3 Tactics All Service Providers & Infopreneurs Should Be Doing
Nine months ago, I started a branding business. I don’t have a business degree. I’m a self-taught graphic designer, and I’ve only taken a couple of extracurricular classes on web design and creative direction. What qualified me to launch a business? Pssh, I got the juice. Just kidding. I put in work both within and outside of my 9-to-5’s to get to the point where I could call myself a professional. Moreover, I had proof of concept - up to that point, people had entrusted me to design and influence their brands and had been more than satisfied with the result. So, I’ve since added entrepreneur-in-the-making to my list of descriptors.
But let’s be clear, I’m not romanticizing this. Entrepreneurship ain’t for everybody. But it is for those of us who are willing to commit to the process of trial and error and embrace the accountability that comes with business ownership, whether you possess the ideal credentials or not. Running a service-based business comes with its own set of challenges and rewards since your success depends on your ability to create a satisfying experience for each and every client. Within the first nine months of owning and operating Branding By Bri, I picked up some important lessons on how to keep myself sharp and my clients happy. Here’s what I’ve found that works.
1) TEACH WHAT YOU KNOW
Shortly after I launched my company and had fine-tuned my business model, I decided to host a free workshop called “A Crash Course in Small Business Branding for Indiepreneurs.” I partnered with a local community-driven collective workspace and promoted the workshop on social media for a few weeks prior to the class. Then I designed a curriculum that included a Powerpoint and select case studies to help give new entrepreneurs a foundation in branding. The response and turnout were great! People showed up eager to better understand how to brand their endeavors. They asked great questions and seemed to glean a lot of valuable info from my presentation. It was safe to say the event was a success!
But little did the attendees know, they were actually subjects of a DIY market research experiment I was conducting. The workshop allowed me to interface with the type of people who made up my target audience: emerging business owners with little-to-no familiarity with the branding process who were proactive about starting or enhancing their brands. It’s one thing to operate my business online and track my social media engagement as a way of learning my audience. It was another thing entirely to meet people who could benefit from my services, and hear from them directly about what they understood, what they needed, and what problems or questions had led them to my workshop. As a result, I refined my service offerings, bundling some, rephrasing my descriptions, and even eliminating some of my initial offerings altogether. I also immediately gained some inquiries from the workshop. So, in the end, there was a mutual benefit where I gained much-needed info to strengthen the effectiveness of my business, and the attendees gained valuable info to strengthen their brands for free!
Public speaking and giving presentations happen to be a couple of my strengths. But if the same isn’t true for you (and trust me, you’re not alone), I recommend attending mixers or networking events where you have a chance to spark conversations and discuss what you do out loud. Read someone’s facial expression and body language when you describe your business. Note whether they seem clear or confused, intrigued or bored, and whether they ask follow up questions. This sort of in-person dialogue can tell you things that metrics and analytics cannot about the clarity of your offer.
2) STP (SCRIPTS, TEMPLATES, PROCESSES)
An early hiccup I made in communicating with my clients was making too many assumptions about what people already knew about branding. In my day job, I work with a team of other marketing, business, and communications professionals. With Branding By Bri, I work with inspiring entrepreneurs who are experts in various fields of their own, but who may know zilch about what I do besides the fact that it’s something they need. You know what they say about assumptions. The consequence was that I sometimes didn’t ask all the necessary questions upfront that I needed answered in order to deliver a final product that satisfied my client quickly and without requiring several revisions. I assumed my client would have the vocabulary and familiarity with branding to discuss things like creative direction, color palette, and style.
It later occurred to me that the transition from my day job to my client base wasn’t the only reason I mistakenly rested on these assumptions. It was my hesitation to own my authority in this field - a lack of confidence, really. I’ve always considered it presumptuous and disrespectful to assume that someone DOESN’T know something. But as a service-based business owner, you are hired because you’re the expert. My clients were seeking the creative direction and authority that I hesitated to offer. I believed strongly in my sense of taste and my ability to execute a dope design, but I had to build up the confidence to make statements like “Here’s what I recommend for you.”
Once I had this epiphany, scripts, templates and processes became my greatest ally. First, I added an FAQ page to my website to address some of the frequent questions I was receiving in inquiries. (Get this: many of these questions came from that workshop I hosted. So, tip #1 in this list is legit). On my contact page, I linked visitors to the FAQ page as a way to better filter out clients who may not be a fit for me. Then I updated my intake forms to include questions about whether the client had an existing business plan, whether they wanted a graphic-based or text-based logo, etc. I also came up with a script, which could be easily personalized but would always cover the basics, for my responses to the inquiries I received through my website intake form. This script included more detailed information on my payment methods, how I deliver my final goods, and what’s expected from the client during the process.
Streamlined STP’s make it easier on both you as a business owner and your clients or customers by cutting back your chances of misunderstanding one another. You want to maintain a positive relationship with the people you serve, and in most cases, retain their business. So, the more communicative and clear you are, the more likely they are to trust you with their needs.
3) EMBRACE FEEDBACK, BUT CREATE BOUNDARIES
I’m a creative professional. And I’m sensitive about my sh**. But as a service-based business owner, there’s not a whole lot of room to be sensitive. It just ain’t about you, boo. No matter what, I always remember that my client is paying me to receive a result that they are satisfied with. I’m grateful to have had pretty great experiences with everyone I’ve worked with thus far. But providing a service does require patience, grace, and unrelenting professionalism regardless of how you feel.
The initial brand reveal is always the part I get most nervous about with my clients. After I’ve put hours of design and strategy into someone’s brand, I want them to love it, to BELIEVE in it. So, receiving that first bit of feedback is scary, even if they’re only requesting a small change. I curb my nerves around this by remembering that the ultimate satisfaction comes not when I give my clients something I love, but when I give them something they’re incredibly proud to have represent their vision.
That being said, you have to protect your interests as a business owner as well. This means stating your processes and boundaries clearly, which is not to imply that many clients out there will try to take advantage of your time or patience. But it is to say that the more openly you state your needs and expectations from them as well, the less likely you are to run yourself into the ground trying to please someone.
There are a few easy ways to do this. For one, always give people the option to opt out, but if you require a deposit or some other form of commitment, make that known from jump. You don't want anyone to feel trapped in a situation that isn't working for them, but you also can't afford to lose the value of your time. Another tactic that helps is to make your business hours and average response time transparent. Just because you work on your business from home or part-time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have working hours that are as clear as a corporate office. Be careful not to create the expectation that you’ll be accessible to clients at all hours of the day and night (unless that’s a part of your business model). You should also build opportunities for feedback into your process. For instance, I have several checkpoints within my brand design process during which I’ll show my clients samples and sneak peaks of their project to make sure we are on the same page.
Becoming a successful sole-proprietor has been a really cool journey for me. I’ve definitely had my moments where the responsibility feels overwhelming, but I’m quickly reminded that it’s worth it when I see a new entrepreneur beaming over their brand. Remember, if you’re going to serve folks, serve it up right.