The biggest business mistake I ever made was becoming a web designer.
My client, let’s call her Gabby, poured her entire budget for the year into working with me. Guess what? It broke her.
And we designed some gorgeous stuff together, lemme tell ya. Each pixel was impeccably placed, from header to footer. When you looked at her website and compared it to the competition, Gabby definitely had one of the most beautiful dot coms of anyone in her industry.
Gabby was so proud of her new website she shared it with everyone she had ever met. While others whip out photos of their kids, Gabby was the weirdo pulling up her dot com to show the poor woman behind her in line at the grocery store who just wanted to buy her box of Franzia in peace. She put a picture of the homepage on her Christmas card. I know because I got two.
She shared it and tweeted it and grammed it and pinned it.
And then she waited.
And nothing happened.
A few months after we launched, Gabby called me crying.
No one has bought a single thing from me. I have the best website of anyone I know and I’m still not making money. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not meant to be in business.”
Stop the truck.
That’s when I knew I had to quit designing websites.
Gabby and I had both poured our hearts and souls (and in her case, a small part of her 401K) into designing the most incredible digital space we could dream of.
We were both so proud of that website. But it wasn’t making money. And it wasn’t going to.
I had failed Gabby and I knew it. And, if I was being honest with myself, I had failed all the Gabbys that came before her, too.
Because for all the pride Gabby had in her new website, she had no idea how to use it. It wasn’t a tool, it was an ornament.
I’d compare it to a fancy handbag but even a Louboutin can help you schlepp your credit cards and hand sanitizer and favorite lipstick. (Mac Retro Matte in Ruby Woo if you’re curious.) Gabby’s website was only schlepping her to bankruptcy.
This was the moment I stopped selling web design.
Here’s where it all went wrong: at the beginning of my process, I had clients go through an extensive questionnaire explaining what their business was all about, who their favorite clients were, and how they planned to get their offerings in front of those people and lead them to a sale. Most people, Gabby included, filled this out quickly and excitedly.
Yeah, yeah. I know that stuff’s important. I’ll sit down and map out my sales funnel and marketing stuff later. Promise. But when can we design my logo?”
And even though the truth was staring me in the face — all the ways that Gabby needed help figuring out where her website fit into her overall business plan — I gave her what she wanted. I designed a beautiful website she had no idea how to use. And, in doing so, I ruined her business.
Because here’s what happens when you invest your small business budget in the wrong thing:
- It drains your time
- It drains your bank account
- It drains your desire to do business at all
I have an entire episode of Awkward Marketing all about this. Check it out, if only for the dad jokes and my sweet Stone Mountain hat.
This was where Gabby was just a few short months after she was so proudly waving her website in the faces of Franzia buying soccer moms at the Jewel Osco. She was emotionally and financially deflated. She didn’t have enough money to get the support she needed to make her website work. And, more importantly, she didn’t want to.
So she quit. And I quit with her.
When people came to me for a new logo or website, I couldn’t in good conscience sell it to them. I took my questionnaire and I threw it in the garbage. (Or rather, I right clicked and dragged it to the trash. Not the same catharsis but you catch my drift.)
And I replaced it with something much better. (Yes, this is where the story turns around. Phew.)Being an entrepreneur isn’t about giving your customers exactly what they say they want. It’s about knowing them well enough to anticipate their needs — the ones they don’t even know they have yet — and giving them BOTH. Click To Tweet
If Gabby and the Gabbys who came before her had taught me anything, it was that while they wanted shiny new websites, they NEEDED a plan for how to use those websites to make money. And, even more, they needed a trusted guide to show them how to do it.
So I took myself out of the website building game and put myself into the business building game.
I crafted a system that married design and strategy: one that helped small businesses clarify exactly how they’d use their websites to build and nurture relationships with clients. (Let’s just say, it ain’t about questionnaires, y’all.) Most importantly, I made strategy a mandatory part of the process before I ever talked to a Gabby about colors or fonts or logos or layouts.
And it worked. My clients drove more traffic, made more money, and scaled their businesses in ways the Gabbys that came before them couldn’t have dreamed.
Isn’t it funny how the moment I stopped “designing websites” is also the moment the websites I designed became 10x more effective?
I find this — refusing to give people exactly what they want and being brave enough to give them what they need — is the calling card of any service provider who helps their clients get incredible results.
It’s why Lynne Somerman stopped being a bookkeeper and started helping her clients see budgets as a form of self-care.
It’s why Melissa Ronda stopped being a weight loss coach and started supporting women in shifting their mindset around emotional eating.
It’s why Lanie Lamarre stopped being an operations manager and started focusing on how to keep overwhelmed bosses from crying in the shower.
It’s no coincidence that each of THEIR businesses skyrocketed as a result.
Each of us — the former web designer, the former bookkeeper, the former weight loss coach, and the former operations manager — have one thing in common. We quit.
We quit letting our clients fail by telling us how to do our jobs.
We quit putting our desires to make money ahead of our clients’ real needs.
We quit selling ornaments and started selling tools.
Are you ready to join us? Are you ready to take the lead in your businesses and quit giving into your clients’ short term wishes and start giving them long term gains? I promise the only thing you’ll regret is not being brave enough to do it sooner.