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5 lessons we’ve learnt over the last decade as small business owners

Freelance Balance / Marketing Basics

5 lessons we’ve learnt over the last decade as small business owners

2020 hasn’t been an easy year for freelancers and small business owners around the world. The economic fallout from COVID-19 has posed some unprecedented challenges. Millions of people lost their jobs, most small businesses faced serious financial concerns, and some closed their doors permanently. 

But this sudden economic downturn has also prompted a large-scale, societal reflection. The forced break from the ‘normal’ has made people re-evaluate, with some reaching the conclusion that ‘normal’ isn’t actually working for them anymore. People started to seek out change, with many turning to small business ownership as the solution.

Small business ownership is on the rise

While for some, setting up their own business in the midst of a pandemic has simply been a way to make the best of a challenging situation, this shift towards self-employment has been a part of a larger, ongoing trend. 

New entrepreneurs have been on the rise for the last few years, with the younger generations leading the way. In fact, Millennials and Gen Zers are 188% more likely to have the aim of creating a side business, compared to baby boomers – further evidence of the deep-running dissatisfaction with the corporate world. 

Learn on the job

While you can, and should, learn a lot by researching, planning and mind mapping, nothing is as crucial a lesson as real-world experience – your first interactions with clients, your small wins, and the many, many mistakes you make along the way.

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 5 lessons we’ve learnt over the last decade as small business owners. Whether you’ve been running your business for a few years, have just set it up, or are only thinking about starting it – these tips will help you boost your chances of succeeding in the long term. 

5 lessons we’ve learnt

1. Customer service is key!

We can’t stress this enough – customer service is just as important as the services you’re selling.

There are plenty of translators and interpreters with similar educational background, equivalent experience and areas of specialisation that overlap with yours. In the end, whether people decide to work with you – and most importantly, keep working with you – will come down to the customer experience you provide.

Be flexible, adapt, reinvent, show patience and understanding, communicate.

Don’t ever treat your customers like you’re doing them a favour or like their value comes down to what they pay you at the end of a project. 

Think about how you’d like to be treated as a customer and extend the same courtesy to your clients. 

2. Be persistent

We faced a number of big challenges in our first couple of years. We didn’t get enough enquiries, our profits weren’t big enough, and we all had to rely on other streams of income to keep going.

But we persisted. We’ve learnt, we’ve grown, we’ve adapted and improved, and here we are 10 years later, doing what we love to do full-time, and thriving. 

Remember that it won’t always be easy but it’s definitely worth it at the end. 

Set goals that are realistic and right for your business. Define what success means to you and aim for that, rather than chasing someone else’s version of it.

Maybe you can’t make a million dollars as a freelance translator. But you can have a flexible job that allows you to work from anywhere in the world. Maybe you won’t work with the world’s biggest brands. But you will be your own boss, with a healthy work-life balance and the ability to choose the projects you take on.

Not everyone wants a six-figure job in a high-pressure environment, and that’s ok. Figure out what it is that you want and then set business goals that can help you get there.

3. Adapt

The world is constantly changing. Market demands fluctuate, competition gets fiercer, and customer expectations grow.

Don’t be afraid of change. Be open to it and use it to better your brand. 

Just because something worked for you 10, 5 or even 2 years ago, doesn’t necessarily mean it still does or will in the future. Perform regular business analysis to stay on top of things and identify areas in which you’re doing well as well those that need improving. 

Set up a plan for how you can implement those improvements. Maybe you need to think of new ways to conduct business with certain clients. Maybe you can boost your digital marketing efforts to better engage your audience and increase customer loyalty. Or maybe you need to work on making your customers’ experience more seamless.

Whatever it is, it will be hard to identify if you don’t review your business regularly. Yes, it takes time and effort, but trust us – it will pay off!

4. Learn from your mistakes

Accept that mistakes are a part of your journey and don’t be afraid to own up to them. After all, you can’t learn anything from a mistake unless you admit that you’ve made it.

Be calm, apologise when appropriate, work on a solution, and keep your clients informed at all times.

Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is how we react and recover. Have the right approach and remember that each project you take on is a learning opportunity. If something doesn’t go quite how you wanted it to – which will inevitably happen – don’t dwell on it. Use it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Analyse your mistake by asking yourself what it was you were trying to do, what went wrong, when it went wrong and why. It will help you pinpoint what needs to change in order to avoid a repeat.

When making the necessary changes, avoid quick fixes and focus on long-term solutions instead. The former will only lead to further mistakes in the future. The latter will help you future-proof your business and avoid wasting time that can be better spent elsewhere.

5. Know how to let go

Running your own business is always about people and rarely just about the services you provide.

We work with people we like working with, we choose companies that we like and whose values align with our own. No matter how talented, experienced or determined you are, you’ll never be able to serve everyone – and you shouldn’t aim to, either.

There will always be a certain audience that’s right for you and one that isn’t a good fit. Learn how to differentiate between the two and know when to let go. It will help you narrow your focus and serve your target clientele better.

Regardless of the situation, treat everyone with respect – whether it’s someone who isa good match for your business or not. All the professional interactions you have – with clients, potential clients, colleagues, etc. – help to build your reputation in the field. The better that reputation, the more likely people will be to recommend you to others. Remember – word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools out there and one that doesn’t cost you anything, apart from some basic courtesy.

Get to work and make your small business thrive

Wherever you are in your small business ownership journey, the 5 lessons we listed above will come a long way in making sure your brand not only survives but thrives. 

What have you learnt so far as a freelancer or small business owner? 

Do you have any advice you can share with those just starting out in the freelance world?

Share your thoughts in the comments!