Following a week of birthday celebrations, it’s the long bank holiday weekend in the UK and I’m in quite a reflective mood. Not only have I hit the age of FFF* but it’s been a quarter of a year since my business, Working Bee Productions (WBP), was conceived. I’ve always believed in celebrating success at work, so why not celebrate my first three months by sharing a few lessons for those of you who may be contemplating setting up your own small business.
My sixˆ top tips for starting a small business
1. Admit what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing
The most difficult part of setting up my business was actually deciding what to do. What could I provide that people need and find value in? If I had a great idea I would have gone into business for myself years ago. And, like many people, I find it hard to admit what I’m good at. I can tell you my weaknesses but listing my strengths is more of a challenge.
My last role as an employee had further opened my eyes to the operations of a company. I’d seen a business trying to do more than they could do physically, based on the internal resources they employed, and stretched beyond their core competencies. I had really loved this role as it had drawn on my ability to support people and help them ‘get stuff done’.
I have spent the last 20 years working mostly in creative advertising agencies, and, in my opinion, their core competencies are strategy, creativity and client relationships. This is why clients appoint them. Everything else can, therefore, be outsourced to freelancers or third party suppliers who can usually provide better value. I had identified a business need and, after talking to people in the marketing and advertising professions, had validated the need. The business need also tapped into my strengths and what I enjoy doing. Hence, the concept of WBP was born.
2. Don’t rush into anything
I’m a very impatient person. This is right at the top of my list of weaknesses! When I decide to do something, I get very excited and I want it done immediately. The problem with rushing is that we leave things out or overlook an important factor. Rushing can also manifest as stress, which is not a desired outcome.
Thankfully, I had the luxury of having a couple of months’ incubation time without any work or other distractions to decide exactly what my business proposition was going to be and how I would execute it. I was able to develop my own branding, write and build my own website, set up relevant social media channels, create and post content, produce my PPT credentials slide set, develop client briefing templates and finalise my client prospecting strategy. Each component is an important building block. Slow down, don’t rush and enjoy the process.
3. Positivity – always
The weekdays are good because I’m busy. These hours are productive because I’m working through my To Do List. I find the evenings can be quite an anxious time when my mind is meant to be relaxing. My brain starts going into overtime asking all the ‘what if’ questions that I have no answer to and creating a lot of self-doubt. Some mornings I wake up mentally exhausted and wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I’ve found the best way to cope with the night time demons is to surround myself with positive people; people who know me and what I’m are capable of. People who don’t do negativity! They are always there to provide the encouraging words I need to hear, which is fairly regularly at the moment.
Another good tip, which won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, is get active with exercise in the morning. Get those endorphins flowing and the positivity will follow. As Prince said, “Positivity YES Have U had your plus sign 2 day?”.˜
4. If in doubt, go online and give it a go**
I have moved from working with lots of talented individuals, who were always willing to share their expertise to help me get my job done, and from a company supported by an admin team and an IT help desk to working for myself on my own. I’ve had many moments feeling pretty useless, discouraged and frustrated when faced with new challenges.
My first ‘Oh shit’ moment happened when I brought my new MacBook Pro back from the Apple store. My new Mac has no USB ports, no traditional power port, or ethernet port; only USB-C ports. What the …? How was I meant to transfer data to this device? It’s amazing the abundance of information you can find online. Not a revolution in itself but I’ve found myself googling things I’d never imagined googling before, like, ‘How to restore my new phone to my iTunes backup with no USB cable’.
There are so many articles and blogs to read and videos you can watch that provide the answers to almost everything. Most recently, I incorporated my company with the Companies House, UK. There are a lot of accounting companies and businesses specialising in helping start-ups with these sorts of tasks but, as a one-woman band, how hard could this be to do myself? Also, once I’d used a company for incorporation I was concerned I’d become dependent on them for tax advice, and I want to remain as independent as possible. So, going back to Tip 2, I sat down one Saturday morning with a cup of tea and started my online research. By 12:30pm I had paid my £12 and submitted my application for incorporation. On Monday morning my application was approved. I received my certificate of incorporation and copy of my memorandum of association via email. I felt pretty invincible!
LinkedIn Learning is also a great support tool. I used these videos to learn WordPress so I could build my website, Google Analytics to add this to the backend of my website, PowerPoint 2016 to ensure I know all the tricks of this trade, Acrobat DC to create online forms, Grammar Fundamentals as refresher courses … and the list goes on.
5. Get out and about
Running a business on your own can be lonely, especially at night when the demons come out! I don’t miss the company during the day because by nature I’m a self-starter, disciplined and very motivated. However, the one rule I’ve had from the very start is that I need to have one social interaction each day to get me out of the house. Friends, family and ex-colleagues have provided the greatest network of support. And of course, I’ve surrounded myself with the positive ones!
I’m a member of the New Zealand Business Women’s Network (NZBWN) in London and attend many events, and I recently joined my local neighbourhood network, Askew Business Network. I’ve created my own network of creative colleagues and have a few clubs I belong to (e.g., Serpentine Running Club), which also help to get me out of the house.
The best advice I received about the formal networking events comes from one of my creative partners. She has a brand design business and is a serial networker. She told me not to expect magic to happen at every event. In fact, these events are slow burners and may take a while for anything to happen, if at all. What I have found though is that from each interaction I take away at least one valuable piece of information that sparks an idea.
6. Help others
Volunteering has also helped me get out and about. Previously, I led the NZBWN brand and marketing volunteer team, but this year I’m managing the LinkedIn Group Page for the network. In addition to engaging with like-minded individuals, I’ve learnt so much about LinkedIn and how the platform can support people like me setting up our own businesses. From developing a LinkedIn Company Page for WBP, a Showcase Page for Spelling Bee and now managing a Group Page, I consider myself a bit of a LinkedIn guru. I’ll be sharing my newly acquired knowledge and expertise at a NZBWN workshop next month dedicated to helping others in a similar situation.
Volunteering is about helping others and you shouldn’t set out with the expectation of getting anything back. However, what I have found is that by giving I have been rewarded many times over with the friendship, advice and support from many, many people. Thank you.
To anyone thinking about setting up their own small business, I strongly encourage it. I’m not sure where I’ll be in another quarter of a year. The only thing I do know is that it will be the end of August. It’s not easy but as my grandmother said, “That which is easily gained is little valued.” I’ve got many challenges lying silently ahead, but I’m really excited to continue learning and provide businesses with marketing and advertising support services to enable them to focus on what they do best.
If you’d like more information or help with anything I’ve mentioned above, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* FFF: fucking forty five as an Ozzie Facebook friend calls this age related milestone.
ˆ Six is a multiple of three. I think six tips complement my first three months nicely.
˜ Prince. “Positivity.” Lovesexy. Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros Records, 1988.
** This lesson is really about empowerment; however, this word is overused and I didn’t want to contribute to another use.