If I Were Starting My Business from Scratch, This Would Be My Gameplan

Whew! It's been a whirlwind of a summer. Between vacations, unexpected events, and moving, I’m happy to put summer behind me and welcome fall. 

But the weather isn’t the only thing changing around here.

After a brief hiatus, Ellechat is back and better than ever!

You’ve heard rumblings about it all summer and it’s finally happening. Ellechat relaunched last Thursday and we brought a podcast version along with it! 

If I were starting my business from scratch, this would be my game plan - Ellechat Episode 001 Show Notes

Here’s how it’ll work: 

Thursday - Ellechat livestream at 3:00pm EST via Crowdcast per usual

Nothing’s changing here. You can still expect Ellechat webinars on Thursdays. 

You can tune in live or catch the replay whenever your schedule allows for it. For those who choose to tune in live, you can still ask questions and jump in the chat. 

Tuesday - Ellechat podcast will be released via iTunes

We’ll be working behind the scenes during the weekend to bring you the same Ellechat webinar released on Thursday, but in podcast form on the following Tuesday. 

You can expect a matching blog post (like this one) to go up on Tuesdays along with show notes, the webinar recording, slides, and a transcript.

Episode 1 Recap:

So you want to start a business.
You have a ton of motivation and excitement at first, but all of a sudden reality sets in. 
There are so many tasks involved, the majority of which you’ve never tackled before. You’re way out of your comfort zone, overwhelmed by all the things that need to get done. 
Where do you even begin?
When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees.
When I first started Elle & Company, I found myself piecing together all that I thought needed to get done (forgetting a bunch of steps along the way). 
I longed for a step-by-step list of what to conquer and when.
Now, three and a half years into running my online business, I’ve had time to reflect on what worked and what I could’ve done differently to save time (and stress).
So I’m paying it forward. I’ve created a step-by-step list of what to focus on when you’re trying to get your business off the ground.
If I were to go back and start Elle & Company from scratch, here’s what my game plan would look like.

Watch the Ellechat livestream replay by registering through the Crowdcast window below, or keep scrolling to listen to the podcast, take a look at the slides, visit the links, and read the transcript.

Episode 1 Livestream Replay

Episode 1 Podcast

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Livestream Slides


Lauren Hooker: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Ellechat, a weekly power hour of tips and strategies to help you start and scale your creative business. I am so glad to be back and so happy to see so many of you tuning in live today.     

Let’s dive into the very first topic of this season of Ellechat. I thought it would be fun to talk about starting your business from scratch. When I started Elle & Company, I was freelancing and just kind of dove into starting a business. And I started out with a lot of motivation, I was very excited.     

And then I quickly realized how many tasks needed to be done and how many tasks I had never done before, were not familiar with, had no guidance on. And I was very overwhelmed. And I longed for a list of what steps to do and when to do them. Instead, I learned a lot through trial and error. So three and half years later, I sat down and I created a list for you all. What should you focus on first, second, third? Eighth in your business? What's the most important? And what can wait until later? So, if I were going back and starting Elle & Company from scratch, this would be my game plan.

1 | Create a preliminary business plan

When I started Elle & Company, I just stumbled into freelancing. I took on any client, any project that I could get my hands on. From wedding invitations to branding projects and everything in between. And I just conquered tasks as they came up. I never really had a plan. So, if I were to go back and do it over, I would create a preliminary business plan. I wouldn't do an in-depth business plan, and I'll tell you why in just a second.     

But I would include things like a mission statement. What am I here to do? What's the underlying purpose of why I'm doing design or photography or interior design? Or whatever it might be. Why am I doing it? I'd also try to think through an ideal client or customer profile. Who am I trying to reach? Because everything you do from here on it will kind of build upon that, the type of people you're trying to reach. Outline your short and long-term goals. What do you want to accomplish? In five weeks, five months, five years? What do you want to do? And you can get really creative here. I found that if I don't have a goal that I'm working toward, like this past spring I felt like I was just in a rhythm of doing the same thing over and over again. I lost excitement about my business.     

So, feel free to dream big. It can be a huge goal. But I found that that gives me momentum and kind of reminds me of my why. Why am I going through all this trouble of starting a business if I don't have any goals for it? So yours might be to take your business full-time. Yours might be to open a storefront someday, bring on a team. But go ahead and start dreaming and think about what those goals are before you do anything else. And then maybe set some benchmarks for those goals. Sometimes our goals can be so broad that it's hard to break them down into action steps or know how to take action on them. So sit back and think, what needs to happen in order to make those goals work and just try to set some benchmarks for yourself. 

I say to create a preliminary business plan because I found that there's two hang ups with doing a full-fledged business plan where you think through every single thing that needs to be done. All of your marketing strategies and all of that. Hung up number one is that your business changes the most in the first few months. I always call the first six months to really the first year of business the "experimental phase," because you should be taking on different kinds of projects and just figuring out what you want to do.     

I found that at first I thought I wanted to do wedding invitations. And then as I started to design wedding invitations, I realized this is a lot of work for not so much money. I love the design portion, but I really don't like the product portion. Printing and all of that. And I didn't feel like I could make a solid income from doing just that at the time. So, I needed that experimental phase to figure that out. If I had mapped out a whole business plan around designing wedding invitations, I would have spent so much time on something that I didn't stick with later.     

So, be open minded during that experimental phase. Take on some different kinds of projects, see what your clients are interested in, what you enjoy doing, and what's going to bring in a realistic income for you. And, like I said, if you do that full-fledged business plan, it might become irrelevant three months down the road when you realize that you need to shift things around based on your experience. So don't be afraid to experiment a little in those first months of business.     

Hang up number two is that you can get so caught up in the details of your business plan and the whole planning part that you never begin. And I have seen this time and time again with coaching clients and people who reach out to me for business advice, blog readers. Is that they get so hung up on planning, which ... Planning can be a very good thing and that's why I'm telling you to create a preliminary business plan, but don't get so caught up in it that you're afraid to start. You are always going to be working on and tweaking your business, that's just the nature of it. So, don't get so caught up on planning that you don't start. If you want everything to be perfect and perfectly planned out, you will never begin. So, hold your plans loosely. So come up with that preliminary business plan just to give you direction.

2 | Set up a simple Squarespace site

You need to think of your website as your business' online home base. It's where all the action happens. And for a lot of you, your online presence is huge, especially if you want to work with clients all over the globe if you're not necessarily location-based. Even if you are, your website is crucial nowadays. So, it's where all the important action takes place. It's where people learn about you, it's where people check out your services, it's where they view your portfolio, purchase your products, read your blog. All the important action takes place on your website. So it's really important that you get your website up sooner rather than later.     

This is another huge step that people get so caught up on, they want to make sure all the details of their website are perfect before they launch it. And like I said, it is never going to be perfect. It's good to put the thought and the effort into it, you don't want to just slap the thing together. But you do want to make sure that you're not getting so caught up that you don't launch it because your website is crucial for starting to get clients in the door.     

And that's why I recommend Squarespace over other sites like WordPress. Squarespace is really easy to get up and running. The back end is really user friendly, there isn't a huge learning curve. They have beautiful templates so you can still create that killer first impression with potential clients and customers. Like I said, quick setup and customization. It's all inclusive. So if you don't have a domain yet and you don't have a specific email address for your business, all of that is included right in Squarespace, so you won't have to spend time piecing all of that together because, let's be honest, when you're first starting your business, time is money and you don't have much time at all if you're running your business on the side.     

Another thing about Squarespace is just consistency. You choose a couple different type faces, a couple different colors, you don't have to go all out and brand your Squarespace site at first. Just make sure it's consistent, it looks presentable, and get it up and running. It may surprise you that as a brand designer, I didn't put branding ahead of starting a website. Actually, branding is going to be far down on this list and I'll explain why later. But, I want to make sure that you're getting your website. If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn't obsess about those branding details. I would rather get my website up and running so I can start driving traffic and building trust and engagement with potential clients and customers and get people in the door.     

So, number one was to create a preliminary business plan. Number two is to create a simple Squarespace site, or if you are a web designer, WordPress site. Go ahead and get that up and running as well. Just make sure that you don't get so hung up on the design details and the inner works of your website that you just don't get it up. Because like I said, you can go back and make tweaks to it later. You're always going to be making tweaks to your website.

3 | Start blogging

When people ask me how I was able to grow my business so quickly, they're always surprised to hear that blogging was a crucial component to growth for me for many different reasons. And I highly recommend it to everyone else out there because our natural tendency ... And I was guilty of this when I first started, is to come up with an offering first. So you might have an idea for a product or a service, and then you try to come up with an audience. You try to find people who would be interested in your products or services. But the more strategic approach is to find an audience first, and then come up with offerings.     

It seems counterintuitive, but it makes more sense when you think about it because the hardest part of business is finding that audience. And when you have an audience, you're able to get to know them and see what their needs are. So, for example, I never intended to start a course on Adobe Illustrator. But, after getting to know my blog readers and seeing that a lot of them had questions about, how do I create my graphics? How do you create a brand from scratch? I saw a need there. And so, the more I got to know my audience that was already there, the more I could see their needs and then create services and products geared towards them.     

Some of the benefits of this is that sharing this consistent, helpful, content through blogging or ... Also, it doesn't have to be just written content. It can be videos. You can start a YouTube channel and share those videos on your blog. It could be things like this webinar. Host weekly webinars and share the replays on your blog. That's great content. It could be a podcast. If you don't feel comfortable with your writing, that's okay. Just make sure that you're pumping out content that's consistent and helpful in order to build your audience because when you do this, it builds trust.

It'll drive more website traffic through shares. It gives you stuff to share on social media, it expands your reach when other people share links to your website and to your blog, and it ultimately will bring in more clients and customers. It increases SEO, it positions you as an experts when you're talking about the ins and outs of what you do and why you do it. I've written a lot of blog posts about this recently. Yes, I blog about blogging. But I just can't reiterate how important blogging is for building an audience. And really, when it comes down to it, it's important to build that audience before you even brand yourself, before you really dive into your offerings.     

You will make it so much easier on yourself if you already have an audience there to sell to. And they will end up telling you what they want. They will end up telling you exactly what they want to see from you. And I'll explain how to get that information from them in a second. So, fight that natural tendency to want to come up with an idea and then find people, and instead, go for the more beneficial strategy of finding people through blogging, YouTube videos, webinars, podcasts, and then come up with an idea or an offering that that new audience will be interested in. So, number three, start blogging.     

I promise you, it's going to be hard in the first few months just to get in a rhythm and get in a routine of blogging and sharing consistent, helpful content. And it might take a good three to six months to gain traction, but once you do, oh my goodness. I cannot tell you enough just how helpful it will be. If I had not been blogging, you would not be sitting here listening to this right now. Elle & Company would not be in existence, so don't pass it over. Give it a try.

4 | Choose 1-3 social media platforms 

So a moment ago, I talked about how blogging or how your website, rather, is your home base. It's where all the important action takes place. And so, you should be viewing social media and even your mailing list as a funnel. Everything should be pointing back to your online home base. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, even Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, all of it should be pointing back and funneling people back to your website where all that important action takes place.     

I think it's really important to view social media this way because a lot of times, we view it as an end all, be all. We focus on growing our following and put a lot of emphasis ... Almost becomes a popularity contest, but if you aren't using your following, if you're not growing your following in order to drive people back to your website and ultimately make a sale, then social media isn't going to be as effective for you. So, that's why I even place blogging above a social media strategy because your blog is right there on your website.     

When you share blog posts, you're automatically driving people right back to your website. They can easily click over to your services, to your shop, and make a purchase or make a sale. But with social media, there's always an intermediary step. They have to click a link and come back to your website. Or, they might just see your post and never come back to your website. So I'm always hesitant to put too much emphasis on social media. Just keep in mind that it's not the end all, be all, but it is great free marketing.     

I also think it's really easy to get overwhelmed by all the social media platforms out there. You can see six right here, and I haven't even listed them all with Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook. But the good news is that you don't have to be on every single platform. You just need to be on the platforms where your potential clients and customers hang out. And you don't just have to guess at which platforms your potential clients and customers hang out on. You can actually do some great research on it.     

You can look at demographics. There are a lot of studies online that show who is on each platform, what the demographics are. Pinterest, a lot more women than men. And it'll have a breakdown of all the ages, as well. Twitter, who's on Twitter? It's helpful to look that up. Actually, that might be a good blog post to share on the Elle & Company site soon. If I do, I'll keep you posted. But look at the demographics, don't just guess at who is on which platform. Ask people that fall in your ideal customer or ideal client range. Ask them what websites they spend their time on, and what social media platforms they spend their time on.     

And then look at other peers in the industry who seem to be doing well. What social media platforms do they focus on the most? For most of us, honestly, because we're in a creative field, there are ... There's going to be more focus on the visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, but you might be surprised. So, don't just take a guess. Do some research and then choose 1-3 social media platforms that you can be present on consistently. That you can commit to actively participating in each week.     

And then brainstorm helpful content ideas. Don't just post haphazardly or post what you see everyone else posting. Have a strategy to why you post what you post. Remember that you're using it as a funnel back to your website, that you're always hoping to get new clients. That doesn't mean that you are inauthentic, but it does mean that you should think through how you share behind the scenes posts or just always thinking, why am I sharing what I'm sharing? How is this valuable to the people who are following along with me? Why should they care? Is the best question to ask.     

So, choose 1-3 social media platforms, come up with content for each one, and create a posting schedule. Consider how often you're going to post to each platform reasonably. If you're doing this on the side, if you're business is after your regular 9:00 to 5:00 job. You're pouring time and effort into it, then you might just want to choose one or maybe two and post a couple times each week if it's going to be something like Instagram. You might want to set aside time to either schedule your posts or brain storm content and then have it check in every once and a while and post.   

I always recommend using a tool like Buffer, or MeetEdgar, or Co-Schedule and just go ahead and fill up a content queue. Go ahead and set how many times you want to post each day or each week, and just once a week go ahead and fill up that queue full of helpful content. Links to your blog posts, links to other people's blog posts, helpful videos, behind the scenes. But make sure that you're actively present on those social media platforms. So, come up with a schedule, come up with content, and then schedule it out using Buffer. MeetEdgar is another awesome tool, and I have blog posts on both of those Buffer and MeetEdgar.     

All right, so number four was to choose 1-3 social media platforms. So, just to run through the list really quickly. The first step was to build a preliminary business plan. The second was to set up a simple Squarespace site. The third was to start blogging, and number four was to choose one to three social media platforms.

5 | Determine your offerings

You may already have some offerings that you started out with, some products or some services that you have had since the very beginning. But it's always good at this point to go back, tweak them, refine them, get rid of them altogether, add on to them. Once you get to know your audience through blogging and through social media. I always recommend interacting with them through blog posts and social media, pay attention to FAQs and top posts when you're considering your offerings.     

Think about the people ... The thing that people ask you about the most often and what they want to see from you as you're thinking through your offerings. Ask them for feedback. Ask they what they do want to see from you. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to ask. We take so many guesses in business and try to figure out what people want instead of just asking them. Another thing that's helpful to do is if you have a new offering idea, but you don't know if it'll stick or not, validate it. Take a random selection from your audience, especially if you have a mailing list.     

Take a group of those people and just ask them about this new idea that you have for an offering. Would they buy it? How could you make it better? I did this before I launched my Freelance Academy course. I validated it by asking people who had followed along with Elle & Company for a while, what their thoughts were on it to see if there really was a need for it. So another benefit of building your audience first and then launching a product or services.     

And, I always recommend, as well, considering services before products. And the reason is, you don't need as many people following along with you, you don't need as big of an audience to have people book your services. Really, if you're trying to book 20 clients a year, then your audience doesn't have to be huge in order for that to happen. But products, if you want to make a living from having a shop or an online shop, for that matter, you need a bigger audience in order to make that work, especially if it's something like passive income like courses or digital products. The bigger your audience, the easier it's going to be for you to launch a product.     

So, I always recommend services before products. So just a few helpful pointers for that. Once you've built your audience and have interacted with them and have gotten to know them better, then think through your offerings and figure out what might work best for your audience. You might be really surprised what people ask for. And it might be really profitable for you. It'll probably be very profitable for you if you've worked on building your audience first.

6 | Refine your processes

Your processes, whether it's how you onboard your clients, how you map out your content schedule. Whatever it is, they can make your business run so much more quickly and help you to maximize your time. Like I said, time is a limited, valuable resource when you are running a creative business and there isn't enough hours in the day to keep everything running and keep your head above water. But if you have processes in place, you will maximize your time and be able to get a lot more done and work more efficiently.     

You can refine your processes through delegating. If you have the resources to be able to delegate tasks like hiring a book keeper, an attorney, a graphic designer, an assistant. If you can bring them on as soon as possible, I recommend it. That's something that I wish that I had done sooner instead of waiting until I was in panic mode to be able to outsource some of those tasks. But for a lot of us, that's not always an option. Automating is another great way to refine your process.     

Automating social media through tools like Buffer and MeetEdgar that I talked about a moment ago. Setting up Google Drive and coming up with a way that it works well for you. I use Google Drive in mapping out Ellechats, I use it for blog posts, I use it for newsletters every week. And then I also use it for clients. I have a shared folder for each client. It's just part of my process, and I've created master copies so that for blog posts, all I have to do is create a copy of that master copy and it has all the information that I need for the blog post. The URL for the blog post, a space for me to outline it, when it goes live, all of those important details.     

So, if you can just create a system for that, it'll help you work much more quickly. I also have a post on Google Drive in setting that up, too, so I'll be sure to link to that in the show notes. I walk you through exactly how I go about it. And I also have a post with Google Drive templates to make your processes run much smoother. And also, if you have a tool like Asana or even now, a lot of people are using Dubsado, that is a fantastic way to make things run more efficiently, to automate your business, to keep up with tasks. If you have a team to keep everyone all on one page, come up with those systems.     

It may take you some time to learn some of these platforms like Asana, but the more and more you use it, the better you'll become and the more efficient you'll become. And then you won't be able to work without. So be sure you're thinking through how you might be able to automate your business. And then evaluate. So delegate, automate evaluate. What are the essentials in your business? And what are you doing that's just busy work? What absolutely has to get done, and what are you putting time into that really isn't an essential?     

If you go back through and evaluate all of our business tasks, you might be able to find some that you're able to get rid of. Some that you don't need processes for because you really shouldn't be doing it in the first place. So I found it helpful even every quarter in my business to go back through my processes and think, what could I do better? What can I delegate? What can I automate? And what can I just get rid of and get off of my plate altogether? So, number six, refine your processes. See how you can do things better.

7 | Revisit the preliminary business plan

So now that you've worked on building your audience, refining your processes, you have your offerings down. Now go back and do a more in-depth business plan. Dive into some of the specifics here. Consider including in this business plan your mission statement. You may need to tweak it and refine it since you started. Maybe after working with clients and with customers, you realize a whole new angle to your business that you didn't realize before. So, for example, when I first started Elle & Company, it was purely design. I wasn't doing any coaching, I really wasn't doing any teaching or any webinars like this. It was purely design.     

And now, three and a half years later, my business looks very different. I still do design, but a lot of what I do is teaching and coaching and courses. So, my mission statement now looks different than it did before. So, go back and reevaluate that mission statement and put more time and thought into it. Consider your long-term goals again, and even your short-term goals and revisit those benchmarks and flush them out in more detail. Ideal client, customer persona. Now you should have a really good idea of who your ideal client or your ideal customer is because you've been creating that following.     

You've probably been working with clients and customers, and you have an idea of who you want to work with and who you may not want to work with, and that's okay. Sometimes learning who you don't want to work with is even more important than learning who you do want to work with. And a lot of times, this comes through trial and error. You can try to guess at the outset, but this part of the business plan will be so much more on point when you visit it this second go around when it's more of your full-fledged plan instead of that preliminary business plan.     

You might want to outline your marketing strategies in here. Which one's stuck? What are you plans for marketing in the future? What are you offerings? You should have determined those already by this point and what's stuck? What is profitable? What you enjoy doing, what your clients and customers want to see from you. Outline that there. And then your processes, which we just talked about a second ago. What are the key processes for your business?     

And actually, months ago, I created something called the Business Playbook to help you outline your business plan. How you build your business from the ground up. It's a free resource on the Elle & Company site. It's on my home page if you want to go there. Enter your email address and I'll send it right to you or I'll add it in the show notes as well so that you can have that there. I know that writing a business plan can be a little bit overwhelming and you don't know exactly what you should include on it. So that's why I created the Business Playbook.

Elle & Company's Business Playbook


Craft a tailored business plan with the help of my Business Playbook

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8 | Streamline your brand

The reason I put this at the very end of these steps as a brand designer is because it is so much easier to brand a business once they have experience under their belt. It is so hard to brand a business for a client and for yourself when you have no idea what people you're trying to reach, or you think you have an idea, but then it quickly changes. I prefer to work with people who have been doing what they're doing for a while because we're able to really zero in on who their ideal client is.     

Who are we trying to reach? What's the mission statement? All of that is going to be so much more accurate if you have experience under your belt. I'm all about making a great first impression from the get go. I don't think design should be overlooked completely, but I think that a lot of people can get so wrapped up in the design details that it keeps them from ever getting started. So, I put streamlining your brand at the very end. You might, at this point, want to invest in a graphic designer who can take this off your plate and do it for you. This might be a task that you can delegate. Or, you can walk through those steps on your own.     

I also have another free resource. I did this back in the winter. I think it was February. I did a one month brand challenge, and I showed you how to create your brand from start to finish. All the steps that I do in my design process with my clients I included in that brand challenge. So, if you find yourself designing your own brand, or you just want to freshen up your current brand on your own, or you're a graphic designer and you're just curious about my process and what I recommend, this brand challenge is another fantastic resource. I compiled it all together so that you can walk through it at your own pace. But it's kind of just a step by step of how to brand your business.

Brand Challenge blog posts:
Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand   
How to Come Up With a Creative Visual Direction for Your Brand
A Guide to Choosing Brand Colors, Fonts, and Graphics
Creating a Brand That Isn't Easily Forgotten

But, I would do it at the very end of all of these steps. And, again, I wouldn't have told you that a couple years ago. But after a lot of experience, I think saving your brand until last will leave you with a more accurate brand and one that really hones in on your ideal clients and customers and...Yeah. It'll pay off in the long run.     

So, just to run through that list one more time, especially for those of you who might be tuning in and listening to this audio on the podcast later. Number one is to create a preliminary business plan. Don't go into all the details just yet, but you do need to set goals and have a sense of direction. Number two, come up with that simple Squarespace site, create your online home base and start driving traffic there through number three, which is blogging. Draw in potential clients before you ever come up with an offering. Just start growing that audience.    

Number four is to choose one to three social media platforms. Find out where your potential clients and customers are hanging out on social media and choose those platforms. Create a schedule and a strategy for each one. Remember that social media should be used as a funnel, too, back to your online home base, your website. Determine your offerings after you build your following. You can either tweak, refine, eliminate or add to your current offerings. But revisit that, ask your audience what they want to see from you. Number six, refine your processes. Consider how you can maximize your time and work more efficiently through your processes. Number seven, revisit your business plan. Do a full-fledge business plan. And number eight, streamline your brand. Then you can focus on branding.     

So, I hope that is helpful for y'all as you approach the first stages of your business. This is exactly what I would do if I could go back and do it over. Although, as a designer, I would find it really hard to save the branding until last, but it really is one of the best things that you can do.

All right, so I'm going to move on. I see we have some questions down below, and I'm going to spend some time answer these questions. So, if you have any questions, if you came up with any throughout the livestream, feel free to drop a question in there and I'll spend some time answering these. These are often my favorite part of Ellechat.     

Kristen asks, "I'm curious about your opinion on when to publish a blog. Is there a recommended amount of content to add before making it public? I've completed the formatting, added in one blog post and a few other supporting elements. I'm just not sure it's ready."

So, Kristen, this is a common question that I'm often asked. Some people try to get their blog just right before they publish it. They want to have a certain number of posts ready. And I would say, go ahead and publish it. A lot of people can get so wrapped up in the details and want to perfect things that they never get up and running. I say get it up and running.     

The truth is that when you start your blog, you might have a little bit of traction through sharing about it on social media and the following that you might already have. But that blog post, the more and more you blog is going to be quickly buried underneath new content, which can be a little depressing if you think about it. But it's actually a good thing. I hope, and don't any of you get any ideas, but I hope that people don't go back and look at some of my very first posts on Elle & Company blog. It's more important that you just get in a consistent routine of sharing new content. New, helpful, detailed content. I think that's the most important step.  

So, take the leap, publish your blog. You don't need to have a certain amount of blog posts at the ready. Just go ahead and dive in. Come up with a schedule, a goal for how often you want to post. The more often the better, but be reasonable. A lot of people start out with a lot of steam and then can't keep up with blogging every week day or a couple times a week. Try to do once a week if you can and then add on as you go. Also, you don't have to do an introductory post about what you are planning on sharing, what the goal of the blog is, or any of that. Your about page will tell people about your business. So, let your about page give people background information and just dive in with content. You don't need an introductory blog post. Although, I was guilty of that in the beginning. But I say just dive in. Great question. 

Jessica asks, "I work full-time and freelance on the side. What do you think is the best way to book in time with clients? Currently I give them hours of the day which I allow for freelance projects after work, 6:00 to 10:00 PM. But obviously, that doesn't always fit in a client's work day. So, do you think there is a better way to do this without putting potential clients off?"

That's a great question. This is something that a lot of people struggle with when they have a 9:00 to 5:00 job and they're doing their business after hours and on the weekends.     

A lot of times when I was in your same shoes and I was working a full-time job and working on freelance stuff at night or on the weekend, I would either schedule ... See if their schedule is available at night. If not, I would try to talk to them on my lunch break at work. A helpful tool that I used that might be really helpful for you as well is calendly.com. I'll add that in the show notes, as well. And Calendly is a fantastic tool for scheduling because it allows you to put in what days you're available in the week and what your schedule is. And then instead of going back and forth and trying to figure out what time would be best for both parties, you and your client, they can just see your schedule, choose a time that works for them, and it'll add it to both ... I use Google Calendar, but I think iCal works for it, too. It'll go ahead and put it in my calendar, put it in my client's calendar, and it books the time.     

So, for those of you who have very limited hours that you can meet with clients, Calendly could be an awesome scheduling tool. So I say at night your clients will probably be happy to do that, as well. Even if it is outside of work hours, they'll probably be willing to work with you if they know that you're freelancing. But try to use your lunch breaks if you can, as well. If any of you who are freelancing on the side and working full-time have a great solution to this that I didn't mention, feel free to leave it in the comments for Jessica, as well.     

Lindsay says, "What do you do while you don't have a portfolio? Self-directed projects, free work, other."

What I always tell my Freelance Academy course students, especially when it comes to the portfolio, is that if you're offering services that you don't have any experience with ... So, say you are offering a full client branded website, but you haven't done that complete package before, I recommend coming up with some fictitious projects to put in your portfolio that fit that package. So, you can create a client brief and come up with a client. Maybe you want to book more clients who have restaurants so you can do menus and that kind of stuff, which I think would be awesome.     

Create a fictitious project around a restaurant. And then in a blog post, walk through the process from start to finish. You can say it's a fictitious project. It's still showcasing your work. I've seen a lot of designers do this and it showcases their work. It actually shows that they're thinking through the design, even if it is fictitious. I also think, if I'm remembering correctly, there's some websites that come up with fictitious client briefs. If any of you have heard of this, I'd love for you to put it in the comments section. But you can grab one from there as well, or you might choose to give a potential client or maybe a friend in the industry a discount in order to do the work for them and put it in your portfolio, as well.     

So fictitious projects are great. If you can do a project for a friend and then showcase that work in your portfolio to ... Brief Box, thank you Jessica. That is the name of one that has creative briefs that you can just pull from. Awesome, and she put the link in there, too. I appreciate it. Sam agrees. Okay. So, yeah. Fictitious projects are totally fine. I would totally do that myself. And then as you bring on new clients, share the work like crazy. Share behind the scenes on social media, do a blog post outlining the process from start to finish and link to it from your portfolio page on your website. Give people behind the scenes. You don't need 10 projects in your portfolio when you launch. You could launch with two or three and that would be totally fine. But add to it and get people involved in the process.     

Elena says, "How do you come up with content for blogging when it feels like everyone is doing and writing the same about the same things? It can feel like an echo chamber sometimes, can't it?"

And I can totally relate to this. The thing is that a lot of your clients, depending on who you're trying to reach, aren't following along with all the other designers or all the other interior designers or all of the other photographers that you are following along with. Sometimes we can get so consumed with our industry and the people that we're following along with that we think everyone else is following along with them, too. And that's just not true.     

You have a lot of experience that's distinct to you that you can blog about and share about. You have talents that are distinct to you. So when you're sharing portfolio posts and your creative work, nobody else has the exact same work or the exact same style that you do. No one else has the exact same perspective. And often times, if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of content out there and the things you want to blog about are the things that other people have been blogging about, stop reading those blogs. It took me stepping away from other blogs and not reading other blogs that I was tempted to mimic for me to finally gain traction and find my own voice in this industry.     

So, don't let the other content out there keep you from blogging. Use it as a challenge to get creative with it and put your own spin on it. Step away from the other blog posts. If you're writing about a certain topic, don't get on Pinterest and see what other people wrote about on their blog posts. Step away and put your own spin on it. Write from your perspective. It'll really, really help your content in the long run. So I hope that's helpful for you, Elena.     

Jay says, "I'm curious about setting up a membership and courses site on Squarespace and reading your stuff because it seems like you've moved vendors a few times. Member Space, Teachable. I wonder where you are now and who you use now."

I might need to do an Ellechat on this soon because I did switch from Member Space to Teachable. I'll have to talk about that in another Ellechat. But, yes. I am using Teachable now. I wish that I could host everything in Squarespace and make it all look consistent with my website, but there's a lot of finagling that has to happen in order for that to work. Teachable at the moment allows me to keep everything all in one place and not have to piece things together. I'll write a blog post about that soon or do another Ellechat on that soon, Jay. Great question.     

Kayley says, "I have a question about securing a domain name. I finally figured out a business name I love, but the domain is already owned by a squatter. Do you have any tips on how I should approach this? I've never bought a domain before, so this is all new to me."

I can relate to this one, too, because I have the URL elle&companydesign.com. Looking back is one of the longest domain names ever, but it was because Elle & Company was taken and so was elle&co.com. If you can shorten your name in a way that makes sense, do it. A lot of times I've even thought about doing elle&.co. Get creative with it. If it is owned by a squatter and they're selling it, see what the price is to buy it. It might be a little steep, though.     

A word of wisdom is to not look up the domain name over and over that you want to use. Somehow they know and people pick up on it and buy it. So, if you have one in mind, check for it once and then purchase it right away if it's available. But I would recommend getting creative getting creative with it, trying to switch it around maybe. I had to add "design" to the end of mine. So, yeah. If any of you have helpful tips and advice on this topic, feel free to share it in the comments section, or even comment on this question in CrowdCast.     

Alissa says, "When you create a website for a client as part of a branding package, do you use Squarespace for that client?"

Yes. That's included in my design package is a complete Squarespace website and I have a lot of posts on Squarespace and even how I use Squarespace for my clients, my whole Squarespace design package. So, yes. I love Squarespace and I highly recommend it.     

Laura said, "How long did it take you until you started noticing a consistent flow of clients?"

So, this is where blogging really comes in handy, and I'm going to go back to it again. I was blogging for about four or five months consistently sharing helpful content every week day. And I started doing that probably in about ... Probably August or September of 2014. By the end of the year, I wanted to book out my client calendar. So I sat down and figured out, I only want to work with one client at a time for two weeks. How many two week blocks can I set out in my calendar? And I wanted to book out all of those two week time slots.     

By February, I had completely booked out my client calendar because of blogging and bringing in people, bringing in traffic to the website, sharing my portfolio through the blog. So, it probably took me about six months of doing it consistently, but once I started booking, I booked super quick and was then able to start a waiting list. So, yeah. That's September to February. So how many months is that? I think about six months. Five or six months. But you have to be diligent and you have to just stick to it even when it's hard and you don't see any traction at first knowing that it will pay off in the long run.     

Laurel says, "What do you use for visuals while you're waiting to streamline your brand? Just pick a good basic typeface, simple color palette, et cetera, and then change it later? What about blog post graphics and social media?"

Yes. So, consistency is key. Even when you're developing a complete brand and you maybe invest in it later, consistency is key. Come up with a color palette that you stick to and color values that you stick to. Come up with consistent typefaces and just use them over and over again. If you want to invest in something like Adobe Illustrator, that's easy to create just basic graphics in. You can also use Canva and just use the same templates for blog posts over and over. Just be consistent.     

With your logo, you can choose a simple typeface for your logo and just leave it at that until you can invest in more later. Actually, simple is better than going over the top and going too much. But, yes. Consistency is key. Choose a typeface or two, choose three max five colors for your brand just to create consistency and recognition, and then invest in branding later on. Great question, Laurel.     

Alison says, "What is an example of a benchmark?"

So one of my goals for this quarter has been to launch Freelance Academy. And I want to have over ... I think what I set was 150 students this round since I only launch it once a year. Last year, I was able to bring on 100 students for the first launch of it and I was really excited about it. This year, I want to challenge myself a little bit more and get this resource in front of more people. So, my goal is 150 students. Well, if I think of that goal in all, that can be a little overwhelming. So I need to set benchmarks to get there. So one of my smaller goals from that, one of those benchmarks was to create an affiliate program. If I have other people who are helping me promote the course, I can reach a bigger audience and hopefully bring in more students for the course.     

Another benchmark was to come up with a social media strategy and a strategy for my mailing list. So, to come up with content for that. And I was able to break that down more. I was able to break down the affiliate program even more. So I start with the big picture, and then I break it down into smaller benchmarks to get there. So, I hope that's helpful for you, Alison. If your goal is to take your business full-time, set a goal for that. I want to take my business full-time in six months. Well, a benchmark might be book out my client calendar until this point so I know I can go full-time. So just think smaller picture after that big goal and set those benchmarks.     

Ashley says, "How do you transition from giving free advice to people who email you to offering coaching services?"

This is also another question that I get fairly often is, "But if you're sharing everything for free, what incentive do people have to hire you?" And I found that the more I share and the more transparent I am, the more people want to work with me because they know that I am transparent and trying to help them. I can give away tons of advice, but people have the most trouble implementing it. People want me to hold their hand and walk them through it and tailor the advice to their business.     

It's hard just to read a post and then tailor it to your own business and figure out how to implement it. So, that transition, though ... Give, give, give, give, give. And then once people start asking you for a lot of advice ... So, for example, I give away a lot of information through things like this Ellechat, through the newsletter, through the blog. But when people start emailing me and asking me for in-depth advice, having coaching services is a great thing to point them to. So if you find that a lot of people are reaching out to you for free advice, in-depth advice, it's not just an easy question to answer, have those coaching services there to be able to point them to it. I was able to launch my coaching program very inconspicuously 'cause I just got it up and running so I would have something to point people to if they wanted to work with me one on one. I hope that answers your question, Ashley.     

Carrie asks, "For an online business, is an email list a must have even if you have a blog, social media following, website, etc.?"

Yes. And actually, in hindsight, I would probably lump this in with the blogging, step number three. A blog and a mailing list work really well together. And honestly, I didn't put as much emphasis on the mailing list in this list because it's always easier to grow a mailing list if you have website traffic. If people are coming to your website and there's content upgrades or opt-ins for them to get a freebie or follow along with your newsletter or whatever it might be, then they'll naturally sign up.     

So, if you already have tons of traffic coming to your website, it's going to be so much easier to grow your list. And growing a list is super helpful. I used to underestimate how important a list was, but you're getting direct access to people. With blogging, one of the hard things about blogging is people have to remember to come to your site, or they have to see a social media post, or a pin on Pinterest in order to go back to your website and see your new blog post. With email marketing, you're getting right into people's inbox and they're checking their inbox multiple times a day.     

So you have direct access to them. So the blog and the email list go hand in hand. The blog helps you drive traffic and gets people to sign up for your email list, your email list can point people back to your blog with new posts and point people back to your website. And I have some posts on this that I'll also share in the show notes as well. That might be helpful for you, Carrie, with growing a list. That was a great question. But going back, I would lump that in to number three. Blog and mailing list. If you can manage it at the same time, it'll be super beneficial.     

All right. I think that's it for the questions, and we're coming up right on the hour. So thank you all for taking the time to tune in. For those of you who are joining in Ellechat for the very first time, it was so good to have you. I hope you'll join in live again soon. This is coming to a podcast this week. We're going to try it out and see how it goes. So, stay tuned for that, as well. I personally love the webinars because of the slides and the live feedback in comments, but the podcast will be awesome, as well.     

I'll have the show notes ready for you. You'll have access to the slides, the transcript, all of that good stuff. So, stay tuned for that next week. If you enjoyed the Ellechat and you want to see more Ellechats in the future, if you click on my ... Somewhere around here, and CrowdCast switched things around. But if you click on my name, if you see a little picture of me, you can click on that and follow along with my account. So you'll get notified every time a new Ellechat goes live so you can register. And we have one on the docket for next week and it's about Instagram stories and how you can use Instagram stories to point people back to your website to drive traffic and to get clients.     

So, I'm really excited about that one. So if you're getting bored with Instagram stories or you aren't quite sure how to use them for your business, you'll definitely want to sign up for next week's Ellechat. Thank you all for tuning in again. I've missed you guys. It's so good to be back, and I hope to see you in another Ellechat soon. See you later.