When starting a business, there’s so much to learn and so much to be done. My first business was something I ran part-time from the age of 18 and I really didn’t know what I was doing. But in 1998, when I decided to earn my full-time income from my own home-based business, I spent many, many hours researching to make sure I did everything right.
From business registration and finding out what licenses were needed; Workers’ Compensation and various insurances; business cards, letterhead (and all sorts of other pretty stationery, all professionally designed by a graphic designer); office equipment; bookkeeping, accounting and legal advice; etc, etc, etc.
While these all seemed like worthwhile things to research and make appropriate arrangements for at the time, in hindsight, many hours and dollars were wasted on things that weren’t really that important.
Sure, you need to make sure you’re meeting all of your legal and professional requirements. That’s important and can cost a lot more time and money if you don’t do this right.
But there were so many other things I focused on that were not leading to my business’ growth or profits – or anything of much worthwhile.
So I’m now sharing the top 10 things I wish I had known before I started my business, so they might help you to focus on the right things:
Statistics show that people tend to be more successful when they spend more time with successful people than with those who aren’t. Similarly, if you spend more time with wealthy people, you’re more likely to be wealthy yourself. The same goes for health and many other areas of our lifestyle.
Plus, there will be times when it’s tough, when you’ll wonder if it’s all worthwhile. These are the times when those you surround yourself with are going to be more important than ever.
On the other hand, if you spend too much time with negative people or those who doubt your abilities, people who complain and blame others or are draining in any other way, you tend to pick up on their habits and energy too.
Sometimes this is unavoidable. But make sure you consciously decide who you hang out with when you do have a choice.
Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Look at who has already succeeded in the area you’re planning on being successful in. When it comes to starting a business, who already has a successful business, possibly even within your industry?
Can you learn from them, either as a mentor or just by seeing what they do and how they do it?
What habits do they have?
What made their business so successful?
How can you apply that to your business (or your life in general)?
This is a biggie. The sooner you can begin creating systems and implementing them into your business, the better. By doing so, you can ensure consistency in the way you do things.
If you have staff (whether employees, freelancers or contractors), these systems will make sure that everyone who does a particular role – now or in the future – will know how it’s done.
Plus, if ever you decide to sell or franchise your business in the future, having good systems in place will increase its value greatly!
Whatever you do, don’t try to do everything yourself. The truth is, no matter how skilled you are or how quickly you can learn something, nobody is great at everything. If you’re serious about growing your business and making it profitable, without spending every waking moment working in your business (and some while you’re asleep!) then you must let others help.
As soon as you’re able to, build a team so that each member can focus on what they do best while you focus on managing your business. If you particularly love a task, that’s okay for you to continue doing. But simply don’t try to do it all.
Marketing is not just advertising. There are so many other aspects including branding, awareness and PR (public relations). Good marketing is crucial to successfully running a business. When I first started my business I thought this would cost a fortune and needed to be done by a marketing expert.
That’s not the case at all.
I also spent a lot of money on branding and having all the right business cards, stationery, signage, and so on.
While this can be worthwhile, initially it doesn’t need to be a high priority. I know some people will disagree with me here, but this is what my experience has shown me. If you don’t have the budget for flash branding and marketing material just now, that’s okay. Give attention to the things that are going to get you happy customers first and you can add the bells and whistles later.
It costs less to market your products and services to existing customers than it does to find new customers. That doesn’t mean you ignore finding new customers – that still needs to be done. But while you’re making new connections and building those relationships, don’t forget about your existing customers.
Look after them and keep in touch with them.
Not only are they likely to use your products or services in the future, should they need them, but they’re also likely to recommend you to others.
You might even want to consider implementing loyalty and referral programs to reward these VIP customers.
Throughout your life you’ll come across people who love to tell you what you can’t do and why you can’t do it. I call these people the dream-stealers. You know the ones… where you’ll come up with a great idea, share it with the world and then someone will tell you why it’s a bad idea.
Sometimes these people are negative and won’t like anything you suggest.
Other times it’s simply their way of protecting you. They’re worried that you might get hurt. Perhaps you’ll lose money and end up embarrassed because your venture doesn’t work. Perhaps it won’t. But you’ll never know if you don’t try, right?
Be careful also of the hidden dream-stealer. We all have this person in our lives and we can’t see them, but we hear them often. This is that little voice in your head. The one that tells you you’re not good enough or that people will laugh at you. This voice is often loudest when we’re having a not-so-great day or when we’re tired or under pressure.
When the dream-stealers get you down, where possible, go back to Point 1, above. Let the positive, successful people remind you that you CAN do this if you truly want to. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
As long as you believe in yourself, you can find the answers, learn more, become more … but don’t let others determine your abilities.
It’s easy to feel we need to accept every job or opportunity that comes our way, especially when our business is new. But this is not the case. It doesn’t hurt to be a little picky.
If you have the opportunity to work with a new client but your gut is tied up in knots and telling you to run a mile, listen to your instincts. By all means, ask yourself if you’re just scared because this is a new client or something you’re not completely confident in. It may be that you should push through that fear and do it anyway, otherwise you’ll be turning away more work than you accept.
But if it’s more that the potential new client is arrogant, rude or somehow dodgy, trust your gut. It’s usually right.
I’ve become very fussy and prefer to work with people I get along with. (Perhaps that’s why so many of my clients have become friends too). I am clear on the type of people I like to work with and those whom I feel would not benefit from working with my team and myself. Plus, although there’s a lot of things we (my team and I) can do, we tend to turn away projects that aren’t in line with what we offer or things where we feel we don’t have enough expertise.
A friend of mine is a freelance copywriter and she has a number of industries that she will not write for, no matter how much she might need the money. Some are drawn from her personal values, while others are based on past experiences within those industries.
It took myself and this friend a long time to get to this point of knowing when to say no, and sometimes we still get it wrong. But just know that you can say “no” to customers or jobs if you choose to.
Whatever you do, please, please don’t wait before everything is perfect before starting a business, launching your website or product or service or anything else for that matter.
Nothing is every perfect!
You can spend months – maybe even years – perfecting something but before you know it you’ll see something else you can do better. It’s important to take action now, then perfect as you go.
I’m not saying it’s okay to sell a dodgy product or launch a website that’s full of place-holder text and broken links. But sometimes, “okay” is good enough. You can get started now and make improvements along the way. Otherwise, there’s a high risk that you’ll never move forward because “it” (whatever “it” may be in this instance) will never be perfect.
Nothing is ever perfect. It’s important to take action now, then perfect as you go. @DonnaMarieC
It’s only natural to make mistakes. You will make mistakes and so will your team members and your customers. We all do. Don’t beat yourself up over it, nor others.
Depending on the circumstances, the main things are that you accept responsibility for your – or your business’ – errors. Then take action to fix the problem and learn from it. Is there anything you can do to prevent this error from happening again? If so, implement changes, checks, systems, double-checks or whatever that may be. If you’re not sure what to do, get help if need be.
Starting a business should be an exciting time. There’s much to do and no doubt many things you’ll learn and do differently along the way. Hopefully my 10 tips above of the things I wish I knew before starting a business will help you to shortcut some of these pitfalls.
If you have any other suggestions of what you wish you knew before starting your business, please share them in the comments below. You never know, it may help someone else along the way … and it’s always good karma to help others.
Happy New Year!
Wow … didn’t 2016 go by quickly? It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been 12 months since I sat here, setting my goals for 2016 and mapping out how to achieve them.
Here we are again. The start of another brand new year and – for many people – again setting goals for the year ahead. Although my focus in this article is on business goals, what I’m about to share here also applies for any other goals you’re working towards achieving.
How did you go last year? Did you set goals? If so, did you achieve them all? If not, did you achieve any of them?
Don’t laugh. I know some people who set the same goals over and over again, every year, in the hope that one day they’ll stick with their plans long enough to reach those goals.
If this is starting to sound like you, don’t despair. There’s many reasons why people don’t achieve what they set out to and it’s not always simply a lack of willpower (or won’t power).
If you’re finding yourself setting the same goals as last year, consider first if you’re actually setting the right goals.
Something that I learnt many years ago was that before I could set my goals – business goals as well as personal ones – was that I needed to be clear on my personal values first.
You see, if you aim to achieve something that requires you to do something that goes against your values for whatever reason, chances are that you’re not going to achieve it. Either you’ll procrastinate or find excuses to not do what you need to do or you’ll sub-consciously sabotage yourself.
This may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s just little things that can be easily overlooked that make all the difference.
If you aim to achieve something that goes against your highest values for whatever reason, chances are that you’re not going to achieve it. @DonnaMarieC
A good read I recommend to help understand this and to learn to set goals that work with your values is The Power of Subconscious Goal Setting, by Scott Groves. This gives clear explanation and easy exercises you can work through to get clear on your intentions.
It’s absolutely critical that you know your “why”. Why do you want to achieve this? What makes it so important?
You need a reason that can keep you going when things get tough or that inspires you to keep at it. Without having a good reason, making the necessary changes or taking action can seem less important and will make it easier for you to get distracted.
Okay, so once you’re fairly certain you’re goals are on the right track, how do you follow through and stick with your commitment?
Firstly, break your goal down into small, more easily achievable steps. Have you ever heard the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”? It’s just the same with goals.
Break down that big-hairy-audacious goal into tiny little steps that can be achieved on a day-by-day basis. Then just focus on one step at a time, until you’ve completed them all.
One of the best things you can do is to find an accountability partner, or partners. Someone you can work with would be great but if that’s not possible, at least someone you can speak with regularly to help keep you on track. Someone you trust and who will give you a kick up the behind when you need it! (In the friendliest of ways, of course).
When it comes to business goals, often those closest to us don’t really understand what we’re trying to achieve and they may find it hard to support us. Or even worse, may distract us from our goals.
So if this is the case for you, make sure you find some other like-minded people to help keep you on track. This may even be by way of a local or online business group.
It helps also to keep pictures or items around you that can help to inspire you and remind you why you’re working towards this particular goal. These sorts of things can keep you focused, especially when you’re ready to give up.
I could go on for hours and hours, writing tips to help make sure you achieve your business goals. But really, I’d much rather than you get out there and start making things happen. The most important thing now is for you to:
If you’re keen, feel free to share your goals with me in the “Comments” section below. I’d love to hear all the big – and not so big – things you’re planning!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and no matter where you are or what you’re doing, may your day be happy and safe.