5 lessons I learned in 2018


2018 brought many awesome things but also some great lessons and opportunities for growth. Let’s jump right in. These are the top five lessons I learned in 2018.

LESSON 1: Working for free is stupid

If you started a new business in 2018, you have certainly learned some nice and not-so-nice things about clients along the way. You may have been tempted, like me, to hand out perks and freebies; telling yourself it’s only fair because“you’re new” or “just starting out.” WRONG. While these strategies may get a few extra clients through the door, they are by no means useful long run. Here’s why:

When you provide a service/product for free, you severely under-value your work! This is the opposite result for someone who is seeking to build their professional reputation and grow their business (more about this in Lesson 2).

Giving away your talents is a short term solution, building a reputable brand is a long term strategy which deserves your patience in order to strengthen your business from within, over time, and organically.

Not charging enough is a common problem among small business owners, I wrote about the topic earlier this year. 

LESSON 2: Establish a solid onboarding process and stick to it

When you’re just getting your business started, you want to get right to work. Often times this means taking any and all jobs that come your way. You want to grow your business as soon as possible, right? 

Solidifying your onboarding process doubles as a means to collect information about your potential client AND helps you narrow down your ideal client! Learning this early on will help you avoid working with clients who weren’t a good fit to begin with. This is particularly important if you provide services versus sell physical products. Allow me to elaborate with a real-life example:

After finding my profile or seeing my business posts on a networking FB group, Client A sent me a private message on Facebook and inquired about website design (this example applies to web design as I am a web designer, but bear with me). 

They said, “Hi Edith, do you work in marketing? I’m needing someone for a website, SEO and social media marketing.”

Now, on the surface this process is simple: Basically, someone sees your content/profile/video on social media, decides to reach out, then inquiries via private message.

Let’s go on, shall we?

I responded one hour later: “Hi {Potential Client}. I am a Squarespace website designer. I’d love to chat about your project! {Then I included a link to my calendar to make an appointment with me which puts the ball back in their court}.

At this point the potential client does not respond nor makes an appointment using the link I provided.

What just happened? Didn’t they say they wanted to work together? Allow me to decode.

1) If someone cannot be bothered to follow your steps for doing business, they’re automatically not your ideal client.

2) In fact, they have spared you the assured mess it will be to deal with them. #Truth. 

The same happened with another inquiry. That would-be-client took it upon themselves to provide specific instructions, failing to inquire about my process completely by saying, “Look at my Facebook page so you can see what I’m doing.” (LOL, which is client code for “I’ll be expecting you to be able to read my mind”) They went on to say, “Then give me a call;” which seems innocent enough except I had by this point already explained they needed to set up an appointment first.. So..

See my point?

Ordinarily, I would have been depressed that these two individuals reached out but failed to actually become paying clients. And blame myself! Today, I consider these situations and my onboarding process an essential filter (if you will) in identifying those who would most likely make things difficult if they were to become clients. Someone who cannot be bothered to ask you about your process, answer a few questions about their needs (so you can help them better, duh), OR schedule a simple phone appointment (ie, make a commitment to just talk) are the type of people who would later:

1) Never answer their phone

2) Not take the project seriously and cause unnecessary delays

3) Dictate terms/scope creep (ask for things not in their contract) or worse:

4) Refuse to leave a kind review (even though you do great work for them).

You see, it’s far better to have a few great clients that will sing your praises and be more than happy to refer you later.

By contrast, another client sent me a message inquiring about my photography by saying,

“I follow your page and love everything you do!”

See the difference? THESE are the type of people that turn into clients naturally and keep your business on solid footing long term. They’re worth every effort to find, trust me! (I will be writing more about this in the months to come).

LESSON 3: Sharpen your skills

When this year began, I stupidly believed I did not need to do any additional training or learn any new technologies. I could not have been more wrong! While I still mainly work on the same platforms (Canva, Squarespace, etc), I have come a long way in sharpening my graphic design and web designing skills. I have worked hard to broaden my photography and Lightroom skills too! This has been essential in helping me to maintain a high standard of work.

Three years ago my husband and I built a home. Before the year was up, our wood floors started to change colors (we think it was the top coat). Since the home was still under warranty, my contractor assured us the floors would be redone to correct the issue (thank goodness!) The only problem now would be to figure out which product caused the discoloration and which new products to use in order to fix it.

I did some research on my own and eventually landed on a certain product I wanted to use. Now, my contractor could have stiffened up and said, “You know, I don’t know if my guys are familiar with that.” Or flat out, “No, they probably wouldn’t work with that product..” But he didn’t! After reading all the information I had found on the product he said, “Even though I’ve been in the home building business for 14 years, at this point you know more about these products than I do! But I’m willing to look into it.” He got to work calling a product sales rep and began to research if it would in fact fit our needs.

We could not be happier with the finished product!

We could not be happier with the finished product!

The point of all this?

Things change. Products change. Skills need refining, regardless of age in industry. Embrace change and make sure you’re open to learning how to refine your current skills or learn new ones. Have you thought about providing a new service? Carrying a new product? Think back: have your customers asked you if you do/carry/provide one thing or another? Staying open to the needs/wants of your clients will enrich your service/product offerings by attracting (not turning away) new clients!

LESSON 4: Don’t compete, collaborate

This year I spent some time joining Facebook networking groups, taking over my own Facebook group, speaking at local networking events , and helping female entrepreneurs learn new skills!

Now, if your business is fairly large already you may feel tempted to skip networking all together. You may feel that others providing services in your industry only serve as competition or reason that networking is only used by those who are looking to grow their business (not by established business owners). I found that as a small business owner, it was nice to have the support from like-minded people who understood the joys (and struggles) of small-business-ownership. Unlike friends and family, these people own a business and understand better-than-your-relatives what it takes to manage one! For me, finding a group of women in business was particularly encouraging. They helped me get outside of my own head, leave my office, and look around to what my clients may be needing. Which inevitably led to a massive improvement of my services and some pretty awesome collaborations! More on that later.

LESSON 5: me before the business

Perhaps the most important lesson learned this year was to be nicer to myself. Many a day were spent in a grueling frenzy building content, my website, networking, testing, training, and marketing. It wasn’t always pretty but it was necessary. Or was it? While doing all of those things was important, they would sometimes come at the expense of self-care. I allowed them to take the place of family time, friend time, and gym time. Running a business should not be a 24/7 gig. If it is, it means we lack automation. When I realized this, I began to explore ways to outsource or automate my business tasks. 

To name a few:

  1. I created an email marketing automation

  2. I set up an online calendar for self-service bookings

  3. I set up automatic social media posting

  4. I even automated how clients would receive and sign their service agreements

You see, taking the time to do this allowed me to have more time to do the things that mattered. Allows us to be more present in our lives instead of constantly worrying about the business. It can be done! It just takes a little time to plan and a lot of creativity.

So what was the takeaway? Work smarter, not harder. 

See you next year!



Edith Duarte

Welcome to the blog! My name is Edith and here you will find my thoughts on how to grow your business organically and with intention. When I am not writing, I am busy running my digital design boutique which focuses on helping small business owners boost their personal brand and attract their ideal client with brand design, photography, and Squarespace website design.

I live in McKinney, TX with my husband and a 2-year old Maine Coon cat named Lilou.