Why running your small business can be a lot like dating


It started with a tweet. In 2018. Yes, that tweet is from 2018, you aren’t reading this wrong. I’ve had this in my draft posts since then and thought I’d pick it up again now I’m restarting my blog.

Don’t all good blog ideas start with a tweet? See, nothing has changed since 2018!

As I got back from my summer holiday that year I had two clients cancel. For completely normal client-moving-on reasons. They both kindly took the chance to say lovely things about the work I’d done and we parted on good terms.

Having said they would keep me in mind for another project, it wasn’t until one of them got back in touch that I wrote that tweet. It just struck me that the conversation I’d had (twice) after my holiday with both clients was just the usual ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ that we have all heard at one time or another.

The more I thought about it, and the more I mentioned it to other people I realised, running a small business is like dating in so many ways.

The First Date


Networking has, in recent times, more of less just followed the trajectory of dating to a tee. With speed dating came speed networking, with more activity-based dating events came networking events where you are doing something (anything!) other than actually just having a drink and chatting.

In our newly Covid times, there is a return to the more traditional drink and chat networking. I think this is mainly because things are complicated enough now that we are back to being able to be out and about, without also trying to do some random ‘team building’ exercise in which everyone plays Twister with someone who definitely didn’t choose to be on their ‘team.’

To be fair here, I have found a slightly more positive vibe to networking post-lockdown. A sense that we’ve all been through something really tough, and have a shared experience. Long may that continue before I get penned into a corner at a networking event by someone in a MLM scheme who takes my card and then calls me every day for a week. (True story. I just felt so awkward that someone had coached them into thinking this was a good sales tactic I couldn’t answer the phone.)

Splitting the Bill

Pricing, agreeing pricing, day rates, hourly rates, project rates, sometimes it can easily feel like running a small business is all about the money. Which it very much is. Whenever I talk to other people, especially women, who are setting up a business or are newly in business I make sure to talk finance. I’m not looking for you to spill the beans on what you charge and your expenses but I have ways of making it very clear that you need to have your head on and know your worth from day one. I think this needs to be its own blog, but the short version is this: you are new to running your own business, you are not new to the industry you work in and the skills you have and you need to value those and charge accordingly.

But back to the dating analogy. I often find pricing is a bit like the moment where the bill arrives. Who is going to pay? Are you going to split it? Did the meal feel like a good deal? Did you expect to pay? Did they expect you to pay?

I guess in some respects given my comments at the start of this section my advice would be more along these lines. Side-step the dance, know your worth, quote and don’t agree to something that you don’t feel good about. Whatever you deliver, at the end of this you’ll have to invoice for it and trust me the feeling that you didn’t want to do it at that price does not go away during or after the project.

Also, beware the freebies! I heard on a podcast some advice about giving away your time / product / advice for free. What they said really stayed with me and it was this. Decide what you are charging for, and then don’t ever give that away for free. If you are offering a service, what is the chargeable element? Is it you, working directly with you on something, whereas your resources, blog, a quick chat at a networking event for a few minutes is available to any one? Draw a line and stick to it. By all means reflect on whether you have the line in the right place now and then, but don’t go giving away your skills to people who are directly in your target audience and should be paying. There are plenty of resources about this just a google away and I would challenge you to have a good think about where your line is.

Over time you perfect this merry dance with clients you work with regularly. I have a client that I’ve worked with long term and he’s great, values my work, has interesting projects, there’s loads of trust. The pricing conversation used to be a merry dance, I’d get the project details, quote, he’d come back, he’d talk budget, I’d requote. Definitely the ‘I’ll pay’, ‘no, let me’, ‘no, me’ dance that we’ve all seen before. These days? I ask for his budget upfront. Then I give him a structure of what I can provide for that, and if I think he’ll need a few extras, I price those up too. Much more straight forward!

I saw this and thought of you

Like I said, this was all sparked by the fact that I lost two clients, but then, within a month or so had gained one back again. Now for dating or business I’m not going to advocate any game playing, but what I do think is important to note here is a lasting impression.

I think we all want to be known as a class act. I think we’d all like it if someone, whether we’re dating them or working with them, would think of us when they think of a good person, a good standard of work, a project well done.

In the normal run of things, I think it is good to bear this in mind. How you conduct yourself will make a lasting impression, and much like friends trying to set up other friends with people they think they might like, I’ve got a lot of business from word of mouth. Friends of mine have recommended me, clients have talked someone else in their network about me, the work that I’ve done has been complimented and someone has told them I did it.

The reason that I say ‘in the normal run of things’ here is that there can often be very valid reasons why things don’t end well. Don’t think that just because you are running your business and rely on your reputation that you need to let anyone walk all over you. If you do find yourself in a client situation gone bad, stand your ground. Take a good look at what has happened, try and take your – completely normal – stress and worry out of it and make a decision about how you want it resolved. Present that to the client. Stick to that. There is no reason to be everyone’s friend when they are not being yours.

So, a new blog for 2022. A few small business thoughts. What do you think?

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By Laura

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