My freelance business strategy in real-time [PART 1]

[April 12. 2:07pm]

Welcome. Today I am developing my user experience strategy. I am just starting out as a self-employed user experience designer and strategist. My goal is to define and document how I sell and deliver my services so that I can build a website and marketing strategy.

I’m not doing this live, but I am doing in real-time, which means I’m thinking, typing, and sketching in one flow, and will time-stamp the whole journey for you.

This is an insight into my process of building a strategy, for those wanting to do something similar in your own business.

But it’s also a motivation tool for myself — I want to force myself to actually do the step that I tell clients is critical to business growth.

First, let me set the scene. I’m at a cafe turned co-working space hosted by Two-Space. The venues and people are amazing, especially for extroverts like me who go crazy working from home.

Two Space co-working at Kings Cross Hotel

Ready? Here we go!

Business Purpose and Goals

[2:07 pm] The first step is to understand the business purpose. When I do this with clients, I’ll send them some questions ahead of time. These questions help communicate why a business exists, and what it’s purpose in the world is, so any good founder or executive should be able to talk about the answers with passion.

So what is my business’s purpose in the world? I think it is to bring ideas to life. All my favourite projects in my career have been ones where the starting point was big ideas or fuzzy aspirations or a complex tangle of systems, and I help envision, create, and untangle them into a tangible product that delivers value to people.

My Business Purpose

My Business Purpose[2:22 pm] The next steps is to think about my business goals. What do I want to do in order to achieve my purpose? These will provide direction for what I spend time on and what decisions I make for the business.

While my purpose shouldn’t change, my goals might evolve, so I’ll set a few different time frames.

[2:24 pm] Quick break as there’s a meet and greet roundtable happening at my table.

[2:53pm] Cool, back now.

Goal 1 (2018): Deliver business value through the strategy and design of digital products for five clients. (I don’t want to just design pages, I want to build the right products, based on user research, that make a difference to a business.)

Goal 2 (2018): Launch an online course that reaches 500 people.(I want to create a second income stream from sharing my methods for bringing ideas to life.)

Goal 3 (5-year goal): Greater than 80% of projects for existing clients or business referred through clients. (I want to focus on client satisfaction and retention in all that I do.)

[3:20 pm] Ok, still on track, with that bit of a break in my concentration. I’ve thought about these goals before, as I was starting out in January and again in the past few weeks as I contemplated next steps after wrapping up a project with my first client, but it still feels harder than it should articulate.

My Business Goals

You can see how these goals align with my purpose. In delivering business value, launching an online course, and aiming to retain customers (or make them happy enough to refer me to others), I am fulfilling my purpose of bringing ideas to life.

It’s also valuable to quantify your goals. I’ve never created an online course, so the number is a huge guess. But for an existing business or product, setting goal numbers should be a bit easier.

Business Strategy and Tactics

[3:24 pm] Ok, now that I have the goals out of my head and on the page (finally), it’s time to write the strategy. This is how I’m going to get to my goals.

Terminology here can be really confusing, and even when I use these words — goals, objectives, strategies, tactics — I can confuse others and myself on the definitions and differences. For now, goals are how my business can make money while working toward my purpose. A strategy is the path plan to take achieve that goal, which should stay constant throughout the year (I might revisit annually). Tactics are specific channels and methods to use to support the strategy, which I might revisit and adjust frequently (i.e. weekly). (A recent post from Seth Godin’s blog is a good thought starter about this.)

Goal 1: Deliver business value through the strategy and design of digital products for five clients.

Strategy: Find and connect with startups and growing companies with digital product needs that I can help them with.

Tactics:

Reaching out to my existing network of startups, ux designers, and consultants.

Connecting with new potential clients and networks via meetups, events, and coworking.

Find organisations that I admire and want to work with and reach out directly.

Build my website to support my message and have a destination to direct people I meet to learn more.

Build additional sales collateral to support my website and help prospective clients envision how working with me can bring their idea to life.

Use email and LinkedIn to stay in contact and nurture leads

[3:47 pm] That was a lot of thinking, but its really the key aim of my business. The tactics are still somewhat general, but at least now, when I’m deciding where to spend my day, I can look to these tactics and try to work on each one.

Goal 2: Launch an online course that reaches 500 people.

Strategy: Build course content from my direct experience that I can speak honestly and authentically about. Include very tactical, actionable insights throughout, even in the marketing and free content.

Tactics:

Survey existing networks to get guidance on course content

Create a course for getting started and executing user research, targeted toward startups and aspiring entrepreneurs

Research different e-learning platforms and test a few for ease of use, reach, and profitability.

Write blog posts about my experience: research for a research course (whoa!), assessing platforms, incorporating learnings into my design work, etc.

Explore potential partners to help (I’ve been talking to other designers, as well as local learning/mentorship programs.)

[4:02 pm] Ok, still productive, despite a few calls and messages. Last one, here we go.

Goal 3: Greater than 80% of projects for existing clients or business referred through clients.

Strategy: Exceed expectations in all client work — deliverables, communications, and support.

Tactics:

Commit to one client at a time, so they have my full attention during the key phases of the research and design.

Clearly set expectations throughout the project. Spell out what will happen when, and stick to it. If plans and timelines change, be clear and upfront.

Send weekly (or more) communications on progress and status

Don’t let myself get complacent, especially at the end of projects when it can feel like the end is near and I get anxious to jump into build stage.

Provide channels for feedback and referrals — ask for testimonials, referrals, and create case studies. (Could also find event to co-present case studies?)

[4:10 pm] Woo hoo! Getting easier, and still moving forward. Here’s what my diagram look like now:

My Business Strategy and Tactics

Brand Strategy

[4:30 pm] Ok, uploaded my sketches and photos, and got a drink, ready to press on!

One more important consideration before I get in the the UX strategy is the brand look and feel. I’ve worked with brand strategists who are brilliant at what they do, and therefore I defer the detailed strategy to to them whenever possible. But it’s important for UX designers to deeply understand the brand position before designing anything, so it can influence the design. The user experience should be unique to a company and product, and reflect the brand and users, not reflect the designer’s style.

So with that, I present my brand, Auxo.

My business logo

Brand identity

  • Auxo is brand under which I delivery strategy, research, and design services
  • As it’s just me for now, I will use “I” in reference to Auxo work, so it still feels personal (and I can avoid any awkward conversations about referring to myself in the first person plural. I was inspired by a great freelance web designer’s site I stumbled upon at solidgiant.com)

What Auxo does:

  • I bring ideas to life
  • I deliver value for startups and growing business through research and design for new digital platforms and experiences
  • I build digital experiences that meet the needs of your customers
  • I simplify complex things to create digital experiences that are easy and fun to use
  • I value transparency and teaching — clients, partners, admirers — my ideas aren’t secret, the value is in the execution and personalisation.

What Auxo feels like:

  • Professional, yet approachable
  • Easy and friendly
  • Forthcoming with help and information, helpful
  • Credible expert
  • Straightforward

[4:57 pm] This feels like a good place to wrap up for the day, so I will continue this post again, also working and documenting in real-time.

So far, this might not look like it has much to do with user experience, and more just regular business strategy. This is true, because it’s important that user experience designers understand where the business is coming from before UX can even get a seat at the table.

So, please continue on to part two!

This post originally appeared on UX Planet