You’ve set up your business, you’ve opened your bank account, you’ve got a logo, your pockets are full of business cards, you may even have got your website up and running. Exciting stuff isn’t it? You’re all fired up, you’re doing what you’ve felt this burning passion and desire to do. You’re on your way to freedom from the corporate politics, master of your own destiny and planning on earning lots of money on your way to world domination. That’s my version of working for myself – you may have other reasons for having your own business.
And you know it’s going to be hard work – you’re not daft. You know you’re likely to be working long hours and fretting, but it’s going to be worth it in the long run because it’s your business; no-one else’s. There may be (most likely will be) days (and sometimes weeks) when the rose tinted glasses slip and you wonder why, when you’re still at your computer at 11am at night having started at 6.30 that morning at a networking meeting, you started this business lark in the first place, and the thought of employment begins to feel like a warm blanket of regular income, safety and comfort.
Where are you on this curve?
The following are some tips for start up businesses on how to survive the first 12 months. They may not be as comforting as a hot bowl of Heinz Tomato soup (has to be Heinz) and a hot crusty roll dripping in butter, but I hope they give you some measure of knowing you’re not alone and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe read them, whilst eating a hot bowl of Heinz Tomato soup!
- Be patient It takes longer than you think it will. The path to success is rarely a straight line. There will be dips, there may be cul-de-sacs there may even be u-turns, but keep your eye on the end prize. Dig in deep. Have people on standby to support you through the dark days. There will be dark days. Gird your loins! Out of the darkness comes the light. Keep going.
- You can’t do everything Ask for help. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to give information and support for free. As soon as you can afford it, get support for the areas you are weaker at e.g. admin. Don’t waste your time running around chasing paperwork if it’s stopping you getting sales.
- Watch out for the sharks Equally, there will be a lot of people out there who claim they can wave a magic wand and make your business an overnight success. As long as you pay them enough. Do your due diligence – check on line for reviews, get references, speak to their customers. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is too good to be true. And don’t forget to ask the ‘so what’ question. E.g. someone says they can get you to number one on google search rankings. Every day? And using what search terms and what does that actually mean in terms of translating that to sales? If you have a poor website, being number one on google isn’t going to get you any sales for example.
- Don’t overspend It’s too easy to think that if you throw money at something it will help it sell. Yes and no. But you don’t need to spend a fortune. My CRM system costs me £8 a month, my e-mail marketing system £12 a month, I’ve kept my old and perfectly serviceable Samsung S3 after the two year contract finished and pay Vodafone £9 a month for exactly the same stuff I was paying in excess of £35 a month for. Do you really need an office to run your business? Prioritise your spending. Is it going to help towards generating business? In an old business I set up, we spent £10k on the website! What a disaster that was! We were trying to solve all the problems at once instead of just building up slowly. Which leads neatly onto…
- Keep it simple Don’t throw the kitchen sink at it. Start off with a simple proposition, test it, get that working and then build from there. You’ll be able to concentrate your efforts on getting that one thing right, rather than possibly failing at lots of others.
- Have a plan! This should probably be at the top! Without a plan – how do you know where you want to get to? How will you know when you’ve got there? Have a strategy. Document what you want to do, how you are going to do it, who you are targeting, when you are going to do it, who is going to do it and how much is it going to cost you do to it.
- Have measures and review regularly Leads on from 6 above. Work out what the key measures are that let you know that your business is on target. And have a budget. And then review them against reality frequently. Once a month at a minimum. This allows you to stay on target and see what’s working well (to do more of it) and what is working less well (abandon or change how you’re doing it) and where you are against the budget you set.
- Get a mentor This is particularly important if you are doing this by yourself. I have found it invaluable in the past. Having someone who can support you and who makes you honest – that to do list tends to get done faster when you know someone is going to be taking you to task on it. It can be very lonely on your own and easy to get completely wound up in all the stress of it. Someone outside your business, who knows business and understands what you are going through can be of enormous benefit.
- Don’t under-price/undersell It’s easy to sell on price – but this can get you into trouble. I was speaking to a client last week who was almost broken by getting a contract with a large organisation, who screwed them down on price so far a) they lost control of costing and b) they made a loss.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect There’s a danger that you will decide only to start selling once your product or service has been honed to perfection. This is fear. Get out and sell it as it is – you will learn valuable lessons on the way and hone it as you go. Don’t be afraid of failure.
Oh, and have fun! After all, isn’t this why we work for ourselves?