In my return to blogging, I’m going to attempt to do a little series on ‘Living the Dream’, or working for yourself. Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to give some advice, talk about the challenges I’ve encountered, my own dream evolving, and any other little things I thing is interesting.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of people I either know, or have recently come to know, talking about starting their own business. Be it because of current economic climate, the way my social group has migrated, or being at that age where you’ve worked just long enough to be dissatisfied with your job, it just seems to be happening at a higher rate. Having been working for myself for nearly 5 years now, these people occasionally call on me to have my brain picked or get advice on what they should do. As a disclaimer, any advice I dispense are coming from a service-based business background as that is where most of my experience has come from.
It feels incredibly weird being asked for advice, but I guess 5 years in business is more than most and things keep heading in a positive trajectory as time goes on. I guess that makes me an expert, or at least more of an expert than most. I’m an expert. As an expert, I suppose I’d like to dispense some core advice to people starting their own business. Some little tidbits I find myself telling people on a repeated basis. As I’m still rusty from so much time off blogging, I’ll try and limit this post to a few points and pick up where I left off in a later post.
1. You’re Running a Coffee Shop, Not Curating One
Coffee shops are the best example I can think of as many talk about how great it would be to run one and pick what exotic flavours of coffee to sell, decorate the establishment, what music to play, what art to hang, etc. You could just as easily replace coffee shop with a bar. Nobody thinks about staffing issues, accounting, making sure the exotic coffee you are selling is in demand by your clientele, leases, generating sales, licensing and health code issues, and so on. Sure it’s great to have knowledge and interest in the product you’re selling, but never lose sight of the fact that it is a product. Whether you’re selling coffee or propane tanks, you’re running a business to make money and earn your freedom. It’s important to be passionate about what you do, but it’s more important to be passionate about gaining customers, fulfilling their needs, and creating a profitable business.
2. Have at Least One Client
This one a lot of people seem to struggle with. Probably the worst thing you can do is decide one day you are going to go into your business for yourself, quit your job, and then sit your desk waiting for your phone to ring. You are likely unproven and unprepared for the lead time required between first client contact and a potential resulting successful sale. The number of people who think to start their own business before having a client ready to go is quite astounding. A demand for your services should be what results in the creation of your business, not your whim to ‘be your own boss.’ Don’t feel bad though, I think we all learn this lesson the hard way one way or another.
Denote Communications did not exist before there was business for it to conduct. Upon finding a client, only then did it come into existence. I applaud anyone who can decide to start a business (or a marketing communications company at least) without any leads or clients and survive. I haven’t seen it yet.
3. You Will Not Be Your Own Boss
Building off the last point…this should be fairly obvious within the first while if you’re doing things right. You will not get freedom from people hassling you with wild demands at all hours of the night. In fact, there is a very good chance that these demands will increase. If you’re doing things right, the number of “bosses” you have will increase to the point where you will need to develop systems and hire and train people just to limit the amount of time you spend dealing with your bosses and focus on getting more bosses to demand things of you. Having more bosses than your competition is the only way to reach the top.
Your customers are your bosses and you rarely have the benefit of sick days, hiding in the break room, or vacation days to escape their demands.
4. It’s Not a Business Until You Have Sales
If you are a graphic designer without people paying you to design, a marketer without people paying you to market, or a writer without people paying you to write, you have a hobby, not a business.
5. Success Breeds Success, Failure Breeds Failure
This point in particular is one that has affected me deeply on a personal level throughout my five years as a business owner and absolutely affects those working as employees as well. However, the amplification on an entrepreneur can’t be overstated. I’ll probably write a whole post on this and my personal experiences in the future due to its importance.
If you are going to run your own business, state of mind is EVERYTHING. If you do not believe you can succeed, you will fail. If you are unable to maintain a healthy state of mind, you will not succeed. The easiest way to maintain a successful and positive state of mind is to surround yourself with positive and successful people, while keeping away the negative and unsuccessful people.
People will tell you what you’re doing is impossible, other business owners around you will tell you it’s too hard and give up. People will blame the economy, lack of parking, government, unfair business practices, everything. These people are not the type of people to surround yourself with. They will let their own negativity consume them and will forever cause their own downfall. These are not the people you want working for you, nor are they the people potential clients want working for them. There is no hope for the constantly negative person. There is no hope for the constant complainer. There is no hope for the person that does not take their life into their own hands.
You do not want the above type of person in your life when the only thing standing between you and starvation is your ability to go out into the world, get rejected more times than you succeed, and then keep going. Making a sale is far rarer than failing at making a sale. It is a fact of life. You are going to fail. What you don’t need is your personal life polluted with people who do nothing but remind you of the constant uphill battle you fight, the constant failures, and write off your successes as aberrations. How long you’ve known them, relations to you, proximity? Doesn’t matter. Cut them out, or at least keep them at a distance. It may sound cold or cruel, but you can afford to be nothing but positive when you are relying on yourself to live.
As your success increases, the negativity dies down, and support starts to come. However, by then, you’ve probably become great at blocking out the negativity and learned enough to focus on maintaining a positive state of mind at all times. I’ve experienced it and seen it happen to others. First they make fun of you, then they get jealous of you, then, somewhere along the way, they want to join you.
Hopefully all of this has been helpful to anyone out there looking to start their own business. I always love hearing feedback.