8 things I’ve learnt about business from being a freelance web designer

There are some lessons in life that you can only learn from personal failure and experience. Over my 9 years as a freelance web designer I made a lot of mistakes along the way but I also learnt a thing or two which have been invaluable lessons that I will always take with me into any business venture going forward.

Here are 8 things I’ve learnt and hopefully they can help you on your own business journey.

1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

When I first started out doing web design, I didn’t really know my way around code very well. I’m pretty good at “faking it ’til you make it” so I managed to land some hotshot clients pretty early on, but then fell short when I didn’t know how to do the things they were requesting. So I outsourced the work, which is no problem, however you need to have an outstanding relationship with the people you’re outsourcing to if you plan on putting your trust in them to meet client deadlines.

If they decide to take the week off or stop answering their phone, or in my case, just take your money and not actually do the work, it’s you who’s in the shit with your client, not them. Before you take on any sort of project that is ‘bigger than you’ so to speak, make sure you’re setup nicely with a team of people who you are willing to put your trust in.

2. No, your customer is not always right

Aaah the well known customer service slogan that business diploma students like to quote: “the customer is always right”. I strongly disagree with this statement and at Wordcamp Cape Town 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Lema and he solidified this point for me. Watch this 1 minute video below to hear his argument.

If I’m being hired to design a website, it needs to have a purpose and it’s my job to find out what that purpose is and work out the most efficient way to make that happen.

Firstly, when a client sits down and starts dictating to me how they want their website to work and I know that what they’re suggesting is a dumb move and isn’t going to work, then I feel it’s my job to gently inform them of that fact and suggest an alternative, more user-friendly solution.

Secondly, if I decide to shut up because “the customer is always right” and is paying me to do the job, then I’ll ultimately land up creating something that isn’t going to reach it’s intended goals and that’s not going to turn my client into a walking advertisement for me and my business. Don’t compromise your integrity because a client is trying to force you into a corner.

Only do work that is in line with your values and only work with people who believe in you enough to trust your judgement.
(It’s a tweetable!)

My clients often value when I push back because a) they trust me, and b) they know I’m only doing it because I have their own interests at heart.
~ Chris Lema

3. It’s your job to get paid

If there’s one thing I’ve become really good at, it’s getting paid. After a number of bad experiences I’m now a 50% upfront girl all the way and if you don’t like that, then you can find someone else. It’s not cheeky, it’s business.

That is my number 1 rule, no matter how many times I’ve worked with a client. If a client is umming and aahing about payment before they’ve even decided to hire you, you can be guaranteed you’ll be fighting for your money at the end of the day.

The 50% rule tells your client that they’re on your turf now and they’ve hired you to do a job because they trust you and they know you’re worth it. It’s your job to let your website do the talking and prove to them that this is the case by using real life testimonials or client case studies. And if you’re upfront about your terms and conditions in a friendly manner from the start, then most people don’t tend to have a problem with it.

It’s also a good way to cover your hours as a freelancer, especially when starting out. For example, imagine a new web designer takes on 3 clients in January. Let’s hypothetically say a website takes 4 weeks to complete. If he/she works their ass off they could possibly complete all 3 websites in those 4 weeks. However, now they have to wait for client feedback. It could be weeks before final sign off and the actual websites going live. If he/she had collected a 50% deposit from all 3 clients, they wouldn’t have to stress about cash flow over the next few weeks and could take on more clients during the ‘waiting for feedback’ period.

4. Be honest

If you don’t have a particular skill which is common in your industry, be honest about it. For example, I often land up in convo’s with other web designers who are trying to show off by dropping terms like HTML5 and such. Or maybe they aren’t trying to show off and they just know more than me. Whatever, instead of nodding my head and pretending to understand what they’re going on about (which is what I used to do), I’ve learnt to be honest with them and say “actually I’ve heard of HTML5 but I haven’t experimented with it yet, sounds interesting“.

Sometimes you’ll have a similar thing with clients. They’ll call you up and drop some fancy lingo that they heard around the web and just have to have: “Yes, I’d like a jquery loading ajax accordian slideshow on the homepage which needs to auto hide on my mobi-site and change colour on my iPad“. Say whaaat?

Honesty from the start makes everything much easier in the long run. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, just be honest and say “I don’t quite understand what you mean, could you elaborate further so I’m clear on your request?“. Questions are good and help both parties understand the final details of the job.

5. On that note, ask questions even if you think you’ll look stupid

Sometimes I’d be sitting in a meeting with a potential new client and they’d be explaining their business to me. They’d say something like “so when the satellites are corresponding with the co-ordinators, we need them to be able to login to the website and check their facility application status”. For the client, this makes sense, but to me, it sounds like they need to be communicating with outerspace via the website.

Instead of allowing the client to continue, I always make sure to interrupt right then and there and ask them to clarify what exactly they mean by ‘satellite’. In this case, it turns out they just meant “office branch”. Phew, that saved me a lot of research…!

6. Clarity is key

It’s super important to make sure both parties are crystal clear as to what the job at hand entails AND what it doesn’t entail. Don’t just leave something out because you don’t offer it. Have a heading on your quotation that says “what’s included” and “what’s not included”. The clearer the better. It’s also a good idea to get signed copies of quotations / agreements, especially where larger amounts of money are involved.

7. Put yourself in their shoes

Sometimes your client will be having a shitty day. They might phone you up and be rude to you for no reason or send you an email with questions you’ve already answered. True, this is annoying, but if you take a moment to take a deep breath and respond with kindness and understanding, you’ll gain a little more self respect and maybe even turn their day around. (Of course if this is ongoing behaviour then it’s a different story.) You never know what someone else is going through that caused them to act the way they did so try not to let someone else’s bad day become yours.

8. And last but not least…

Trust your gut! If something feels off, it probably is! There have been soooo many times when I’ve had a bad feeling about something and not trusted myself. “Stop being paranoid, this is a great opportunity.” I would tell myself… and sure enough most of the time it would backfire in my face. I’m an advocate of thinking with your heart and not your head. Okay heart first, head second, you’re allowed to use your head.

Do you have any more tips of your own to add? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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10 reasons why being an Entrepreneur in Cape Town rocks!

Entrepreneur Cape TownI’ve always felt very grateful to actually be able to be an entrepreneur in this beautiful city we call our home. Being an entrepreneur definitely has its highs and lows, but for 90% of the time, it’s pretty awesome.

One of the most important things about working for yourself is learning to celebrate the small things so I decided to ask 10 Capetonian entrepreneurs why they think it rocks to be an entrepreneur in Cape Town and this is what they had to say, feel free to add your own reasons in the comments section below:

vickiI love being an entrepeneur in Cape Town because of the enthusiasm and energy one gets from other entrepreneurial creatives in the Mother City. I find it quite remarkable just how many innovators we have here in Cape Town – people who are constantly pushing the boundaries of design and small business.
Vicki Sleet – I Want That

claireCape Town offers so much to entrepreneurs from inspiration to escapes which entrepreneurs need from time to time. The mountains, the sea and beaches, the forest and different people and cultures provide ideas, inspiration and relaxation for entrepreneurs.
Claire Minnaar – Claire Minnaar

gregLocation, location, location. The three most important rules in where to open your business. Cape Town has it all. Beauty, passion, beaches, mountains, commerce and style. It’s an international playground, a lifestyle city, and a place I will always want to work from and call home.
Greg Bertish – True Blue Travel

vickiI guess the number one reason would be that I’m free to do what I want with my time. I love to paint at 4am or at 10pm and spend my day doing other things around Cape Town if need be. Being my own boss is the best, especially for a creative job like mine, there’s no one to crush my creative ideas and put their limitations on me. In a nutshell being an entrepreneur is FREEDOM, I love that I don’t have to think about being what someone else wants me to be. I’m free to be me, to explore my ideas, and to accomplish my own goals. But the best thing about being an entrepreneur is that I will always be in control of how much money I make.
Vicki Sanders – Vicki Sanders Art

tammyHaving the freedom to take leave or time off when it suits you, not necessarily for holidays but for the little things. To be able to schedule your day so that you can fit in a run on Table Mountain or a sundowner session on Clifton is definitely a highlight.
Tammy Hodgson – Tamsin Hodgson Physiotherapy

steveVisitors want to do things they can’t do at home and I created something, seal snorkeling, that is unique, accessible and personal. If you treat everyone well and over deliver on expectations and be honest you will do well.
Steve Benjamin – Seal Snorkeling

caraIn Cape Town, you have to work hard if you want to play hard. I often work late into the evenings compiling quotes, schedules and budgets for my clients, but this also means that I have the luxury of taking my dog for an hour long walk in the sunshine the next morning on one of our beautiful beaches.
Cara Lee – The Mosaic Wedding Company

robThe tech scene is really starting to heat up in Cape Town. There are more and more opportunities to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs at events ranging from niche meet-ups to big conferences.
Rob Hope – One Page Love

daveWork becomes a creative process; I’m relatively free to define my goals and there is also the pride in independently providing jobs to the Cape Town community.
Dave Jones – The Empire Café

alexBeing an entrepreneur is not always easy – living your passion is very rewarding but if you cannot balance the books at the end of the month or afford to do all the things that you want to… what is the point!? I find one of the best and most rewarding things about being an entrepreneur in Cape Town is when you can afford to do all the things you really want to do and you know that YOU made it happen and no one else! That is a very special feeling.
Alex Stewart – The Wedding Boutique

Are you a fellow Capetonian entrepreneur? Leave a comment below letting me know what the best thing about being an entrepreneur in Cape Town is for you.

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3 ways to make 2014 a better year than 2013

The start of a new year evokes different feelings for different people. Maybe you feel relieved that last year is over and done with and you’re excited to turn over a new leaf in 2014. Or maybe, you’re feeling anxious that time is flying by so quickly. Maybe you didn’t reach all your goals and you can’t believe it’s already 2014!

It’s all to easy to look around us and soak in the negative and allow that to become the lense in which we view the world through, but with a little effort, we can switch that around and learn to look at life with a more positive outlook which will ultimately affect our everyday reality.


Personally, I keep myself positive by consuming anything and everything Danielle LaPorte has to offer. I’m addicted to her message and it’s honestly what keeps me going as a solo entrepreneur and ‘freedom seeker’ so to speak.

Through Danielle I have discovered many other amazing people who continue to inspire me on a daily basis, so with this in mind, here are 3 ways to make 2014 a better year than 2013. Use it, don’t use it :)

1. The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel

“You can’t contract your way to freedom. You can’t punish your way to joy. You can’t fight your way to inner peace. The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.”
~ Danielle La Porte

Whatever you’re working towards in your future, whatever you’re dreaming of, make sure that the path you take to get there is an enjoyable one. It’s no good working your life away at a job you hate just because it pays well (but leaves you with no free time) for your entire life so that you can retire one day and only then start enjoying life. Now is what counts. You should aim to feel joy in every moment. Because you deserve that.

There’s nothing wrong with a little hard work or overtime to help you reach your dreams, but when it starts to take a continuous toll on your spirit, know that there is another way to get there. The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.

2. Make space for your future to show up

“You want to bring a committed, romantic love into your life? Then maybe you should break off the uncommitted stuff you’re doing ‘in the meantime’. Send a clear signal to life that you’re ready – and available – for what you really desire.”
~ Danielle La Porte

I’m into the over 30′s phase of my life now, so my friends and I tend to have these conversations about our future more often than not. I always find it interesting how many people seem to know exactly what they want in life, they know their dreams and they know exactly where they want to be, but the way they live their lives is the complete opposite of what they claim they really want.

It’s up to you to design your life in such a way that allows the future you’re dreaming of to show up and shine.

3. Fuck advice and listen to yourself

“Trust your journey and learn as much as possible through first-hand experiments. There’s more than one way to reach your goals, and you probably won’t even know you’re on the right path until you’re looking back at it.”
~ Everthing I Know, Paul Jarvis

Ironically, this is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read. Trust your gut and do what your heart is telling you to do – especially when it comes to making business decisions. (Well that’s my advice!)

Too often people make life changing decisions for the completely wrong reasons and years later they land up wishing they could turn back time. We are here to make mistakes and learn from them.

Making decisions based on how you feel, instead of what others are telling you to do, is a scary move. Stepping into the unknown and daring to fail might seem crazy to others, but as Neale Donald Walsch says – Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

Take a leap of faith and listen to your heart in 2014.
(It’s a tweetable!)

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8 Tips on choosing a memorable domain name for your small business

internetI decided to write something a little more practical today as I’ve been noticing a lot of new small businesses popping up lately.

The first thing you do is find a name for your business and the second thing you do is check to see whether that domain name is available, so here are 8 tips to help guide you towards making the right decision for your business.

1. Unique Domain Name

Try to get something that is unique and memorable. Don’t go for plurals or hyphenated versions of already popular websites, that’s just going to cause confusion.

2. Dot Com

If you can get the .com extension – do it. Even if you’re in South Africa and think you should go for the .co.za – my suggestion is to get them both if they’re both available and then set a forwarder on the .co.za to direct to the .com. Why? Because there are still a lot of people out there who will automatically assume that your website ends in a .com. It’s not the end of the world, but if it were me, I’d search for another domain name to avoid the confusion of only having the .co.za and then having another company own the .com.

3. Easy to spell

Your website address is going to determine your email address which means you’ll likely be giving it over the phone sometime in the future. “Sure send me an email to shannon@professionalintelligentdesigns.com” – is going to mean a lot of missed emails. Who even knows how many f’s or s’s are in the word professional? I just did a google search to check that I spelt it right.

4. Keep it short

On that note, the less letters in your domain name the better. If you’re doing any sort of online advertising, or even just printing out business cards, you’ll want your domain name to appear as large as possible. If you have something that’s really long, it’s going to be a difficult element to work with design wise. Especially in an advert or business card that runs vertically.

5. No numbers

Please, for the love of Miley Cyrus, no numbers in your domain name. Do you remember Mark Shuttleworth’s brand Hip2B2 – or is it Hip to be squared? There are so many possible options for a domain name here: hip2b2.com / hip2be2.com / hiptobesquared.com
It’s just silly. Avoid at all costs.

6. The X factor

Another favourite of mine is when people use the word extreme in their business name. Is it Xtreme or Extreme? And please avoid using triple x in your domain name, like xxxhomeloans.com – anything with xxx comes off sounding like a porn site.

7. The ‘the’ factor

Let’s say your business is called ‘Vegetarian Mom’ and the domain name www.vegetarianmom.com has been taken so you decide to register www.thevegetarianmom.com – this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but that means that you need to change your business name to include the ‘the’. Make sure all advertising material is very clear that your business is called ‘The Vegeterian Mom’ and not just ‘Vegetarian Mom’ or you’ll be sending clients directly to your competition.

8. Think long term

If you’re branding your business with your name, like if you’re a photographer and you decide to call your business www.jacksmithphotography.com – I would highly recommend rather going for www.jacksmith.com. If you decide to expand your business in the future and perhaps offer other services, then you won’t be tied to that photography domain name.

Do you have any other tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments area below.

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