I have recently started my business and what a steep learning curve it is! I’d like to share my experience with you.
Steve Jobs said that to be really great, you have to do what you love. When I started thinking about going out on my own after a 22 years’ career in corporate, that’s what I thought about. What do I love? Well, I love learning. I love to guide people to grow and reach their potential. And I also love drawing and painting. Combining all of these passions allowed me to create a learning consulting company using graphic facilitation to enhance learning. During sessions with my coach, I raised my fears: what if I don’t make money? Her response will stay with me forever – she said: pursue your passion and the money will follow.
Before I started my business I spent about 6 months testing out the ideas with colleagues and friends. I would show them what I could do and asked for their feedback. I looked for opportunities to use my skills – at training sessions, conferences and meetings – and tested people’s reactions. This was invaluable. Because I wasn’t dependent on this skill to survive (I was still in corporate at that stage) they were willing to be honest. I tested my ideas and asked whether they’d be willing to pay for a service like this. I also offered my services for free at a local school and business forum so that I could try my skills out of the comfort of my day job and tested the reactions I received there. This gave me the confidence to try it on my own.
The next step was to get an accountant that I could trust. Your accountant is a key stakeholder in your business, so be sure that you feel comfortable with the one you chose.
My accountant helped me to choose a bank. It’s a good idea to choose a bank that has a reputation in the market for supporting small businesses. They usually have flexible offerings at good prices and their consultants understand the problems that a small business owner faces. Usually they have online resources on business planning and financial management that will add value to a business owner, and they run training sessions (sometimes for free) that you’ll get value from.
Technology can make or break your business. It can be a huge headache if email is not working or your internet connection is down, which can cost you valuable business. On the other hand the right technology can be a huge enabler. Look for a support person who understands small business and who is willing to cater a deal that will suit you. It’s a good idea to choose someone who is interested in new technology and can advise you on hardware and software to grow your business. And remember to have a back-up strategy – you don’t want to lose all your hard work because of a virus infection.
A catchy name and a professional logo is a must. I chose “3Stickmen” as my business name because it was different and funky. I had tested it out on friends and colleagues beforehand and the feedback I received was interest and fascination. They wanted to know more about what the business does, and that’s the hook you need. When I needed to have a logo designed I went online. There’s a great website called www.48hourslogo.com where, for a about a hundred dollars, you can have dozens of designers the world over designing logos for your business. You can interact with them and after 48 hours choose the one that you like best. I can highly recommend it.
I am very passionate about my business. But it can be a lonely road and I wasn’t always prepared for the ups and downs. Sometimes it will go well, you’ll love what you do and energy will be flowing. Other times you will hit a wall, have a difficult customer and lose heart. But things will always get better. If you are prepared for the ups and the downs you can use your coping mechanisms to get yourself through a bad patch. I try to surround myself with people who I know support me. Of course it includes friends and family, but I have also identified other business people that I admire and trust. I make a concerted effort to link up with them. I have joined a mentor programme where I not only get a mentor myself, but I am also expected to mentor someone else. This has been invaluable in building networks to support my development.
Financially speaking, cash is king! Always keep an eye on your cash flow. Know how much money you have in the bank. Know what you have invoiced, and know which customer has paid and who has not. Don’t solely rely on your accountant – a lot of small businesses fail in the first couple of years because they forget this simple rule. A friend of mine always says “You must sign your own cheques.”
Finally, keep the pencil sharp. Keep learning. Keep innovating. Keep questioning. Use your network. There are such amazing resources online that you can access through any device. Use them to learn new skills, to challenge your thinking and to reach out to others.