Welcome to my second small business chat UPDATE! I have been featuring a fellow small business or freelancer on this blog every week for a year now, so it’s time to catch up with everyone and see what they’ve been up to in the past year. Today, we’re revisiting Dave Bradburn of Opus Creative Design.
Dave’s original interview is here, and when I asked where he wanted to be in a year’s time, he replied “It’s likely that it will have moved to dedicated offices (rather than at home) and there will be more people involved on a regular basis. At the same time I will maintain and improve on the service offered to my clients”. Let’s see what’s happened in the intervening year …
Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
In some respects, yes, in others, no. It’d often be preferable for things to develop at a faster pace but it’s not always possible. I’ve been doing a lot of groundwork, but I’ve not quite made the changes that I’d anticipated a year ago. On the other hand, some things have moved ahead of where I’d anticipated them to be.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I’m still working from home and I’m still the only employee of the business! As it’s turned out, it wasn’t quite the right time to change either of those things. The move to an external office hasn’t yet happened – largely because it hasn’t yet had to. More people are involved in the business on a regular basis – mainly freelance design and artwork support – and we have been looking into options to take on one of those people as an employee.
I’ve gained several new, significant clients during the year and the amount of work being produced has certainly increased. Managing this workload and the extra people necessary to complete it creates its own set of challenges, but all in all it’s gone well, and is part of the evolution from freelancer to a true business. My own marketing has sometimes taken a back seat, with priority given to client work, but this is being addressed – in particular with a long-overdue redesign of the company website.
There have been a lot of changes to the admin side of things and I’m in the process of refining various systems and processes in order to cut down on the time required for non-billable tasks. I’m also building on a couple of partnerships with other businesses.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
There have been several occasions that I’ve spent time prospecting for work that has ultimately proven to be unsuccessful. I’m getting better at selecting the prospective jobs that are worth concentrating on, and walking away from those that are unrealistic (or at least allocating an appropriate amount of time in relation to the rewards and chances of getting the work). I’m also developing a couple of processes to help with this.
Credit control is another area I’ve learnt a lot about this year! I was perhaps too trusting of one particular client. After the work was done and delivered they failed to pay their invoices and then seemed to think that I was out of order for chasing payment! With the help of a credit control specialist we eventually agreed a repayment plan for the debt. My error was to be too trusting and to not follow my own procedures from the beginning. While that may not have prevented the situation entirely it would have certainly minimised the problems.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Trust your gut instincts – more often than not they’re right. Recognise where you have weaknesses and either work to improve on them or bring in someone who has those skills.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Perhaps the business will have another employee and it’ll be installed in external offices! Certainly I anticipate building on the team – whether as employees, regular freelancers or associates.
So a year of process streamlining and outsourcing for Dave – this is a classic step as a business grows. I’ve done a similar thing, in that I’ve put together a team of people who do the things I do so I can recommend clients on if I’m too busy. That works well for me, anyway.
I wonder if Dave will have – or need – that external office by this time last year! You certainly couldn’t prise me away from this desk, but it’s something a lot of small business owners do aim for.