You hear it all the time: Starting a business (and running it) is hard work. True. It’s even harder when you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. Show of hands for anyone who knows what I mean (you can put them down now).
Starting a business is tough.
I always had the dream of being my own boss. I hated working for people – no matter how nice of a boss I had. I wanted to set my own hours, make loads of money, and take trips around the globe. Alas, my dreams crashed and burned when my media business quickly went nowhere almost as soon as I had it registered. What the heck happened?! People loved me as an employee and loved the work I produced. Yet when I stepped out on my own I hardly got any clients. What was I doing wrong? After about literally a couple years of no headway I finally called it quits.
As I look back at my naivety I’m a little embarrassed to even call it a ‘business’.
Luckily I returned to the 9 to 5 world soon after my failed launch so I wasn’t broke – but my spirit sure was.
For years I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. The flood gates of enlightenment opened after my latest set of existential crises as I near the big 3-0. Maybe age does teach wisdom? Either way, I hope that my mistakes are your treasure.
Here are seven nuggets of wisdom that helped me the second time around and can help you when starting a business.
1. Build your network before you start a business
Are you a natural introvert like myself? You better get over that real fast. You want people to buy your product? You first have to build your ‘tribe’. This means going to events which align with your niche, keeping in touch with business affiliates, selectively offering your services to key people who will likely spread the word, participating in online group discussions, you name it. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘networking’. You actually have to talk to people to build connections – it’s not scary I promise you. You’ll even begin to like it (gasp!). Understand that word of mouth is very powerful and it’s the first point of reference before someone buys your product or service. Be seen, be known, and be an active participant wherever you go.
2. Position yourself as an expert
Whether you’re a marketing guru, a baker, or candlestick maker, you have that special something that persons outside of your field don’t have which they’ll likely spend money on obtaining. Use this to your advantage. Strive to always stay in the loop and educate yourself. Always be ready to speak on a range of topics within your profession. Sharing your point of view and having solid reasons to back it up communicates that you’re an expert within your field. Let’s be real, you won’t know everything under the sun. No one is expecting you to. But at least be able to stand behind your title. Doing so builds confidence in others about your abilities which will drive sales for your business.
My biggest mistake back then was that I would pine away saying that I could do the work and that I had the certifications to back it up, but that’s all I said. I never broke down the intricacies about what could be done about a project or even excited my clients with my know-how regarding the latest trends. After a while I was just that kid in class who raises their hand and the teacher never picks on because what they had to say had no substance. Don’t be that kid.
3. Take the blinders off and explore other options
It’s great to have that singular vision of success. But if something isn’t working in your business, don’t spend months or even years wasting time trying the same thing. Have an open mind and try something new.
4. Chip away at that tree
We all want to take over the world. However, you can get so caught up with the big dream that you forget the present. Take one day at a time and try to accomplish small tasks that align with your big picture goal. I have a bad habit of wanting to do a million big things all at once, because you know, I’m superwoman. But having made strides in curving that, I found that when I try to focus on getting one thing done at a time I accomplish so much more. Anyway, don’t you think you’ll save yourself the major panic attack if you only have to make adjustments to smaller objectives as opposed to big ones? Don’t try to chop down the tree all at once, chip away at it bit by bit and eventually it’ll fall.
5. Give (some) stuff away for free
To build a foundation you have to have people vouching for your work. My Grandmother always told me to never give away my talents for free as I would never make money. I realize now that Grandma was slightly off on this one. Back in the day, I hardly anyone could vouch for my work, because hardly anyone had proof of what I could do! Remember: If people aren’t talking you’re probably not worth talking about. It’s the harsh truth. If you’re just starting out, to fix that you can seek out clients close at hand. You can start with friends and give them a trial run or sample of your work. Even ask for testimonials if they insist on ‘paying’ you. Not only will the word spread, you’ll be forming future business partners. Sorry Grandma.
6. Read between the bullsh*t
Newsflash: People lie. I was pretty sheltered growing up and thought that if you didn’t lie to people they would offer the same courtesy. Ha! Clearly I was a slow learner. Don’t waste your business cards on people who are just conversing with you out of courtesy by thinking that they really want you to do that job just because they said so – cards cost money and you’ll never get them back. Don’t spend hours working on a proposal which most likely won’t bear fruit – your time cost money too. Reading between the bullsh*t takes experience and practice (at least in my case it did). The best advice I can give is try to size people up quickly by listening keenly, observing their body language and by trusting your gut. Now I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. Sometimes a prospective client really did intend to book you for that gig and but simply had a change of heart. That’s OK. But in all honesty, more often than not, it’s lip-work. Learn quickly and move on.
7. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish
This was a major thing I fell short on. In my field, people with the equipment got jobs over me. I figured that I would simply rent as soon as a client presented a job. What the heck was I thinking?! Not having equipment on hand drove my fees up and slowed down the delivery time. Always make sure you invest in yourself. Not only by educating yourself on a daily basis, but by investing the dough to make the bread (see what I did there?) Sure in the short run I ‘saved’ money by not buying the tools I needed, but in the long run I lost a whole lot more as I wasn’t getting the jobs I need to sustain my business.
Was I clueless? Yes. Did I learn? Absolutely. Now at the starting line of launching my next business, I’m armed with a whole new mindset, motivation and strategy. How do I know that my newfound epiphanies will work this time around? I’m already getting clients on a freelance basis and I haven’t even officially opened – buzz about me is spreading and offers are coming in like crazy. The point is, it’s OK to fall down. You simply get back up and keep running till you get to the finish line. Good luck!