Hindsight is a powerful thing – and as we know, it’s not something you can buy. Learning as you go is a right of passage for many business owners – a part of the entrepreneurial journey that makes the successes so much sweeter. But, there’s always information and advice out there designed to get you off to the best start (that’s what Informi is here for, right?). And nothing rings truer than advice from others who have been there and got the t-shirt. With this in mind, we spoke to a variety of business owners about their learnings, and what they would do differently if they could go back to day one.
Trust your instinct
“This is a great question and it’s key for all new businesses to think about before launch. I learnt things the hard way, coming from 20 years in corporate before I launched Big Picture Licensing, I was used to structure and a clear organisation of support functions. So my advice would be to clearly set your goals and strategy on how to deliver them for 0-6 months, 7-12 months and year 2. Even the best strategy will often not go according to plan, so you need to always retain a strong ability to pivot and flex your business model if necessary.
“Another pitfall I found was feeling an uncontrollable urge to chase every and all potential projects and deals, this means you are often running in different directions and losing focus on your core model. I advise you to set a revenue threshold for deals to validate whether the ‘juice is worth the squeeze’ before you chase all opportunities, as some of them will just become a blackhole for your time and focus.
“The best advice I would give is to trust your instinct on potential deals and the potential clients, if something doesn’t feel right then there is a reason for it and I find it’s best to follow its lead. Last, but not least, remember the old adage, people like doing business with people they like. It’s amazing how many people forget business is the art of good business and product/service, but also personal connections, which is relationship-driven. Then if all else fails, repeat ‘EYE OF THE TIGER’ to yourself and get focused again!”
Dan Frugtniet, MD & Founder of Big Picture Licensing
Set the tone from the start
“Make sure that you get along well with people you are starting the business with. You’ll be spending a lot of time with them, and if you don’t get along, then you will really struggle to put the required hours in. Accept that it’s probably going to be very hard work for a very long time. If you are striving to grow the business and be better at what you do, the day when you can sit back and let it run itself is probably not going to come.
“Employing more staff is required as you grow, but it doesn’t always make your life easier – in fact it creates a whole new set of challenges.
“Know your market – understand what they need and what market failing you are trying to solve.
“Regardless of how hard work it may be, never be willing to lower standards or cut corners – set the tone from the start.”
Tom Steer, Sales Director, NUCO Travel
Improve the planning process
“Project planning is fundamental to any venture. It forms the foundation of your structure. This is then managed through a process of research, review, refer, share, make decisions then implement. Improvement and growth are generated by the planning process. Being part of a developing small business is great fun. It is difficult, but with the right team members, it can be exciting. It needs hard work, but also a certain amount of luck. I’m not a fan of being given nine reasons for why not to do something, I’m more interested in the one reason why we should do it. Oh, and have fun.”
Dave, Independent Family and Residential Children’s Services
It’s OK to take a break
“Being self-employed was initially a shock to the system, as I was drilled into corporate life for all of my working life up until taking the plunge. The chance to act and run the business exactly as I want to, and follow the legal processes in my own style and time is refreshing. A downside to self-employment can be an all-consuming worry as to where your next bit of business is coming from, and the pressure of taking time off. ‘How can I take time off when the clients need me?’ ‘How can I not reply to a client for 3 days!’ I wish I knew how to forgive myself better, and accept that the world is not going to end if you decide to take a few days to break. Early self-employment means you’d see a client at 6am on a Sunday if they wanted you to, but once you are more established you can build in a more structured working pattern.”
Maria Griggs, Mortgage Advisor, Complete Financial Planning
“Starting your own business is a big step, and a journey…one hell of a journey! Remember it doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient with yourself and your long term goals. Be sure to network and surround yourself with the right people. It can be a lonely gig at times; however, surrounding yourself with the right people will drive your ambition and long term vision.
“Be brave and step out of your comfort zone. Trust your instinct; if something doesn’t feel right – say no. Opportunities will come back around when the time is right. However, that said, don’t be scared of failure, as it’s part of the journey. Say yes to the things that feel right, but are maybe out of your comfort zone. Celebrate the wins and be sure to (which I am still working on) work on a healthy work life balance.
“Business plans are important. Have an understanding of your long term goals and allow yourself to realign your vision if and when necessary. I’ve learnt it is perfectly fine for your vision to evolve. Set out your company process from start to finish, this allows for continuity.
“Be patient, value your worth and be open to learning from others.”
Kate Edmondson, Professional Organiser, Home Edited
Set your personal rules first
“The best reason for the freelance life is that you get to control your own life/work balance. The worst part is the permanent fear that, if you ever turn down a job, you will never be offered another. So set your personal rules first and work to those, whether it is always taking the dog out at 11am or mates’ rates for good causes.”
Dick Hobbs, Media Technology Specialist
Ask ‘what do I want from my business?’
“Value what you are doing, especially in a new venture where you might not be an expert. Target your ideal customer by creating the correct context for their stay. Customers are open to suggestions, if you advertise a 3 night stay for a slightly lower price, it’s amazing how many 3 night stays you get, even outside of the offer time.
If I had my time again I would be far more forthright about what I wanted from the business, and a little less focused on solely pleasing people because it seemed the right thing to do. I used to take any booking that came my way and suffered for it physically and financially. Now, I only offer a 2 night minimum stay. This saves on laundry and cleaning costs, and allows for conversation and interaction at a calmer pace, creating a different atmosphere to a hasty one night ‘I only need a bed’ scenario, and has resulted in many more return stays. Having been number 1 on Tripadvisor for 15 years in my town – it seems to work.”
Robin, The Old Priory Guesthouse, Kelso.
“What I learned from business was to be transparent about everything to customers and team members, even if it’s not the best news. This is often appreciated and many will respond by rallying round.
“What I would do differently is always find the time to drill down to get the facts when things don’t go to plan. Often a misunderstanding or fuzzy instructions are the cause. Blame culture is damaging and getting the right facts goes a long way toward avoiding this.”
Steve, Independent Family and Residential Children’s Services
Work hard… and make time to play hard
“I wish I had believed in myself. Anyone can do it, if you’re brave enough. I think you find that you learn a lot as you go, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know everything from the start. Value each and every one of your clients, it’s great to get new but also to look after your current – I’m very grateful for everyone that walks through my salon door. Make sure your staff members have the same vibe as you; positive, upbeat and driven, creating a happy atmosphere. And finally, work hard but make sure you make time to play hard!”
Ashleigh Davis, Salon Owner, Blush Beauty
As you can see, you can gain an incredible amount of insight from other business owners. Do you have any family, friends or professional contacts who wouldn’t mind sharing their learnings with you?