Hello there! Today it’s on with another of my lovely new interviewees: please join me in welcoming Suzi Zobair from Smart Bear Creative, a web design company that’s been running for just over a year now. Unlike many of our businesspeople, Suzi’s freelance life was not an accident – she actually went back to formal studying in order to get the qualifications she needed to operate on her own, basing her new business on skills she already had from her former career. She even had a dry run at freelance life before she took on her new challenge!
Read on to find out how she did it and her plans for the future …
Hello, Suzi! What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is called Smart Bear Creative and I set up on the eve of my 35th birthday, May 2013.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
After working in the industry for over a decade, I went back to university to qualify my experience and with the sole goal of working freelance, once I’d graduated.
Both my parents have been self-employed in the past and it’s always been a dream of mine to set up on my own.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
Web design, and social media, have been my passion for years; In fact, I have been interested in programming since a young age which was before the Internet was even around (publicly). Every job I have had has involved some form of IT or website design, even though this wasn’t necessarily my official role within the company, and so it seemed like a natural choice for me to pursue.
Had you run your own business before?
I worked as a freelance photographer whilst at uni to supplement my income, but it was more a lifestyle business and I knew the web design would soon take over my priorities, so I really didn’t put full effort into making it work.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I launched right into it. Throughout uni I saved up money to have a nest egg to see me through the first few months and as much as my time allowed during my dissertation, I started sourcing clients before the business was even launched. If I hadn’t done this, I would have had to get a part time job to be able to pay the bills whilst the business cashflow stabilised in the early days.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
To be honest, I’d been preparing for this for years and so I mostly knew what I needed to or I knew how I could find out, if I didn’t. I was fully aware it was going to be a lot of work, that it would take over my life (and it has), but I also knew I would love it!
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Have more faith in yourself, and keep going. You’ll have bad weeks and down days but the good weeks and fab days will far outweigh them!
What do you wish you’d done differently?
The only thing I regret is moving counties after my first 6 months in business. It was necessary for my partner’s job, but it essentially meant I had to start again building my network. It was, however, totally the right decision as Smart Bear Creative is thriving in the new area, but it did put a dip in the cashflow report!
What are you glad you did?
Go for it and not hold back[ even during the bad times it is the best feeling to be self-employed and in control of your own destiny.
What’s your top business tip?
Collaborate – competing with everyone is draining and frankly very hard work. It can even damage your business if you try to better prices. Collaboration increases your network (who are essentially your sales team), and gives you someone to talk to. Being self-employed can be lonely without having a ‘team’ behind you.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
Smart Bear has evolved considerably since the early days. Not only did the move in counties provide different customer needs/requirements but the business itself has adapted to new opportunities when they have developed. For example, we now offer a monthly payment plan as we saw a need to offer this service to our target market, who don’t always have the budget for a lump sum investment.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
The way things are going, in 12 months time I’ll probably need someone to help me – whether that’s subcontracting my admin/sales/PR or hire someone to be in house. I’m reluctant to hire someone for the actual website-building as this is the part I love most, but if there’s more work than I can handle, I might have to source someone who has a similar style and ethos to my own!
Ah, yes, that tricky question about how to expand your business (I have been writing and commissioning a series of posts on this very topic). But it’s great to see that Suzi’s already at this stage after only a year of operation. I wonder which route she’ll take … And how interesting that we’ve had two interviewees in a row who’ve had issues with having to move premises, as we saw last week with Kath from Three Bags Full. Read Suzi’s first update here.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.