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Starting

It’s taken me 10 years to be an overnight success, but it’s 100% worth it

I live with one of those people who is bursting with business ideas. Before starting our own separate businesses in the late 1990s, my husband and I used to spend night after night brainstorming his business ideas. We were both gainfully employed and he had the fire in his belly to be his own boss and do things his way.

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I did not share my husband’s desire to run my own business. I loved the industry I worked in and had a high paying and rewarding job in an organisation I worked at for 11 years until I chose a redundancy in 2008.  I was more than happy to do great work, receive a regular paycheck and be flown from Melbourne to Sydney each week, attending high profile sporting events. I worked for Diageo Australia, which you may know through its product range of spirits and beers. It was exciting, fun and secure. 

Things changed for me when I chose the redundancy, at a time when I had two young children and was midway through my Graduate Diploma studies in teaching.  The idea of doing my own thing was starting to become more appealing. Running my own business was a lifestyle choice. I had two children under 3 and a Mum who’d been recently diagnosed with Alzheimers. The decision to register my business name and become a sole trader was about having greater flexibility in my career, and having the choice and control over when and where I worked. 

Ten years on, the rest is history. I established Think Bespoke (which was originally called Bespoke Professional Resumes) in 2009 and operated as a sole trader until 2015, which is when we became a company and I became our first full time employee. We now have 3 divisions and my collective of talented professionals works virtually across Australia, helping people with our LinkedIn, content management and career services. Are we making millions? No! That was never my intention. I have replaced my full time corporate income, working less hours, actively participating in my children’s lives and taking most school holidays off. We do great work, my team work from home and separately run their own businesses and our clients are a delight.

But what you need to know is that I’ve never worked as hard in my life!  Running my own business has been the most exhilarating and exhausting thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In 2019 I was ranked in the Top 10 LinkedIn Experts in Asia Pacific by the Social Media Marketing Institute. You’ve heard the saying – it’s taken me 10 years to be an overnight success. 

Nothing I have in my business has been easy to get. It’s taken hard work and tenacity. What’s kept me going is the freedom working for myself brings, the potential income you can earn when you get it right (which can take at least a year) and the satisfaction that comes from living my personal mission every single day, which is to help people unlock their potential.

My advice for starting your business

Why am I sharing my story with you? Because, unlike others, and yet so much like everyone right now as we navigate the era of the pandemic, the choice to start my own business was more a lifestyle choice than a long held dream to be my own boss. 

I’ve always liked my bosses! Which is why, when people tell me they have an idea for their business I give them the following advice. 

You need a timeline that will force you to begin. I want you to register your business name, get an ABN, create a logo, register a domain, choose your preferred website platform, create a landing page, and ensure your LinkedIn profile represents you well and go live.  I want you to say out loud the date you are going to do this by, and I will hold you accountable to this. You will get a call from me checking you have done it.

I get one of two reactions when I suggest this.

  1. You’re right! I’m doing this. Okay, what did you say I need to do by when? Let’s agree a date!
  2. Back off! You don’t understand, starting a business is just not that easy.

What is your reaction to this advice? 

If it’s number 1, great! Let’s go . . . because it can be that easy. You can just begin.

If it’s number 2, it’s the negative self talk that makes starting a business hard. If you can remove all the self doubt and overthinking from your decision making process you can begin! And herein lies the problem and why so many people get stuck. The self saboteur is real. There is a voice inside all of our heads that is always there to provide a long list of reasons about why it won’t work. And so the real cost of starting your own business is the wine, the gin and the therapy it takes to get you to be brave!

But here’s the thing, what if the bigger cost was the opportunity cost of not giving it a go? I encourage you to ask yourself, what is the worst possible scenario that could play out if I do begin and it doesn’t work? Can you live with that consequence? I ask myself this every time I take a risk and try something new . . . .

Are you worried about the money? The initial outlay for an ABN, logo, domain registration, website and LinkedIn Profile can be done on a budget and by you in the short term. I did not bring in all the proper service providers to help me improve these things until I was 3 years in!

You’re still hesitating? Okay, okay, here’s an insurance policy, which I believe is a little known fact that could just be the thing that tips you over to say Yes! I’m doing this by the end of next month. Hold me to that Karen! 

Your insurance policy

If you can embrace the concept that the idea you have for your business is not what your business will look like in a year’s time, this could just be the impetus to get you started. The one key thing I have learnt is that your business changes over time, especially if you establish great relationships with your clients, are open to their feedback and willing to adapt to the opportunities in front of you. 

Hang on, did this idea make your thoughts wobble again? Is your conviction fading? Does the idea of having to adapt and change make the whole idea of starting a business less appealing? Well, maybe small business is not for you if you need security and everything to play out exactly as you planned it!  Or, perhaps you can embrace the beauty of this concept, for it lies in the letting go of perfectionism and the realisation that we are not in control of our own destinies. What you need to focus on is what you can influence, and that’s your current product / service offers, the quality of work you do and the ability to ask for feedback and adapt to the needs of the community you wish to serve. 

The best example of this at the moment is the gin distillers who have started making hand sanitiser! [I’ve mentioned gin twice now. Put that drink in your hand down and write down the date you plan to do this!!!!]

A few more important points from my story

When I first established my business I offered resume writing for friends and family who were looking for work.  I’d done this on and off for years and decided to start charging for it.  I thought I’d use my network and LinkedIn connections to promote my services. I searched ‘looking for opportunities’ on LinkedIn and contacted these people (quite unsuccessfully, I need to tell you, as this was such a salesy approach that I no longer recommend on LinkedIn!). 

I also did my research and was told by recruiters that I would probably not be able to make a full time business out of it, but if I was already doing it and people were happy with my services, then I probably had something worth pursuing. Think about that point. What are people in your network asking you to do right now because of your expertise? This is where your opportunity lies and this is where you could begin. 

At the same time I was writing resumes, I was also working as a Trainer and Facilitator for a boutique training consultancy on an ad hoc basis, being booked a day here and a day there. I was slowly expanding my connections and learning what showing up as a sub contractor who did not have a secure pay cheque each week looked like. It was scary and eye opening, without the security of having a proper job title and being employed by a large corporation. As I built my confidence in talking about myself and my skills and interests, new people in my network would ask me to help them. I worked on their resumes, and was starting to be asked if I could also help with their Linkedin Profiles (“could you make mine look as good as yours”, was how it all started). I also had more and more career coaching conversations. People were willing to pay for my advice because I had been through a redundancy and come out the other side, and they wanted my tips on how to navigate this.

It was not until I began networking with other like minded business owners in (and beyond) my local area that I began to really understand the opportunities I could purse for my business. Hearing the business owners pitch and sell gave me the confidence to work out my version of this. It was the beginning of the cultivation of my own personal brand, and this developed over time. There is no way at that time I could have confidently articulated my services and offerings in the way I can now. Importantly, this did not stop me from securing new clients and doing great work! 

My brand and business has evolved over time. If I’d felt I’d needed to have all the answers when I started, It would have stopped me from starting! Which is why I am sharing this story and my advice for getting started with you today. What got me started in business was my desire to see what I could make of it, to learn and to adapt my business idea and offering over time. 

As a life long learner I was also willing to get my hands dirty and learn the emerging technologies around me. LinkedIn, social media, content marketing, blogging and email marketing are skills and knowledge I have built over time. I am a prolific reader, and with my background and qualifications in Marketing and Education, I embraced the insights of many global thinkers and industry leaders, learning from them as I worked out how I wanted to show up in my business for my clients. I also built a support crew of talented local service providers who share my values and do great work.

You will note that none of the tips I have suggested here include creating a social media account or shooting a video. Content creation comes second. Building your business can start with the self imposed deadlines I suggested above and building stronger relationships with a list of at least ten influential people in your network (who hopefully also have big networks) that you can nurture and educate about your service offerings.  Pick up the phone and tell them about your idea, ask for their advice and see if they can offer you any direction. In my experience, people want you to be successful and will do business and offer opportunities to people they know like and trust – that’s you!!

There is no time like the present to begin

Your business reputation is built over time. You must begin to be in the game. If you can find the courage to begin, to enrol the help of family and friends who need what you have to offer and are willing to pay, and if you do great work, you will get referred and your business will grow. It will take time and a whole lot of hard work, but you will learn so much about yourself and be proud of what you are capable of. 

Don’t let your desire for perfection stop you from beginning. Starting, learning and adapting is where the joy of running your own business lies, if you let it!

[Side note – you are more than welcome to message me on LinkedIn and tell me that date so I can give you nudge when that time comes around . . . . if that’s what it takes, I’m here for you].

Karen Hollenbach

is the founder of Think Bespoke, a specialist Melbourne based consulting firm that provides personalised LinkedIn training, social media management services and career planning for individuals and businesses.

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