2 Years as a Small Business Owner

When I first started writing this post, I thought it would amount to a few bullet points of what I’ve learned over the past 2 years as a small business owner.  In the end, it’s turned out to be a rather long post, but I have summarized everything in a bullet list for those who just want to read that – without all of the back stories.



  • There is a difference between a freelancer and solo business owner
    • Mainly that a solo business owner is more serious and it’s their sole income source – whereas a freelancer is typically rendering services alongside a full-time or part-time job, possibly school too.
  • If they can do it, you can do it
    • No disrespect, but there are plenty of examples of small business owners that aren’t doing things as efficiently as you can…they just have the drive to do it.  If you have the drive, you can do it just like they can.
  • Learn by example
    • Look around at advertisements, or the way you’re treated in a store, the process of doing business with someone, the small niceties, and more.  You can learn some great techniques just by thinking about what you like (or don’t like) about a situation that involves business, then implement that (or ensure that the situation doesn’t happen) in your business.
  • Be prepared for inconsistency
    • You need to be able to sacrifice some luxuries as your income will most likely fluctuate a bit.  This makes it harder when something in life goes wrong – it always happens – but know you’ll make it out on the other side.  Don’t live like the Jones’ if you want to ensure your business success.
  • Set goals and budgets
    • This is more of a life bullet, but to move forward you need goals, and to not go into debt, you need budgets.  In my case, I’m in a phase where I don’t want much risk, nor is there much of a need of a lot of risk, so I buy things in cash.  I’m coming to the realization that I just want to carry myself at this point.  This advice varies per industry, obviously, as there can be positive debt in business.
  • Keep your eye on the larger goal
    • You may have feelings of “if I had a regular job, this wouldn’t be an issue”, and that might be true, but you’d also have other issues to deal with.
  • Things take longer than expected
    • Doing something one-off can be quick, such as creating a website for a friend, or yourself.  In reality, most projects take quite a bit of time in terms of months, though you may not spend that much nose-down time working on it.  This affects your monthly cashflow.
  • Learn to say no
    • It can be hard to turn away business, but some clients will be such a pain or have you do so much work for some changes they want on a project.  Be realistic with them, discuss the costs to do what they are asking and don’t be afraid to tell them no.  If they give you a hard time, tell them you can’t do it.  You’re in this to make a profit, not make pennies on the dollar.  It may be hard the first time you do a project with someone, but you also have to take into consideration what it’s like to work with a client and bill accordingly.  If you know there are levels of executives you need to jump through, that overhead needs to be considered on your hourly and/or project rate.
  • Having to work for money, and having to earn money
    • They may seem the same, and to an extent they are.  You either work hourly and fulfill time to get money or you provide an estimate at an agreed upon price, where you then have to earn the price proposed and agreed to.
  • The rule of steady income
    • There will always be inconsistency of when you’re paid, at what frequency, etc per client, but if you can get a few clients who pay you a set amount per month in return for a certain amount of hours per month, this will help pay your bills and grow your company.  Web development / design is an interesting area of business – there are clients who want you to make a site and you don’t hear from them for years, there are those who want you to build and maintain a product for them, and then there are the larger clients who need your expertise for their clients.  Getting started, you should focus on getting 2 clients who you can count on getting monthly income.  Then take your left over time for smaller one-off projects, building out your own product, or any other dream you have.
  • Live life in terms of averages
    • Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly – however you get paid – cashflows can change, especially if you don’t have a traditional job.  If your mindset is in the moment, it’s hard to deal with, but if you review your income and spending over the past quarter, 6 months, or year, it’s much easier to comprehend.


I’ve heard parents say that you’re never really ready to take care of a child – you just figure it out.  As for starting a business, I think it’s similar,  I’m not sure you can ever be fully ready, but you learn as you go.  It’s amazing what you discover, it’s almost like another world within the world of full-time employee, but existing at the same time.


There Is A Difference Between A Freelancer And Solo Business Owner

I’m not sure I’d call myself (or anyone doing what I do) an entrepreneur or solopreneur, I’m not doing anything new or exotic – I’m just working out of my house – in more control of my finances, and stability – though harder and with the added task of taxes and other business to-dos.

A great way to start your own business is by first starting as a freelancer.  While you have consistent income as a job (that maybe you can’t stand), work at night and on the weekends doing small projects for people.  I’d stay away from freelancer job boards unless you absolutely have to, because there everyone is just completing with price – there’s always someone who will do something cheaper.  You’re going to be burnt out from your regular job – the last thing you want to do is ruin your dream with something that’s not realistic – working on your free time for pennies.  This is how I started.  And from experience working with first-time entrepreneurs, people who have a family-run business, larger clients with big pockets, advertising agency managers with a budget for a small project, or a more consistent income stream, with small companies who know they need some web work done every month – there are a lot of options out there.

In the beginning, when I made the transition from freelancer to small business owner, I was pretty scared.  I thought, how am I going to find good clients to work with, how can I charge a livable price, how can I make my income semi-consistent?  When you’re a small business owner versus a freelancer, you find those connections.  It’s kind of something that just happens when you’re in the middle of it, it’s not really anything you can prepare for – or at least I didn’t.

I spent my first year reading up on all kinds of things – a lot of reading about taxes.  I had no idea what to do.  Really, just keep detailed records and separate your business spending from your personal account – open a business checking account and get a business credit card.  Keep all of your receipts, I scan them or save the email receipts as PDFs.  The difference between a freelancer and small business owner (doing the same thing…web development, in my case) is that you’re more serious.  Since it’s your main income stream, you’re probably not going to be as wishy-washy with clients and that’s something they can count on, so they are more likely to pay more.  There are plenty of examples of horror stories on the web of a freelancer who took someone’s money and didn’t finish a project.


If They Can Do It, You Can Do It

I’ve had clients for 2 years, some actually longer because they were clients of mine when I was freelancing, and I’ve started to compare my management style to bosses I’ve had and executive management of companies I’ve worked for in the past.  The biggest eye-opener for me now that I’ve got my feet on the ground, in more control, guiding and separating Nevis Technology as its own entity from my individual work is that, in a respectful way and as positive reinforcement for myself, I say to myself – if they can do it, I can do it.

Now that brings me to another realization that I’ve come to.  To say you “own your own business” is a generic statement.  Is it fair for me, a one-person small business owner, who has super low overhead and works out of an office in my home, to compare myself to an executive of a 250 person company and say to myself I could do it better than they could?  Or is it fair to compare myself and say if they can do it, I can do it?  I don’t know exactly what they deal with on a daily basis, and maybe if I knew, I would fail in the same situation.  It’s pretty obvious, but there are different sizes of companies, all with their own struggles.  As a one-person “team” that acts as designer, developer, accountant, account manager, maintaining and building relationships – I don’t have the struggle of worrying about making payroll.  I can imagine even in a situation where I’d have 1 employee, that would be an additional stress of making sure I can pay them on time.  Through these 2 years, reading books, thinking, talking to my mentor, I’ve kind of made the decision, that at least for now, I want to be the guy in the background.  I want to be the guy that my clients come to for building that website they sold to their client.  Somehow, it’s different than doing the same thing as an employee – and I think it somewhat has to do with respect.  Working closely with owners of other small businesses in my local area, they understand that I don’t always know a solution – I may have to look into it, or that sometimes things take way longer than expected, or way less time than expected.  They also understand that I’m honest and that I’m not out to rip them off – I have my own company image to build and maintain.  This is the way I’ve recently come to describe what I want to do – but even a year ago, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion.  It took time and experience of actually working as a small business owner for me to figure out the direction I want to move towards.


Learn By Example

I look at things in a different light.  For example, Ashley and I just signed up for a life insurance policy on each other through Nationwide.  We made an appointment to get our vitals taken.  Then they sent us a package that cost almost $6 to send, with a folder for each of us with information regarding our policies, and a handwritten note from our insurance agent.  This has a lot of layers to it, for example – Nationwide as a company has “franchise owners” in a sense, where our insurance agent probably had to get certified and maybe pays a fee to sell under Nationwide’s products.  As Nationwide, that’s pretty smart to qualify and work with agents who are serious.  Nationwide made the third-party connection with the test facility we went to for our tests – there’s another business to put yourself in – I think it’s a state-run facility, but I’m sure they love that they get consistent business from such a large insurance company as their preferred facility in this area.  As the insurance agent in this scenario, he’s running yet another company – paying for the electric bill, the rent on the building he’s working out of, and doing all of the daily business tasks.  It’s different, and I can imagine, more satisfying, than if he was an employee doing similar tasks of selling insurance.

I find myself analyzing each aspect of even just daily things, and taking it all in.  For example, the “Welcome” folders we received from Nationwide is a nice touch, and that’s the kind of touch I want Nevis Technology to have.  Last year I bought about 100 quality pens with stylus tips, and formal boxes.  Ashley helped me write a message and mail out each of these Nevis Technology engraved pens to my clients.  I’m sure some of them were pretty impressed.  In fact, when I go to meetings, I’ll see them using the pens I gave them – and that’s very validating for me.  This year I ordered some calendars to give out at the end of this year.  The idea is simple, but I think it solidifies the way my clients think of me – they are reminded of me when they use my pen or view the calendar, all throughout the year.  I feel it also shows that I’m serious, and here to stay – one less worry for them to find a new tech guy, so they feel secure about their decision of working with me.  In all of the books and blogs I’ve read about business, none of them talk about doing things such as these, but if the roles were reversed, I know I’d be impressed.  To reference a childhood rule, treat others as you’d like to be treated.  It’s also one of the many things that separates my web development / tech business from the guy down the street (I’m sure there is one).  In terms of large retailers, it’s how Target treats their “guests” versus how WalMart does.  They both do the same thing – but I’m sure you have a preference if given the choice between the two.

When you’re an employee, it’s easy to gloss over the mundane business process documents, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and the like.  They are boring.  When you’re the boss, there’s so much you’re doing, such a wide variety of different tasks, I’ve found that creating the documents helps quite a bit.  I wouldn’t say it’s a must if you’re a one-man operation such as myself, but there are some things to keep in mind.  Unless you have a photographic memory, it’s probably in your best interest to write some things down.  For example, I started writing the exact steps I do on my servers to add a new staging site – a site I’m developing before it gets pushed live.  I had some notes here and there on how to configure Nginx, download the files via command line, setting up the theme – if it’s a new build, I use my own skeleton framework.  It’s pretty easy, especially the more you do it, but when you set 3 up around the same time and then you don’t again for another 6 months as you’re going back and forth with clients on changes, or whatever the case may be, it’s easy to forget the exact order of the steps to make the most efficient use of your time.  Process documents make that easier.  I simply just opened up Google Docs and started writing commands and notes.  In this case, I had such a fine-tuned process, I figured I could expand further and find a way to make some money with my notes and I created my first Udemy online video course and Amazon Kindle eBook.  In this case I’m helping others too, but I can at any time go back to my documentation and in the shortest amount of time, I can do what I need to set up a new staging site.  Another thing to keep in mind is if you want to expand ever, it’s smart to have this information to pass along to contractors or employees who start working for you or taking on tasks you are currently doing.  For the little amount of time it takes – when you’re in the middle of doing something, when the information is fresh, it doesn’t take that long to document it – it makes sense to spend the time to document.  Lastly, having documentation shows a professionalism that can be used in your favor if the IRS ever tried to label your business as a hobby.  I’ve read about this and I don’t know what would trigger the IRS to think that, but documentation shows that you’re doing what you’re doing as more than just a hobby.


Be Prepared For Inconsistency

Discerning established business practices and implementing them into my business, and in some cases creating my own, is just one way owning a business has changed my life.  There have been cashflow struggles I’ve had to deal with and it can be mentally draining.  During my tightest cashflow struggle, in 2015, Ashley and I also had to deal with our house flooding, destroying not only the floors, walls, and some light fixtures, but also about 1/4 of our belongings.  If you haven’t read about it, you can see it here.  I’m not saying you have to go through this drastic of an event to make an impact – even before the incident, I thought about and confirmed with myself things that I was OK to sacrifice to be able to run my own business.  For example, when you have consistent monthly income, it’s rather easy to make a budget and go on a summer vacation.  For me, I may do work and not get paid for months, or I may have something fall through and just be out that money entirely, so it’s hard for me to know how much I’ll get each year, budget for trips, or even know if I’ll be free to take a trip.  Last year, I had the largest project I’ve ever worked on – solo or working for a company – and Ashley’s parents wanted to take us all on a family vacation – but I couldn’t.  Since I’m the one doing all of the work, it’s not like a co-worker or employee could continue it while I’m away – I had to stay and finish the work, so that I could get paid, but also keep that connection in hopes that I do future work with them (there’s the business image building I was talking about).  This is a situation, though difficult, I would prefer over working as an employee, someone who is a cog in a larger system, I’d rather be the larger system itself.

Just as there are busy times, and low income times, there are also times of flexibility.  I always felt rushed to get back from lunch and back to working as an employee.  As a business owner, I typically find myself having even shorter lunches and rushing back to work, but there are times when I’m gone for 2+ hours to have lunch with my wife and then run a few errands – without the stress of “I wonder if my boss notices that I’m away from my desk”.  Sometimes I just don’t feel like working and can’t motivate myself, so I take the afternoon off.  Having a flexible schedule is great, and some jobs have that – but I don’t feel it’s the same.


Set Goals and Budgets

Goals and budgets go for both business and general life.  In terms of business, I tried to figure out what’s the bare minimum I can live on for monthly income as I’m starting, and I was applying for contract jobs like crazy.  As you start to get more used to how to find work, getting paid, putting away your tax money, and when you have some buffer in the bank, you can start to charge more and take more risks.  Those risks could be spending more time wooing a client because you know they have a large budget – if that’s the kind of business you want to work with.  It could be saying no to more people and only working for a higher price, creating exclusivity – which, for some reason, makes people want to pay more.  I don’t really understand the psychology behind that.  But, because you’ve got some money to feed yourself and pay rent, electric, etc, you start to find that you don’t need every job that comes up.  I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again – there is TONS of work out there.  You just have to find it.

Same thing goes with spending.  You may want to run some Google Ads, but don’t get crazy.  If you do $10/day, that could even add up to be quite a bit over a month.  You don’t really need to advertise, you don’t even need a website if you’re convincing that you can do the project…you don’t even really need experience.  A lot of clients just want to know you can do it – however you do it, and that you won’t leave them in the dust.  This goes more for those clients who have a project that they are trying to outsource, more than the first-time entrepreneur who is going to treat their website like their baby.

Really, just don’t get crazy with expectations and keep your spending under control.  That’s the one thing you can control the most.  Start with a required minimum income level you’d need (compensating for tax savings now that you have to pay those yourself), and you quickly learn, find new projects, gain more experience, become more confident, and charge more.  Money will come.

In a future post, I’m going to write about what I’ve learned in terms of household budgeting.  In no way am I saying this is the only way to do it, but I feel like some sort of guide would be helpful for me, so I want to share that with you.  As everyone’s income and expenses vary, I’m going to talk in percentages.  So, keep an eye out for that post if you’re interested.


Keep Your Eye On The Larger Goal

I have to pad my bank account more and refrain from getting Starbucks every morning, or doing anything that could be a drain on my savings.  One really hard thing for me was figuring out how to adjust from a nice, steady paycheck, health care, 401k match – when I already felt like I was living paycheck to paycheck – and then throw uncertainty into the mix.  I did some deep thinking and I found the things I could live without that were costing a lot.  It was hard for me to think that I wouldn’t be able to buy new computers all the time, or go shopping and spend $100 and not even care, or buy something expensive for my car, or do that home renovation we’ve wanted to do.  A lot of people can’t do this, but I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I could – and I didn’t want to lose that.  2 years later, I’ve found out that I can still do all of the things I want to do, I just have to think about it more and time it more precisely.

Life is too short to be so hung up on living like the Jones’.  This was something – and still is something – that’s hard for me to deal with.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m turning 30 in 5 days (from this post’s publish date, 11/22/2015), I’ve somewhat settled in a few areas.  Growing up, MTV’s Cribs was a new show, though there are so many TV programs that show lavish lifestyles, and it does seem pretty awesome.  Who wouldn’t want to be driving around a Porsche, or having a Range Rover with a sound system?  Maybe cars aren’t your thing.  Who wouldn’t want to have a house with a U-shaped driveway, a pool, a nice yard that gardeners maintain – that nice watch or jewelry, not having to worry about property tax, or how much you spend on a birthday party or family BBQ.  Whatever your interests are, it basically boils down to money.  You need money to buy that racing bicycle, go on trips, fly private jets or get your pilot’s license, buy shoes or tools for projects, TVs, and then there are regular utilities – electricity, gas, television, internet.  There are things that break in the house, your car, maybe you rip a shirt or want to get a suit.  Everything boils down to money.

I think most people live in a large amount of debt, at least compared to my wife and myself.  I learned quite a few hard life lessons when I moved to Raleigh, NC, living on my own for the first time.  But before that, I had a childhood where my mom taught me how to handle money.  I’d get an allowance for vacuuming and mowing during summer vacation – I even mowed neighbor’s yards until I got my first job – actually maybe up until I moved at 21.  I had some tough life lessons, so I thought, when I lived at home.  I am one to add all kinds of gadgets to my vehicle, and I did quite a bit of that, though, to save money, I’d do most things myself and with the help of friends, neighbors, and my grandpa.  The life lessons were more like when I blew my engine and had to come up with a ton of money unexpectedly.  Though at the time, that was the most expensive repair and unexpected purchase I’d had, there’s a nice warm feeling of having the support of living at home – my engine was just 1 thing to think about.  I didn’t have to pay the mortgage, the TV or internet, to seal the driveway or for the snow plow guy.  I didn’t have to pay for a new washer when it broke, nor did I care about upgrading a kitchen, or saving up for any kind of home renovation.  There’s something nice about being naive.  In my own apartment, real life hit me pretty hard.  Cable TV and internet are expensive, it does matter what temperature you set the heat to, or how long you take showers, and definitely don’t keep the door open – I’m not looking to pay to heat (or cool) the whole neighborhood.  I’d always been good with writing a list of things I wanted, their price, saving for it, and getting it.  Then the unpredictable-ness of reality sets in.  The cable “new client” discount expires and the bill is almost double what you have been spending, the electric and water feels like they charge what they feel they can get away with, you didn’t do well this week in your grocery shopping, your pet needs to go to the vet, you need to go to the doctors.

All of these things are hard 1 at a time, but especially when multiple things hit you, it starts to take away your optimism, and eat into goals of yours.  You start to grow up.  I’ve definitely lost some of the excitement and energy I had when I was younger, and I’ve settled.  In 2009, I bought a townhouse, living by myself.  My mom helped with some of the down payment, but the rest was up to me.  It was at a time when the government was giving $8k to new home owners.  I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise – I wouldn’t have thought about pushing myself to save up and get a place.  Honestly, it’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, even just for the stability of a mortgage over the always-increasing rent payments.  I love this little townhouse, it’s something easy to maintain, relatively affordable, has great features, and I’m glad I spent the time and research I did to buy it.  At just over 1,300 square feet, it’s pretty large for 1 person, and I thought too small for 2 people.  From 2007 to 2012 before my wife moved in with all of her belongings, I had a slight problem of not throwing things away – not a hoarder, but if it had any value, or if there was any chance I may use it, I kept it.  It’s partly from the lessons that kept making their way into my life.  Such as the time the whole HVAC system went, and that cost $5,500 to replace.  Anyway, I felt like I needed to keep things because I won’t want to buy them in the future, I probably wouldn’t have the money anyway!  So, when my wife moved in with all of her stuff, the house started to feel a little cramped.  Not too bad, but a situation we’d want to address soon – so we were starting to talk about a little bit bigger of a house, where we’d want to move, looking at reasonable prices, etc.  Not too involved, but just surfing online.  Then, Christmas 2014 happened.  Our house flooded while we were at her parents house about a half an hour away.  You can read the multi-part story in detail here.  Long story short, it was a blessing in disguise.  I’ve heard a few people mention it in that way when we’ve told them the story – and it’s kind of true.  Nationwide really took care of us.  The whole process was a real pain, but it’s just the way it is.  Nationwide always made sure we felt comfortable, gave us plenty of options, helped us get back on our feet.  That nice feeling of living at home when your parents pay for things you want – we made sure to get a good deal, that’s something engrained in us now, but it was fun to spend loads of money that wasn’t from our savings.  The flood, losing our jobs almost 6 months to the day apart, health problems with one of our pets – it is a lot to take in in such a short amount of time.  I think that’s partly why I never feel like I have enough money now, even if I’m beating my goals.  This is where my wife and I learned to settle on one front – we were forced to get rid of a ton of stuff we had.  As we were building back our house, we took a long hard look into everything we were replacing and found a lot of things we could live without.  Our “new” house feels bigger than it ever has and is a great size for the 2 of us.  It put a lot of things into perspective, not only what stuff we could live without, but just because the Jones’ have a huge house doesn’t mean we need to.  I’ve gone off tangent a little, but the life lessons I’ve learned over the past 8 years or so have allowed me to get away from wanting to rack up a bunch of debt just to have that cool status look.  And this goes into what I’ve learned in the past 2 years as a business owner as well.  I’m sticking more to my goal of owning a business and being the boss, and not worrying so much about my income.  Doing right for your clients will ultimately build that returning and potentially monthly income you can count on.  I can adjust my lifestyle as my income adjusts.


Things Take Longer Than Expected

Projects progress a lot slower than you’d think, typically.  The work itself could only take 20 hours, but it takes months of meetings, emails, working, making changes before it’s complete.  I guess this might have been the same when I was freelancing, I was just busier myself so I didn’t really notice.  You especially start to notice when a project is taking a long time when you haven’t gotten paid in a while, requests keep coming in, and your bank account is running low.  Keep a cool head, though.  And if you’re just starting out, or can’t handle too much fluctuation, write in a detailed payment clause in your contract.  I do 50% up front and 50% upon completion.  I’ve seen some people talk about adding in kind of a late fee if the project isn’t done by the expected date due to the client.  That’s not a bad idea, but you also kind of look like a jerk – let’s face it, a client isn’t going to come out and say I know I’m dragging this project along, so according to the contract I signed, I owe you $X.  No.  You’re going to have to confront them and that could turn things a little sour.  That’s something I’d want to stay away from, though I have thought about adding it in.  On bigger projects, I either split up the work and do 50/50 or break up the payments into milestones – when we reach A, I need $X, B, another $X, and so on.  Or you could go by date.  It’s really up to you.  And that’s something that’s kind of cool.  You ultimately call the shots, which is a lot more freedom than I’ve had when working.


Learn To Say No

Saying “no” seems like it could be a bad thing for business.  How can you turn away business?  Isn’t the client always right?  No, they aren’t.  At least in web development, I’ve experienced that clients are looking to you as the expert, for your help, your recommendation, what do you typically do in this scenario?  If you’re just starting out, you might not have experienced that scenario before, and that’s OK.  Confidence goes a long way.  I haven’t met anyone who expects you to always have the answer at any moment.  If a client throws a crazy request out in a meeting – in person or on the phone – I think it through out loud a little and basically just say I’m going to look into that, write notes, and say what they told me back to them just to confirm we’re on the same page.  Usually I’ll throw in a couple of questions that they haven’t thought of, but that comes with experience.

You’ll run into some clients who expect a lot for a little bit of money.  I’ll say this and I’m sure every blog you read out there says the same thing…RUN.  Tell them you can’t do it for that, or you’d have to remove some features.  Sometimes you can get a client to remove features they think they want but find out they don’t need if you say let’s launch the site without it and revisit your thoughts on it once the site is live.  If it’s something you feel you need, we can talk about that.  Sometimes a client just doesn’t have the budget now, but may in the future.  So you can try splitting up the project – have them prioritize and say I can do A, B, and C for $X.  Let’s start with that and I can provide you with a quote for D and E later.  That gives them time to think about it, and if they are pleased with the work you’ve done on A, B, and C, chances are they will spring for the extra money.  If they really give you a hard time about the price for D and E in a situation where you’ve struggled, but already started on a project, you could say no you can’t do that for that price.  And just don’t work with them again in the future.  I haven’t run into anyone who is that hard to deal with.  I have talked with people who were surprised by my quote, but if that’s the case, they can find someone to do it for cheaper somewhere else.  I provide them with details and an hour estimate, along with other benefits I provide, like service before, during, and after, my hosting package, etc.  If they don’t appreciate everything I’m bringing to the table, they can go somewhere else.  As I’ve said, there really is plenty of work out there.

For the situations where you spend time emailing, talking on the phone, writing a proposal, and then not end up doing business with someone, it can feel like a waste of time.  Sometimes it is.  But try to take it as a learning experience.  You can start to sense if someone is serious or if they are more likely to want to spend very little on a project.  You start to learn qualifying questions.  I’ve learned that there are people you may want to work with – because you know you won’t have to haggle them for money, or they are your friend, or someone easy to work with, but they also don’t have a large budget.  That’s fine.  Realistic people with low budgets know they won’t have every feature.  For example, if someone wants a few static pages on a new website, and you can do that in a few hours.  Then that’s worth a few hundred bucks.  If they want eBay for $500, that’s when you need to say no and walk away.

Lastly, sometimes “no” isn’t really no.  It’s more like I can’t do that really quick, or for that price, but I can do something like this (and explain it).  What are your thoughts on that?  A lot of times the client will say sure that’s fine, or let’s leave that out if it’s too much.

It’s really about setting expectations, and trying to qualify the client before it gets too far and you spend too much time with someone who ultimately isn’t going to pay you.


Having To Work For Money, And Having To Earn Money

I’ve learned there are 2 main types of making money.  Having to work for money, and having to earn money.  They may seem the same, and to an extent they are, but what I mean about having to work for money is you have an hourly rate and you have to work the time to get the money.  On the other hand, earning the money has to do more with work via projects versus your hourly rate.  You quote a client $X for a list of what you’ll do.  Once the client agrees, you have to get through the list, and it’s a little bit of a challenge for you to come in under your estimate of time, which would result in a higher hourly rate for you.

I’m not the best at guestimating how much time something will take or coming up with a price.  It has been a learning process for me, but I’m getting better.  I also can better plan my weekly goals based on guessing how long a client will take to respond.  Response from clients is half the battle with finishing a project – as I’ve mentioned throughout this post, it may only take 20, 30 hours, but it could take 6 months to finish everything up before it is pushed live.


The Rule of Steady Income

The rule of steady income has been talked about a little bit throughout this post so far.  Basically, it goes back to what I talked about in Goals and Budgets – start small.  Find a number you can live on for now.  Some income is better than no income.  Your savings will empty really quick that way.  If you have to borrow a few hundred from yourself each month as you get started, that’s a lot easier to deal with than a few thousand.  Whatever your monthly obligations are.  That’s another thing to note – keep your monthly obligations low.  Once you get bigger, it’ll be more of a cashflow “problem”.  I say it like that because you know you’ll get paid, it’s just at different intervals than you may like.  But, living life in terms of averages will allow you to see the bigger picture and know you’re doing alright.

So, what I did was apply for contract jobs like crazy.  Not the freelance sites where someone who knows nothing about programming wants a “simple” project for $100.  Actual job boards that are labeled as remote, contract, etc.  I ended up finding a few good connections right off the bat.  One ended up being a local company, Janet Mobley with FatCat Strategies who I do quite a bit of work for every month, and that turned into another connection – Janet’s husband owns a financial advisor firm, and I work for him as well.  I’ve learned quite a bit from her and she’s even mentored me through some hard business times.  I also made 2 connections in NY.  One was a marketing company and I did 2 projects with them, but with so much turn over and through something like 3 name changes – there’s some kind of volatility there, and that’s most likely the reason I haven’t done more than 2 projects.  I follow up with them from time to time, but nothing new has come down.  Another NY connection is a really great guy, Ron Whitman.  I’ve learned from him, even on how to stay cool when things get hard, and just take the time to do it right the first time.

Through FatCat Strategies, and her husband’s company, Financial Symmetry, I’ve created consistency in a sense that I know I’m going to get paid, which now is more than my minimum goal I set for myself.  That goal, by the way, isn’t something that you’d want to live with forever, but just enough to not go bankrupt.  You may have to eat rice every night, but owning a business is your ultimate goal.  I’ve got other projects coming in all the time just from word of mouth.  Word of mouth advertising is BY FAR the BEST and obviously cheapest method of advertising.  Do a great job and work does just come.  It’s not always about price, it’s for the client to be able to count on you and get what they want.


Live Life In Terms of Averages

Averages.  You can easily forget things…for example, month after month I’ve continued to feel like I don’t make enough, but I’m filling my whole day up with work.  I kept going back and forth from I’m doing great financially to I’m doing terrible.  I learned from one of my clients that life is about averages – and when you think about it, it’s not only easier to live based on averages, but it makes sense too.  One month you may get a ton of money and then the next, you might not get a lot – that goes in the job world (getting a bonus), as well as being a freelancer.  It’s more prevalent now than it was when I had a job.  In the beginning of September, I looked back over the past 9 months and averaged my business income, and it was above what I set for myself as a goal.  Though month to month may fluctuate, the average is what’s important.  This goes back to what I said about having to have more of a saving buffer.  It is a little harder for me to break down my weekly or monthly income into segments and follow that, due to changes in cashflow – I used to keep spreadsheets and put away some in savings, budget so much for groceries, electric, etc, and it was much easier to do that and plan for the year with a job.  Typically you’d get a raise, so if anything, your budgets are low-ball – but I guess you could always lose your job too (something I never took into consideration on my spreadsheets =) ).


Final Thoughts

Maybe I’m a bit of a control freak, but I’m so much more motivated and interested when I have the risk and weight on myself – the harder I work, the more I make – the more success I see and feel.  In a regular job, you’re just a part of everything and I always ended up being the one getting walked all over.

You have to find the right clients.  With what I do, I really can work anywhere, and I’m just an email or phone call away.  The clients I work with understand that and are OK that I’m not in the office.  Also, since I’m a techy, I like the benefit of having the newest technologies, though they are on my dime, I don’t have to work with a sub-par computer until the executives are ready to upgrade to new machines that are only slightly out of date.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons and created some great processes for myself.  One of my processes was so detailed, I turned it into a Udemy course and Amazon eBook – Make Recurring Money by Hosting WordPress sites.  I would like to continue my educational courses with new material as well as create an inspirational book.

You’ll most likely need support to get through the hard times – financially and just figuring out which direction your business should go.  Being the boss means a lot of responsibility and as long as you manage your risk wisely (credit as well), the most common reason for failure is your heart not being in it anymore.  I feel as long as you have the drive to succeed, you’ll be in the green.  I also believe stubbornness is a good quality to have when running a business.  My wife has been amazingly supportive through this journey and I can’t thank her enough for listening to my boring ideas and talking through every scenario, client projects, and so much more.

If you’re not in a relationship, I’d strongly recommend a mentor, a meet up group, or some place where you can bounce ideas off of people.  Sometimes talking through things is all you need to find the answer you’re looking for.