My dad is a businessman.
Without him directly teaching me, I’ve learned quite a bit through observation of his path.
His career started as a carpenter for home construction. He then worked at the Navy yard in Philadelphia. He moved into the business realm as a warehouse employee.
His work-ethic caught the attention of the boss and earned him a promotion to a managerial role.
Eventually, he ascended to executive positions at several companies.
The thing is, while we have many similarities, there are also extreme differences in our personalities.
Stubbornly, it took me a long time to absorb the lessons that I should have known from day one of freelancing!
With that in mind, I want to share with you four fundamentals of business that are now firmly stuck in my mind.
#1) People Skills Take You Further Than Anything
This was the hardest piece of knowledge to get through my skull.
My dad is a people person. He starts conversations with strangers. He seems to run into someone he knows everytime we’re out together.
I’m introverted. I’m not into small talk. I don’t enjoy being around large groups of people.
My “happy place” is often in my head. I want to be reading, learning or testing my skills.
But the reality of business is you only make money by taking someone else’s money.
No, I’m not encouraging stealing! In fact, it’s the opposite.
People gladly give you their money if you are happy to help them.
And to get to that point, you have to build up trust before they want to work with you.
I honestly thought having an extensive computer background would be a considerable asset to separate myself. In reality, it meant almost nothing. It helps AFTER the sale.
To get the sale, though, it’s all about solving someone else’s biggest problem and ensuring them you are willing to “hold their hand” along the way.
#2) You Either Create Your Business Skills or Work Off of Someone Else’s
There is a mentality that is ego-driven. It’s the thought that you are way more valuable than what you’re currently getting paid.
This was in my head for several years freelancing and trying to land web design clients.
At some point, I concluded that I was kidding myself and it was time for a dose of humility.
You eventually realize business is HARD. When you work for yourself or start your own business, it’s all on you. Everything.
You are an owner, manager, designer, developer, writer, accountant, salesperson, marketer, advertiser, and perhaps most importantly, customer service.
Juggling these from week-to-week is no small feat. When you finally do get a grasp, though, it is incredibly rewarding.
That said, there is no shame at all in being an employee or seeking a job first.
A classic example – would you rather be employee #10 at Google with a 0.5% share of the company, or own 100% of your business that makes $10,000?
Not everyone is ready to quit the corporate world, and that’s OK. Start small on the side until you build momentum.
#3) Every Business Transaction is Unique
Learning something like web design is process-oriented with a clear outcome.
Business is also about developing processes. However, the outcomes are rarely clear because you are dealing with another human.
The value you bring to Person A is perceived differently than to Person B, even if you’re doing the same work.
That’s because no two businesses are cookie-cutter versions of each other, nor are the people running them.
Therefore what worked to get your first sale may not work as anticipated the next time around. You have to be willing to adapt.
You can breakdown value to a business owner into the following categories:
- Make them more money
- Save them time
- Save them money
- Do something they can’t do
- Do something they don’t want to do
- Make their life easier
- Make their life better
- Make their experience more memorable
Many of the relationships I’ve built with business owners have absolutely nothing to do with their business.
One guy was interested in how I lost 35 lbs, so we’d discuss his website for 10 minutes and then talk for 20 minutes about a healthy diet.
Another had a computer issue that was easy for me to solve, so I recorded a 5-minute screencast explaining exactly how he could fix it.
Another had multiple e-mail addresses and wanted to consolidate them, so we met, and I showed him how he could set up Gmail for all of them.
With these clients, I’m confident the trust built by providing them individualized value will result in them using my services for years to come.
#4) Be Willing to Say “No” But Say “Yes” More
This is a dichotomy that is hard to balance because it’s easy to get taken advantage of by never turning someone down.
As a freelancer or small business owner, your time is your most valuable asset.
Maybe you know someone needs immediate website help, but they want to pay half of what you charge.
In this scenario, you must have boundaries and stand your ground.
However, as discussed in the last section, you can generate an immense amount of trust by going above and beyond expectations.
Being responsive, courteous, and helpful is the best way to separate yourself from the competition. It’s often not by improving your craft.
The real craft is working on other people’s problems, not your skills!