thoughts on business

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I have been reading a lot of websites and resources about independent and small businesses lately. I am searching for ideas on how I can transform my online life into a successful business I can be proud of. Travis and I have been running Swap-bot.com for over four years, but for most of that time it was only a hobby that supported itself with advertising while we continued our full-time jobs. Ever since moving to New York, I have been devoting myself to Swap-bot and freelance design full-time. In monetary terms, I don’t think anyone would say I am a huge success, but I love doing what I want to each day while meeting tons of cool, online peeps along the way.

Tara, the owner of one of my new favorite blogs, recently started “the kick your door down project” and encouraged others to share their own stories of embracing an adventure or making a big step. I want to add my own story to the project, but it is hard to distill my independent career experience into one defining moment. I think my “kick the door down” moments happen quietly everyday when I make the decision to keep trying to make something out of Swap-bot and myself. Certainly, Travis and I were courageous and bold when we launched Swap-bot, but we were so naive that it didn’t feel like kicking down the door. Now, years later, after all of the site glitches, troll shenanigans, server costs, advertising issues, etc, it feels more like an act of will and defiance to simply carry on.

Gosh, I sound negative, but it isn’t my intent. Running a complicated community website – or any small, independent business, for that matter- is difficult, but it is the ONLY thing I want to do with my work life. The good news is that I think I am getting better at it. Through my experience (and obsessive reading of business blogs), I have compiled a list of ideas/tips for running a web-based business. They are mostly just reminders for myself (I have them written out and flagged in my notebook so that I can read them each day), but I thought others might find them helpful. They aren’t get-rich-quick tips, only simple ideas to keep in mind when you start feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.

My thoughts:

  • Quality, Hard Work & Kindness – This is like the “eat less, move more” diet advice. So darn simple and obvious, but so darn difficult to achieve. Despite that, I still remind myself daily that my ultimate goal is to create something of quality that will help and bring enjoyment to others. Quality and Kindness are on my to do list every day!
  • Embrace Chaos – Another simple statement, but this is one I have really learned to take to heart. The internet is a wild place and there is no way to control it all of the time. Trying to control everything that is said in a forum or everything that is said about your brand will suck up all of your time. I’ve learned to trust others and just let things flow on Swap-bot most of the time and it usually turns out so much better than if I had tried to plan out everything or control every situation.
  • Never Be Negative – I may have already broken this “rule” in this post, but positivity really is the best way to handle nearly every situation. Always present yourself and your brand in a positive light. (Tara, who I described above, just recently posted video on this theme here.) Others may say negative things about you, but the only true way to fight it is to out-shine the few negative snippets out there with tons and tons of awesome, positive content. That sounds so Polyanna-ish, but really it is about showing the best sides of yourself and your business without being fake or cheesy… which brings us to the next idea…
  • Sincerity & Authenticity – I read somewhere (I wish I could find the link…) that authenticity is going to be the next “currency” on the internet because it is so hard to find. I agree. Well, I agree with the idea that authenticity has value. Your personality and your uniqueness are your most important assets when trying to make your brand stand out in the vast sea of the internet.
  • Don’t Take It Personally – So, I just told you to be sincere and authentic, and now I say not to take things personally… it seems a bit contradictory, but this idea is more of a warning: The internet can be ROUGH. There are some weird, hurtful, wild, and crazy individuals out there and sometimes they will hurt your feelings or even do things to hurt your business. Never stoop to their behavior and never respond in anger or emotion. Much, much easier said than done, but trust me on this one. Staying kind and professional will make you feel better in the morning!
  • Set Priorities – This has been the hardest thing for me to tackle. I want to do everything! Answer every email, read every forum post, write every blog post, make every craft, go to every craft show, design all of my own websites, sell each individual advertisement, send each Tweet, and on and on and on… But one person can only do so much. I have been working hard to bring more structure to my days and focus on the tasks that have the highest “return on investment,” to use a business term. Setting goals sometimes sounds cheesy to me (I mean, they have been telling us that since elementary school), but it is vital to understanding which tasks help you reach your goals and which things are just taking up time.

Whew! It feels good to get those ideas written out. They are all very simple concepts, but they are the core “rules” that shape my work. If you want to read more business-related stuff, check out a few of my current favorite resources: Crafting an MBA, Make & Meaning, and of course, Tara Gentile.

Do you run an independent business? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned or ideas that you carry with you to help you stay motivated? Is money the main goal or are we working for something more satisfying?

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