I started my own business in the space of a week, back in early 2008. On Monday, I floated the idea with my partner and waited for his protestations. By Friday, I’d registered the business name and domain name, listed down a set of services that I could offer, and got the ball rolling on a logo and branding.
Within a couple of months, I had more work than I could handle, including several retainer clients who utilised my services month-in-month-out, for several years. I didn’t have a website, which I worried about because I was selling digital marketing services, and my logo was a bit rushed, done by friends in exchange for a little cash, lots of love and hot meals.
But it was neither the logo, nor the website (Joomla – what a headache!) that made the difference in hitting the ground running. It was one specific thing I did – something which I advise all new people in business to do, and something which I see people avoiding over-and-over again.
Giving your new business oxygen
A new business is similar to a newborn baby – it’s hugely dependent on you for pretty much everything. There are a thousand things to do, learn, and figure out. You feel immense excitement – I remember being too excited to sleep on more than one occasion. The learning curve is steep and there’s much to be figured out on the trot.
Your new business needs oxygen – and plenty of it. The singular best thing you can do to give your new business a fighting chance is to tell everyone what you are doing. (Before the logo is finished or the website is up.)
The first client I had was a couple of days before I started, although we hadn’t yet talked dollars. When he asked me what I did, I answered “writer” even though I wasn’t that confident that I was, indeed, a professional writer.
I’d been writing for clients everyday since 2005 but under the guise of public relations. I said I was a writer because I wanted to be a writer. If, when asked what I did for a living, I’d stumbled around “in between jobs” or said, “I used to be a PR consultant, but more recently I’ve been in custom publishing”, he might have been deterred. He may have been confused because I sounded confused. He may not have taken the time to dig a little and find out that I was a writer and hoped to make a thriving living at it.
But because I answered confidently, “I’m a writer”, he became my first client.
New business owners know more people
My first week in business, I sent a group email to everybody I knew announcing what I was doing and asking them to let their networks know that I was available for hire. This resulted in several coffee dates and two retainer clients that I had for at least a couple of years.
It also led to several more introductions and several more coffee dates with friends of my network.
I don’t recall exactly how many people were sent that first group email, but if, for example, I had 100 people in my network (a modest estimate) and those 100 people had 100 people each, that’s 10,000 people potentially reached with a single email.
So why don’t more people do this one simple thing?
Backing yourself as a new business owner
This simple tactic has a deeper, underlining benefit beyond reaching new prospects and clients. It’s one of the reasons why I prescribe it to my business coaching clients and in my business courses – it forces you to get over any squeamishness about hanging out your shingle and backing yourself.
It can be hugely confronting for many of us to be seen and heard as self-employed people. Every success and perceived failure or mistake falls back on us. We have no boss, manager or organisation to hide behind. Everything we do feels hugely public and exposed (even when the reality is far different).
Sending a mass email to former employers and colleagues, friends, distant friends and acquaintances, and family (sane and otherwise) feels to many of us, like running naked down main street. It’s important to get this out of the way early. Otherwise, we can spend years hiding behind our computers, dealing with repeat clients and word-of-mouth clientele, and avoiding pitching ourselves and taking control of our business development and direction.
Learning how to back yourself and to be seen and heard is a massive skill and necessary attitude for business owners to cultivate. It starts with a simple email.
Asking for help
Another sneaky benefit to the ask email is that it puts you in the frame-of-mind of asking for help. Most of us start businesses because we’re fiercely independent, love freedom, enjoy calling the shots and derive great satisfaction out of building something of our very own.
The down-side of this? Sky-high expectations and inevitable disappointment. Loneliness and isolation. Uncertainty and insecurity. And a resistance to asking for help that sometimes borders on the pathological.
When you have big ambitions, you need to ask for help. There’s plenty you’ll be able to do by yourself, and plenty you’ll need assistance with – either through practical, hands-on help or knowledge- and expertise-sharing. There’s no avoiding this. Thinking you can and must do everything yourself will hinder your business development.
The mythology of awesome ideas
We humans are funny. We can be hugely protective of our good ideas, believing that we can’t discuss an idea until we’ve fully fleshed it out in our minds. But I’ve found the opposite to be true – good ideas need all the help they can get. They need to be exposed to the elements, given a good thrashing by skeptics, critics and cynics, and shared with as many people as possible.
Don’t hold back your best ideas and give the world your second-best. Don’t be so precious as to believe that a critic will destroy you. Your ideas get better and stronger the more they’re beaten and stand up again.
And, at the end of the day, an idea is ephemeral. It’s the implementation of an idea that turns dreams into reality, and that needs the support of as many people as possible. Start today by emailing everyone you know.