What I've learned from running my own business

December 5, 2007

November marked the ninth month of Subvert Marketing Inc. being open. Business has been extremely good. So good, in fact, that the company is on track to hire a second employee (besides me, of course) in the new year.

Here are two lessons I've learned during this time, in the hopes that somebody else can benefit from my experience.

Write a formal business plan, but don't stick to it

At least, not religiously. A business plan is only useful if you achieve it and achieving it means regular maintenance and attention. For me, always having to open an archaic document and update individual sections, sentence by sentence, so the plan remains current, would surely result in a document that never gets opened.

Instead, I have created a desktop wallpaper, grounded in the original business plan, that succinctly lists a core strategy, goals, tactics, forecasts and target markets.

At a glance, I can reference this list and know if Subvert is on track. More importantly, if conditions should change or I need to steer Subvert in a new direction, I step back, research the situation, refine the list and simply update my wallpaper (when I have more time, I'll do the same to the actual document). Sounds corny, yes, but it's obviously working.

Get rooted in a community

When I first started Subvert, I believed its' core services were going to be usability testing, web analytics and design for websites and applications. Although this package landed a number of rewarding contracts, what I learned is that specialized services alone aren't enough to set your business apart. Instead, I had to show prospective customers that Subvert could do things nobody else could do. I needed to differentiate.

To achieve this goal, I quietly tucked usability testing and web analytics under the umbrella of interaction design. I focused Subvert on front-end design for websites and applications, targeting corporations and software developers who needed specialized help with interfaces. In turn, clients who hired Subvert would be rewarded with a knowledgeable, honest and reliable partner who is faster and easier to work with than the competition.

Re-energized by this new direction, I started participating more in the communities I was already engaged in, namely the Yukon's non-profit technology group and the great big world of ExpressionEngine, where Subvert is a member of the Professionals Network. My efforts have resulted in both new and re-kindled business connections that have paid off handsomely. The key is to give at least as much as you receive.

Here's to another successful nine months and an even more intimate understanding of my business.