Small business ≠ Big business

What first compelled you into creating your business?

Seriously. Take a moment to think about it. What inspired you, drove you and urged you to create your own freelance business?

If you can come up with a clear and simple answer to that question, it will guide your business plan and strategy. It takes you back to your roots, removes you from wandering eyes into other businesses and prevents distractions from setting in.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a trend (even caught myself getting swept up in it!). This trend promotes diversification, passive income, and complex business models. By no means are each of these dirty words. However, they can cause your solo freelance business to unravel before it starts if you aren’t careful.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to dive into a new series called “studio of one.”

You see, I want to celebrate the benefit of operating as a solo-entrepreneur.

Your plan for first year of freelancing | Spruce Rd. | There are so many components to launching a successful freelance design business. What should you focus on first? I’m dishing one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my years of freelancing.

To kick things off for this new series, let’s chat about how your small business ≠ big business.

We’re not big businesses… and that’s okay

Here’s how the story goes — lemme know if this hits home!

  • You start your freelance business because you are excited to finally work with clients you love, using a process that works, and have flexibility in your career.

  • In your first year you are struggling to book clients (you’re not alone here!), so you begin brainstorming how to diversify your business.

  • You get excited to pursue these BIG dreams, and start snatching up new domain names like nobody’s business.

  • One year later, you’ve got a notebook full of ideas, but minimal profits. You feel scattered, don’t know where to focus your time, and can’t land on a strategy that works for your brand (or multiple brands at this point!).

As an entrepreneur it can be so exciting to have the freedom to explore all these fun ideas, but sometimes that holds us back from moving forward. (talking from experience here)

We aren’t a big business, and that’s okay. We are one person. Managing multiple brands, courses, products and services isn’t always in our bandwidth! As a business owner, we are our business’ limiting factor. If we spend our time dabbling in too many things at once, we are limiting other components of our business from thriving.

I don’t say this to be harsh at all, in fact it was a relief once I came to terms with this minimal business model! I enjoy staying scrappy as a solo entrepreneur, and truly believe there’s a lot of benefit from staying small.

Small but mighty

Staying small in your business allows you the flexibility you were longing for when you first started your freelance business. As soon as you add “diversification” to your brand, your time will be split between the different facets (I’ll talk more on how to do this successfully in a bit). When you’re small, you have the freedom to explore various marketing tactics for that one branch of your business (ie: freelance design services), have more time to devote to your lovely clients, and even more time to step away from the computer.

Staying small allows you to have a business, rather than creating another full-time day job for yourself.

Planning for growth

Staying small doesn’t mean you can’t have big goals for growth. That’s part of the fun of entrepreneurship, right? I’m that girl who has a planner full of goals and Evernote files stacked with potential product ideas.

While operating as a solo business owner, you won’t be able to offer the fully stocked e-commerce store, weekly webinars, booked out services and a consistently scheduled social media you long for. And that’s okay! What you can do at this point is plan for growth. How would you like to scale your business in the future? Once you identify your large goals you can make steps toward fulfilling them.

If you’re into stationery design, you no doubt are familiar the brand Rifle Paper Co. Their products share a recognizable hand painted floral design that is unique to them. I’ve followed Rifle Paper Co. for years, and have quietly watched as they scaled from custom wedding invitations to a complete wholesale market.

Anna Bond, founder of Rifle Paper Co., started small. It was just her and her husband with a handful of friends as clients. They’ve intentionally planned for growth and added layers to their business over the years. While we were all awaiting the duo to enter the surface pattern design market, Rifle took it slow and launched a fabric line years after the demand was there. The same is true for their apparel, recognizable partnerships such as Keds, and the wholesale market which earned them popularity.

Point being, they didn’t do everything in their first year. Anna probably had wild dreams of one day launching a fabric line, but it wasn’t until years later that it came to fruition. They scaled as they grew.

You'll notice that Rifle Paper Co. stayed true to their roots. They offer stationery design, and have expanded to include products that align with their customers. Anna isn't hosting weekly webinars, multiple e-courses, digital products and conferences. Nothing wrong with those things at all (I've done some of them myself!), however it doesn't align as well with the Rifle brand. They've honed in on their strengths and removed distractions — which is what makes them great.

As a studio of one it can be tempting to propel ourselves forward in multiple directions. But isn’t there something sweet about staying true to our roots, and evolving as we grow?

Looking forward to next week in this series where we talk about creating a year long freelance strategy as a studio of one :).