Burn out, long-lunch invitations and promoting myself: all things I had to wrestle with during the first six months of starting my own business. When I turned my back on a regular pay check and went solo, I journaled my adventure and recently mulled over what I’d learned.
“I have 31 business cards which means I've met 31 like-minded people”
In the early days, I attended as many networking events as I possibly could. Living in a big city in the UK helped as there were at least a couple every week ranging from informal Meetups to much larger annual events such as the Leeds Business Week. These were brilliant for making connections at the start and some of those people have now become my biggest advocates. Two people have since referred work to me from people they know. I realised it can take months and it’s not always the person you meet who buys your services, but they are likely to know someone who knows someone who will.
“I am networked-out! I need to find a new way to keep in touch with potential clients.”
Having attended every networking opportunity, gone for many, many coffees with contacts and pretty much put myself out there as much as possible, as someone who is mostly an introvert, I found this exhausting. I decided I needed to find a way to keep in touch with my potential clients in a way that suited me better. I had read about email lists as an efficient way for small business owners to keep in touch with potential customers. As a writer and person who prefers to hide in my office during the day, I thought this would suit me much better than attending events twice a week. So I set up a rudimentary email list and asked my contacts if I could add them. (Every single person said ‘yes’.) I email them once a week, it takes about an hour each time and frankly, it’s one of the most enjoyable pieces of content I write. I always get lovely feedback too. I still venture out into the day but am much more selective with my time now.
“Arrghh! Just because I run my own business does not mean I can take the day off!”
When you work from home, lots of people assume they can drop in on you during the day for a coffee, chat, advice or that you can take long leisurely lunch breaks. I learned quickly that I needed to explain this wasn’t the case and be firm with people who dropped by. Now, I tell people that if I go out for lunch, I have to make that time back in my week somewhere just like office workers do, which for me, usually means early mornings, late nights or weekend working.
“I am the sales, marketing and accounts department rolled into one”
My small business is helping other small businesses promote themselves – primarily by telling their stories to the press. When it came to actually promoting my own business, it felt a bit strange. I had to apply the principles I usually coached other people on, to my own business. So, I got myself a coach who was objective and it not only helped me grow and learn; it has undoubtedly benefited my own clients.
“My clients are not who I thought they would be”
When I set out, I had fixed ideas about who my target market would be. Having spent a good chunk of my career in healthcare and the third sector, I thought that was where they would come from when I created my business plan. I could not have been more wrong. My clients came from all sectors and the only thing they had in common is that they were all small businesses. Who you think your target audience will be and who it actually is can be two very different things. Fortunately, I was prepared to flex my expectations to allow my business to grow.
“It’s not just a career choice, it’s a lifestyle choice”
When started my business, I said to everyone in my life in a rather non-committal get-out-clause kind of way, ‘I’ll just give it three months until Christmas’ thinking secretly that if it didn’t work, I’d just jack it in and ‘get a proper job’. When that three month mark arrived, I realised I would never turn back. Starting a small business isn’t just a career choice, it’s a lifestyle choice. The freedom of being able to live my life as I choose – being able to walk my doggies every morning for as long I want, being able to do a supermarket shop in the middle of the day if I choose, being able to volunteer as an elderly befriender, are equally as important to my life as being in control of my own career.
So, six months on, I learned to worry less, be firmer with my time and be prepared to be flexible about my expectations. Looking back on it now, taking the plunge to start my own business was simply one of the best decisions I’d ever made.