12 Things I Learned in 12 Months of Business

Anybody that follows Canny Creative across social media will know that it was our birthday a few weeks ago. One whole year in business. Celebrations were had, with drinks and curry down on Newcastle Quayside. However, we also thought it would be good to share with the readers of the Canny Creative blog twelve things we’ve learned across the course of our first year in business, one thing we’ve learned for every month that we’ve been active.

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Canny Creative started in October 2012, so I’ll take it from there, something I learned each and every month. I’m sure there could be a “What I Learned Each Day for a Year” type post, but let’s start with 12 things and see how we get on!

1. A Lot of Decisions Are Hard to Make (October 2012)

When I started Canny Creative, it didn’t have a name. It didn’t have a web presences (site, social media accounts etc) and it didn’t have any customers. I had ideas, I had some prospective clients and I had a metric ton of decisions to make.

Naming a business isn’t an easy task. I had lists upon lists of names for what became Canny Creative. I had suggestions from friends and family “just use your own name” and “call it something beginning with A so you’re the top of the Yellow Pages” were two suggestions that I remember vividly. Literally, I had sketches and notepads full of ideas about naming a new creative design agency.

After settling on a name, I had to settle on a domain, a Twitter handle, whether I should have two separate Twitter accounts for myself and for the business etc. At the time, I opted to go for one account, now, I’m on the verge of splitting my social media across two entities.

When you start a new business, you have decisions to make in abundance. Sometimes, you get it right, other times, you don’t. As long as you go in with conviction and learn from your mistakes, you can fix most things you get wrong!

2. Don’t Ever Stop Marketing Yourself (November 2012)

Starting in the October of 2012 was probably a bad business decision from the off. I was (unknowingly/stupidly) starting up at a point in the year when things get quiet for businesses that don’t sell Christmas related goods or services.

I started the ball rolling fairly well, with some of the prospective leads I mentioned earlier becoming a selection of my first clients. They lasted me through until the end of November/start of December. As I had been so busy with clients, I’d forgotten to market myself and my business. This was a big mistake that I needed to fix straight away.

You have to be thinking more than one thing at once when you run your own start-up. My mind was only on creating great work for my existing clients, which isn’t a bad thing. However, you can’t forget or neglect to look ahead a little bit and prepare some work for when your current projects come to their conclusion.

3. Take Time Off, Everybody Else Does (December 2012)

Take Time Off Over Christmas

Heading into the Christmas season, I didn’t have a lot of work on the cards. I was panicking a little about keeping my family afloat through the Winter months and I couldn’t put my business to one side, not even on Christmas day.

It’s important to take away from your business, for the sake of yourself and your family and friends. It allows you to spend some quality time with the important people in your life and lets your batteries recharge. It also pins in your mind the exact reason you work so hard for the other 51 weeks of the year.

There’s no point in trying to work over Christmas and New Year as everybody else winds down anyway. I was firing off emails in the week between Christmas Day and New Years Day and I wasn’t getting any replies until the first or second week of January. Take time off, just make sure you’ve worked hard for the rest of the year and wound your business down before the holidays. Everybody else takes time off and spends time with their loved ones, you should too.

4. Managing Two Companies Full Time is Practically Impossible (January 2013)

Canny Creative struggled heading into 2013, so I took on another company called DesignForums.co.uk. The idea was to spend my down time running another website, selling advertising to earn myself some passive income.

However, what I didn’t account for was how I would run this other website when I was busy. From the outset, I got lucky. I invested £1000 into DesignForums.co.uk and almost immediately made it back by selling adverts on the site. This got me out of a hole straight away as it allowed me not to worry about making back my initial outlay.

The problem with running two enterprises is that it splits your already precious time down further. When I took over Design Forums, Canny Creative started to really pick up. I let Design Forums fall a little by the wayside and it quietened down over there (not a good thing for a web forum.) Eventually, I brought in somebody else to take half of my share and to help with the day to day running of the site. This took some of the pressure off me and allowed me to focus on the running of Canny Creative.

Running two businesses is very tricky and I’d only recommend even attempting it once you’ve gotten to grips with the running of your first business. Looking back it made no sense for me to take on another project at the time, but the opportunity appeared to be too good to miss. And, I liked the fact I could call myself “a serial entrepreneur.” You shouldn’t let trivial things like this take precedent over your business brain.

5. Keeping Your Blog Up to Date is Important (February 2013)

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to blog more frequently as I had previously neglected my design blog. Running a blog is a great way to encourage potential clients and customers to engage with your website on a regular basis.

I started to blog semi-regularly early in 2013 and noticed the huge traffic and search engine rank increase straight away. Blogging quality share-able content was making the Canny Creative site cruise up the search engine rankings and following some SEO tips and tricks really helped out too.

Combining marketing channels can really make your business tick. Blogging and content marketing is a great strategy that also has a knock on effect on your SEO. My post “How Much Does Logo Design Cost?” is responsible for a high amount of my web traffic and has lead to multiple leads and projects. Blogging is not to be ignored.

6. Be Rigid With Your Contracts (March 2013)

Be Rigid With Your Contracts

Up until March 2013, all of my clients had been great. Timely payers, open to ideas, no qualms or queries and then inevitably, I got my fingers burned.

Just as things were on the up for Canny Creative, I met one client for a coffee and he had a great vibe to him. We talked for hours about his project and what work we could do together. We were both excited about the project. He was so enthusiastic that he paid 50% of the project up front in cold hard cash after our meeting. This lead me to not using a contract and following my own rules. I did the work on his branding, showed him everything and things were going great.

However, shortly after showing him the work, he disappeared off the face of the earth. I had no signed contract, no other way of contacting him than email and telephone. He got back in touch “I’ll pay, I’ll pay.” Six months later, there’s still money outstanding on his account. I know that I’ll never get the money now, and I also know that not taking all of the clients details and getting a signed contract is a mistake that I’ll never make again.

7. It’s OK to Turn Down Projects (April 2013)

In April, I had several big projects on the go. I was getting semi-regular work inquiries and was blown away by my web statistics and traffic. At some point during April I was approached to work on a project that didn’t set well with me morally or professionally.

If this work had come along earlier in Canny’s existence, I would have jumped at the chance. The project was quite well financed and would’ve seen me producing regular work. However, I was in a position where I could turn down the work without fear of going bankrupt.

Turning down the work left my diary open for another big project…

8. Landing £10,000 Projects Feels Good (May 2013)

I didn’t have too much time to think about turning down my first project. A few days after I’d turned the work down, my phone rang and I talked to a prospective client that had a big idea. The client was enthusiastic, the project sounded exciting and the money was good.

I’d not worked on any project above £2000 before I landed this particular client. When the conversation got around to the financial breakdown and the project was approved at near £10,000, I was ecstatic. I didn’t think that in my first year of trading that I’d be landing projects substantial enough to impress some of my well off friends.

Landing a £10k project felt amazing. Somebody wanted to pay me £10,000 of their hard earned money to brand their company and build their website. I was making this money off my own back and it reaffirmed why I started Canny Creative in the first place. I refused to be reliant on somebody else for money, and taking in projects that pay some people’s wage for the year gave me a huge buzz.

9. When You Go On Holiday, Things Don’t Stop (June 2013)

When You Go On Holiday Things Don't Stop

The £10,000 project was due to start at the beginning of July, meaning I went off to Tenerife in June feeling very happy with myself. I didn’t bother to wind Canny Creative’s projects down before I took my holiday. In fact, I was taking on work up until the day before I went away.

Whilst I was away I sneaked some WiFi access and checked my mailbox. Wow. People didn’t know I was on holiday and they wanted their work. I also had a flurry of inquiries whilst I was out of the country. I don’t really know what I expected when I went on holiday without letting my clients know. Lesson learned. Wind things down before you go away. And definitely don’t take jobs on that you can’t complete within the agreed time frame!

10. Sometimes, Clients Are Idiots (July 2013)

I returned from my family holiday to a full inbox. I spent a good few days returning emails, phone calls and sifting through new inquiries. The big project was underway without a hitch and things were steadily picking up for Canny Creative. The projects were getting bigger and more involved and I was really enjoying things. Until one particular client came along.

One client that had a big branding project for me became a pain in my backside for the duration of the summer. Up until this point (excluding the non-payer) all of my clients had been a dream; open to suggestions, great at paying and not constantly on the phone at all hours of the day. This guy however, was different. Phonecalls at 11.30pm on a weeknight and consistent weekend phonecalls (after reminding the client that I spend weekends with my family) really started to annoy me.

Sometimes, you take on a project knowing it’ll be a tricky one and challenging yourself is great. Even dealing with tricky clients can turn into a positive experience. This however just wore me down to the ground. In the end, the project ended up looking fantastic, even though the client wouldn’t listen to any advice or suggestions. Micromanaging clients that ring at unexpected hours of the day really start to grind you down. However, I did learn several lessons from dealing with this particular client, one of them being; screen all of yours calls outside of working hours!

11. When Things Get Busy, They Get Really Busy (August 2013)

Canny Creative started off quite slowly, but a few well timed blog posts and some great recommendations from clients gave my business “the snowball effect.” Now, you can’t complain about being busy, but you really really do need to be prepared.

At one point over the course of the summer, I was juggling eight projects at one time. I was also still running DesignForums.co.uk, an almost impossible task for just one person. Preparation and time management is key when you’re rushed off your feet. At one point I contemplated bringing in a virtual assistant to manage my calendar/email inbox so I could focus on my work.

I am quite organised in my daily life and this fed well into a busy business environment. I dread to think what would have happened if I wasn’t naturally organised. I would have definitely succumbed to the pressure and had some of crazy work related meltdown that involved crying at my desk. Fortunately, I managed to avoid that and on this occasion, came up with a smile on my face.

12. Keep Your Portfolio Updated! (September 2013)

My work status throughout the summer could be described as “beyond busy.” The sheer amount of client work that was coming my way prevented me from writing great blog content. It also stopped me from keeping the Canny Creative portfolio up to date.

One thing that needs to be up to date is your portfolio. Prospective clients don’t want to see old work. They want to see your most recent and most exciting examples of work. In September, things were still busy, but I started to factor in one day a week to work on Canny Creative, rather than in it.

Every Monday, I complete admin tasks, publish blog posts, go heavy on social media and try and upload some of my latest work to the Canny Creative portfolio. When I started doing this, I hadn’t updated my portfolio in over six months. However, as soon as I’d uploaded several new projects, I noticed a big jump in the number of inquiries I was receiving. Keeping your work fresh and relevant is a big task, but it’s something that must be done to keep your inquiries coming.

Working for yourself is great. Not being reliant on anybody else to make money is one of the best feelings in the world. However, it can be hard (sometimes impossible) going. You have to knuckle down and do everything you can to the best of your ability to give your business the best chance of success. Even though Canny Creative is one year old now, I am 100% sure that I will learn a million more things in my time running my own business. Thankfully, I love learning and welcome hints and tips with open arms.

Have you learned anything through running your own business? Do you have comments to share about being self employed? Why not drop me a comment below?

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Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.


16 comments on “12 Things I Learned in 12 Months of Business

  1. Paula @ Printsome on

    Hi Tony! Loved the article… and would agree to most of what you described. All good lessons, good points! 🙂 Speak soon!

  2. Hayley on

    Thanks for this great advice. Having just set up on my own freelancing graphic design its a scary world out there. Nothing like the secure world of being employed. My first few months seem to reflect what you experienced. Also good to know what could be ahead and things to watch out for.
    A good read.
    Good luck to many more years ahead!


  3. Christina Saccoh on

    Brilliant article! I started in August and it’s fairly quiet which can leave you demotivated. So thanks for an insight into how quickly things can change. Some great tips that I will be following!


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