Clairical: 6 Years in Business
In March 2016 I took the step of setting up my own business, and like many people in the same situation, it was a hugely scary step to take.
Leaving behind a job I enjoyed, people I liked working with and a steady income (not to mention PAID annual leave!) is tough, but I was ready for a new challenge - I was about to turn 40!
During the six years I have learned many lessons, not just about my own industry but the practical aspects of running a business - the parts they didn't cover in my Business Management degree! So keep reading to discover my top 7 tips.
Where do we start? MONEY!
When do you make the transition from paid employment to being self-employed? This is, of course, a personal decision but in my experience having savings and a plan is the first step. In the majority of cases, you aren't going to be earning what you earned in your paid employment straight away so you need a cushion. Having savings also stops you from taking work just because you are desperate, or selling your services too cheap, and it gives you the space to set up systems, attend networking events and start promoting the business.
Some of the people I work with combine the two, working part-time and running their business but at some point, you have to make the leap otherwise things get messy.
Creating a business plan at the beginning ensures that you take into account business start-up expenditure, cashflow forecasts, and loan requirements if any. You can find out more info here on how to write a business plan here.
Know Your Customer
Do your research at the beginning. You may think you know your customer and the market you operate in, but have you really done your research?
You do need to know who else operates in your market, achievable via a decent competitor analysis. And whilst you are at it, this blog from HubSpot is great as it takes you through the process of creating customer personas, and they even have a persona template that you can download.
My tip here is don't get too hung up on the competition, it's easy to compare yourself and start to feel deflated.
Create a healthy work-life balance from the start
When you set up a business you wear many hats; marketing, sales, accountant, office junior etc. This is to be expected, but ONLY if it works for you. You don't need to subscribe to the hustle of weekend working that many people push, especially if one of your main drivers is to set up your business in order to have a better work-life balance.
Nonetheless, setting boundaries, AND sticking to them, is really important.
Network and establish relationships
I'll let you in on a secret, I absolutely loathe networking and I still loathe it six years down the line. It's just not me, but even I can see the value in it so it's something that has to be endured.
Much of my work has come from referral via networking so putting in the effort in the early stages really does pay off. Creating professional relationships with people, especially locally (yes, even in these remote-working times), can have a real impact on the growth of your business. But you do need to pick your networking opportunities, as there are loads out there and every one may not be the best fit for you. Ask people you know to recommend a few, and always find out about costs.
You can also network and beat the home working isolation that some people feel by attending a work hub or Co-working space. These are a great way to meet new people, get inspired and collaborate. There will probably be a few near you - just use Google.
Patience and Reflection
It's so easy to think you're failing when things are moving slowly, especially at the beginning, but establishing a business takes time. The polished, well-branded businesses you see on Instagram were not born that way. It has also taken them time.
Remember to be reflective. I think it's so easy to forget how far you have come in business. The end of the year is really a great time to review your goals, successes, and failures and make plans for the coming year.
Set up Systems and Processes
The most productive people all have one thing in common: they’ve figured out the most efficient way to do every task, and they create a system to do just that. Some of the businesses I work with aren't quite there but we work together to achieve this and the easiest phase of the business to do this is at the beginning when it's quiet. Forward planning, and considering how you may scale-up, is really important. Embedding a process that works for a couple of clients may not work when you secure 10 clients.
No matter what business you’re in, a systemised approach will help you:
Work faster and be more productive
Be proactive rather than reactive
Produce higher quality results with fewer mistakes
Easily outsource the tasks you don’t like to do
Enable your business to grow
Incidentally, I have written a blog post about this, so why not give that a quick read?
Think about Growth
The growth phase for a business can be a tricky step to master if indeed you do choose this path. I say this because my business went through a phase last year when I was turning away quite a lot of work and I had to make the decision if growing the business was the right choice for me. The next step was to think about how and what this would look like. I would need to hire associate VA's and for me, this really wasn't a solution. Much of the work I do is strategic and confidential so I would be unable to outsource this, and I have built my position on the personal bespoke approach, so outsourcing this comes with a whole set of additional challenges. I also have a family and the reality is earning big bucks just isn't a priority right now, they are. So I have decided to stay small and I'm ok with that.
The first step is to figure out what aspects of the business you need to grow and how. Could this mean hiring staff? Different businesses have different requirements in terms of staff. Some businesses can operate using freelancers while others get to a point when they need to employ staff. But aside from the different employer-employee and outsourcer-freelancer dynamics, both have very similar challenges. Building an effective team is hard, not to mention finding and keeping the right people that are crucial to business growth. Planning and chatting to other business owners is key here.
Create your business plan
Do your research, customer persona, marketing and competitor analysis
Establish your work-life balance and boundaries from the start
Network and build your own network
Don't compare yourself
Be patient and reflect
Running your own business can at times be tough. It takes resilience, commitment and a drive to continually build on your skills set to take the business forward. I think what has surprised me the most is that, in reality, your product or service is a small part of the business; there's also marketing, sales, accounting, networking and a myriad of other tasks also involved.
But, it's immensely rewarding, can provide work-life balance opportunities that wouldn't exist in paid employment and setting up your own business will push yourself to achieve things you never knew you were capable of.