What do you wish you’d known when you first started your business?

We ran a co-learning event yesterday at Collabor8te hosted by Jacqui Mitchell of 4Purpose.  In groups we brainstormed the advice we would now give to a new business starting up and then consolidated that into the key themes.  This is what we came up with:

Be Yourself/Know Yourself

It’s very tempting to create a persona for yourself, to think you have to be someone else.  Your inner critic tells you that you’re not as experienced, knowledgeable as or anything as the next person you meet at the networking events you attend.  Actually not only is that quite difficult to keep going, but being you will attract the right clients...like-minded people who shares your values and that makes running your business easier and a whole lot more enjoyable.

Also on this subject  - whatever you want from your business, whether it's a lifestyle choice or you want to rule the world, it’s all good and it’s yours to choose, otherwise why be self-employed?  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Focus, Focus, Focus

This was a definite ‘must-do’ in the group discussions.  So many of us had been there…you’re a start-up, you know what you want to offer and then you’re asked to diversify, provide another service or trade just isn’t brisk quite as quickly as you’d like so you add a second revenue stream, not connected to your original business.  This generally dilutes what you set out to do though and often means less success and/or less satisfaction.  Stick to your guns, but also listen and adapt your core services to meet customer needs as you learn.

Enthusiasm and Passion

If you’re not enthusiastic about what you do, can potential customers really be expected to be?   Lots of comments were made about how important this is.   People get into running their own business for many reasons, not always by choice but if you aren’t committed to doing a great job for clients and care about what you do, you may well find yourself being one of the 80% which fail within 18 months – running a business is so much harder than you imagine it’s going to be when you start out, isn't it?

Outsource Skills

We all pretty much agreed that to grow your business while also trying to do everything by yourself is doomed to failure.  Generally we set out business to do something we're good at and while we can learn all the other stuff that goes with running a company, the bookkeeping, marketing etc, it will usually take us longer and use up time which could be better spent on core functions and strategising our next move.

Get Customers

Yep, there is no business without customers and that means you need to find them and get in front of them.  'Network like crazy' suggested one of the group.  Wherever your prospects ‘hang out’, that’s where you need to be too, online and offline.  So put yourself out there, tell people what you do and match their needs or better still provide more than they expect.

What advice would you give to your ‘new business self’ given the chance to go back in time and do that?

3 comment(s)

  • Iain Hamilton

    Be flexible: Your services are awesome in your mind but make sure you flex to meet your client's needs. Your first customer will be you first case study!

  • Kenny Phipps

    Work as lean as you can, there really are a lot of free resources out there. Look for customers before any investment (if that's ever required)

  • Alan Bradshaw

    Especially if you provide a service based on your area of expertise, I'd say RUN EVENTS (as in training events). I really wish I'd known this when I started, but it took me several years to discover how to use events for marketing and business development. There are lots of good reasons, but the most compelling ones are: (1) You might THINK you offer a marketable service but if you run an event it's the acid test - people will only book if they're interested. So it's the ultimate in market testing. (2) Those who do book are qualifying themselves as having a strong interest in your topic, so you can build a highly targeted opt-in database quickly. (3) It's highly cost-effective marketing, cheap to organise with easy-to-use online platforms and can have a huge ROI. (4) People buy a service from people they know, like and trust. At the event, they meet you and see you performing, proving that you know what you're talking about. You're building credibility and authority. (5) At your event, you also have people's full, undiluted attention. It's at the opposite end of the marketing attention continuum. The other end is attending a huge conference where there are thousands of people and hundreds of exhibitors - any attention you get there is incredibly diluted. (6) You can use your event as part of a business development process. That is, the event is just one step. Around the event you have multiple opportunities to promote resources, tools and your service. Pre-event marketing is one opportunity, but even more important is post-event marketing where you can follow-up with people. You can give people really valuable free stuff, which generates a desire to give you something back. (7) Events open up multiple other business opportunities and income streams. You can bring in other experts, find sponsors, or even run events for other people and have a business arrangement with them, which you largely determine. (8) You can use the event to generate high quality content you can use in multiple ways for marketing your services. You can post this content on social media, your website or other channels. You could even sell it, package it, or license it and have others sell it for you. (9) You can use different ticket types as an incentive. For example, you could attract certain groups. Or you could send a special invitation to someone you want to do business with. (10) You're in control of your own marketing. It's your event. You determine the content and style. You set the rules. You decide who your target audience is. You set the price(s). You can decide if it's a free event or you can decide to charge £500 a ticket. You greet the attendees. You present to them. You say goodbye at thend. You send the follow-ups. Control and Attention, a great marketing combination. Of course, events are hard work with multiple checklists of things to do, even for small events. They're not without stress and things can and do go wrong sometimes. But overall, it's far and away the best way I've found to market, and ultimately sell, a service.