it or not, we have all had instances that make us cringe and want to head straight for the hills, but use those experiences and learn from them. Look at why they happened (Did you underestimate the job at the planning stage? Were you trying to do too much at once? Did you not take enough breaks and get 'brain fry'?). Then build the answers to these questions into your working practice going forwards. Instead of berating yourself, transform the learning into improvement. How else do we develop and become the best that we can be at any given time? This is called experience and it is all part of the learning curve.
Clear communication. It has taken me a long time to realise that it is fine for me to stipulate times by which I want to receive work. It is also fine to gently nudge the client if the work doesn’t arrive by this time (even before the deadline). I receive text reminders from my hairdresser, my dentist, my masseuse, so why shouldn’t we politely remind our customers that we are expecting their file at a certain time? It can save hours of frustration and wasted work time and I genuinely believe that clients like to have boundaries set, as it makes everything feel professional. It also shows them that I'm serious about my timekeeping and that they can expect their work back from me when (or before) we have agreed.
It's all in the planning. Another extremely valuable lesson I have learned (often the hard way) is about understanding, pricing and planning each job properly. If a job involves content checking, copy-editing, formatting and proofreading, then build this into your schedule and price the job accordingly. If you are busy re-writing something or content-checking, you are less likely to spot the errors, so build in an extra read-through. It's a bit like trying to have an in-depth conversation while you're driving; it's not easy and it can be dangerous. Evaluating the job properly may mean you lose customers before you even get started, but it aligns your expectations with those of the client, it affords greater transparency and it lessens the likelihood of disappointment all round. I am always keen to offer great value for money, but I am also learning to value my experience and knowledge and to comprehend (slowly but surely) that there is a fine line between undercharging (and thus undervaluing the complexity of what we do) and being competitive. Being clear about what can be achieved and how much it is likely to cost is nothing short of professional and downright essential.
So, that’s it. None of the above is rocket science. These are just things I have learned along the way; things that make life easier and make good business and common sense. I hope there is something useful in there for anyone else setting out on this (sometimes scary but) exciting journey.