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3 things I would have done differently to give my business a better start

- March 25, 2022 8 MIN READ
Irwin Hau inset on race track background

As a successful entrepreneur and founder of digital web design agency, Chromatix, Irwin Hau says there are definitely things he would have done differently to give his business a better start. Here he shares the top three mistakes he made, to help you avoid the same pitfalls with your business.

Small businesses are built differently to large corporations, and notably require different strategies for success. Bearing in mind that only 78.5 per cent of small businesses survive their first year – it’s imperative you navigate the first few months with less mistakes and friction.

Over my 12 years running Chromatix, I’ve been through the trenches, sometimes up to my knees in ‘if only I’d known’ and ‘should have done this earlier’. It took me some time to grind through the mistakes and learn the hard way, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

When you’re starting out, there’s a lot of great advice out there to absorb. To keep it manageable and memorable, I’ve just got three main tips for you today.

Irwin Hau, founder and director of Chromatix

Irwin Hau, founder and director of Chromatix

3 mistakes to avoid to fast-track your business success

Let me share with you three key things that will help you fast-track your business success and save yourself a few years of struggle in finding your feet.

These tips will help you scale your business to grow a lot faster, position yourself as a leader in your industry, and help people find your business online organically.

Mistake #1: Doing everything yourself

Sales, systems operations, staff management, design, account management, project management and accounting. At the start, I saw it as all my own territory to cover. I was doing everything from the finances to cleaning the office and emptying the bins.

After a year, I’d started hiring more team members to help out. I was very hands-on from the beginning and loved being involved overseeing design direction and in the decision making. But as our team grew from one to five to sixteen, it was incredibly hard to shift my mentality and relinquish the safety I’d found in complete control. Being the business owner, I was used to wearing many hats, transforming into different roles when needed.

Stressed woman with face in hands at computer while others hand her deadlines

An interesting web statistic showed that 29 per cent of respondents said the biggest motivation for opening their own business is being their own boss. Which is great, but when you’re the boss of your own time and constantly working overtime, it’s very easy to lose sight of healthy business habits. I didn’t even have time to look after my physical health, let alone my mental health. If the tasks in one specific department were piling up and falling behind, I saw it as my failure as a boss – which really is an inaccurate and unproductive way to view your role.

If you think you struggle with this toxic mentality, you can understand more about it in this helpful post, which looks into why our productivity obsession is actually quite damaging.

General eCommerce figures show that most small business owners work between 40 and 49 hours per week. Some even work over 60 hours a week. If you fall into this category, and have been doing this long-term, it is highly likely you will eventually feel burnout. Here are some extra tips to give yourself some strategies to avoid burning out in the process of chasing your dream.

As the years went on, the time I had on my hands shrunk dramatically. The ability I had to dedicate to my primary role, sales, was also decreasing. I was stretched thin. As a business owner, I certainly was working harder for myself than I would for someone else, and making lots of sacrifices of my personal time. But I needed to draw the line somewhere.

Signpost showing the directions 'good' and 'better'

Solutions: Make the most of your time and learn to delegate

Begin your day with writing down all the things you need to do. Then sort those tasks into things only you can do, and things that can be delegated. As an example, only I could attend a board presentation, however my account manager could complete a proposal for a new client.

Being your own boss shouldn’t just validate you, but also liberate you. To truly allow your business to grow and become a scalable and sustainable model, you simply cannot do everything yourself. You have to know when to delegate.

To properly focus and dedicate my time to the top-level responsibilities, I started hiring more specialists and contractors in the other roles. The conscious decision to hire specialists and seniors at the start was to ensure that operations could run as smoothly as possible, as I didn’t have the extra resources to train juniors.

Formulate how you’d like things done, the processes you want followed and replicated, and hand these off to people you trust. Establishing these frameworks and routines for yourself and your staff is key to fast-forwarding your business growth and allowing consistency in your product or service deliveries.

As an example, say a chef of a popular restaurant has a special soup he’s skilled in making. If he doesn’t write down his recipe and share it with the team, he will always be stuck making the soup, and unable to step away from the kitchen to do other more high-level tasks. These high-level tasks could be ones that grow the business, such as experimenting with new recipes, exhibiting dishes in global fairs, or attending press events to market his restaurant experience.

Trust your teams and the unique expertise they bring.

Mistake #2: Not sticking to your niche

It’s easy to want to think big from the very beginning, but be wary of how much you take on. As an example, my primary specialty has always been custom web design, yet clients would ask for additional services such as photography and SEO and packaging design. I saw opportunities in every client that came my way and I could never say no.

If you prioritise steady growth and consistency in your results, I do not recommend this. Changing directions constantly will see ideas lose steam as quickly as they begin. I recommend finding your business direction and then focusing on finding momentum.

man on step ladder drawing large infographic on wall

As business owners, it’s hard to turn away a job. We try to customise a solution or make room for them. The issue with being a generalist is that you spread yourself thin. If you are spending time learning new systems or trying new software in unfamiliar territory, that time is taken directly from the time you could be using to double down on your niche and streamline your primary operation.

I would have saved myself a lot of dollars if I hadn’t tried to target multiple products and various audiences, before becoming the expert in our primary offering. Instead of optimising our frameworks and getting the most out of our primary software, I was also paying monthly subscriptions for additional software that would only be relevant to one or two clients out of 50.

Solutions: Identify your niche or main product offering and nail it

Know when a job isn’t worth taking on and start getting good at saying no. Just because your competitors are doing it, doesn’t mean you should too. Who wants to blend in with the crowd?

Niche down to create the best product offering with the greatest value possible. From here, you can expand over time. This builds trust behind your brand and enables you more growth in the future. This strategy also allows you to establish deeper roots in the vision of your business.

How to identify your niche?

Focus on establishing a strong foundation of what your vision is, and make sure to check in regularly to make sure each decision your team makes is in alignment with your core vision.

It’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to certain opportunities, but if they are not aligned with your long-term vision, you will lose valuable time and resources along the way.

Listen to what your customers are saying you are good at. Why have they chosen you over someone else? Try to pinpoint exactly what aspect of your product or service you deliver better than your competitors. Then hone in on this and elevate it even more.

This will increase the divide for your offering to be more unique and an interested buyer’s first choice, rather than a comparable alternative.

marketing strategy mind map

Mistake #3: Forgetting your marketing plan

It’s important for business owners to focus on their business offering, and really make it stand out from their competitors. But sometimes, this becomes the only focus. Many business owners forget to create a marketing plan. The truth is, I would have really fast-tracked my business growth if I had started one years earlier. I would have had to spend less on other costly marketing activities such as Adwords and banner ads.

There is no other system as powerful as a great digital marketing machine to actually get your products off the shelves (or your services). After all, there’s no point in a perfect product if your potential customers don’t know about it.

Solutions: Start small, but smart

Marketing is a positive feedback loop that when done consistently, can provide you steady continuous growth and return on your time investment. The key is to start somewhere, even if it is small.

Studies show that social media is the favoured avenue for small businesses to dip their toes into. In fact, recent digital marketing statistics show that 64 per cent of surveyed small businesses use social media in their marketing strategy.

After you’ve got your socials set up, start doing a little search engine optimisation (SEO) on your website and use content marketing such as blog writing. The latest conversion rate optimisation data shows that you can expect around 67 per cent more leads every month if your brand has a blog, compared to the ones that don’t.

If you start writing and publishing articles early, it has long-term effects in improving your SEO and marketing presence in the long run. This presence has long-reaching ties to improving your company website’s organic search engine ranking and organic traffic.

Through your socials or your blog, try to communicate regularly with your audience. By touching base with your customers regularly, you increase their awareness and will be the first choice when they are ready to commit.

Your customers are actually looking for you. In fact, 91 per cent of consumers will choose small businesses when convenient. Furthermore, 74 per cent will look for ways to support small business even when it’s not convenient.

So you just need to get yourself out there.

Business fundamentals to save you in the long run

man watering arrow-shaped plant with watering can

No matter how much advice you take on, the best thing you can do for your business is to just take chances and learn fast. Not every piece of advice will be relevant for your company’s growth, so be vigilant of what is working best for you personally, for your team and for your business.

These three key lessons are really the fundamentals for laying down strong foundations to give you long-term success. They may not seem like high-priority items at first, but trust me, if I’d focused on these a lot earlier, I would have gotten to where I am now a lot sooner.

So, to recap:

  • Although tempting, do not do everything yourself. The sooner you can delegate and trust, the faster you can scale your business into a more sustainable model where you don’t have to do 20 hours overtime if you don’t want to. Hire specialists where you can.
  • Be sure to narrow your focus and niche. If you try to offer everything to your customers, you will make it harder for your team to do everything well, which can result in sub-par product or service delivery, and more money wastage in training and operations.
  • Lastly, invest time into creating a strong marketing plan. Whilst there are a lot of avenues to consider, I recommend starting with establishing a social media presence, SEO, a good website and a blog.

These lessons are industry-agnostic and relevant, regardless if it’s at the conception of a business or a few years in.

Remember, good things take time, and a stitch in time saves nine.

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The work-life balance challenge: How to boost wellbeing in your workplace

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