Lessons Learned While Launching a Small Business and a Website at the Same Time

129 days.  That’s how long it took for two of us to plan, design, develop, write, edit, proof, post and then, quite unceremoniously, at 8:06 in the evening, launch SparksFlycontent.com.  Most of those “days” were evenings and weekends. During the day, we were doing our “real jobs”.

The last five months have been both eye-opening and validating. Creating a brand, launching a business, pitching my services, collaborating with a web designer, and writing the copy and content for the website has been exciting.

Doing all of that while also doing client work has been a challenge, The irony here is as obvious as it is affirming. People need freelance help.

My plans for this website have always included a blog that will be one part portfolio, one part self-help book. A place you can go to see how I’ve helped others find and use their brand voice and a resource that will help you to solve some things for yourself. This first post is a start.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far:

Best laid plans. Cobbler’s kids. Painter’s house. Choose your cliche’. The launch date for this website has been pushed back by client work (yay!) and by content edits (Not yet!) more than a few times. That’s not a complaint. I’m super grateful for the work and to the clients and agencies who took the leap with me right out of the gate.

I’m a big believer in first impressions—especially digital ones, thus the copy edits and re-edits. That’s lesson number two – but I’m getting ahead of myself. Taking care of clients, customers, and employees will always be job one. Reigning in a wayward brand voice or discovering a better way to say something you’ve been saying for the past ten years is probably closer to job 201.

Taking care of clients, customers, and employees will always be job one. Reigning in a wayward brand voice or discovering a better way to say something you’ve been saying for the past ten years is probably closer to job 201. tweet

Even with regular business hours going way beyond what used to be considered over-time, for most of us, there aren’t enough hours, days, hands, or original ideas to get it all done.

The demand for fresh content and the expectation that brands be relevant and omnipresent in their customer’s lives has stretched business owners and marketing departments well beyond their capacity. Agencies are feeling it too.

That’s why SparksFly Copy and Content exists and why there is a growing community of contract creatives, brand strategists, digital marketers, and freelance copywriters you can call on.

Over these past few months, there have been several times that well-meaning people have said, “Just launch the site. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get something out there.”

To which I shook my inner head and kept on editing.

If I’m going to ask you to trust me with your copy and content, why would I settle for good enough with mine?

First impressions matter. Especially if you’re introducing something for the first time. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, “Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer.”

People only visit your website for the first time once. You need to give them a reason to stay and a reason to come back. It needs to be their reason, not yours. (preview of lesson number three). If you’re building a new website, creating a landing page, writing a blog post, whatever it is. Don’t put slop out there. It turns people off. It also makes them question your credibility and commitment.

If you’re building a new website, creating a landing page, writing a blog post, whatever it is. Don’t put slop out there. It turns people off. It also makes them question your credibility and commitment. tweet

Don’t create content just to post something new. Find something new to say and then create the content. Then let someone else read it and tell you what the fundamental purpose of the piece is. If it’s not clear and helpful, keep editing. Don’t put it out there until it’s ready.

Writing copy for a business website is intimidating. When that business is you, even more so. Especially if you’re a writer. (I know – irony again). We all tend to think that our web copy is supposed to be about us. Our experience; our product; our qualifications; our process. But that’s not true.

If you want visitors to consider your products or services, you need to first consider their challenges, their needs, and their goals.

Which is why this line: (about me)

I write content with the reader’s goal in mind, a content brief, and a ridiculously sweet cup of coffee.  

Became this line: (about you)

Reading content is never the customer’s goal. Producing content should not be yours. Your goal should be writing something that helps them meet their goal.

 

Write for the audience. About the audience. Otherwise, you look like one of those obnoxious people who only talks about himself.

When we were planning the SparksFly website, I asked for and received a lot of advice about whether I should have an “Our Work” page on the site.

As a freelance copywriter, I often work in the background, in collaboration with other agencies whose clients belong to them, not me. So the work I do will usually end up featured in their portfolio—on their website, not mine.

Some of my work (brand guidelines, strategy documents), whether for my own clients or for an agency partner’s client, is considered proprietary. Other work (web content, landing pages, Facebook ads) is just a click away.

Rather than confuse my readers, and out of deference to my agency clients, I decided to not include an “Our Work” page on this website. At least for now.

That doesn’t mean you can’t see my work. This website is some of my favorite work! Every headline, subhead, and service description. The whole shebang. The work I do with direct clients, with their permission, I’ll share on the pages of this blog along with some ways you can learn from that work.

If you want to check out some work I’ve done for others, you can find it here, and here, and even here.

If you want to see a specific example of how I’ve completed a project similar to the one you’re considering, I hope you’ll give me a call, shoot me an email or use this form to reach out.

When I first launched SparksFly, I heard differing opinions on whether I should stick with first-person singular pronouns like  I and my in the content on my website, or use the first-person plural (we and our)  to make SparksFly appear larger than it actually is— a practice that is a particular pet peeve of mine. While I had a pretty strong opinion already, I heard strong arguments for having a “growth mentality” that I would have been foolish not to at least consider.

In the end, I decided to practice what I preach—be true to who you are.

I am much more likely to exceed your expectations if I’ve set them based on the truth. So here it is. SparksFly Copy and Content is a one-woman show. Call me a solopreneur if you like those kinds of titles. I am the CEO of me and only me. First-person singular.

This is important to know because if you hire me, that’s who you’re getting. To make sure that I can do my very best for you, I’ll only take on work that I have the time and talent to do myself. If that ever changes and I become we, you’ll be the first to know.

For now, welcome!  I hope this has been helpful and that you’ll come back to my blog from time to time to see what I’m working on and learn more about how you can use your words to build relationships with your customers.

A personal note:

To Mark Williams—I am forever grateful for your expert late night web design and development, your weekend creativity, patience, and intelligence. And most of all, your commitment to letting my (everchanging, constantly edited) words guide your work. Thank you!

And to Gary— Thank you for always believing in me.