5 lessons I learned from my first paid project

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I'm here to share my knowledge and experience about all things branding, websites, streamlining and business. I'm a firm believer that sharing wisdom will help us both to navigate this amazing entrepreneurial journey.

Hi, I'm Orsi


Back in 2018, I got my first paid web design project. I was already working on my business but hadn’t actually started making money. I had a couple of smaller projects I did for friends for free and then started to offer free web design consultations to gain experience. One of these calls turned out to be a paid project – one of them wanted me to redesign her entire website, online shop included.

When I first landed that job I was still working for another company as a full-time employee. I wasn’t feeling very well those weeks, things got out of control and I felt even more that my future and plans are not in alignment with what the company wanted. I was very stressed, overwhelmed and I had returning health issues due to all of it.

When she said she wanted to work with me I was over the moon with happiness. I have to admit, I had a lot of doubts, I wasn’t sure if I am ready (I certainly didn’t feel so), and I was afraid I won’t be able to handle it, or know what to do. But I was happy and excited and it felt like an amazing opportunity to finally start some serious business.

Since I knew this wouldn’t mean I could quit my soul-sucking job, I applied to another position at a different company and started working there right when this website redesign project started. The new job seemed like a great opportunity both professionally and personally, but it was no help with my new business project.

Suddenly my routine fell off the wagon and I had to figure out how to manage a new position, get to know new people, and have the energy to do my side gig after work. I could only work after hours and on weekends. It felt super tiring.

1. Start before you’re ready

When I started my first project I literally had no idea where to start. I had no experience with actual client projects not to mention having a contract. Even though I felt like the happiest person on earth when my first client hired me, it also freaked me out like hell. I was scared that I mess up things, I will make fun of myself and I am just really not capable to handle such a huge project. These mixed feelings followed me on the journey all along, but I learned some tricks on how to handle them.

I was a novice, but I didn’t want to show it. I knew I had what it takes in me to push things forward, but the voices (aka my ego) kept telling me that I am not prepared for this.

I am really happy that I didn’t listen to those voices and even though there were days when they were louder, I learned how to deal with them.

Back then I was reading and learning a lot about the idea of starting before you are ready. The biggest impact came from Marie Forleo’s online business school, B-school.

I could not really imagine, how could someone start something big without being prepared – but shortly I learned it by myself. When I got my first client it just felt so right to say yes to the opportunity that at the moment I had no doubts I will be able to do that.

There were several ups and downs during the process. Even though I planned how to roll out the website, there were always some obstacles that kept pushing me back. Yes, it was hard to keep up the motivation when the whole website crashed again and again. I started judging and doubting myself and I questioned again and again if I am the right person for this.

Then I got Marie’s book, Everything is figureoutable and it was a game changer for me. I already had this idea in my head, that it doesn’t matter how, I will always find a solution, but it never was so intentional before. This book gave me the courage and the strength to push myself forward.

Suddenly all the issues I faced with the website were easier to manage. When I faced an issue, my freaking out time was reduced and I instantly knew that even though I might not see the solution yet, I will definitely find it. And so it happened. Every single time.

It helped me change my full-time job meanwhile. It helped me when my new phone broke to pieces after 3 weeks of buying it and it helped me when I broke my keys into the post box.

For me starting before I was ready showed me a great lesson: when you feel that you want something really hard and you finally get the opportunity, take it. Do not let your ego outtalk you of it, do not let self-judgment and self-doubt come forward. Learn how to handle your thoughts and find a mantra that will help you stay focused and calm. That could even be Everything is figureoutable.

2. Set your intentions every morning

I am the kind of person who doesn’t wait until January to set up goals. I am always coming up with new goals, and tasks and the same happened in October 2018. That is the time of the year when I feel like I have around 3 months to achieve something still and finish the year with confidence.

I was looking for a planner that could help me keep my tasks on track, but regular planners start at the beginning of the year. After research and failed intentions, I realized that I could purchase Brendon Burchard’s High-performance planner.

My main reasons were – that he is one of the best life and business coaches; his book is really good and made me change some of my habits; the planner is not tight to a specific month or date, so you can start whenever it feels ready for you and I thought, why not learn from one of the best and see what would be the outcome.

I purchased the 6-part High-Performance planner and it was a total game-changer for me.

I already read in his book about the main questions you should ask yourself every day – like

  • who need my on my A game;
  • what situation could frustrate me and how would I handle it,
  • whom should I surprise with a thank you card, etc.

I started to ask myself these questions while going to work, but that wasn’t as effective as actually sitting down every morning and thinking it through.

Writing things down helped me remember them a lot more, so I did it every day.

What I noticed was that
• My days were more intentional than before
• I paid more attention to people and the way I interact with them
• I could handle a stressful situation with more ease
• I was more present and joyful
• I could connect with people more easily
• I could get more tasks done

These are just the main outcomes I noticed after doing the exercises every day for a couple of weeks,  but there is a lot more to it. The part where you reflect on your energy, mental state, productivity, clarity, and necessity in the evening made me think about my day differently. And I felt the need to pay more attention the next day to be able to feel that I did my best and that I can score 5 on the performance review.

For me, it is not just about the tasks to get done. I have hundreds of lists in my head of what should be done and by when and it certainly freaks me out sometimes because I feel like I am never done, there is always something more to do. Doing the exercises in the High-Performance planner helped me prioritize and focus on those that would bring me joy and make me feel that I have accomplished something. It made me more intentional and honestly, going through my neverending list seems a lot more fun when I focus on feeling good meanwhile and serving others.

3. Use a project management tool

Speaking of neverending lists…I used to write ideas and tasks on post its when I was in college, back when the online tools were not so fancy (I feel old, hah). It helped me keep track of the things I had to get done and it does feel good when you tick off something from the list.

The disadvantage was obvious that there were post its everywhere and it was hard to know which one belongs to which topic. I had to carry them with me to remember what else should be done but they were easy to lose…

Nowadays there are so many tools you could use to keep track of your to-do lists and they are easy to use. Amazing. I am really impressed with how this developed and how much help it means when you have a lot going on.

I use ClickUp to keep track of all my tasks.
At the beginning of my first project, I didn’t realize how important was to have one tool where I have everything written down. I used emails, shared docs, word, and a notebook but it never was up to date, and was hard to keep track of each tiny task. I started to use the free version of Asana and it worked perfectly fine.

However, over the years my processes and administration got more complex so I felt the need to upgrade and I chose ClickUp.

When I started using these project management tools my productivity level went skyrocket. I created new projects in the App for each different goal I wanted to reach. For example, I had one for my business projects, one for my own website and updates on it, one for my self-development, and so on. Now I have everything in one place and when I finish one of the tasks, I go to the app (either on desktop or phone) tick that off from the list, and see what is next. I also love that when you complete a task it still can be seen in the list, but kind of hidden view. So when I do a recap of my day in the evening, or I want to send out a summary to my client of what has been done that day, I just filter to the tasks done today, and voila. Easy as it is.

4. Review your priorities as often as possible

Not sure how is it for you, but I certainly have days when even though I planned my priorities upfront something kicks in and suddenly nothing is ever the same.

At the beginning of 2019, these days took me off track and I felt in a huge chaos where I had no idea which way to go, or what to do first. Usually, those days ended kind of disappointing to me because I couldn’t finish my planned tasks.

Being an entrepreneur thought me several new habits and tools I can use now on daily basis and one of them is to review my priorities as often as possible (still trying to stick with every day :)). It can happen any day that the tech gods are not in favor of our work, so instead of spending 2 hours on a task, you end up with 8 hours of stressful struggle. And yepp, those days can feel like your productivity is way below your expectations.

It took me a while, but I learned that instead of beating myself up when this happens, I could actually reorganize my tasks.

It doesn’t matter if you use a planner or a project management tool, maybe an Evernote to-do list. The goal here is to break down every task into little pieces so you can separate them. When you break down each big goal into tiny steps you have the power to oversee which task could be delayed in case of emergency.

For example, I planned to finish a 1-hour job for my client, but the system crashed and I ended up fixing the whole website. This certainly was an unexpected situation and I could not work on my other tasks, like the blog post writing or planning my next day. I knew that this fix would take more hours and I would be way too tired to focus on my tasks after I finish.

What I did was, I took a few minutes off the screen (like a one-step back), took some deep breaths, and thought it through: Fixing this issue for my client is a must, so it got up to the first place on my list. It could take hours, so I won’t have time to finish my tasks. Writing a blog post and planning my day can be rescheduled to the next morning when I am done with the emergency and got some rest. They are still important to be done, but I moved them from the stressful situation to a more calm place where I can focus more.
This technique helps me to reorganize and re-prioritize my tasks easily and it gives me some breathing room too.

5. Overdeliver, always

One thing I learned – over many – since I started my business is that if you want to have clients and make money, you need to overdeliver, always. You might wonder, why give more when people are already paying for your services? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • Unless you have a niche product or service, your competitors are likely offering similar services to yours, which means it is harder to make a difference. If you overdeliver on your promises, your clients will notice and will definitely hire you for the job knowing that they will get more value for their money.
  • When you give more to your clients than what they expect, they will feel more special, and treated better than what they expected – and who doesn’t want to feel special? Giving them this feeling of special treatment, a kind of luxury sense will increase their satisfaction – which will lead to more offers, more jobs and eventually more money in your pocket.
  • When they feel treated differently and special, they will likely talk about you and your service to their friends and business partners – which could lead to more clients
  • They will likely recommend your services to others, with similar business needs which could also mean more clients to you.
  • They will get this sense of surprise, a special gift – and who doesn’t like a free gift? With this feeling in their mind, they will look at your services as something totally worth the value. Do you ever have the feeling of luck when you pay for something and you get extra free gifts? Make them have the same experience when being in contact with your brand. Make them think that they spent their money on the right person and that your services are totally worth the price.
  • Overdelivering will increase your confidence because you know you gave more than expected and you could deliver more than what your client was waiting for. You made them happy and satisfied which will give you more confidence in your business and everyday life.
  • Overdelivering will increase the value of your brand – when the word spreads about your valuable services, you will get hired by more clients, who seek the same treatment, who will spread the word even more -leading to increasing your brand identity and value.
  • Overdelivering will teach you how to handle your tasks in a more productive way, you will know what are your client’s special needs, how to include them in your tasks, and timeline, and what is a must that should be delivered as the minimum expected value.

Now, it’s time for you. What did you learn from your very first project? What was the biggest takeaway?

I’d love to read your stories. smile

Leave a comment and let me know.

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