Seven learnings from starting my own business
I had always been interested in starting my own business, but if you're a teacher, communicator, manager, writer and editor what can you actually offer that people need? I learned the answers in my first six months of starting my own business.
I don’t do one thing; I do many things.
And in building up my own business, I can look down from my vantage point of the last six months and know what it means to go it alone.
1. People are very generous
A number of my previous workplaces (and ex-colleagues) have been very supportive of me starting my own business. Work has been forthcoming on the basis of my “work” reputation, and this seems to be a continuing trend. If you can leave workplaces on a positive basis, you often have a ready-made market for your services.
2. People will also take advantage if they can
My first network meeting resulted in an appointment to meet with a business about “doing a flyer”. After submitting my proposal, and organising another couple of meetings, it became clear that no deposit would be forthcoming, the business didn’t have a clue about market research, and had a minimal budget, but expected me to pull it altogether for a “doing a flyer” price, plus manage sub-contractors. I bowed out gracefully, but they weren’t happy.
I now have four criteria that businesses need to meet in order for me to work with them: a decent budget, a strategy or plan (or failing that half a clue), I don’t subcontract, deposit paid. It was a good lesson learned early.
"Being in business is scary – until you are in business."
3. No market research is sometimes a good thing
The experts talk about niche market, giving the market what it wants and the marketing mix, and I don’t disagree with this. It’s just that I didn’t do it – not because I didn’t have a plan (I do have a very dog-eared business plan) but because I wanted to test the market by being in the market, and seeing where the demand is. Consequently, I am working in an area I didn’t even consider, and would have missed if I’d “researched the market”.
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4. Have a back-up plan
I did cheat. I got myself a part-time job for the cash flow. It helps me to also take jobs that meet my criteria (see point 3), and has also enhanced my business networks in an industry I never worked. The only thing is, even though I’m only there for three days a week, I resent it and it reminds me why I really don’t want to work for anyone, which is a good incentive.
5. The elevator speech is harder than it sounds
If you work across as many areas as I do, devising and refining the elevator speech is practically impossible. At my first business network meeting, I thought I’d anticipate the audience and have my writing and editing spiel ready, and ended up talking about leadership. Now I just talk broadly in terms of communication and describe the projects I’ve worked on. It does require some common sense, and an aptitude to anticipate the audience and what they are interested in, but I know I sound authentic.
6. You can save bucketloads if you can use web-authoring software
A webmaster is expensive. Updating and maintaining electronic media is expensive. So being able to do it yourself is a huge saving. Do some courses and learn how – it’s not as difficult or expensive as it seems! However, I have had to deal with calls from graphic designers who want to help me “make your site look better” and I have explained to them – as an editor and writer – the site is “fit for purpose” i.e. more about the bricks and mortar than the window dressing!
7. You are only scared if you haven’t done it
Being in business is scary – until you are in business. Then it is just one of the things you do in your life. Sure there are problems and pitfalls, but starting my own business has also been a very rewarding experience. It opens your eyes to all sorts of possibilities and potentials, and gives you a different perspective on life. I’m glad I’ve done it, and sure, I admit I haven’t quite found my niche yet – and who’s to say I will?
But I’m having a lot of fun working it out.