I gave up a very successful sales and marketing career in 2005 when I decided to leave the rat race and got off to renovate a property in France. It was a tough call but I don’t ever want to look back and regret not following my dreams. During my time in France I learned a lot about web design and web development. When I returned to the UK in 2005 I had already started my business.
If I am honest I would have to say that I have really missed my previous career, including the team, the successes and the accoloades. It’s always easy to look back on halcyon days but sometimes I forget how stressful it was! The experience though was invaluable.
Bringing my business experience with me:
I learned a great deal about how to target the right market in the right way and my job is to build successful websites for my clients to generate sales. Working with a whole range of different businesses and public bodies over the years taught me how important the diversity of marketing is. Essentially, marketing is all about communication and creating the right calls to action. Taking a target market and communicating with them in a language they can understand and relate to is the key. Then you can sell your products and services to them. Colours matter in marketing too as they create emotion, it is proven that different colours work better for different business sectors.
Creating promotional brochures and flyers for our corporate clients was something we did often. If a large client wanted to run a joint campaign or technology day we would be involved with flyers, posters and hand-outs. Titles, content and images all need to appeal – a picture speaks a thousand words, using the right images in the right places can mean make or break. Advertising was another part of a campaign, attention grabbing adverts to entice people to join us for a presentation or corporate day. I was also involved in a joint intranet project with one of our largest clients, where we designed a website to enable their staff to view and order phones. I also used to design a lot of presentations.
3. Sales & Negotiation
I loved working in sales, understanding a need and delivering a solution. It’s not about the gift of the gab, in fact it is the opposite. A successful sales person listens to what their clients want and delivers a solution based what they have learned. I have done this many times, starting with delivering a batch of phones to a local police force to delivering a multi-million pound data project to a client in the City of London. I adopt this solutions based approach with every website I build. The key is to completely understand what is required, then you cannot fail to deliver. Sales is about a value proposition too. It is important to truly understand the value of what I provide so that I can associate a price. If you can demonstrate your value proposition there should be little need for negotiation. Price slashing is a complete non-starter, nobody associates value when things are too cheap.
4. Project Management
Communication is key and providing regular timely updates is vital to the success of any project. Developing and implementing a management plan for the project that everyone is happy with is fundamental. My project management experience means I create a defined process for each individual project that we all work to; this enables me to carry out projects methodically and break them down into managable chunks. Managing the project budget is another important element, often clients will want to add in extra bits and pieces as we go along. This is fine but if there is a cost associated that also needs to be built in to the project scope and communicated clearly.
5. Contracts and Proposal Writing
This goes hand in hand with project management. A proper specification and written contract for the job in hand is a valuable document. That way we all understand the full scope of the project, what the project costs in detail and what is expected from both sides. Correct analysis of the information provided by the client, plenty of research and then putting this all into a clear, written document means there is never any disappointment.
6. Client Relationship Management
This is a skill I probably use every day without evening thinking about it, building and maintaining relationships with clients and key personnel within client companies. I always respond quickly to client requests, calls and emails – listening and communicating clearly, recognising and resolving areas of concern raised by clients to keep relationships positive and build trust. I never make promises I cannot keep and I always deliver projects on time; doing what I say I will do when I say I will do it. The ability to explain complex information clearly and simply is probably even more relevant now than it was before, there is a lot of technical jargon to translate. Recognising opportunities for further sales like maintenance contracts are key to the ongoing success of my business.
There was a time when I would stand in an auditorium and present the values of the Vodafone products and services to 200 people from a range of businesses. Even more scary was when I had to stand up and talk to 200 of my friends and colleagues but it is a skill that I had to develop including mastering the nerves. Writing a series of slides and grading how long they will take to present including questions is something that only comes with experience. I use this today in the workshops and business courses I present to small businesses in my region. Networking groups often need expert presenters and I do not hesitate to take up the gauntlet when the opportunity arises.
8. Information Technology
This is understanding the basics, how to set up and work with email. How to use the internet to its full potential. How to work with everyday packages like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Someone taught me this once whilst I was at Vodafone. Later I learned about Smartphones, from the Nokia 9000 to the first iPhone – websites did not display all that well in those days. We started to move away from PowerPoint and towards more dynamic presentations with moving parts, built on HTML. I shall always be grateful for that initial introduction to HTML.
9. Remote Working
Gosh that was an interesting culture change when it was first introduced. We no longer had local offices, just a laptop and printer and an allowance to buy office furniture at home. There was also a hotdesking environment at head office. The biggest challenge is that people don’t follow up on things and carry out tasks when you are not there to breathe down their necks. The remote workers who had the greatest interdepartmental relationships were those who spent every spare minute in the office. This was not how it was supposed to work, so a culture change was required for the office staff and for remote workers. I worked on a project where we set up systems and procedures to overcome this. The other challenges are of course that you can get a bit lonely and you have to be very self-disciplined. My job included visiting clients and visiting head office from time to time so I kept up my human interaction. Now it is a bit different, I go to networking meetings to keep the cabin fever at bay.
10. Interpersonal Skills
I have always needed plenty of drive, initiative and motivation to keep going in every role I have ever done. In sales strong interpersonal skills and an ability to build rapport with customers is a key skill I still use today. An honest and trustworthy manner have brought me a long way, building trust with clients means they stay loyal to you and refer their friends and colleagues. Attention to detail is vital in my projects, sticking to an agreed specification, producing the perfect design for my client and then ensuring every last piece of code is correct and error free. I am and always have been hardworking with a strong work ethic.
Realising My Identity
Starting again as a sole trader in my own business has certainly had it’s challenges and it is only recently that I have begun to realise I shouldn’t put my previous career and my current business into separate boxes. It is still me today, the same me who won deal of the year at Vodafone Corporate. Everything that lead to my successful business today is down to the business experience I brought with me from Vodafone.
I have struggled a bit with my identity as a web designer because I always associated the role with a specky 26 year old boy rather than a middle-aged woman. It’s taken me a while to work it all out and what I actually am is a professional business woman with a wealth of sales and marketing, customer relationship management and project managment experience under my belt. That explains why I have fitted so well into my role today.
“She remembered who she was and the game changed.”
Lalah Deliah, Author
I enjoyed writing this, there were a few things that surprised me as I wrote. Particularly the realisation that I am not just a web designer.