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It took a long time for me to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I didn’t dream of growing up to be a marketing or PR girl.  I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, a fashion designer, a full-time writer, or simply a mom.

Natalie Grinnell - Cheshire Dave Photos - Digitally Chic - San Francisco Travel Blog

But, my independence got the better of me.  I insisted on moving out of my parents house when I was 19, and with that decision came more responsibility than I was prepared for.  Without being armed with a college degree, I had to start from the ground up [read about my journey here].  Starting as a marketing assistant, I slowly moved my way up the latter to a Marketing Director position.  But, that wasn’t enough for me.  I knew I wanted 3 things from whatever work I was doing:

1. Flexibility in my schedule.  The ability to work where and when I want.

2. More money, less work.  I never wanted to work “full-time.”  But I knew I had to find a job that could allow me to make the same amount…not easy.  I didn’t need to be rich, but make enough to live comfortably and travel often.

3. Do work I love.  My passion is in writing, so I knew whatever position I held, writing would have to be a huge part of it.

During my time as Marketing Director, I began to see starting my own marketing agency as the perfect way to combine all 3 of my above priorities.  I began to put feelers out to my networks, online and off.  Twitter became a huge part of my networking because it allowed me to connect with like-minded people in San Francisco, and begin developing relationships with them.  By the time I decided to move to San Francisco, I had hundreds of business contacts.  When I quit my job and moved to San Francisco, I hit the ground running.

The only problem:  I had no idea how to start my own marketing agency.  So, I took a part-time position as an account manager at a small agency in Oakland for 3 months.    I watched everything the sales reps, the writers, and the designers did, and implemented them into my own actions.  After 3 months, I thought, “This seems easy enough!”  I quit that day and dove full-force into my own business.

Natalie Grinnell - Cheshire Dave Photos - Digitally Chic - San Francisco Travel Blog

When I finally broke into the marketing scene, it took about a year to really get things moving.  Looking back, I see the mistakes I made during that first year, and if I had to do it all over again I could move it along much faster:

1. Relationships.  I was too distracted by break-ups and make-ups to really focus on my work, especially when they’re both so volatile.

2. Money.  I had nothing in savings, so every cent I made went to rent and paying my team of contractors.  This was a real pain come tax season.

On the other hand, here are the true gold nuggets of that first year:

1. Be everywhere.  I can’t say enough for networking.  I know it’s an annoying buzz word, but it works.  Be at every event.  Shake hands with every one.  Follow up afterwards, and not just from a business standpoint.  These are people who have been where you are and they can give you advice on how to succeed.  Buy them coffee or lunch, and pick their brain.

Be everywhere online as well.  Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn.  These are your friends.  It’s not a waste of time.  You want to be the first person a client thinks of when they- or someone they know- needs a marketing agency.  The way to do this is to be wherever they are, online or off.  Plus, you’re a marketing agency, you need the practice!

2. Blog. Blog every week.  Every day if you can.  In order for your business to succeed, you need a website.  More importantly, you need traffic to your website.  The best, and most organic, way to get traffic to your site is through blogging.  Don’t just post blogs with a bunch of key words, but make valuable content for your readers.  Google will recognize the quality of your website, and put you ahead of your competition in search results.

Natalie Grinnell - Cheshire Dave Photos - Digitally Chic - San Francisco Travel Blog

3. Do quality work. Most of my new clients come from referrals.  I’ve developed multiple referral incentive campaigns and none of them work as well as simply doing the best job, making my clients talk about me to their colleagues.

4. Be ahead of schedule.  I have content calendars for all of my clients, and most content is developed about a month in advance, depending on the campaign.  Being ahead of schedule gives me freedom from stress and the availability to meet with new clients or do a last-minute high-paying job.   Also, coming in well before deadlines really impresses the client.

5. The customer always wins.  The best sales come from previous clients or up-selling existing ones.  If a client is ever unhappy with my work for any reason, I will give them a month of free services, or make it up to them in some large way.  Taking a temporary loss is better than losing them as a client altogether.

6. Bill in monthly retainers.  The only way I manage to not be stressed out about bills all the time is that I charge my clients on a monthly basis.  My marketing packages all have monthly pricing, which allows me to anticipate my income every month.  That is my bread and butter.  When I’m ahead of schedule for the month, I’ll gladly take on a la carte jobs like a website or graphic design project, but I always have the foundation of my monthly clients.

7. A well constructed contract.  All of my monthly packages have a requirement of a 30-day notice for a contract termination.  That way, if a client does decide to cancel their contract, I have a month to figure out how to make up for the loss.  (But who would ever want to cancel their contract with me???)

8. Don’t leave it up to the client to pay on time.  The first year of owning my own business was toughest because I made one fatal mistake for an online company: Accepting checks.  I would drive myself crazy running to the post office every day to see if I had any checks in the mail…and most of the time, there wasn’t.  Or if there was, some checks would bounce, leaving me strapped for money at unfortunate  times.  The solution was simple: Square.  I slowly transitioned all of my clients to credit card-only payment.  Every month, on either the 1st or 15th, I charge my clients for their monthly services.  It takes so much stress out of the billing process.

Natalie Grinnell - Cheshire Dave Photos - Digitally Chic - San Francisco Travel Blog

These are just a few of the many things I learned in the first year of owning my own business.  That first year was in 2010, and now 3 years later, I’m still making mistakes and learning from them.

What did you learn in your first year of small business ownership?

Or, if you’re thinking about opening your own business, what has motivated you?

All photos shot by the talented Cheshire Dave!

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