Blog: Business and Entrepreneurship
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Balancing Business, Creative and Technical Skills

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

If you’re an independent web professional, how to you balance your energy between business, creativity and technology? When you’re flying solo, you have to focus on every aspect of your business, while working towards making the business larger than yourself.

One thing that is helpful is to create enough room in your schedule to handle these different parts of your business. It’s also a good idea to avoid multitasking, so you can mentally focus on one task at a time, and not be distracted by waiting obligations.

If you’re a knowledge worker, you probably gravitate towards the things you already like to do. If you like to write code, It’s easy to do that all day. If your strength is visual design, it’s easy to get caught up in Photoshop, and neglect the other vital parts of your business.

Generally, the biggest hurdle for most web professionals is that we don’t spend enough energy focusing on important things like business development, customer relations, marketing or financial growth. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to share personal insights on how I balance my creative, technical,and business responsibilities.

Taking Care Of Business (Every Day)

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
— Proverbs 29:18

Many folks I admire talk about having the “thity thousand foot view” of their business. They constantly reassess where they want their business to end up. They understand the importance of being proactive and not reactive.

If you’ve been in leadership roles before, you know how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day work, and not see where you’re going in the bigger picture. This is one of the most difficult pitfalls for small and mid-sized business owners to overcome.

All the little details matter when you’re a growing business. We tend to forget about taking time to plan for the future each week. We have to see if what we’re doing is getting us closer to our long-term goals, or if our weekly routine is keeping us stuck where we’ve always been.

It’s vital to know why we’re in business in the first place. Knowing what the larger purpose of your business is will help you make the best decisions for your growth.

You have to differentiate yourself from your competition and decide how your business will specialize in a world where most businesses are generalized. I still feel like I’m struggling with finding my own sweet spot, so I know how hard this is.

Defining your company values, and deciding what you’ll say no to also takes time and effort. But if you don’t define exactly where you want to go in the future, it’s too easy to float along like so much driftwood.

The business part of anything is often the most difficult to address. I put more time into this than anything, but at times, I feel like I still don’t put nearly enough. This is the most vital part of any creative professional’s trajectory. Don’t underestimate the value in making regular time for it.

Question: What’s the larger vision for your business?

Creativity Is Never Common

The creative part of the web industry that gets a lot of the glory. It’s fun to create! So I don’t blame anyone for emphasizing it. I’m definitely more of a developer than a visual (Photoshop) designer, so I know what one of my major needs will be when I eventually grow my business beyond just myself.

When I first started my web design path, I spent a lot of time studying the basics — things like typography, grids, color theory and spatial rhythm. I’m very glad I invested this time and energy early on, as it made me more conscious of visual layout. I still try to be a curator of good design taste, as Ira Glass and Jeff Veen advocate as a way to improve.

Question: How are you nurturing your creativity on a regular basis?

Technically Speaking

While I’m not an expert at vector design, I use what I am good at to merge creativity and technical knowledge. I̱m in my element doing front-end development (HTML, CSS, jQuery) and coding up custom WordPress templates in PHP. I enjoy taking projects that continue to push me out of my comfort zone and force me to grow. Web development is a path that never ends, as it constantly evolves as fast as you can keep up with it.

I take pride in optimizing things that are not visible to the naked eye, but improve performance, search visibility and user experience. I enjoy launching projects that make a difference in people’s lives. All the different things I learn, I’m able to put to good use, and this makes me happy.

But man shall not live by coding alone, but by being fluent in business development, sales, promotion and market analysis. There’s a ton to know about the other pillars of the web industry, code is only one piece, albeit a critical piece. Each week, I’m devoting time to marketing and content creation — analyzing what works and what doesn’t. I’m analyzing the competition, running user tests to see what I can improve, and compiling spreadsheets of customer pain points. I’m looking at source code to see how other sites created effects and trying to push my brand towards excellence in every area I can.

Question: What have you learned this week that you didn’t know last week?

Main Takeaways

There’s a place for independent web consultants and there’s a place for web teams. You can kick ass being independent, but you can go farther if you’re focused on growing beyond being a solo act.

While you’re still a solopreneur, you have to divvy up your time into the different roles you have to fill. Set aside time for all three areas each week, but realize the most important role you can focus on is the business side.

These three are the pillars of the web industry: technology, creativity, and commerce. You need talent in all three to succeed, but business-savvy is the most important of the triad.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

4 comments on “Balancing Business, Creative and Technical Skills

  1. Working solo is a good option if you happen to have a decent flow of regular projects or retainers that allow you to focus on your work.

    Other than that a solopreneur has to wear a lot of hats, and often things don’t come naturally and require months (if not years) to learn and master. It’s always a good idea to try partnering with business, marketing and design people if you are a technical expert. This would allow you to improve the quality of your process and business (by using experts for services where you’re not proficient at) and also learning best practices from your peers.

    In addition to that hiring a virtual assistant or marketing person could speed up the work, bring more leads and free up more time to work, save some cash and grow your business further.

    1. Thank you for this valuable advice, Mario — I appreciate it. These types of collaborations are on my roadmap, as I know it’s impossible for any one person to be proficient at all the aspects of a business simultaneously.

      1. That, and also the quickest way to learn a lot is by someone who is proficient in that matter and can synthesize the information in the best possible manner. That’s why high-end CEOs have top-tier managers and advisers and leaders for each department, who deal with trial and error and report the results.

        Learning the hard way is valuable, but if you have to get acquainted with various industries in short time, you have to be creative and leverage the time in the best possible manner 🙂 For example, we had a team lecture by our front-end guy on fonts, rendering in different browsers and such – 20 min talk that saved all of us weeks worth of reading, testing, reports for broken compatibility, project loss from non-pixel-perfect design due to incorrect PSD fonts and so forth.

        1. This is why having a team of specialists can be beneficial — teammates can teach each other what they need to know to perform their job more efficiently. Delegation is necessary as you grow. As you mentioned, having department heads who go deep on their silos allows the organization to prosper.

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