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Earlier this month Paul Jardine Web Design turned 5 years old.

It has been good to reflect on how I’ve grown as a small business owner and the lessons I’ve learned. To celebrate, I wanted to share some of my experiences with anyone thinking about running their own small business.

Going solo doesn’t mean doing it alone

Running your own business is an endless pursuit. Between keeping on top of your finances, managing your various social profiles, updating your own website and writing (and rewriting) your schedule, it’s a wonder there is any time left to do any of your actual work – the things you started your business to do in the first place.

This is me one week before setting up Paul Jardine Web Design in 2014. Possibly wondering where’d I be in 5 years time, more likely worrying I was going to fall down that big hill.

It quickly becomes apparent where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and where it pays to get help. In my case, I pride myself on designing clean, well-structured websites that load fast and are easy to use. Branding, which is the other very important part of your online presence, is not my strong suit.

As an old Greek dude once said: “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts.” – and sometimes it’s fun to team up with another small businesses to create something that’s way better than what we could do individually.

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working alongside some incredibly talented graphic designers such as Charlotte Holroyd of Creative Wilderness, Dan Reeves of Reeves Creative and Greg Whitehead (who designed the Paul Jardine Web Design logo!).

Obviously I should also give a mention to my good friend Joe Barratt who has trusted me to bring many of his ideas to life including The Teenage Market and Stockport Old Town.

This year I’ve also begun working with Karen Webber at Goodness Marketing to help me write better content. It’s been amazing working together with other small businesses and each person has been a massive inspiration to me.

Beyond working together, I’ve found that having a strong support network is absolutely vital in running a small business. Working on your own can get very lonely, so having good friends with whom you can celebrate your successes and commiserate the bad days is crucial. Without the people around me who keep reminding me “You’ve got this!” I might well have packed in years ago.

Value yourself

Business factoid: You can’t pay your mortgage with favours and you won’t feed your family with exposure.

Running a sustainable business is tough. It’s a constant battle trying to balance charging enough to comfortably stay alive and work to your highest level whilst staying affordable.

It’s easy to want to quote low for projects, especially when you’re first starting out, in order to build your client base. However, this only works in the short term, as if you work for cheap once, clients will expect you to work for less in the future too.

Bo the web design hound is an inspiration when it comes to getting paid. He does naff all unless he knows he’s getting a biscuit afterwards.

On a wider level, if you work for cheap, the clients you work with will also expect other small businesses like yours to do the same. I recently had a quote rejected because the previous developer was willing to work for less than £300 a week. Not only is this unsustainable for running a business, but it also devalues the industry as a whole.

There’s no such thing as a quick job, particularly in web design (and don’t let anyone say otherwise!). I aim to build long-lasting relationships with the people I work with based on mutual respect. Anyone who expects you to work for cheap does not value you or your business and is not worth your time.

Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to say no if a job doesn’t feel right to you. Besides, there are plenty of people out there who’ll do a sub-par job for less money so you don’t have to.

Remember that if you’re working for yourself (or thinking about it) you obviously have the skills to do your job to a high level and you’re worth every penny you charge.

Also, don’t forget that your clients will generally want you to stay in business so you can continue working with them!

Be kind to others

First rule of freelancing: Be good at what you do and be nice about it. No matter how talented and clever you are, no one will want to work with you if you’re a big jerk!

Whilst I’m about as spiritual as a Scotch egg, I do somewhat believe in karma and I think you should try to help others more than they help you. In an increasingly divided world, the best legacy you can have is being nice to people.

When I first set up my business, a lot of my early jobs came from referrals of friends I’d worked with in the past. It’s important to acknowledge the number of people who’ve helped me out throughout my life and to pay it forward to help others on their journey.

On the flip side of that, I recently got contacted by a graphic designer who I’d been nice to when he was interning at my old company when he was a student maybe seven or eight years ago. You never know how a small act of kindness might come back to you in the future.

Be kind to yourself!

Here I am 5 years, 80+ websites and a dog later. Photo by Plant Shop Manchester.

A final bit of advice for anyone running their own business is to try to enjoy it!

I count myself lucky to have worked on some amazing projects over the past 5 years and done some things I never expected, like teaching a web design and development module at Salford University, running SEO workshops for small businesses and speaking about my experiences of running my business at community events like MCR_Fred and YENA.

Despite this, I question how much of the past five years I’ve actually felt like I’m doing a good job and how much I’ve felt like a failure.

It’s very easy to finish one job and jump straight into the grind of finding the next one, but it’s important to take the time now and again to celebrate good events. This year I actually started writing down all the good things that happen with my business, whether it’s winning a new project, getting nice feedback, or when my work has a positive effect on a client’s business (like when an online shop gets its first sale).

Doing this has made me enjoy the positives more, and as I look back on the good stuff, it makes me feel excited for the next five years and beyond.

If you want to stay in touch, please sign up to my monthly newsletter. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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