My biggest mistake in business… and what I learned as a result

Keyword Copywriting Helen Beckingham

When I started Keyword Copywriting in 2011, I didn’t know much about running a business. Actually, scrub that. I knew absolutely nothing at all about running a business.

Zero.

Up to this point, I’d been freelancing for the BBC. This was fantastic for my creative imagination and (although I didn’t realise it at the time) writing ability. However, as you can imagine, the BBC doesn’t specialise in teaching commercial business skills.

I made loads of mistakes in those early days – enough to fill a modestly sized book – but don’t worry, I’m not going to list them all. I’ll stick to just the one…

Undercharging

Imagine the scene…

The recession had started. Robert Peston was all over the news predicting doom. All those famous-name companies, the ones we’d known since childhood, were collapsing faster than you can say “Woolies pick ‘n’ mix”.

I chose this moment to start my business.

“Hmmm….” I wondered. “What’s the best way to stand out from the competition?” Ooh I know! I’ll charge less than they do. That’s going to get me more business, right?

Wrong. The direct result of being cheap was a sporadic trickle of clients who royally took the piss.

Understandably given my unprofessional prices, those early clients didn’t respect my professionalism. They demanded hours of uncontracted work for free because, in their opinion, it would  “only take a few minutes to write”. These low-paying clients knew nothing about the process of copywriting, but thought it was OK to tell me how to do it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I’d be bargained down from my already rock-bottom quote with the promise of “regular work” at some unspecified point in the future. Yeah, you’ve guessed it. That regular work never materialised. They couldn’t afford it.

Eventually, I took a deep breath and doubled my prices overnight. The result? A regular stream of lovely clients who understand the value of professionally written copy.

The lesson: We possess skills that other people need. In many cases, we increase our clients’ profits as a direct result of those skills. Let’s not sell ourselves short.