Thursday, September 27, 2012

Common Mistakes Theme #3 - Learning to Say "No"

We're now on our last theme for common mistakes that happen with small businesses - or at least, the mistakes that have been common to my small business. This last one is probably the hardest, and I know a lot of you deal with difficulty in saying "no". I'm no pro now, but I'm much better, and here are some of my experiences.

Theme #3 - Learn to Say "No" When it Comes to Doing Favors

I could go on and on about the lessons I've learned from this theme (maybe another blog post someday). When I first started my business I was happy to get whatever experience and project I could. However, as my business grew, I found myself needing to value both my work and my time. I could no longer bend over backwards for people in ways that cost me significantly more than I was charging them. While I don't want to give a specific example for this one, I can tell you generally how this goes:

An old friend from highschool/work/town contacts me and asks for invitations/announcements/cards but really doesn't want to spend a lot of money. They ask what I would be able to do for them, and I basically agree to give them whatever they wanted for such a small amount of money that I knew I really would be losing money. But maybe I'd get a referral, so I convinced myself it was worth it. Then the old friend/coworker/dog-walker would want to make ten thousand design changes, and what about matching envelopes, or skinny labels, or textured-shimmery paper? And, oh, they needed them within two days. You get the picture. I know we all want to help out our old friends and acquaintances, but unfortunately undervaluing your worth as a designer is just not a good business practice.

Lessons Learned:
  • Don't undervalue your work
  • Offer a flat percentage as a "friends and family" discount off of regular, full priced items
  • Not everybody is your "friend or family"
  • Unless I sit next to you at Christmas Dinner, I am going to charge you regular pricing for any super-fabulous-totally-custom design
  • Learn the word "no" and use it when you need to
  • Have a contract that outlines your services and exactly what you'll be delivering (I am working on mine right now!)

So there you have it - the three main themes of which I've learned most of my small business lessons. My main themes were Theme #1 - Rushing Isn't Always Good; Theme #2 - Test Things Out and Theme #3 - Learning to Say No. Like I said in the introductory post, I'm not highlighting mistakes I've made in a way to put myself, or anybody else down. I'm actually doing it for the opposite reason - hopefully you'll be able to learn from these mistakes, or maybe they seem familiar already and you have your own ways for dealing with them.

The point of this mini-series is to show that mistakes happen, we learn from them and hone our business practices so that the same mistakes don't continue to happen. I'd love to hear your input on if this mini series has been helpful, and if you have any experiences you'd like to add.


  1. This is the hardest one for me! It has taken me a couple of years practicing the word "no" to actually use it!

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