A long-time friend of mine in the online space Jem recently wrote a post on business decisions she had made in 2019 which have positively impacted her business and personal life.
The post was a fantastic insight into Jem’s personal development and how she strives for small, incremental changes to her life year on year. This inspired me to do something similar.
It’s been nearly 4 years since I have been fully self-employed (short period of part-time work aside) and I’ve seen a lot of change in that period. Initially, a 60/40 ratio in favour of freelance vs educational business but now a huge shift the other direction with 90% of my time focused on the subscription sites we own.
This past year I’ve made a number of key decisions which have freed up my time substantially so I can focus elsewhere both in life and in business. As a business, we are growing rapidly but we maintain our strategy of utilising external freelancers so we can shift the skills set with the demands of our business.
Ended Relationship with clients:
I’ve been fortunate that the majority of my clients in the 3 years+ of freelancing have been good. A couple of rocks on the road but largely a nice experience. I recently had to make the decision to end relationships with some long term clients.
This decision wasn’t easy.
The additional money tends to be ‘free’ money of sorts (we live off the educational business) which can be thrown into investments or rainy day funds. The decision was purely so we could go ‘all in’ on the business with my focus purely on improvements.
I had a good relationship with these individuals and it’s always a wrench to end a relationship as they have to move on with their business and hire help from elsewhere. This means the relationship is over in a sense. These things can be tough but you have to think strategically and have confidence that if you ever need client work again there will be others in the pipeline.
Scaled back freelancing completely:
As well as letting clients go I’ve also not brought on any new clients. Work has been scaled back completely and I’m not in the market for any additional freelance work. It’s a WEIRD feeling turning down work; especially when they come to you with a tricky problem you know you can solve.
From time to time I still get that feeling of wanting to help but I always try to remind myself that these people are completely alien to me and I need to focus on my own business.
Reduced time wasting:
I used to waste a lot of time ‘feeling out’ every single enquiry to see if it’s something I could work on. I’ve scaled back the amount of time on each enquiry and have been forthright with any which didn’t match the type of work I enjoy. This was before the decision to scale back completely.
In the past, I have been guilty of trying to help and finding myself in a situation where I’ve spent hours trying to help someone without a tangible return. I have met up with people, listened to their situation and realised that there’s not a great deal of financial return in the opportunity. Ever had that sinking feeling when you invest your time into a lead?
I wrote previously on this validation process and how I qualify potential leads.
Outsourced Customer Support:
The HIGHLIGHT of 2019 for me. We had reached the stage of business where we would receive a steady stream of customer support tickets all of a similar type. We’ve made steps on the websites to reduce these with comprehensive FAQ’s however we still received perhaps 10-15 a day. Some of these were responses to our email automation sequences; others were auto-renewal refund requests, help with logging in and other general support activities.
We made the decision in April to outsource the customer support and found a fantastic agency. We supplied full documentation and we have 24-hour contact with the team via our Slack channel. We also have a bunch of canned responses which cover 80% of queries. This has been a huge success!
The initial onboarding and teething process was tough but outsourcing has changed my life significantly. Any support tickets on a weekend I used to run to my laptop to sort. Given we have a US focus on our primary website I used to wake most mornings and have to clear support before working on anything proactive. This was important work but it wasn’t moving the business on.
Now I am able to relax on a weekend knowing all tickets will be dealt with (any issues I help them via the slack channel). I wake up and I am able to tackle my to-do list without starting the day with support tickets. From an operational perspective, every single customer now receives a response within 15 minutes. A monumental business decision.
Hired 2 Full-Time Freelancers (and a bunch of others):
Another huge decision we made this year was taking on two of our long term freelancers in a full time freelancing capacity. When I say full time I mean they work for us 30 hours+ a week with just a couple of other commitments.
Both worked with us for over 2 years in a lesser capacity but were still working in their positions as a University Lecturer and Magazine editor. This changed from January.
Michelle and Tracy are outstanding. They are predominantly resource creators but are multi-skilled and can work across any of our websites. It’s also enabled us to have consistency and a level of standardisation with our material; both led by both Michelle and Tracy.
It’s also given us extra support if we need to step away from the business for a couple of days. We work with a bunch of other freelancers however Michelle and Tracy are the glue which brings everything together!
2019 has also been the year of delegation for me. I’ve freed up a number of day to day business tasks which originally fell at my feet so I could be more strategic with business development.
Examples of this are for our primary website KidsKonnect where originally I was responsible for all uploads to the website. Preparing worksheets, formatting text, building the page on the live site. This took around 30 minutes a page and we were pushing live between 20-30 a week. We’ve since hired a freelancer webmaster of sorts to handle this and the entire upload process across all websites. This has freed up significant time for me to focus on growth strategies.
Other areas of the day to day business have been delegated to Tracy. The long term plan is to potentially have Tracy as a web manager or sorts and enable us to step away from the day to day running of the existing business. This potentially allows us to explore further opportunities (You know like the 66 websites we just bought!)
Met Up With Ian More:
First three years we met up a couple of times face to face but now trying to do this regularly (At least quarterly). This has been fantastic for the business as it keeps you aligned when in a business partnership. We also discuss things which may be more challenging other skype and simply just shoot the breeze.
Meeting more face to face has been a huge positive for the business. It’s something we will continue into 2020 and beyond.
What business decisions have you made this year which have changed the way you do things? Do you have any further changes planned? I would love to know so hit the comments below!