Hi, I’m Jennifer Hood, I’m the owner/operator of Underscore Solutions Web Development and Consulting. In short, I build websites for a living.

When I was asked to submit a blog post for the WBN, I decided to go back to the beginning (a very good place to start), and reflected upon my first year of business and the lessons I learned.

I spent the first few months of business creating a business plan and getting my portfolio together. Once my own business’ website was completed, I brought all of my social media outlets up to date, and then basically started shaking my tree as hard as I could. I waited until my website was complete and until I felt I had my ‘pitch’ down pat before really making noise about my new business, because I knew that I only had 1 chance at making a first impression, and I wanted it to be a good one.

Feeling ready to put myself out there, I shook and shook and shook… and then I waited and shook some more. Hey! Look at me! I’m starting a business!!! Soon enough, little bits of fruit started to fall. First it was a designer I had worked with in the past, then an ex-colleague, then a random acquaintance on LinkedIn and so on and so on. Next thing I knew I was running a bonafide business with clients, deadlines, bills, and everything else that comes with it.

There were a few important lessons I learned in my first year.

5 things I learned in my first year of business

1. Presentation is key.

You need to look good in every aspect of your business. I spend significant time working on any kind of collateral that makes it into the hands of potential clients. From proposals, to presentations, to my business website – it’s important for everything I put out there to look professional, and to give the impression that I am a competent business person who can be trusted with big budgets.

You want to always look organized and on-top of things, and details like using proper grammar and spelling in emails can do that, as well as your personal appearance and projecting an air of confidence no matter how hard it can be.

2. Get a bookkeeper.

Basically, hire people to do things you can’t do, or that will take you too much time to learn.

It was at about month 6 into my business where I realized that my spread-sheet system was going to fail me miserably. My records were becoming unmanageable and I knew that if I didn’t do something about it soon, it was only going to get worse. I spent a day trying to fiddle with book-keeping software when I knew that my time would be better spent focusing on what I do best (building websites).

So, I bit the bullet, made the investment and booked a meeting with an accountant in town. Now, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m properly tracking everything for my taxes at the end of the year, or spending too much of my money. All I have to do is walk into my accountant/bookkeeper’s office and drop a pile of paper on her desk, and she’ll do the rest.

3. Build relationships.

By this I mean to always be sure to take the time to listen to your client. If it’s been awhile, I’ll pick up the phone, and call my client, just to check-in and see how things are going. They are people, and the better they know you, the more they trust you, and the easier your job is.

I can tell you that I’ve missed a deadline or two, and it’s a lot easier to break the news to your client when you’re talking with them on a regular basis and keeping them in the loop on what’s going on. By consequence, the ones you talk to the most frequently are also the ones who are more likely to pay you on time, and are willing to trust you with more work – which is an obvious bonus.

4. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, whether they are some of the people in your life or the voices in your head. There are so many times I’ve felt discouraged and that I wasn’t good enough. Instead of getting discouraged, come up with a plan B. If what you’re doing isn’t working, then change your tactics, modify your business plan, spend less time telling yourself you’re going to fail, and more time figuring-out how you’re going to work through challenges and deal with potential calamities.

5. Finally, find good people to work with and keep them close, because your network is your greatest asset. There is no way I’d be where I am, if not for the people I met throughout my years of doing web development and now, the people I’ve been encountering in this adventure of self-employment.

Jennifer Hood
Underscore Solutions Web Development and Consulting