Tips on surviving your first year in business!
It’s been almost a year since I founded www.fiveinaboat.com and I’m still going, and thoroughly embracing the challenge. It’s been a mad journey over the last 12 months, filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, and a fair amount of swearing. Running my business is both the best and worst thing I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t change a thing; my only wish is that I’d done it sooner. So, for those of you thinking of taking the plunge, here are my top tips on what to watch out for when going out on your own.
1. Starting a business with no investment, no clients and no partner is risky. Some may say stupid. I would say empowering. It’s also doable. Yes it’s been tough but, with enough conviction, it’s possible. In my first year I’m not only in a position to go into my second year (with money) but I’ve turned a profit!
2. Freelancers are a hit-and-miss bunch. For every amazing one I’ve worked with (of which there have only been a handful), the rest have either not delivered, not been on the ball or just not cared. Choose your freelancers carefully. Use recommendations, interview face to face, suggest a trial task and don’t keep hanging on if they aren’t meeting your expectations. It wastes time and costs money. Conversely, reward those who do deliver – they are worth their weight in gold!
3. Prospective clients don’t work to your timeframes. You need to both plan and be agile. One minute they will want something tomorrow and the next minute they will spend months deciding on a brief. So be as flexible as possible but also be completely transparent about what you need signed off for your business, and when, which may be the case, you need to walk away.
4. Don’t spend too much time on your own. It’s very easy to start developing tunnel vision if you don’t mix with others. If you aren’t in a position to hire an office, camp out in a clients’ office, hire a temporary desk in a start-up hub, sit in Costa if you have to – it will keep conversation and ideas flowing and will help build a sense of camaraderie, even if the people surrounding you all work for different companies.
5. Tap up ALL of your old contacts rather than just relying on those you consider to be your biggest allies / closest friends. They will rarely come through for you. My best leads have come from people who I’ve known for years but who I barely see – thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who falls into this category – you know who you are!
6. Get a good accountant. I cannot stress this enough. My first one went AWOL, my second was very expensive, I finally struck lucky with my third.
7. Outsource everything that stops you from doing what you are good at and from making the most money – while initially costly, it will generate you more revenue in the longer term. This includes financial forecasters, new business leads, someone to manage your diary if you need it.
8. Network. I absolutely hate this term but getting out there and meeting people is key for building your network, your profile and your reputation. Go to events, used LinkedIn, start building your brand as no one else will do this for you.
9. Don’t give away too much for free. I can’t tell you how many proposals I’ve written on the promise of business only to find that the client has suddenly decided that they are ‘cutting budgets’, ‘bringing on an in-house resource’ or ‘postponing engaging an agency due to internal changes’. While sometimes this may be the case, most of the time these excuses are bullshit, with companies often chancing their arm at getting some ‘free ideas’. On at least three occasions, subsequent to my proposals, I’ve seen my work appear elsewhere. Not cool, not respectful, not professional.
10. Treat every day as a learning curve. I‘ve made many mistakes this year but have learned from all of them, and it’s made me stronger and better for it. Part of this is learning to roll with the punches. It’s hard starting a business but when it goes well it’s a feeling that cannot be described – a mixture of euphoria, disbelief and pride – and one that we should all experience in our lifetime!