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I’ve been running my own design business for two-and-a-half years now.

In the grand scheme of business (where a lot of people have been doing this for 40+ years now!), I’m still a newbie – but there’s a lot of ways that I’ve grown during this time as a business owner and as a person.

Owning a business hasn’t been easy. At times it’s been emotional, stressful, and there may have been a few nights where I’ve cried into a box of Oreos and sworn that I was done with being a designer forever. However, each time I felt discouraged, I remembered that the business I was building was mine and nobody else’s.

After two-and-a-half years, I can say with confidence that choosing to work for myself was the right decision and that it has been worth every struggle to get to this point. Maybe that’s the effects of Stockholm Syndrome seeping in, but there it is nonetheless.

I’ve been flipping through my journals these past couple weeks to look for my top takeaways. These are the nuggets of wisdom that I would want shared with me if I were starting up a new business.

  1. Take good care of yourself first

You can only take care of your business after you’ve taken good care of yourself. There’s been a lot of push in self-help/productivity/life-hacking writing to keep personal and business lives in their own boxes. In most cases I would agree with that, but it’s important to remember that it takes a healthy balance of both.

When you’ve built a business, there’s a hefty level of ownership and personal investment. To try and divide business and personal lives completely is often a colossal and frustrating waste of time. The better approach is to create healthy habits and care for both, because, you are your business and your business can provide personal fulfillment for you.

Taking care of myself means having a morning and an evening routine. When I wake up, I take time to meditate, drink coffee, write in my journal, and plan out the rest of my day. In the evening, I set a hard time limit of 5:30 p.m. to stop working, so I can make dinner with my partner and enjoy the rest of the day.

Some days I feel like I can’t take that time – that I need to work from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. to make sure that I never miss a deadline. But I’ve found that when my mind is rested and focused, I can do better work from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. than if I worked longer hours.

Remember, you can always work harder and make more money, but you can never get back time spent. “Taking care of yourself” looks different for everyone, but discovering that for yourself will involve thinking about how you want to use your time. Time is your most precious resource, so use it wisely.

  1. Don’t be afraid of business contracts

Creating a contract for your business doesn’t have to be daunting and scary. Use Proposify, and research free contracts available online for your type of business. Work with a copywriter if you’ve got the budget for it. Once you’ve got the information and language down (keep it friendly and concise!), work with a lawyer to make sure you’ve got proper protections.

Don’t be afraid of clients giving push-back on your contract (the best ones usually won’t in the first place). If anyone gives you crap about having an agreement in place, calmly explain how it’s a benefit to the both of you. If they give you crap after that, just move on.

Never forget that every time you give a bad client “one more chance,” you’re not giving a chance to one of the hundreds of other clients there who will appreciate you and want to work with you to create something incredible.

Then finally, and for me, the most important lesson… 3. JUST DO THE WORK!

It might seem self-explanatory, but I cannot begin to estimate the amount of time I’ve wasted planning what I wanted to do without taking action. If I had to describe my Achilles heel it’s this: planning as a form of procrastinating.

The root of that bad habit is a fear of failure. I often tell myself “the better planned something is, the less likely it is to fail,” but the true motivation is more often something like “if I don’t start on this plan, I can’t fail at it.” The scary thing is that, if left unchecked, procrastination planning gives you an excuse when you run out of time. “It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t have enough time” can lead to some really bad habits.

I need to remind myself every day that while planning is important, it’s only worthwhile if it leads to faster/better/smarter action. Whenever I find myself planning to avoid working I think of one of my business/design mentors, Bianca Board, looking at what I’m doing over my shoulder, then giving me a good kick in the shins and telling me to “DO THE WORK!”

That usually does it.

A new year is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the past, and move forward while being informed by the experience gained. I hope that what I’ve had to share from my experiences has been helpful, and I wish you the best with your own business!

 

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Collin Belt
Collin Belt is the Chief Design Strategist & Founder of Ice Nine, a design strategy studio that helps businesses and agencies skyrocket their inbound leads through web strategy, and deliver stunning proposals with killer close rates using Proposify. Collin is also a tech enthusiast, highly-caffeinated Starbucks addict, and champion for business owners everywhere. He can be reached a variety of ways: email: contact@iceninestudios.com; phone: +1 778-300-0648; twitter: http://twitter.com/collinmbelt; facebook: http://www.facebook.com/collinmbelt/.