In the ten years that it has taken to develop and build my business, I am brave enough to say I have made mistakes. I started my business from scratch with no support from anyone and what ensued were huge learning curves, mistakes, some regret, and a lot of reflection. With all that said, it has led me to the position I am in now, and with each ‘learning curve’ and ‘mistake’, I have built a stronger more resilient foundation that has enabled my company to thrive.
I often get asked, ‘What would you do differently?’, ‘What would you tell your younger self?’, ‘What do you wish you knew?’. These questions occur regularly when people query how my journey began and with this in mind, I have created a ‘Cheat guide’ for starting a business. This guide has evolved from the pitfalls and mistakes I have made, amalgamating them with the positive outcomes and reflective processes that subsequently have occurred. This is not meant as a definitive guide, there are many ways you can develop a business strategy, but these are the top 5 things ‘I wish I knew’ when I started.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail!
In the beginning phases of my company start-up, I did not have any idea how I was going to get to where I wanted to be, I just knew what my goal was and that was the beginning and end of my business plan. I had been employed as an electrician for many years before becoming self-employed. I exposed myself to as many opportunities as possible, thus driving new experiences, and over time, became a Master Electrician.
During my earlier career, I was privy to a range of different business cultures, how they worked, how they didn’t, what I thought was good practice, and what was poor. I decided to just take a leap of faith and create my own, taking with me all the valuable experience I had obtained. Upon reflection, whilst that act of ‘risk-taking’ has now paid off, the first thing I would do differently is to create a real business plan. I hadn’t factored in the financial duties of starting my own business, let alone the responsibility of everything being on my shoulders. That initial phase of the start-up was made considerably harder because I hadn’t planned, forecasted, and foreseen the implications of setting up by myself. It is a very true statement, ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’, and looking back, a detailed plan would now be my foundation for building a business.
Know your worth
When you first start in business, it’s a common misconception that you should mark your pricing well below market average, that’s not to say you can’t be competitive but don’t be tempted to lower your value to acquire more business, and here is why…
Understandably, when embarking upon a new business venture, you may not feel as confident as other established companies, but that lack of confidence shouldn’t discount your costs, ability, experience, talent, and above all time. When I began my journey, I was making £10 an hour because I was tentatively trying to find my place in an already saturated market. I was grateful to be receiving my work and to gain yet more experience. Over time, I began to feel disheartened. I was spending countless hours on projects that others in my field were charging £100 plus for the same work, I was exhausted, felt undervalued, and was questioning whether I had made the right decision to work for myself. I started comparing my standard of work to other agencies doing the same and I didn’t feel there was any difference in quality, but a considerable difference in price point. This is where confidence and knowing ‘your worth’ came in. I had to get honest with myself. It was no use creating my own business if I was barely making ends meet every month to do so, taking time away from my family and myself, feeling exhausted, and for what? Barely being able to pay my bills each month. I was adamant I didn’t want to be overpriced and for my clients to feel taken advantage of, but I also didn’t want to feel taken advantage of myself, so I began to research. I researched several different companies providing the same services, looked at their rates, and placed myself within a competitive range that was still valuing my skillset and my time. This is something I wish I had done from the outset and would strongly recommend, after all, if you don’t value yourself, who will? Today I would say my prices are still competitive, without compromising on quality but also reflect the talent, expert knowledge, and experience that my staff and I provide.
You can’t focus on anything else!
Starting a business is without a doubt, is one of the scariest things a person can do. It’s time-consuming, a constant battle and you often feel that if you don’t fully immerse yourself in every facet of it, it will fail. In my earlier days, I lost countless hours of sleep thinking about my business and even when I did sleep, I was still working. This is a straight pathway to burn out! When I first started, so many well-meaning people told me that I would have to sacrifice all other aspects of my life if I wanted the business to leave the ground. So, I did. I worked hard, really long hours and as previously stated, didn’t see any additional benefits to it. I missed family events, hobbies, and even sleep. In hindsight, it didn’t have a big impact on the business’s momentum. Today I would say the opposite. Take time to be with your family, take breaks, get some sleep! You can’t possibly be a well-rounded leader if you are not a well-rounded individual, solely focusing on one thing. Clearing your head and taking a moment to yourself not only allows you to get some much-needed rest, but it can also offer clarity, time to reflect as well as perspective.
Not everyone cares as much as you?
This was one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, not everyone cares as much as you do. Your business is effectively your baby. You strive to perfect it, care about it, nurture it, and pour your heart and soul into it but not everyone who works for you will do the same. In my initial phases of outsourcing work to other contractors, there were many issues. The standard wasn’t up to par for brand representation, the etiquette wasn’t what I would expect, and overall, I felt disheartened when it came to allowing others to carry out my work. This initial process gave me the springboard for recruiting my staff. I decided that if I wanted people to care about the business as much as I did, I had to develop a culture that expressed a ‘love and nurture’ culture towards my staff as much as the work being carried out. I created a stringent recruitment process that allowed me to select like-minded individuals that held the same values as me and my company but also enabled each employee to feel valued, important, and as much a part of the business as I was. This reiterates my previous point about ‘knowing your worth’. If people feel valued, they want to work hard for you and collaboratively. Today I am proud to say that the culture of loving what we do and valuing employees is firmly embedded within every strand of the business. Not everyone will have the same passion as you for your business and that’s okay, but to be truly successful, the starting point lies with the drive and values of your workforce. Passion leads me onto my final tip for this guide.
The balancing act of passion and wisdom
Passion, in my opinion, is one of the most important components of generating a successful business. Passion is what consistently propels you forward, encourages you to improve, and in essence, drives you to succeed. That said, allowing your passion to take over your decisions can be damaging to business. Yes, passion will propel you forward but knowledge is what will propel you in the right direction. Much like ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, I believe it’s important to regularly ‘prepare’ and perform market research on your industry and maintain a dialogue with existing customers to explore your business’s potential. Ask questions, even contact other ‘experts’ that can add value to the business, such as financial advisors, etc. I began my business completely by myself but there is no shame in reaching out to other professionals to gather the information that will support your development. I wish I had received other perspectives in the initial stages and not tried to problem-solve everything by myself. As your business starts to evolve, consider it like climbing a mountain. Your passion is your drive to climb, available knowledge is the map of how to get there, but ultimately the desire is to get to the top. In keeping your passion ‘in-check’, you can be sure your ‘climb to the top’ is headed in the right direction whilst maintaining the drive you require to get there.
My business ‘climb’ has taken me on many journeys. By constantly setting myself new targets and goals, I still haven’t ‘reached the top’. Wherever your ‘journey’ takes you, make sure you view every ‘mistake’ as an opportunity for growth, development, and above all, enjoy it!