Fellow small business owners, you know the feeling. In the early days, you take on every client that comes your way, say “yes” to projects that don’t excite you, and take on way more than you can handle. It’s a rite of passage that seemingly every creative entrepreneur goes through, myself included.
After a couple years, I got so burnt out on client work that I gave it up altogether.
Here’s how I doubled my profit and grew my business by prioritizing client work that felt good to me and aligned with my lifestyle. Listen to the podcast for the full story of how I quit client work altogether, but eventually fell back in love with it.
How to Focus on Client Work That Feels Good
1. Invest in a CRM
Since I started my business, my email inbox has been flooded with messages from current and prospective clients. Sounds like a great problem to have, right? Wrong! Between answering new inquiries, brainstorming with current clients, and sending invoices, things got so unorganized that messages were getting lost and going unanswered. After years of avoiding it, I eventually had to invest in a CRM.
Now, I just wish I’d have invested sooner. Honeybook has all but eliminated the need for daily client communication. I’ve been able to streamline my systems in a way that keeps everything organized and saves me tons of time. No more spending hours answering emails every day.
In my early days, I tried to DIY everything. On top of client work, I also managed my back-end systems, marketing, content creation, finances… You name it, it was on my to-do list.
As I grew, however, I realized how much time I was spending on these tasks, time I could have been spending on client work. I outsourced one thing at a time and opened up my schedule for more creative work and long-term projects.
The result: I get to focus on client work that feels good, and I have a team of experts and creatives supporting the other areas of my business. It’s made all the difference in both my business’s success and my stress levels.
3. Start Saying “No”
When I first launched my business, I said “yes” to every project that came my way. I was terrified of turning away clients and income, so I did whatever was asked of me, whether or not it was what I wanted to offer. I’d started my business with the dream of becoming a Squarespace designer, but I was also offering social media management, email marketing, graphic design – whatever the client asked for.
After a while, I had a full roster of clients, but I dreaded working with them. With a little more experience under my belt and a steady income, I finally took the plunge and started turning new clients away. If they needed something I didn’t want to offer, I referred them to other creatives. If they wanted a website that wasn’t my style, I politely declined the project. I got to focus on work that excited me and eliminate the junk from my to-do list, all without losing income.
Hey, and welcome back to the Intentional Creative podcast. I’m so excited to talk with you here today. All about client work: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But first, if you enjoy this podcast, make sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. And please leave us a review. It helps more creative business owners like yourself find out about the show.
I have been working with clients since 2013, which is crazy when I think that it’s been that long, but it has, I started pretty much right after I got out of college. I did have a corporate job for a while, but I quickly realized that the entrepreneurial bug had bit me, and I wanted to go full-time in my business. I’m really embarrassed to say it took me so long to get it right when it comes to client work. Not so much in terms of the clients, I feel like I always delivered a high-quality product more in terms of what felt good to me and what made the client work sustainable and something that I actually enjoyed doing.
Like any budding entrepreneur, I was literally taking any work that came my way in the beginning because I just needed it to make money, to pay my bills. And that’s okay. I feel like we all go through that phase of doing website projects or design projects or whatever it is for you for way less than you’re worth, just because you’re trying to build up that portfolio and figure out the type of work that feels good. And the type of work that you want to do long term. Every project in those early years was very custom. I didn’t really have a set pricing or set packages. I was constantly trying on different packages. It felt like every single client that I had, had a different type of project, or had something else added into it. And I was afraid to tell people, no, if they came to me asking for one thing, I would just do it. So, if they needed some help with social media on top of, their website, I would do it. If they needed photography on top of their social media, I would help them with that too. I was just saying yes. Yes. Yes. Instead of really honing in on what I was good at and what I thought would be the most sustainable for my business. Even as I started to charge more, and I started to charge what my business and time was actually worth. I still struggled with having custom proposals and feeling like every time I got off a discovery call with a new client, I just dreaded putting the proposal together because it was so complex. I had to edit the contract. I had to go in there and add different light items to the proposal and figure out exactly what I was going to charge for each service.
It was just a nightmare and it really slowed down the entire process. In the early days, I also thought that I couldn’t justify spending money on a CRM, like HoneyBook or Dubsado, because why would I spend money on something, if I wasn’t seeing clients come in consistently? What I didn’t realize is that tools like a CRM really help you to stay focused and they help you to see all the different ways you can systemize your client process instead of just winging it each and every time. I don’t know about you, but I get a ton of emails. Like my email inbox is a complete nightmare and client emails were getting lost in there. And I was having trouble finding inquiries that were getting sent to my inbox. It was all mixed in with my promotional emails and people reaching out for support about my courses. There was just so much in my inbox that client work was getting lost. I wasn’t following up as quickly as I should be. Just the whole thing was really a disaster for so long. Even knowing this though, I still couldn’t justify the cost of a CRM, which is pretty crazy considering there’s some free CRMs out there that I hadn’t even looked into or hadn’t even thought would be a good fit for me. So, I just wrote off the idea of a CRM without actually looking into which ones might work for me and my budget.
In 2019, I made the goal of not working with clients anymore. Hoping that the other sides of my business could really sustain me. And I wouldn’t have to take on any more client work because I just felt so burned out. And I hated the entire process. I hated having to find the emails in my inbox and write a custom response each time. I hated having to have discovery calls and then finish those discovery calls, not feeling confident in my pricing or what I was going to offer and then having to create this custom proposal and contract to go out after that call, it was just this awful process from start to finish.
Not only that, but the projects were getting really drawn out. So, I would have a website project that was supposed to take four to six weeks, and it would last four to six months because the clients weren’t getting me their content in time, or I didn’t have what I needed from them, whether it was feedback or whether it was something to go on their website, I just didn’t have that information from them. And they weren’t sending it to me because they didn’t feel the pressure to get everything to me by a specific deadline. I first want to stress that this was not my client’s fault. This was definitely on me for not having a streamlined process from start to finish, that would set boundaries so that clients knew when was appropriate to contact me. And when they needed to get me all the information for a particular project.
I didn’t set those expectations in advance, so when it came time to complete the project, there was just a lot of wiggle room for how long it could actually take. I’m an introvert. And for me, client communication can be very draining if it pops up randomly throughout the week, and it’s not scheduled in a way that works around the bigger projects I have going on in my business. Task switching or switching back and forth between a bunch of different tasks or trying to multitask for me is typically the biggest detriment to my productivity. So, I need to be able to schedule client work into certain times so that it’s expected, and I can get a lot of it done in one time block. So, I typically have meeting days and then I have workdays. So that way I’m not mixing both into one day.
So back to 2019, I cut way back on client work. And I was really only working with existing clients and saying no to a lot of new opportunities. I was burned out. I was done. I hated the whole thing, and I wanted my business to be able to sustain itself without bringing in new clients. And I have other streams of revenue through my digital products and online courses.
The thing was towards the middle of 2020, I realized that I wanted to scale my team more and hire more people and just expand the work that I was doing and actually start to outsource some of the parts of business that I didn’t enjoy as much. So, I could focus on the things that I do, like recording podcasts or creating content for my audience.
In order to hire the way that I wanted to, I knew that I had to bring in more cash. I had to increase my cash flow so I could find the right people and add to my team because I really saw this as the way I was going to scale and put out consistent content for my audience. This was when I had to ask myself. Was it client work that I really hated or was it the way I was approaching it? Was there a better way to do it? That was more in line with my values and how I saw my business fitting into my lifestyle.
This is when I discovered VIP days or one day intensives. And I asked myself, could I fit an entire client project into a single day? And the answer was, yes. I was able to strip down everything that I didn’t need in a particular website project, and only include the things that I thought my clients would get the most out of.
I had been designing websites for eight years at this point. And I felt very confident in my abilities to do it within a limited timeframe. And the really nice thing about this is that I could schedule them all one day a week. I do all of my website projects on Fridays typically, and this allows me to have the rest of the week to work on my business and work on the important things that are going to help my business succeed in the long run.
I fully committed to using a CRM. I started using HoneyBook, which I absolutely love. I’m obsessed with the platform, and it has changed my business for the better.
The nice thing about using a CRM like HoneyBook is that I can automate the entire process from when somebody first inquires with me all the way through to signing the contract, starting the project, completing the work, and even asking for feedback or a review after it’s done.
It also allows me to keep all of my client related emails, separate from the rest of my inbox. So, I know exactly who I need to respond to, who needs a proposal sent, who needs to be followed up with all inside of HoneyBook. And I can do it from the app on my phone or from my desktop really quickly and easily. My absolute favorite thing about having a CRM though is probably the templates. I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting writing emails from scratch or customizing proposals each and every time I sent one.
HoneyBook has encouraged me to really standardize the packages that I offer and how I offer them. So, if a client’s not a great fit for me, that’s okay. But if a client is a great fit, they’re going to fit perfectly into my system. And I’ve validated my offer so that I know people are looking for the services that I provide.
I also think it’s a pretty unique process from start to finish. And people love the idea of working with a website designer and finishing the project in a short amount of time so they can get a website they love up and running quickly.
After putting these systems in place and really setting up my client process from start to finish. I was able to make more in client work in the first quarter of this year than I had in the previous two years combined.
And because I’m able to respond faster to new inquiries and get proposals sent faster. I’m currently closing about 83% of the inquiries that come into my business, which is crazy.
The whole point of this episode is to really just get you to think about client work in a new light. You may have been told that you have to do it one way, or you have to set up your packages a certain way, or you have to price yourself a certain way. And I want to challenge you to look at what’s going to feel best for you instead of what the industry is telling you that you should be doing.
There is no right way to run a business. And the best part about being a business owner is that you get to decide what feels right for you. And no one else can tell you how to do it differently.
I feel like passive income has become this massive trend right now and so many people are looking for ways to make money without having to work with clients. And I just want to challenge you to see client work in a different light. It’s a wonderful way to bring income in quickly to your business. It allows you to improve your profitability because there’s usually a relatively low overhead for client work and it also allows you to hone your craft and get better at the work that you do. If you’re feeling burnt out by client work and the whole process from start to finish, this is a good sign that you need to put systems in place to honor those feelings and to make some changes. Things are not going to change on their own. You can’t just sit by and feel exhausted week after week, wondering when things are going to look different for you.
You need to take action. Whether that’s changing the type of projects that you’re working on or how you do the work that you do, whatever it is, you need to make those changes. If you want to get out of this rut.
So set aside a little bit of time on your calendar this week. Look back at the past year, all of the work that you did, what were the projects that you really enjoyed and what were the projects that you didn’t. What about those projects did you enjoy and what about them made you feel stressed out or made you feel ready to quit?
Find ways to make your business better align with the work that you love doing, and either find ways to outsource the work that you don’t or cut it out altogether.
There are 1,000,001 ways to run a profitable business, but I know for a fact, it’s not going to be worth it. If you’re constantly feeling burnt out. I’d love to connect over on Instagram. I’m at local creative.co. Let me know if this episode resonated with you and if you feel inspired to make some changes in your business.
Thanks so much for listening and as always, it would mean the world to me if you could leave us a review on Apple podcasts or screenshot this episode and share it on Instagram. We’ve got some really great episodes coming soon with some amazing creative business owners, and I look forward to sharing them with you. See you next time.
Learn How to Refocus on Your Own Business
Be sure to check out this week’s episode of the Intentional Creative Podcast for the full breakdown of how I quit client work, restructured my business, and eventually fell back in love with one-on-one clients.
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