Welcome again to Lyndsey Michaels, who works as Lyndsey Michaels Bid Writer. Lyndsey writes tender documentation for small businesses who want to increase their sales, usually in the public sector. It’s something I know from both sides, having written tenders to get business for a library supplier I used to work for and having worked editing tender documents, so I have great admiration for her as it’s a complicated business! We first met Lyndsey in July 2014 and had our first update in August 2015. At that point, this is where Lyndsey wanted to be: “Again, more of the same! Day to day, I certainly see my routine and clients remaining much the same. I’m excited about the training programme so will continue to work on that and refine it until it’s ‘market ready’. At some point though, I will have to take the leap and just get on with it, so I’ve given myself a few internal deadlines to stick to. The launch of that service will also coincide with a refresh of my website, which I’m really looking forward to. Other than that, while I’m committed to keeping my core business focused on bid writing and closely associated services, I’m also hoping that the extra time I can now give to random side projects might result in something marketable. It’s not a key objective but it would be nice to have another basket with a couple of eggs in!” So, let’s see how she’s doing now …
Hello again! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Sort of. In terms of the internal workings of my business, I have made the changes I planned to and feel my business is much stronger for it. The type of clients I’m attracting now are very much aligned to my own ideals and my success rate for the tenders I’ve completed this year has rocketed as a result.
In terms of actual cash coming in, that’s been a tricky one this year. A lot of my work involves public sector tenders and I work primarily with small businesses, so while my success rates for the work I’ve done has increased, the overall volume of work coming in has decreased. Not by a huge amount, but just enough to mean that those side projects I talked about last year will have to wait a little longer.
Peaks and troughs in the procurement world are a given and I always take these into account. However, a combination of ongoing budget cuts across the public sector over several years has led to at least one season – which would typically be a peak time – almost flat lining this year.
There’s also been a great deal of political uncertainty in 2016 with Brexit and – as is also the case with general elections and other political events – people tend to hold onto what budget they have until they’re more certain of the political landscape.
The end result is that I’ve seen fewer tenders for certain services, particularly those that appeal to small businesses and so, where I’d aimed for an increase in personal income, it’s really just stayed more or less the same. I also had a couple of non-payers at a particularly lean time so that hasn’t helped.
Alongside all of that, we had some major work done on the house and, while all of the contractors working here were great and the work is excellent, it was incredibly disruptive! I work from home so there was no escape. My office became our kitchen, dining and living room for the duration (four months!) and I also ended up doing a fair amount of day-to-day project managing which cut into my work days quite significantly.
In the spirit of being open with other freelancers and small business owners, I will admit that earlier this year I seriously considered packing it all in. I’ve been working hard at this business specifically for five years now, with another five years before that offering more generalist services and by June this year I was about ready to quit.
In the end I took a break, went somewhere sunny and different and let my mind wander. When I came back I felt reinvigorated and ready to throw myself at it again. I can’t pinpoint any specific ‘aha!’ moment, I think it was just a process of letting my subconscious shuffle a few fears, expectations, priorities and disappointments around until the important things floated to the top and everything became a bit clearer. Funnily, one of the things that helped me figure out whether to quit or not was asking myself how I would respond to your Small Business Chat Update questions this year!
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
My new website is up and running and gives a much clearer idea of what I do and the type of clients I work with. I’m really happy with it, particularly the ‘Ask me anything’ mini message facility which seems to have hit the right note with potential clients.
My attitude has changed significantly since my break, so that’s positive! I’m now even more determined than ever to meet my professional and personal goals.
Day to day, not much has changed. I’m still keeping on top of time management. I’m trying to make sure I eat properly and not resort to the ‘freelancer’s three square meals’ (toast). I’m also trying to make myself take advantage of any slow days by doing something more interesting than refreshing my emails constantly!
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
Sadly, I’ve learned – yet again – not to rely on someone’s word or charm when it comes to payment. Maybe this time that lesson will stick!
I’ve learned not to give up even when it seems like the ‘most appropriate’ thing to do. Taking time out to listen to and address my own fears while – crucially – giving others’ opinions less weight has helped me get through this wobbly patch.
I wish I’d known a year ago just how disruptive the building work on the house would be, I think I was a little over optimistic on that count!
Any more hints and tips for people?
It’s OK to think about quitting.
Small businesses like ours aren’t just a job, they’re a fundamental part of who we are as a person – it’s impossible to separate the two.
If something’s not working, it’s important to hash it out, even if that’s just on your own. Recognising which concerns are genuine and which are just fear and anxiety is a good first step to being able to work out what you want to do next.
In fact, it’s probably useful to think about quitting from time to time even when you don’t actually feel like it! It’s a good litmus test of how happy you are with where you’re at right now and helps you see where you could make improvements.
Also, develop targets for your business that are more specific than ‘make money’. Figuring out the absolute baseline activities you need to be doing to meet your hoped for income not only gives you something concrete to work to but it takes away a lot of those nebulous worries.
I’d been tracking a lot of information on potential and actual clients over the last couple of years but had never really been that sure what to do with it. After a day or two of analysis, my focus now is on getting initial enquiries because my stats tell me that for every x enquiries, I generally send x quotes which then turn into x contracted jobs.
It is definitely better to know how near or far away from my goals I am at any given time. While it can be terrifying, it is also extremely motivational!
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, how did you get to your ultimate decision (whether you carried on or did indeed quit) and do you feel like it was the right thing to do?
Sorry, that’s three questions!
Do you have an answer to anyone else’s bonus question?
I’d like to answer Andrew Donnelly’s question: ‘If you could plan the perfect week at your business what would it be like?’
On Monday I’d start a new project, with an exciting new client. By Wednesday, we’d have developed a good rapport and would both be working hard on their tender but feeling good that we were properly representing the best bits of their business and were putting together something special.
By Friday, we’d have wrapped up what we needed to do for the week and have a clear objective for the next week, so we could both enjoy the weekend without panicking!
In my personal time, I’d spend an hour or so in the park every day, walking my dog. Maybe on Thursday afternoon I’d meet a friend for a coffee and a catch up. Somewhere along the way I’d have planned and shopped for an epic cooking session for Saturday afternoon – that’s really how I get creative when I’m not working.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Right now, I’m working hard on making better content for my site, to draw in more visitors and increase my visibility as an expert in my field.
I’ve nailed down several formal targets and simplified those into The One Thing – in my case, number of enquiries – that meeting all the other targets relies on.
I’m also hoping to do more public speaking (argh!).
Hopefully this time next year I’ll be feeling positive and confident and may even be a few steps nearer to my goals!
I really appreciate Lyndsey’s honesty here, and this comes in a group of interviews that have all shown responses to bad as well as good times and challenges. I love that people feel they can share this stuff, because this is what REALLY helps other people decide what to do and how to do it, and means we can all see we’re in the same boat sometimes. I’ve certainly had low points, not so much when business has dipped but when it’s become too much to cope with, or I’ve had difficult or demanding customers (which doesn’t happen often, I have to say). I look forward to hearing what the year brings for Lyndsey!
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.