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7 Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way, So You Don’t Have To

7 Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way, So You Don’t Have To

If you’ve read any of my work before, then you know that I left the world of law enforcement to become a self-employed, full-time writer. It hasn’t been the easiest of transitions to make, but I have learned a lot of lessons along the way. Lessons that make me better in business because of them.

As my ultimate goal as a writer is to help others live better lives, I’d like to share my top seven realizations with you in the hopes that you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Certainly, these aren’t going to be the last things that I learn (or mistakes that I make), so prepare to have more articles like this from me in the future.

In the meantime though, here is what my short time being in business for myself has taught me:

Lesson #1: You have to pick your battles. It isn’t always worth it to be right.

Just last night I received a message from a client that involved paying me less than what we agreed upon as they were stopping the project mid-stream. After having already completed the content they requested, my first instinct was to fight for the money I earned. I had already put in hours of work, so why shouldn’t I be paid for it?

However, I learned early on that being “right” can cost you. In this particular instance, if I chose to stand my ground and demand the money we had previously agreed upon, it would have likely cost me a bad review which could ultimately affect my livelihood down the road. So, the real question was, was it worth the risk?

I decided it wasn’t and that it was better to eat a little loss in an effort to protect my reputation online. Certainly, I wouldn’t have made the same decision if it was a large amount of money that I was being denied, but in this case, it was better to let it slide than to risk hindering future clients from hiring me down the road.

Lesson #2: Not-so-positive feedback can help you identify your weaknesses, but also your strengths.

I strive to provide the best customer service in the freelance writing industry, so it only made sense to reach out to one of my top clients and ask how they felt about my service. What I expected back was something along the lines of “We couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with you!” In fact, I was even okay with some constructive criticism about how I could make things better for them. What I got was much different.

They were more than happy with my content and my quick turnaround, but they did mention they would like it at a lower price. How can I argue with that? I would like my expenses reduced as well.

But it did make me think about my rates and whether I was, in fact, charging the appropriate amount. After doing some research, I determined that I’m still much cheaper than most in my field. Therefore, even though the feedback wasn’t what I had expected, it did reaffirm that my prices are more than fair, which I consider to be a good thing.

Lesson #3: Going above and beyond for your clients is usually good, but not always.

One of the things that set me apart from my competitors is that I am willing to do little extras, or things that weren’t expected as part of my service. Normally this would be a positive, but sometimes it can actually work against you.

A client who had hired me to do lots of work for him wanted me to take on one more project. He had written a book and wanted me to edit it. He had contacted a major book publisher prior to hiring me and needed someone to make the corrections they suggested. No problem.

Not only did I make the corrections that he asked, but I also did a slightly more in-depth edit, treating the book as if it were my own. Nothing too major in my eyes, just moving a few words around or inputting ones that projected more meaning.

I was excited to send it back to him and dazzle him with all of the extra work I had done. His response was certainly “Wow!” but not in the good way. He felt as if I had somehow removed his personality from the book, thereby creating him more work.

I learned a very important lesson from this. Even though I thought I was doing him a big favor, he didn’t see it that way. Therefore, in the future I will save myself (and my clients) a lot of time by asking if they mind if I do certain extras. (Just for the record, he was ultimately okay with what I did, just a little taken aback. Shock isn’t always the best business tactic.)

Lesson #4: If something feels wrong, it usually is. So correct it before it grows too big.

You know when you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you something is wrong, but you just can’t put a finger on it? You should always listen to it, because clearly your mind has picked up on something that just hasn’t registered yet.

I’ve taken jobs with clients that I knew wouldn’t be favorable for me in the end, but I ignored my inner being with the hopes I was wrong. Most of the time I wasn’t. It has cost me time and money, and perhaps worst of all, created a lot of stress.

Now if something doesn’t feel right about a client contacting me to work with them, I listen to it and respectfully decline. I have learned to trust my gut and not enter into a work relationship that doesn’t sit well with me from day one.

Lesson #5: The best way to get clients to hire you is to get them to imagine their life being better, happier, or more complete by having you in it.

When I first started out as a freelance writer, I would tell potential clients why they should hire me. I would share that I had been trained by a million-dollar marketer and that I had learned the secrets to successful copy. I would provide all of my education and experience that made me the perfect candidate for the job. But I didn’t get hired as often as I would have liked. Why? Because it was all about me and not about them.

In the end, most clients don’t care about you. They care about themselves. They want to know how you’re going to make their life better, happier, or more complete by being in it. Isn’t that what we all look for when hiring a service or buying a product? What it can do for us?

Now when I submit job proposals I help the client envision me in their lives and them with a huge smile on their face because of it. This has landed me more jobs than I have lost, so I hope it does the same for you too.

Lesson #6: If you want to be happy, set your price based on what value you put on your time.

Deciding what to charge for your product or service is a major undertaking. You want to assess an amount that people will pay, but you can’t afford to give away your time either. What are you to do?

Certainly, the market has a lot to say in regard to what your rates, prices, or fees are, but, ultimately it is up to you to set your own. Besides, if you can justify why yours are higher than your competitors, you will likely get what you’re asking for.

There are price ranges for everything. For instance, you can buy a pair of tennis for $9.99 or you can spend in the thousands. The question is, what they are worth to you?

The same is true with the rates that you are going to charge for your product or service. While you need to keep the market demands in mind, setting your prices too low will only leave you feeling deflated and abused by the very people you are supposed to enjoy working for and with.

I have learned that it is better to have a few higher paying clients who appreciate my quality and timeliness than it is to have a lot of lower paying ones that make me hate what I do. It’s all about being able to look myself in the mirror every day with self-confidence and if I am being paid what I believe I am worth, I can do that just fine.

Lesson #7: Failure is only an option if you allow it to be.

The final and maybe most important lesson I’ve learned to date is that failure is only an option if you allow it to be. There are many times I’ve thought about packing up my computer, putting away my pens and pencils and going back to my life as an Enforcement Officer. Yes, it’s true; some days I would rather be transporting prisoners than dealing with clients.

However, if I had, I would have missed out on some of the best things that have ever happened to me. I wouldn’t have had the chance to travel with my husband, I wouldn’t have unlimited income potential, and I would have never met the clients that have changed my life for the better.

Has it been an easy ride? Not at all. Has it been worth it? You betcha.

I hope that hearing my business lessons helps you avoid making the same potentially fatal mistakes. I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and there is some reason that you’re reading this so, whatever it is, I’m sure it is for the better. It has to be.


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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.