It’s 2015 and you’re looking for a fresh start—or better yet, how to best maintain the business you’ve got.
You want to maximize the growth of your business, but you’re also worried about longevity and failure. Here are six ways to fail proof your business for 2015:
Preventing failure means knowing where you might fail! So take time (right now, in the beginning of the year) to evaluate where you stand.
1. Get SWOTing
It’s one thing to think about your business, but it makes a huge difference to write it down. Simple and obvious, right? The easiest way to do this is in a SWOT analysis.
You might recognize this from your Business 101 classes; it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s a great way of looking at your business both from an internal (SW) and external (OT) perspective. For more on SWOT analysis, check out this post here.
Here are some questions you might ask, from Martina Ivanova:
2. Interview your clients
What better way to evaluate your business than to get customer and client feedback? If you’re shy about asking for feedback, or think you’re being a “bother”, read this fantastic post by Justine Clay to get advice on how to reach out.
Here’s Justine’s template:
Hi (name of client),
How are you? I hope you had a lovely holiday weekend! Spring put in an appearance in New York just in the nick of time!
I wanted to ask for your input on something big that I'm working on. (briefly describe/outline here). I would like to interview a few of my ideal clients (of which you're one, naturally), so that I may hone my message. Would you be open to chatting on the phone for 20 minutes or so and answering a few questions. I would SO appreciate your thoughts.
I look forward to hearing from you. Have a lovely day!
Though it may seem like all you need to do is push your product out, client feedback makes your offerings much, much better. And when you carefully listen to how you solved their “pain points”, you’ll be able to fine-tune your marketing pitch and speak your clients’ language in the future.
Plus, you’ll be maintaining contact with your past clients, which is never a bad thing.
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3. What new things can you offer?
Did you get enough gigs to fill the pipeline last year? And if you did, were they good clients?
Take out a sheet of paper and write down the clients you had in 2014. Go through the list, rank them A-F. What did the A’s and B’s have in common? Maybe your A’s and B’s were larger companies, not startups. So this year, focus on pitching to the large companies.
Basically, you need to consider what new things you can offer—and don’t wait for someone to give you a new gig in that field to try it out. Write samples for mock clients. Write code and put it on your GitHub. Spend a dry spell just building stuff. Your exit from that dry spell will be quicker. Intentionally and consciously expanding the scope of your business and your skills is a surefire way to keep your ship afloat.
You don’t want your business to just survive—you want it to thrive! However, you can’t just wildly set goals and then overextend yourself trying to accomplish them. Before you grow, you should make sure that your business can maintain itself.
4. Keep track of your finances
If you haven’t been keeping track of our finances, get on it! Here are a bunch of different apps that you can use to keep tabs on your cash flow. And here are some specifically for invoicing and business expenses.
5. Disaster plan
It’s not the most fun topic, but it’s important to know how you’ll be prepared in case of an emergency—say, you get sick, or your housing falls through, or there’s a crisis in your family and you need to go home. How will you ensure that your business stays afloat? Don’t avoid thinking up a contingency plan just because you don’t want to imagine something bad might happen—nip it in the bud and give yourself some peace of mind.
First, did you know you can get paychecks if you’re unable to work—like in the case of a broken leg? This is disability insurance. (Freelancers Union offers it starting at $8/month here.)
Also, liability insurance protects you in case you make a mistake, or damage your clients’ business, and they sue you. (As you expected, Freelancers Union also offers this, here.) It’s all about managing your risk.
Okay, here’s the fun part. Now that your ship is clean, stocked, and ready to go, it’s time to set sail!
6. Increase your rate and other tests
Testing is a great way to grow your business and see what works. You can increase your rate and see how clients respond. Or downsize what you normally offer but keep the price the same. Wonder why you’re not getting gigs? Test different copy on your site or cover letters and see which works the best. Rather than settling into what you’re used to, testing the things that are weak—or have potential to growth—primes you for success, not failure.
Freelancers, what do you do to manage risk in your business?
Larissa Pham is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her idea of a disaster plan is $500 in a savings account.