10 Things I’ve Learned as a Creative Services Business Owner


There are a few things I’ve learned since 2003 when I started doing work as “Con Cor Design”. As I round the corner on 10 years I’ve come  up with a “top ten” list of sorts that might help you learn:

  1. Clients aren’t buddies. – This might be a hard pill to swallow at first, but it is definitely one you need. You may have decided to go into business for yourself and you have a friend who decides to hire your services out. It is OK for the relationship to become business-centric. The only caveat to this is that you are going to change the relationship for as long as you are in business. Sure, afterwards, you can get a drink with your friend. But while you are “on”. Keep it pro and the vendor/client dynamic will stay solid.
  2. Business is as busy as you make it. You might find yourself twiddling your thumbs one day…then one week…then even one month. There are lots of variables that can cause this. The one variable you can control is how much business you are drumming up.  I tend to price myself on the higher end and work half as much as a 9-5 job. I’m OK with this. It gives me double and sometimes triple the income while having plenty of time to expand other facets of my life. And on the occasions where I’m working full time through the week, I’ve effectively advanced my earnings around 800%. It’s win win when you price yourself high.
  3. Working at home can be maddening. The one thing that I hear a lot of people say when I tell them I work from home is, “Man! You’re so lucky!”. This is true that I’m fortunate to have a successful business that allows me to be at home. But NOTHING compares to having humans around to have solid banter. This is why I’m moving into a new office in the next month. Very exciting. If you can work at home and not have human contact and stay sane, I commend you.
  4. Invoice on a regular basis and set clear terms. Nothing screams “freelancer” like someone who invoices when a job is done. Invoice regularly. I do it once a month. Usually at the end of the month I invoice all clients. I have net 45 terms and a conditional statement on my invoices that states if the invoice isn’t paid within the time frame, a 5% additional service fee is applied. My clients all rock, so I never have to implement this, but it shows personal and business integrity to set some boundaries up.
  5. Don’t get emotional. See point #1. This is business, not self esteem camp. You’re going to have days where you want to choke people out. This is normal. What isn’t cool is mailing people telling them you’re going to choke them out. I’ll give you an imaginary scenario: Let’s say your client’s client is approaching you directly and ordering all sorts of changes on stuff. Then let’s say this gets to the point that they are eating into your budget proposal. Simply remove yourself from being available, write an email to your direct client explaining the situation, and your client will take care of the rest. Pretty simple. I’ve done this multiple times and actually saved my clients money by extricating myself from chains of communication.
  6. If you come from a niche use it as bread and butter. From 2007 to 2011, I was working at a company called IDL doing retail merchandising. I picked up a slew of skills from that job. When I left, it seemed that’s all anyone would approach me for. I’ve since been able to remove myself from doing that sort of work, but the skills have been applied to working with this great exhibit company and it is really fun and easy work. They fill in a ton of the gaps when things slow down and offer me a chance to really strut some great concepts.
  7. Incorporate. From 2003 to 2010, my company was just me, with no papers filed. In late 2010, I formed an LLC because that was the thing to do. After getting smacked by my accountant, I incorporated as an S-Corp. I save a ton of money, with all the same benefits as an LLC PLUS I can write off a lot more of my expenses.
  8. Educate yourself constantly. Another huge thing to do with all that time on your hands is to find things to learn. For instance, the last few months, I’ve learned how to screen print, I’ve started learning Modo, Z-Brush, Blender, After Effects and all sorts of other things. I’m even starting to learn Spanish! You have the time when you work for yourself, why not use it to expand your service offering?
  9. When things slow down, take advantage of that. Work comes, work goes. When you’re starting out, the survivalist in you will look at any and all gaps in labor as a panic mode filled with night-sweats, penny-pinching, and ramen dinners. You have to understand the market you work in. I’ve found summer months to be slower and winter to be much busier. It is just the nature of my industries. Take a day off, you probably deserve it. And who knows, right when you’re getting in your boat to go relax, your client will probably be getting ready to call you for a “real quick” project.
  10. Keep yourself passionate and inspired. I can’t stress this enough. It can be hard at times, but you HAVE to keep yourself inspired and passionate. Read books, magazines and blogs on your industry. Find community groups. It can feel like the same circus with different clowns at times, but in order to bang out the best work, you’ve gotta see what the benchmarks around the world are. And if one day you wake up and are 100% certain that what you are doing doesn’t cut it any more, start over. It is NEVER too late to change lanes.

I hope some, if not all of this, has helped you a little. Here’s 10 more years of doing work for myself! I look forward to walking, hand in hand, with my amazing clients and partners into a designy future.

Later taters,

G