My business is two years old this month. When I started my public relations consultancy, my biggest challenge was starting. I grappled over every detail; the logo, the slogan and the colour/s for my business. I wanted everything to be perfect when I launch, but I realised that perfect doesn’t necessarily translate into relevance. If you wait until everything is perfect, you risk relevance and necessity.
I searched Google endlessly for advice on every aspect of starting business the right way, because I wanted to do it right and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Taking your name and adding it to something external to you is a bold move, and when you make a bold move, people watch and take notice. People will be asking, especially where I come from, “who does she think she is to be putting her name on something, she clearly think she’s something.”
To celebrate the business’s second birthday, I decided to write this blog post and share with you the wealth of lessons I learnt from starting my business. Here’s my list.
1. Just start
Yes, I think you probably caught-on from my opening lines that this would be one of my first lessons. My business was already registered, I had my business bank account set-up, I had an accountant, my business plan was written and filed, I had already designed my logo, decided on my slogan, created all my graphics for social media and I created all my social media accounts. This wasn’t enough for me though, at this early stage of starting my business, I also wanted my website to be ready before I launch. I asked a friend to design my website for me, because they would do it for free for me. However, I didn’t understand that because it was done for free, I had to wait when my friend had free time to work on it. My website, although it was a priority for me, it wasn’t necessarily a priority for my friend. I pushed out my launch date later and later, waiting for my website to also be complete when I launch. In the end I publicly launched my business without a website. Once I launched without my website, I realised that it wasn’t that important to have a website to launch. It was okay to just start not having everything perfect and ready. Lesson: Do the best you can with what you have.
2. Pay your way
It’s good to have contacts and people who will do favours for you, but if you want things to be done the way you want it done, and in the time you want it done, then it is best to ask a service provider unrelated to you in anyway. I asked a friend to create my website for me, and because I wasn’t paying for it, I couldn’t place too many demands on their time. Lesson: Keep business and personal life separate.
3. Make mistakes
Make mistakes and make many of them. That’s how you learn, and that’s how you grow. When running your own business, you will have to know a little about everything including finance, human resources, marketing and sales, even though it may not be your area of expertise. You won’t know what you can and can’t do unless you try doing it. By doing it, you’ll start to identify the tasks that you will be able to implement yourself and other tasks that you may have to outsource. It is impossible to know everything about everything, but it is possible to learn everything about yourself that you need to know; including your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you to make the right human resource decisions for your business. Lesson: you learn by doing, so do a lot, early on, and do it consistently.
4. Identify a sounding board
When I started my business, I had some crazy ideas, but luckily for me I had my sister there with me every step of the way, and she helped to reign in some of my wild plans. It is good to have someone in your corner who has your back and wants to see you succeed. I hope that everyone has at least one person like that. Even if you don’t, actively seek out people whose opinion you trust and speak to them often about your ideas. Lesson: Don’t hold onto your ideas in hope that it won’t be copied. You need to take risks and that will involve trusting people.
5. Ask for help
This follows on the above point, I needed to approach government organisations for help, but to get help I had to share my business plan and lots of private information about myself and business. As an inherently private person, this was one of the most difficult challenges I had to overcome. I needed help, I had to ask for it, and that meant being open to those who could assist me. Lesson: Ask and you shall receive.
6. Value your time
People treat small businesses like they have all the time in the world, but small business owners have the least time, because they are usually a one-man show. There are no support staff who can assist with the workload, and they are responsible for every aspect of the company, the company’s success often weighs on their shoulders alone. Say no and say it often. If someone cannot give you a valid reason for face-to-face meeting, then don’t go, or if the same objective can be met with a five-minute phone call, then do the phone call instead. If like me, you started your business from home, here’s a scenario. You get up early and your get dressed professionally, which you take more than an hour to do, then you drive to the coffee shop, another 30 minutes, then you wait on the client, perhaps another 15 minutes, then you have an hour meeting, and you commute back another 30 minutes. In total, that’s two hours and 15 minutes out of your day, which is a lot of time for a small business owner. There is so much you could have achieved in that time, and you could have saved on fuel and the coffee fee. The financial cost may not seem like much, but if you add up multiple of these coffee meetings, it’s starts adding up financially. Lesson: Be the first to value your time and other will too.
7. Charge a consultation fee
You will find many people who will want to pick your brain, you need to have a response ready for people who want your ideas, but don’t want to pay for it. Charging a consultancy fee is a good way to do so. Make sure they know you mean business. When they ask to meet you, ask lots of questions, until they give you a clear answer regarding what they want to meet about. Be particularly aware of friends or past colleagues who pretend like they just want to catch-up. If you do get trapped into a ‘I just want to catch-up meeting’ and they suddenly become clear in the meeting that they want to pick your brain, then make sure you’re ready by consciously going into meetings and coffee catch-ups with a response in mind when you are asked for your professional advice. Prepare a one-liner, for example “in order for me to help you with that, I will need to research your particular scenario more, and for that I charge a consultancy fee, I can quote you. Let me know.” Hold onto your ideas, because your ideas have value, a monetary value.
It’s only been two years, but already I feel like I can write a book about starting my business. I still have a long way to go, and I’m excited about all the things I will learn. I am excited about the mistakes I will make – who says that right? Entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs strive on diving in head first and learning to swim while they are in the depths of the ocean. If you are an entrepreneur starting out, congratulations, you’ve faced your first major challenge. You started.