Growing Your Business, The Reality Edit

July 20, 2022

Growing your business isn’t something that happens overnight; Christi Cooper shares her real-life slow and steady story.
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Have these kinds of headlines made you pause in the past? Even made you wonder why you can’t turn your business into a million dollar success in the span of a few months? Surely it’s you?
It’s the headlines!
Growing your business isn’t exactly something that happens overnight; no matter what the sensationalised headlines tell you.
Growing your business is hard work. It’s hanging in there, even when things don’t quite go the way you dreamt they would. And most importantly, it’s trial and error AND allowing yourself to make mistakes and to learn from it.
Christi Cooper, designer and owner of Cooper Heart Creative, knows all about the highs and lows of starting a business from scratch. And to keep it real, she’s generously sharing what it’s really like to go from being an employed designer to braving it all on your own with success.

From Side Hustle To Main Hustle

Burnt out, uninspired, and a new mum.
Those were the triggers for Christi to explore alternatives to her job as an employed web and brand designer. It was the start of the Christi Cooper side-hustle.
Christi’s first challenge was how to find your first client when you can’t fall back on your existing connections? She found her answer in Facebook groups and the memberships she signed up for. In the early days, she took on any design work that would come her way.
From there, referrals started pouring in.
Along came baby number two and the switch from side-hustle to main hustle was a fact. It took her 2 years to get to that point (NOT a few weeks or even months, Mr Guru!).

Early Days Systems And Processes

The memberships Christi signed up for not only played a pivotal role in finding her first clients. They also helped her figure out the initial systems and processes she needed to put in place.
Of course, a bit of Google never hurts either.
A free contract that she tweaked was a good start (It’s better than no contract, right?!).
Dubsado was spot on with the timing of their advertising: Christi got herself a CRM system that did the job of sending contracts and invoices. Throw in a Stripe and Paypal account and Christy was on her merry way.
Basic? Absolutely! Kinda improvised? Yes, Sirree!
But It was a start where she could build from.

Project-Based Business Model Vs VIP Days

Until this point, Christi was doing solely project based work.
You know, someone needs brand design and website design. Or someone needs SM graphics.
As soon as that request would come in, Christi would do a custom proposal, a custom contract, estimating the price as best as she could. As things moved along in her growing business, she also took on a few retainer clients who needed regular graphics.

Things were gently ticking along.
But an entrepreneur never stops considering the next opportunity that will grow your business to the next level.
THEN, another 2 years further down the journey, an acquaintance transitioned into the VIP days model. Christi thought it was a brilliant idea and so, she completely changed her business model.

VIP Day Benefits

Turns out the VIP day benefits were abundant.

  • The scope of work is contained and structured.
  • It streamlines the process, both for Christi and her client.
  • Christi can work a lot more efficiently.

Last year, she transitioned even her retainer clients into the VIP day model.
Lucky for Christi, her clients were mostly onboard with the change. Most could see the benefits of the VIP days for them too. A few dropped off, but because she no longer needs to juggle overlapping timelines, she could schedule more clients.
In Christi’s book (and mine!) that’s a big win!

Quality Work And The Client Experience For The Win!

Christi’s focus is very much on the quality of her work, but her client loyalty also comes from being organised and paying attention to the client experience. I guess it’s fair to say that her CRM system has moved on from the basic ‘contract and invoice’ she started with.
Clear client communication means everybody knows what will happen at any stage. Also, if done well, things stay on schedule!
The VIP day process starts with a welcome email. Next, clients receive access to the client portal and find a welcome video in their inbox explaining what to expect. Christi also sends out a checklist of things she needs her clients to prepare, plus a questionnaire that gives her the background she relies on. Then there is also the schedule of strategy calls.
10 days after the work is finished, Christi sends a check-in email with a discount offer for return clients and the option of booking ½ VIP days.
Fair to say that, these days, there is a steady stream of referrals coming in.

Catering For Budgets Big And Small

You may think Christi brave for changing course on her choice of business model. After all, you can never take client loyalty for granted.
But it hasn’t just been the switch to the VIP days that had the potential to rattle her client’s cage.
Since starting her VIP days, Christi has doubled her price. It puts her at the higher end for her line of work. But in return, her clients can expect quality work that is entirely customised to their wants and needs.
Most clients understand that quality work comes at a price, but of course not every small or starting business has a fat wallet. Christi confesses to having a weak spot for start-ups. For them, she designed templates that come at a much lower price point.
It’s a very smart strategy because, of course, today’s starter businesses are the thriving businesses of tomorrow who then will be able to afford the custom designs.
And then there is also a hybrid customise-your-template solution to cover the middle ground.
Which brings us to Christi’s plans for the future.

Plans For The Future

The journey of tweaking and growing your business never stops.
In the next year, Christi is considering expanding her current team with a second designer (Christi’s team comprises a VA and a bookkeeper). It’s the logical step to scale her business.
In Christi’s head, this designer will do the work on the hybrid customize-your-template designs. But there can be no compromise on the quality of the work or the client experience. Christi has every intention of being particular about who that second designer might be, for obvious reasons. But it means this step may take time.
Which brings us full circle.
Growing your business from a start-up to a successful agency rarely happens overnight, unlike what that flashy headline may tell you. Not if you want to do it in a considered and sustainable way.

Like Christi, I’m a big fan of VIP days. I’m also a planner and it has definitively been my experience that slow and steady wins the game when it comes to scaling your business.

But I’m keen to know what your thoughts are. Maybe your business just exploded, and you came out the other end just fine? You know I don’t believe in one rule for everybody! So please, come and tell me your experience!

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