So this is Christmas 2016…and what have we done?

How is it Christmas already?! 2016 was, let’s face it, not good in terms of global news. However, it was also our first whole year of business, so that at least provided some distraction for us.

Looking back at the end of the year, InnerVisions ID has blossomed since I ‘soft-started’ it with nothing more than a laptop and a business card at the end of 2015. I had a vague idea back then of what I wanted to achieve, but no idea of how to go about it.

So in March, I started a six-month course to learn how to build and scale a business.

Here are the five key things I learnt (and did) this year…

  1. “Learn to articulate your value”

I’ve always said I am ‘more than just a designer’ with over 20 years’ experience in marketing, multimedia, sales and advertising, but how to summarise all that means, succinctly?

My clients would come to me needing design, but often with muddled thoughts and too many words so I’d end up coaching them on their marketing, targeting and messaging too.

I now know that our value is not just about making things look good, but that we bring commercially-driven clarity and transformation to our clients’ communications. Our clients leave us delighted and feeling more confident, professional and assured.

Our clients love what we do and help communicate our value too, so growth has been largely through referrals and a solid reputation.

2. “There are no self-made millionaires”

Having completed his corporate identity, when my husband asked me if I could design his website, I wanted to help him so I said ‘yes’ and found a web developer to help me, Juliet. With her input, I realised we could now offer print and web design!

But I was still trying to do everything else; my accounts, my social media…and these things were stopping me growing my business.

So many business owners try to do it all themselves; like me, they think they can do it better, want to keep control or think they can’t afford to pay someone else to do a job for them…but I learned that I couldn’t afford not to.

When our speaker said “there are no self-made millionaires” it was a ‘penny-drop’ moment for me. I might not make a million, but to grow the business at all, I needed to build a team.

I bit the bullet and hired an accountant. I then posted on a local Facebook page and found the amazing Alex who joined us in March as our ‘Chief Whip’. She is now in charge of social media, project management and copywriting, gives great feedback and ideas and keeps me on track.

I’ve also worked at finding fantastic people I can partner with in the areas of project management, development, photography, film, design and animation, meaning we can scale up or down and get the right team together for each project.

Getting Alex on board was the best thing though – she suddenly freed me to get on with the other stuff…

3. “Done is better than perfect’

In March, InnerVisions ID still had no website. I’d been toying with layout ideas for months, but I was scared to commit to any one style (it’s much easier designing for others!) By May, I was getting enquiries from bigger clients, but I’d seen one actually wince when I reeled off my usual excuses. I really needed a site to maintain any credibility.

That evening, I opened WordPress, chose a basic theme for speed and jumped right in. A week of working into the small hours and voila! It wasn’t perfect, but it was done. I then asked Juliet to customise it to my specific design to make it more ‘on brand’.

Feeling suddenly more professional and confident, I proudly designed new business cards with my URL on…and finally understood the real impact we have on our clients!

I learned that just getting sh*t done is the key to moving forward, not wishing and waiting for often-unattainable perfection.

4. “Raise your profile to raise your authority”

Our course leader told us that people will research for an average of seven hours before making a major purchase decision.

Blogging, vlogging, social media, a website and brochures – even writing a book and public speaking – all raise your profile and authority in any given field, whilst also giving potential customers the chance to ‘gorge’ on your content, to get to know you before deciding if they want to work with you.

When I started the course I only had a Facebook business page – it was all I could cope with! Now, thanks to Alex, we were on Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest…(maybe Insta next year?!)

Next, in September, I finally started blogging. Apparently, the stuff in my head, not everyone knows! I was told that what I do, what I’ve learned, the problems my clients or I have faced and how I solved them are all good fodder for potential clients.

In October, my Work-Life Balance piece was published by the Huffington Post (!) and my profile went a bit global…I even got contacted by the leading Work-Life expert in Israel asking me to promote her book “to my readers”!

That month we also won an award for our work on the Kids In Sport site, which was another boost to the business.

5. Honesty and integrity are core to everything we do.

This wasn’t something I learned on the course or about myself, but a few people learned it about me and my business.

Through the course I’ve started to build a great network of potential collaborators, mentors, clients and friends (I actually have a champagne producer on speed-dial now… #lifegoals).

I have also lost count of those who tell me they’ve been let down by their agency/designer/web-guy in the past.

Trust takes time to build – seconds to destroy.

So we approach every client and supplier relationship with integrity: this means straight-talking, honest partnerships, meeting deadlines and high standards. If we can’t do a job, we say so. Nomatter what, open and honest communication is key to credibility, trust, repeat business and reputation.

This month I walked away from a potentially lucrative contract as my integrity and supplier relationships were being compromised.

They run so deep, I didn’t even think these values were worthy of comment but one of those suppliers said it’s not that common and we should tell people about it – so now you know.

Anyway, wow, what a year it’s been. Reading this back I feel a bit giddy to realise just how much has changed. There’s still lots to do, but thanks to all of you who’ve been a part of our journey so far, especially Andy (my muse and IT department), my boys (my inspiration) and my amazing team, collaborators and clients, without whom I’d be doing a fraction of the work and not having nearly so much fun.

I hope you all have a fabulous Christmas and New Year.

See you on the other side.

Sapna xxx

PS Image is my firstborn, Luc, for the Children of London 2016 book (for Great Ormond Street Hospital) © Richard Bradbury. It made the back cover! 2017 entries now open; please tell Richard I sent you.

PPS The business course I went on was run by these guys.