I love the fresh start that a new year presents. The metaphorical clean slate; the revitalized energy to work and plan toward your goals. What better time than this to start thinking about launching your business?
Something that has always helped me in my freelance work is recognizing that it’s all about progress over perfection. Following a few key checks and then just unleashing your idea or services or products onto the world and using that trial and error to strengthen and fortify your work and your business. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together eight important things to put in place before you launch your biz this year—everything from figuring out your current ideal clients to strategically launching your website with our go-to platform, Squarespace. Read on to start planning for your own launch, and don’t miss our free checklists!
1. Narrow in on your niche
I used to think that if the market was saturated it meant that I shouldn’t even consider entering it. If other graphic designers are out there creating brands for clients, why should I do it too? Oh, how wrong I was.
Now I realize that we can all coexist within the market by narrowing in on niches. What do you bring to the table that is different from everyone else? Even if your products are similar—for example, brand and logo design—who are your specific ideal clients or customers? How does your business work in a way no one else’s does? When you get really detailed with these questions, you’ll hit on your niche and the place where your business will operate the best. Before you do anything else for your business this year, take a moment to answer these questions. And remember, your niche can grow and change as your business and you do. This is just a blueprint for your next year. Who do you want to attract? Who are your dream clients?
2. Map out your services, products, or rates
After you’ve narrowed in on who exactly your ideal customers and clients are, it’s time to do an inventory of everything you’re offering. If you’re a service-based business, determine your pricing model. Will you bill by an hourly rate? Or a per-project rate? Do your research to determine what others in your industry are doing. Transparency within pricing has come such a long way over the years and the detailed cost information available now is so helpful when you’re starting out. Try a tool like How Much Should I Charge? or seek out peers or thought leaders in your field on places like Instagram, where they might be sharing about their process. As a designer with a branding and lettering studio, I love how open Molly Jacques has been about her pricing model. She creates lots of helpful pricing examples for designers, like this one.
If you’re a product-based business, seek out similar shops and do your research on the going rate-per-product. Map out your business costs like keeping inventory, shipping, and packaging and be sure you’re charging enough to avoid a deficit. Remember, these numbers aren’t carved in stone either. You’re allowed to raise your prices as your business grows and evolves.
3. Start tracking your time
Even if you’re not planning to charge by hourly rate, tracking your time can be essential. Figuring out how long tasks actually take you—everything from packaging products to emailing clients—will help you determine your rates and understand how much time you’re putting into your business overall. You’ll be able to map out how much work you can realistically take on, whether you’re a full-time business owner or a freelancer or anywhere in between. To get started, try a time-tracking app like Harvest or Toggl.
4. Figure out your finances
Now that you have all your info gathered for what you want to charge and how long tasks and projects are actually taking you, it’s time to do a deep dive into your finances. This is definitely something I’ve struggled with in my freelance business, and trust me: figuring out a system for tracking your money right from the get-go is essential. It will save you so much time and headache later on. Start tracking every dollar that is coming in and out of your business so you can get an accurate picture of what you’re making. This will also save you during tax season, when you’ll have to account for how much you owe.
This is also where you’ll want to account for all the services you use to run your business. A huge reason I love Squarespace (and use it for my freelance biz) is that so many services are bundled in one place, so I don’t need to be juggling tons of different sites and logins. With Squarespace, I run my website and my online shop, integrate my email marketing, pull stock photography, link my shipping fulfillment automations, and more. That synchronicity saves me tons of time and effort.
5. Do a brand identity check
When you’re just starting out, you may not need all the bells and whistles of a full brand identity, but having things like a simple and chic logo, a predetermined color palette, and brand fonts will help your business look instantly elevated and pulled-together.
Remember that a huge part of a successful business is about first impressions. What your audience sees when they first land on your website or your social media channels can determine whether or not they become a client or shop with your business. So you’ll want to put your best foot forward with your design. The good news is, you don’t necessarily need to hire a designer or invest in a lot of fancy design programs when you’re getting started. If you’re looking to DIY initial branding until you’re ready to invest, focus on keeping things simple and minimal. I always say to go with a text-based logo to start. Pick a font that you like, type in your business name, and go. If you have a Squarespace site, they make this process so easy by allowing you to create your text-based logo when you’re creating your site, with hundreds of high-quality fonts to choose from. Or, try out Squarespace’s free logo maker tool for a quick logo that still looks professional and modern.
Keep in mind that minimal and simple don’t equal boring, especially in the design world. And by minimalism I don’t mean that you have to only use one font or just use black and white as your color scheme. It’s more about letting the simplicity of something speak for itself. If you get stuck, create a moodboard of designs that you like and refer back to that when needed. What colors do they have in common? What elements are repeated over and over? Squarespace also comes with pre-made font and color palette options, which are a great way to get started with something you know will look good. You can select different options from the backend of your site, and see the changes in real time, helping you create a site that looks cohesive without the headache of trying to figure it all out yourself from scratch.
6. Launch your website
As you’re figuring out the look and feel of your brand, it’s a great time to start putting together your website and preparing it for your launch. As I mentioned earlier, Squarespace is my go-to website platform, not just for myself but also for my freelance clients looking to build a site or online store.
I’m a big believer that at first, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to website design. I’ve backed myself into a corner many times by being too much of a perfectionist about my site, and then not having anything to launch at all. Remember, progress over perfection, in all areas of your business. I love that Squarespace allows you to start with demo content so that you can plug-and-play your own text and photos to get going. Not having to start totally from scratch makes such a difference in the time and effort it will take to build out your site.
7. Create a marketing schedule
Time to start planning how you’ll get all your beautiful work out into the world. If you want your business to thrive, you’ll want to be reaching new customers and clients on the platforms that make the most sense to you. Remember those questions you answered earlier? They’ll already start coming in handy as you analyze where your ideal clients are—whether that is Instagram, LinkedIn, email inboxes, a combination of all of the above, etc.
A little trial and error is completely normal here, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see hundreds of clients rolling in in the first week. This is where creating a marketing schedule will help, because you can refer back to what you’ve already tried and those results and tailor your future strategies accordingly. Utilize the data as it rolls in as well—keep track of where your traffic is coming from to your website to help you understand which platforms are working the best for you. Squarespace makes this easy with integrated analytics right within your site dashboard.
You did it! Taking the time to be proud of where you’re at and how far you’ve come is so important and will help you continue to drive and care for your biz throughout the year. Celebrate your wins with your community as well, it will help people get to know you and start rooting for your success right alongside you.
This post is sponsored by Squarespace, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.
Also published on Medium.