The best business advice I ever received and what I did about it

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Yesterday, I was trying to imagine what I should write about today on the blog and, after exploring a few ideas, I thought I would ask you what I should cover.

A few great responses came in that I plan to blog about in the near future.

Today, I’d like to respond to the great suggestion from Michael Pingree (who we’ve seen a lot of in the comments lately and he’s really contributed a great deal to the GDB community. Thanks Michael!).

Here’s what Michael suggested I write about:

Best business advice received and how you implemented it.

That’s no easy task

I mean, if you take into consideration all the business books I’ve read, all the entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with, all the classes I’ve taken, all the blogs I’ve bookmarked, deciding on the best piece of business advice I ever received suddenly becomes really hard.

So, after racking my brain (and without any further delay), here’s the single most important piece of business advice I ever recieved:

You can’t run a business if you don’t make a profit.

It’s not about the money

A lot of you will assume I mean that the best business advice I ever got was to focus solely on money money money.

That would be incorrect.

Running a business isn’t all about the money. And it shouldn’t be. As an entrepreneur, you should be passionate about what you do, be motivated to help others, and have a desire to make the world a better place.

But none of that can happen if you can’t keep yourself “in business.”

Here’s what I mean

For about a year, I blogged here at GDB with the simple desire to help other designers live their freelancing dreams.

I had freelanced for the last few years of my college career and loved it!

After about a year of “blogging for blogging’s sake,” things were going well. I had lots of new readers, I networked with many of you. And I enjoyed our conversations.

Then everything changed.

My wife and I decided to have a kid

Being a dad is the best thing in the whole world! I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

And I’m thankful for the eye-opening experience that preparing to be a dad gave me.

Suddenly, I wasn’t just responsible for myself.

I wasn’t even just responsible for me and my amazing wife.

Now, I would be responsible for caring for (and paying for) a brand new little person.

And I won’t lie: I was scared.

Suddenly, it was time…

In anticipation of a new little boy in our house, suddenly I had a lot of decisions to make. Could I support our new little family on my freelance design income?

Maybe.

Would I have to time pursue all my other hobbies as much as I did currently?

Probably not.

With these two questions in mind, I had to make a lot of hard decisions. I had a number of small internet ventures and I dropped almost all of them to focus on GDB. In addition, I decided I needed to start taking responsibility for the profitability of GDB.

I was making money…

I mean, I was making a little bit of income from the blog, but I don’t think I was even making enough to pay for the hosting and registration fees I paid every year.

The scary thing was, I didn’t even know how much I was making or losing on the blog.

Because until then, it didn’t matter to me.

The shocking surprise

Here’s what I’m getting at: running a business should never be all about the money.

If you’re only working to get rich, one day you may get there and find you left happiness alone on the trail somewhere behind you.

Here’s the shocking surprise that has changed the way I do business…

Blogging here at GDB is still not about the money. But taking time to track my finances, innovate and create new methods of income from the blog, and pay attention to new money-making trends has allowed me to have a greater influence and help more people.

Hundreds of designers have downloaded my ebooks (some free, some paid)– something I never would have been able to create without knowing I could make back my time in money to buy diapers for my kid.

Thousands of designers have commented on the blog, joined the facebook page, or followed the GDB twitter account.

And many many more have written in thanking me and my team for the wonderful content we offer freely to designers who just want to succeed.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if I was constantly losing money year after year.

A business with no profit is just a hobby

Chris Guillebeau brought up this critical point in his recent book The $100 Startup:

“Putting the focus on income and cash flow–measuring everything else against those standards–ensures that a business remains healthy.”

He explains the point by telling a very cool story of an entrepreneur named Naomi. Here’s Naomi’s advice:

“Remember that the goal of business is profit. It’s not being liked, or having a huge social media presence, or having amazing products that nobody buys. It is not having a beautiful website, or perfectly crafted email newsletters, or an incredibly popular blog. In larger businesses, this is called accountability to shareholders. Business is not a popularity contest. The CEO doesn’t get away with saying, “But look at all these people who like us on Facebook!” Shareholders will not accept that. You are the majority shareholder in your business and you have to protect your investment. You have to make sure that your recurring activities are as directly tied to making as much money as possible. There’s nothing wrong with having a hobby, but if you want to call it a business, you have to make money.”

What I did, and you should too

So what did I do with all of this wonderful advice?

I started being responsible with money. I started tracking new metrics like “dollars per visitor,” and “dollars per blog post.”

It has made me account for everything I do and now all my actions on this blog are centered around 2 things: 1. helping as many fellow designers as possible and 2. being able to support this blog financially and make it worth my time.

So take a hard look at your design business.

Make sure you’re focusing on staying profitable.

If you’re not making a profit, you’re just a designer by hobby. Which is ok if you just want a hobby. But as Naomi said in The $100 Startup, “if you want to call it a business, you have to make money.”

PS. In the spirit of making money while helping fellow designers, all the links to The $100 Startup in this post are Amazon affiliate links. But I never promote a book I haven’t personally read and that I don’t think is worth your investment in time and money. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to build a successful business. If you click through the links and buy the book, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear how it helps your business grow!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Great article, Preston! As you know from your Facebook post, I just launched my blog for my freelance business. Up to this point, all of my income as been from client work. I’ve helped teach others (like my classmates) over the past years in their frustration with design while going through high school and college, and I’m really excited to try and do the same for any freelancer around the world now, with the use of my blog. Your articles are very motivating to me personally. I find them easy to read, and the information is enough to take and work with in my own ways. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise and experiences. I only hope the same can be achieved with me and my own business some day! :)

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Thanks, Brent! Yeah, man–I saw your facebook post and I plan on blogging about a few things you asked about. You have some great questions. As a side-note: while you’re trying to build your brand a little, I’d love to have you write some guest posts for me here. We could all benefit from your experience. If you’re interested, shoot me an email – preston [at] graphicdesignblender [dot] com.

      Best of luck to you!!

  2. Woot! Loved this post, especially this quote: “As an entrepreneur, you should be passionate about what you do, be motivated to help others, and have a desire to make the world a better place.” So true! Thanks, Preston!

  3. Preston,

    I’m with you – I like statistics to help me focus my energy on the most efficient solutions. What marketing gets me the most clients per dollar? How can I improve my clients per contact?

    I also like to measure productivity. What design process produces the best results? What elements of that process seem to be the most effective? Where do I get the best or most creative ideas?

    It’s exciting, fun, and important to be well-respected, liked, and trusted in your field and amongst your peers, but you still have to translate that into clients and projects to sustain your business.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Well-said, April. There’s nothing wrong with being admired (because that means you’re helping people), but at the end of the day, admiration won’t put bread on the table.

  4. Under promise and over deliver.

    That was a suggestion from one of my earliest advisers and one that have been the guiding principle of my customer service strategy. Now I am not talking about quoting three weeks for a job I know I can get done in three day, but more like four days for a job that will take 2-3. Since I work with a lot of outsourced suppliers, it never hurts to have a little wiggle room just in case something goes wrong. My results: 2 missed deadlines (1 day each) in over 2 1/2 years and 100% of my customer satisfaction surveys have listed customer service as the best feature of my business.

  5. I think it’s okay to shift your focus to income and cash flow once you feel your business has taken off but never, once again, never forgot why you started it in the first place.

  6. Hi Preston! I’ve only recently discovered GDB while researching anything I can to help me with my budding freelance business. This article, along with many of your others, really struck a chord with me! I’m trying to prove to the world that I am in this as a business and not a hobby, but it’s hard when starting out! This article was a sort of affirmation for me though, so thank you for it!

  7. Nice Article

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