04 Feb 5 things I wish someone had told me before I started my agency
I made 5 huge errors when starting up and if you can learn from these, you’ll save a ton of time and money.
If you’re like me, and ready to venture out on your own, you’ll probably trawl the web looking for ways to refine your product and neglect the important steps that will make it work.
Do it this way and you’ll learn the hard way from the ‘school of experience’. So to save you some expensive tuition, I’m going to share my biggest 5 lessons.
I was a nomadic marketing specialist up until a few years ago. That’s when I decided to emphatically launch my own business.
Self-starting a venture is never easy, but the agency quickly grew and soon I was living my dream – cruising down the road of self-reliance with both hands firmly on the wheel and my tank full of optimism.
That was until my traction deflated and I took a few wrong turns, leaving me further away from my destination than when I first started.
My only choice was to long haul my way back and, along the journey, try to rediscover more about myself, what I loved doing and how to turn a bigger profit.
So, if you’re thinking of going down this road, or already have, you’re going to appreciate and resonate with this start-up advice.
1) Your job is running your business
Running your business is all on you, so get those shoulders nice and strong to carry the falls and polish that grin ready for those successes.
Through the mist of your insecurities and conflicting conversations in your head, you will have decided who to hire, how to work and what you sell. Now you’re all set, or so you think.
The challenge at this moment is fighting every bit of you that wants to get stuck in with your services. If you’re busy involved in the delivery of your work, then no-one is at home looking after the things that matter.
And that boring yet essential stuff includes things like admin, emails, planning and building relationships.
That’s why it’s better you hire staff that are trained and ready to go. Don’t waste your time training them. It sounds selfish, but when you’re a small set-up, they will only end up slowing you down and failing with you.
The rule should be 80/20. That’s 80% of your time working on the business and 20% working in the business – you know, all the creative work you actually like doing!
I hate running the business, so I thought I’d get clever and share some of the 80% jobs with others. It didn’t work. These jobs became a checklist of tasks when what actually needed to be critical mini-operations that were key to the survival of the business.
I completely shunned this responsibility, so have nobody to blame but myself. The sooner you can adapt to the ‘prioritising your business’ way of working, the bigger chance of success you will have.
2) Know your value
Starting a business is a life-changing decision and a little like parenting; you’re going to have to find time to fit everything in your day and pay for stuff you didn’t even realise existed.
If you need to, get some investment, secure a business loan, take on a second job or make sure you have enough savings to last you for the gruelling long ride ahead.
Sometimes it only takes a supply issue, dropped client or someone to forget to process your invoice to end up crushing you.
The good news is that it’s only when you hit rock bottom that you get awarded the honorary entrepreneurial degree – which every entrepreneur has earned on their journey to success.
Why is this good? Because escaping financial uncertainty will equip you with some business badass abilities you never knew you had, which will stop you making mistakes like these ever again:
a) Never undervalue yourself. You have to charge what you or your product is worth and stick to it. Don’t worry about undercutting the competition, they are cheap for a reason.
b) If someone can’t afford you, just move on. Out in the real world, there will be someone for them and another opportunity for you, so burn your energy on getting a better fit and not on trying to make something unworkable work.
c) Don’t over-service in your contracts. If you explain clearly how things work in the first place, chances are they will either pay for it or decide they don’t need it.
d) If they don’t pay, stop straight away. Don’t hold out for payments, get chasing so clients know to value you. Being paid on time for your service is a fair expectation.
e) Cash flow is oxygen to your ever-burning operational fire. Keep an eye on how much your fire consumes even when you think you’re growing. Scaling up could mean that you’re still bringing in the same profit margin!
f) Always hold the leverage. Let your service or product speak by the value it adds, so the dependency is always on you and not the other way around.
g) Getting the right fit. The people you work with have to fit in with your way of working and ambitions. For me, I’ve wrongly worked with clients who treated marketing as an expensive cost and not the investment it is.
You’ll soon realise that you are your own worst enemy. If you give your brain more than a second to think, you will start to doubt the key start-up advice above and feelings like sympathy will kick in, making you relinquish one of your commandments. This brings me nicely to my next point.
3) Don’t think, just do
Our brains are always looking for validation through immersing ourselves in reading blogs, watching webinars and trying to learn everything we can.
The truth is, you know more than enough to get going, so stop researching day and night.
Just put your phone down, close those internet tabs of news-relay-junk and you’ll achieve so much more. Yes, that guilt you’re feeling right now is real because you know it’s true.
It’s become a modern-day sin if you can’t multi-task, but how can you focus on something when you’re doing numerous things at once?
You’ll find productivity shoot up if you switch off your device and focus on a task for 25-minutes straight. That means no breaks or fridge stock checks, just good old-fashioned heads down.
Have you ever tried not prioritising your emails in order of importance?
It sounds crazy, but if you get rid of the smaller emails or tasks first, then it keeps everything else ticking whilst you focus on some bigger replies.
And if you’re ever pondering a decision, go with your first choice. You’ll be surprised that how many times your gut instinct is right, so trust it more and get more productive with your time.
4) Get good at marketing
Have you ever thought you’re going to beat the route guidance when it says 17 minutes left to your destination? Yes, you try, but then you get stuck at lights.
This is like when my peers told me it will take me two years to build the business. I thought because of my marketing talent, magical charisma and crazy work ethic of 14-hour days, I can do this in just 6 months!!
How wrong was I?
My realisation is you have to give up the work you love doing and spend your time marketing yourself. It’s the only way you will make money. You can’t shortcut this.
You’ll love the irony here because my expert field is marketing and I sucked bad at doing this for myself.
I hate slimy sales calls and people and guess I was hoping my paid ad strategies would create a magical queue of endless potential customers.
How wrong was I?
And because I didn’t do enough in those first 6 months, my two-year trajectory had to start all over again.
So how has my strategy changed now?
Well for a start, I’m doing a lot less tactical stuff in the business. Yes, I’m involved with strategising, but after that, the team step in and do the rest.
Now, I’m networking at every chance I get both online and offline, which is opening heaps of opportunities.
I think that’s currently one of the best pieces of start-up advice available: you can never network too much.
The best thing I’ve done though is to take the time to share my experience and knowledge at conferences and through blogs.
What I’ve found from it is that people are either learning from me or want to work with me because they know I have the answers to help them grow.
5) Don’t care what people think
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, which is why 80% of businesses fail in the first two years.
There’s nothing wrong with losing, you just need to learn from it.
Instagram paints this great entrepreneurial picture of fast cars, money and sun-bathed success. But most of that is fake, with most of those people trying to sell their get rich quick schemes and courses.
Nobody really knows what goes on behind those filtered pics, so don’t let your benchmark be an individual – instead, it needs to be your dream.
I know entrepreneurs who have had a ton of failed projects, but you’ll only know them for what has worked. Having multiple businesses usually comes with multiple failings, but that never stopped them.
I guess that’s another key piece of start-up advice in itself; be tenacious and don’t let your setbacks define you.
So, take a leaf from their book and stop caring about what other people think. Also, listen to experience – it’s going to be your best friend and wisest teacher.
Things aren’t going to go the way you plan them, and if you accept this and can quickly adapt, then you’re going to be unstoppable.
If you found this useful, or are an entrepreneur who echoes what I’m saying, then leave a comment and let me know what you think. What start-up advice would you add to this list of 5?