In February 2008, I found myself gainfully unemployed. I had a vague hope of being self-employed “one day” but, at the ripe age of 28, I thought I’d need more years experience before I could contemplate opening my business. I’d had a long and extended quarter life crisis, trying to figure out what I was meant to be doing, how I could best use my talents to do something meaningful.
As it turned out, embarking on the wild ride of self-employment ended that crisis. This month marks ten years of full-time self-employment, through two babies, purchasing my first home with my partner, starting to run courses, a couple of renovations, starting business coaching, a rebrand, and lots of travel.
The last ten years haven’t been a smooth upwards trajectory. I’ve made all the mistakes, a few of them several times. And I’ve learnt a thing or two. I pass these on in the hope that you can avoid some of my mistakes and use my insights to pursue any short-cuts available, while taking your sweet time in the more pleasant parts of the trip!
1: Get money through the door ASAP
I started my own business in the space of a week after floating the idea with my partner and waiting for his protestations. He didn’t protest (and he’s a practical kind of guy). So over the course of that week, I registered my business name and domain name, brainstormed a list of possible digital marketing services that I could offer, and spoke to an artist friend about designing a logo for me.
Most importantly, I sent a mass email to everyone I knew telling them what I was doing and asking them to refer others who could use those services. I spoke to anyone who’d listen about what I did, in present tense, not future tense. And I got on the phone and introduced myself to local businesses that were in my target market.
I had many coffee dates and work almost immediately. Within a few months of starting, I was earning the same as my former role as a PR consultant.
Getting money in the door as soon as possible is important for several reasons:
- When someone pays you for something, it proves your business concept.
- Paying clients builds your confidence, which is essential in business.
- Paying clients allow you to test, refine and get real life feedback on what you’re offering.
- You need money to live. Regardless of how supportive your partner is, money fuels their confidence in your new gig, too.
- Your new business will have expenses, such as graphic design, web design, marketing materials, insurances and registrations.
2: Beware of charismatic people
In the heady first weeks of business, I met several charlatans – charismatic people who were keen on utilising my services, for gratis. This is not unusual.
Especially when someone is enthusiastic and passionate about what they do and keen to get into a new industry, there are plenty of experienced, charismatic people who will gladly take advantage by offering the person work, in exchange for …. exposure? Satisfaction? Who knows.
In one instance, alarm bells started to ring when I spoke to the person’s website designer. I asked them how much they’d charged for the website. “I did it for free,” he answered. “That’s very generous of you,” I responded. “Yes it was,” he answered, sounding surprised. I quickly hot-tailed it out of there.
3: Talking is not doing
It’s really easy to get excited by your ideas and mistake talking for doing. Especially when you’re germinating a new idea, it’s tempting to canvass others’ opinions like confetti.
The problem is that too many opinions mean too many reasons why not to do something, too many things that could go wrong, too many competitors offering something similar, and too high expectations of how the first iteration “must” be, when the reality is likely to be far inferior.
Be vigilant to who you seek opinions from. I highly value my partner’s opinion on some aspects of my business, and I’ve learnt to ignore his opinion on other areas. Most importantly, when I’ve started boring myself with something I’m going to do, it’s time to create a deadline to actually launch the damn thing.
4: Find your mafia
I spent the first two years of business becoming intimately acquainted with Google. I Googled everything and downloaded every PDF, video series, e-book and 10-part business growth plan known to man.
As an independently-minded person, I didn’t want to ask questions of people who knew more than me, lest they think me stupid. In this way, I let my pride stop me from seeking help, support and community.
Some seven years or so ago, I made friends with a group of marketers and copy writers, including Glenn Murray, Kate Toon, Belinda Weaver, Anna Butler, Rebekah Lambert and Sarah Morton. We spent most days chatting on the internet and got together for rowdy dinners and lunch-that-bleeds-into-dinners.
I started reaching out to strangers on the internet and introducing myself, meeting up for a drink or meal, which can be a lifesaver when I’m travelling interstate running courses. Nowadays, I’ve got an international support network of like-minded awesome folk running all manner of businesses.
It’s lonely working for yourself. Find yourself a mafia and treat them well.
5: Boundaries are your friend
For many years, my boundaries were pretty loose. I confused excellent customer service with being at the beck-and-call of clients and prospects. There were countless go-nowhere meetings with prospects where they picked my brain with very specific questions, with barely a suggestion that we might work together. There were weekend phone calls and late night emails (that I stupidly responded to). There were pushbacks from clients when I tried to assert my boundaries, such as the client who insisted that a website redesign was essential, despite me being on holidays in France.
Unless you are an emergency locksmith or emergency plumber, you don’t need to be available for clients and prospects 24/7. Our forefathers fought long and hard for fair working conditions and restricted working hours, so don’t let the internet unravel this. It’s up to you to assert your boundaries through your terms and conditions and enforce them (and reinforce them). Your clients won’t run away. And if they do, they’re not worth keeping.
6: Trust takes consistency
One of the ‘secrets’ of my success (which you can read about in countless blog on this here site), is consistency. Following two years of writing articles, sending email newsletters and doing social media marketing on behalf of other businesses, I started writing my own articles and sending my own email newsletters in January 2010, and have published at least one blog and sent one email newsletter per month since.
I have a regular stream of inquiries and new business as a result, and my search engine ranking has improved as a result of business blogging and marketing efforts. Branding is about design consistency. Marketing is about communications consistency. Trust takes time to build. So pick a bare minimum marketing routine and commit. If you can’t commit to regular marketing, how do you expect your prospects to commit to trusting you?
7: If you change course, don’t burn your bridges
I’ve changed course several times over the years. I’ve offered a variety of digital marketing services, then digital marketing packages. I’ve changed the various packages I offer, and raised my prices. I’ve rebranded, created several partnership on the sides with friends, and targeted new markets. And I’ve taken a group of people with me, through it all.
Too often, I see people who completely change what they do in business, folding their old website and branding and deleting their email list. This is a shame. If your marketing sufficiently communicates who you are, what you stand for, and why people should care, then people will come through you. When you’re clear on your personal brand and the group of people you are most drawn to serve, then it doesn’t likely matter if what you’re doing seems radically different. If you can help them make sense of the change, they’ll continue to support you.
I’ve had some people on my email list since the start. Some people have engaged me for a various offerings, after a number of years. They’ll disappear for a while before reappearing to engage me, as and when they need me.
8: Everything changes, all the time
The digital arena is exciting, fast-moving, inspirational … and frustrating. Everything changes. Just when you think you’ve got the perfect technique or awesome combination of marketing, things change.
So what are you go to do? Moan and rage? Opt out and go off grid, growing your own veg and living on love alone? Or pull up your big girl pants and get on with it? Rapid change brings a flexible attitude, which builds your resilience.
You bet I wish I’d been quicker to jump in and start: with creating packages for my services, with raising my prices to a particular level, with using Facebook Live regularly, with starting a podcast (yet to do, but definitely on the cards). Of course, the benefit of hindsight helps. But staying flexible means we’re more likely to give something a go, rather than arguing against it without trying.
9: Resilience is essential
My business was three years old when my second baby was born. I had one toddler under two, one newborn, several retainer clients, and a steady flow of project work. I worked from home with my partner. I tried to do it all (and then some). It wasn’t pretty.
I lost my mojo for about a year and a half. It took time to rebuild my enthusiasm for my business. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break or from pausing your business while you bring up your children. But I’ve always enjoyed working and didn’t want to stop.
Take your resilience seriously. Schedule in fun and relaxation (especially when you least feel like you can afford the time), seek out pockets of joy every day, take notice of compliments, celebrate your wins, (https://www.hustleandheart.com.au/celebration-business/) and figure out how you work best, so you can set up your business structure, terms and conditions, and daily schedule, for greatness.
10: Investing fuels your growth
For the first few years in business, I invested the bare minimum to get my branding and website done. As I grew, I started investing more. While I’ve not needed to invest in copy writing, being a professional writer, I wish I’d invested far earlier in graphic design.
Although there’s been a boom in DIY design options over the last 10 years, I still invest in graphic and website design. I could do it myself, but the results would be far inferior and far more time consuming.
In the last five years, I’ve invested a considerable amount in training and coaching. I remember my first significant investment of $2000 in an online course. I was over-awed by the price, worried I’ve wasted my money, and keen to make my investment back. And so I did. Every time I’ve invested in my business, I’ve seen an increase in earnings as I’ve applied what I’ve learnt, changed my attitude, launched a new package or increased my prices.
Investing in your business through business education and marketing help will fuel your growth. Not investing will stunt your growth and likely, your enjoyment of your business too.
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