About Ramona: I am a self-taught web designer, who’s currently running a small business and also caring for my 1 year and a half girl. Back in high-school, I was preparing to become a teacher (went to college with the same thing in mind), but spent 10 years doing radio shows at a local studio (another huge dream of mine), while getting hooked on anything web related and turning this into a new career and business.
As you can guess, my story is still writing itself, I did achieve a lot of my previous financial dreams, I can work from home and dedicate as much time as needed to my family, we have traveled a lot and overall we are doing well. It’s not been smooth sailing though, I have spent tens of thousands of hours honing my skills, failing and then trying again, learning as much as I could about my specialty and also everything finance related.
Somewhere in 2000 I decided that Economy was something I really dreaded (so I gave up my place at the local Uni, choosing The Letters Faculty instead). Here I am, after a decade, running a business and learning about money. Weird enough, I don’t find it boring anymore.
Here are the TOP mistakes I have made with my small business so far. If you have others in your own list, please feel free to comment and share your experience:
Small Business Mistake no.1: Not starting earlier
My web design career started in 2002, when I created my first web site. It was a small Romanian website about Karate (a new found passion of mine), created by me from scratch.
Having a lot of time on my hands and almost no money forced me to learn graphic and web design on my own.
In the first year I didn’t even own a computer, so I’d just stay longer at the radio station (I was working as a radio DJ) and spend 2-3 more hours tweaking my small project. My boyfriend (now my husband) gave me his old PC and then I was able to purchase a laptop (got a 3 year loan for it).
In about 2 years since starting becoming almost obsessed with web design, my (now) brother in law asked me to design his company web site. He was my first ever client (paying client, even) and he told me something I should have listened carefully “girl, you have a huge talent. You should start your web design business“.
I thought he was crazy to say so, even if he was a successful business man. But I was raised to be a great employee, I feared my business would flop etc. So I just ignored the advice.
It took me 3 more years (2007) to finally register my small LTD, but I still didn’t pursue it full time (had a well paying job in the radio industry).
I had to lose my job, get into huge debt and see absolutely no way to escape this nightmare to finally muster the guts to pursue my new venture full time and never look back.
It’s been a tremendous journey, I’ve done great and there’s nothing else I’d rather do than work for my web design clients and run my small web sites.
Lesson: NEVER put off starting a small business, if you feel like it’s something you’d want to do. Even if you start small, START and stop postponing this. I cannot imagine where I’d be in my industry if I started seriously at least in 2007, if not in 2004.
Small Business Mistake no.2: not keeping an eye on my budget
When registering my company, I had to choose between an LLC and registering myself as an individual. In this case, though the taxes were way smaller, I’d have to also present a web design diploma.
Which was difficult to produce, provided I had no formal schooling in this area (The Letters Faculty is clearly not cutting it). I could have taken a 2 month course, but I was too proud to be taught by someone who had absolutely no clue about the latest practices in graphic / web design.
Of course, I could have swallowed my pride and just go get that diploma, choose the less expensive company form and save A LOT of money.
As you can guess, I got myself an LLC, which here, in Romania, means I need to hire an accountant (and she has to be paid monthly), I need to keep a ton of paperwork and pay a lot of taxes.
I also went shopping-crazy as soon as the company was finally formed, got myself a big printer / scanner / copier, new office desk. Let’s say that the printer stayed unused for 6 years, until we finally used it.
Lesson: ALWAYS stick to a very strict budget. Don’t go overspending, try to find tax exemptions, when possible.
One good thing I did though, compared to other people who run similar businesses in my city, was to work from home and not get a city office. That would have increased my overhead and probably bankrupt my small business.
Keeping my business as small as it is also allowed me to thrive during recession, since my costs were small and I could easily cover them.
Small Business Mistake no.3: not getting more organized
Most of the time my mind is very scattered and this meant forgetting deadlines and even missing a client appointment. I was lucky that said client was an old friend of mine, so he didn’t mind, but I was still ashamed.
So I purchased myself a ‘regular’ agenda and started writing down.
Deadlines were no longer ‘surprising’ me, I never missed any appointments and it was easier to schedule and plan for my web design work.
I am currently using Asana to track my work, since it’s tasks based and it’s easier to manage. I have tried various other solutions, but writing all my tasks down and planning the work would take too much time. Asana allows me to just track my tasks and not waste too much time with the planning process.
Lesson: whatever you choose: get yourself some sort of a planning environment. Whether it’s a pen and paper agenda, a tablet / smartphone app, a server based project management program or a PC software, writing down your tasks and planning your work will help you become more productive and deliver greater work.
Small Business Mistake no.4: pricing myself too low
Back in 2009, when I lost my job, I initially tried to get a web designer job at a local studio. But they’ve gone bankrupt and decided to work from home. One of the owners told me to create a web design portfolio and start bidding on freelancing sites.
My first rates were SO small that I had to work 14 hours/day to pay my bills, taxes and the car loan. After 3-4 months of overworking myself, it became clear to me that I had to increase my rates.
I slowly did it and it allowed me to earn more money, while working less hours a day.
The problem with starting with very small prices is that you feel discomfort when charging more, even if everybody (you and the clients), know it should be done.
One thing that made me reconsider my prices (besides working 14 hours/day to make a living) was having few clients who thought I’m doing a bad job, that’s why I ask for so little. In my Elance (now UpWork) heydays, I had at least 3-4 clients who were this close to not hiring me because of my small prices.
Fortunately they did reach out and told me that everything looked wonderful in my portfolio / profile (also the 5 star ratings), but they couldn’t explain the low rates. I explained that I was actually trying to build up my business and I also live in a country (Romania), where we don’t need such huge wages to make a living.
Lesson learned, I did increase my prices and got better clients and also more money.
Pricing yourself higher is no easy feat, I have slowly increased my rates and there is still a lot to be tweaked in that department. But it’s an important step to make, so don’t sell your services for too low.
Small Business Mistake no.5: failing to delegate properly
I could easily list this as my BIGGEST business mistake of all. While I have realized that doing it all by myself is not possible, it took me many years to start delegating few of the many tasks I have to take care on a daily basis.
My main income comes from my web design clients, so this means doing a lot of graphic design work (logos, mockup designs, banner designs etc.) and then coding responsive themes for their blogs / web sites. I also run a small network of sites – meaning content, promotion, mailing lists, products to be created etc.
While some of my work cannot (and will not) be outsourced, since it has to bear my ‘signature’, there are many maintenance, coding or advertising tasks I could easily delegate. This would free up some of my time and allow me to take on more clients, create better products and promote more.
Lesson: if you can delegate a time-consuming task, do it. The time you don’t spend on these can be better used for more productive work.
Small Business Mistake no.6: not focusing better
In my previous ‘lesson’ I have mentioned about my small sites network. It’s small now (3 very active ones and 4-5 that are under slow development). Back in the day (2008-2010) I was the happy owner of 40 active sites. Yes, you read it well: 40.
How could someone run 40 web sites (20 of them were forums, I had few directories, blogs etc.) and still get some results?
Apparently it wasn’t an easy task and I didn’t get such thrilling results either.
Yes, I did monetize few of them, yes, I did get a TON of experience (both in forum / blog management), yes I got to meet a lot of amazing people who were members in my communities and taught me a lot as well.
But it didn’t mean I was spending my time wisely.
My hourly rate was horribly small (compared to the amount of work I put in all these web sites) and the lack of focus meant it was difficult to actually get the web sites off the ground properly and earn big bucks.
The moment I got pregnant, I realized it’s impossible to still work 12 hours a day and also take care of my baby.
So I closed down most of them, I sold few and made my ‘main’ network slim and effective. Two blogs (my Romanian blog, which is my biggest site and the main client funnel for my business), the personal finance blog and my portfolio web site.
Since making this cut, it allowed me to create better content, get some strategies in place and get some pretty nice results.
Lesson: don’t spread yourself too thinly. Find out what exactly you need to do in order to become successful in your business and focus like a laser. Don’t stray from your path, do your job and do it well.
Bonsu Mistake! – not caring about email lists
I have a small confession to make: I hate getting emails, so it’s the reason I have VERY few subscriptions. As you can guess, I judged all my site visitors by my ‘standards’ and failed to implement such things on my web sites.
You probably think it’s crazy to not get in touch with my potential clients and I agree. It’s a huge mistake I am currently trying to make up for.
Lesson: make sure your web site does have an email list subscription. Send valuable content to your subscribers, give them the best you can and nurture your relationship. These are your future clients.
These are my biggest business mistakes so far. What else would you add up to this list? What were your biggest ‘blunders’?