by Roslyn Ashford of ra redoes rooms

So… you're thinking of starting a business?! Congrats! After six years of running my service business, I can easily say it is not for the faint of heart. Rather than the usual advice, the advice here is more of a list of responses to my business ah-ha moments. I learn something every day while running abusiness and these are some of the biggest lessons I have learned.

1. Don’t be afraid to talk money – even over the phone.

If you feel squeamish about telling someone your fee – either over the phone or via a contract BEFORE WORK BEGINS, then don’t start a business. Being in business is about making money, otherwise it is just a hobby. If you can’t handle the money conversation, then you should work for someone else. PERIOD. That doesn’t mean you have to blast your fees on your website, and in every email, but you should be able to tell interested prospects your fees with confidence. NEVER start and finish work on a project, present an invoice and expect full payment at the end, having never discussed your fees or rates. You will find yourself short every time and out of money and business in a flash.

2. Know your ideal clients

Do you already network and interact with your customer on a regular basis? If not, know that you may have to step out of your own ‘box’ to reach your ideal clients. This was a biggie for me. My ideal clients (for interior design projects) are DC-based white-collar professionals, who own homes valued at more than $500K.

When I started my business, I quickly learned that my network of these people wasn’t that deep. So I focused on doing things out of the box, like running printed ads in local high-end homeowner magazines, attending a professional women’s conference, and present at focused tradeshows to personally reach and connect with this network. Five years later, my ideal-client-network is much wider and deeper and I regularly receive great referrals of new prospects with little monetary effort.

3. Not every prospect is a potential client.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t think we are the right company for you.“ This is the toughest lesson a business owner can learn and especially tough when in start-up mode when hungry for clients. Being selective about clients can be the difference between success and failure. Just like at work, some people will suck the life out of you as a client. Listen when someone contacts you about your service. If they gasp when you tell them your rates, or immediately ask for a discount, let them go. They are NOT your ideal client. If the initial meeting is supposed to be an hour, and yours goes on for 3 hours, let them go. They are NOT your ideal client. If you have a hard time receiving return phone calls or emails after initial contact, stop contacting them. They are NOT your ideal client. Listen to the prospect and your gut on their response and determine whether you can make money or misery by hiring them.

4. Build your small business owner network.

Identify 3-5 local business owners that you feel comfortable with to discuss your business on regular basis. When I first started my business, I was attending every networking group available, from BNI, chamber meetings to various womens’ business groups. After a few months of driving all over town attending this meeting or the next one, I was noticed I wasn’t getting client referrals, was not increasing awareness of my business, not meeting people who took my business seriously - yet I was spending money out the wazoo! I took a step back, removed myself from most of them and then carefully and intently approached a few business owners I had met along the way.

Now I have a small yet helpful network of service business owners (like myself) to utilize who are personally committed to assisting my business to grow, without the hassle of lunch or dinner meetings, dues, fees, attendance lists and the like. Some owners I meet with monthly, others I discuss over the phone in an ad-hoc manner. But both allow me a sounding board when I am thinking of new business or process and/or need resources – like virtual assistant referral or the like. It works!

5. Get on Twitter – NOW.

Connect with people in your industry, local and national press people, local morning news shows, local business owners. Read other tweets at first, watch how conversation flows. Jump in when you feel comfortable and make an impact! Then take Twitter offline - attend local happy hours, social events and activities with tweeters. If there aren’t any scheduled in your city, host one! What a great way to meet some new folks who could be prospective clients! Your business and network wil grow – the opportunities are endless. Take advantage – there is nothing like twitter!

Remember – running a business is the toughest job you will ever LOVE!


Roslyn Ashford is an Interior Decorator and Home Stager and founder of ra reDoes rooms in the DC/MD area. She transitioned from corporate HR to entrepreneurship almost six years ago. Since then, she has been busy helping homes sell faster all over the DC area, from a bungalow in Takoma Park to efficiency in Dupont Circle. She was included on a list of Interior Design Gurus to Follow on Twitter and works closely with Ace Hardware DC to offer custom blinds and shades to DC condo and homeowners. She enjoys helping homeowners “Break of the Beige Haze!”

Website: | Twitter: @radecor

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