23rd October 2016
I can hardly believe that an entire year has passed since I left the corporate world and started my own business. And it’s been an amazing year. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, every day doing work that I love, and incredibly, earning more while working less.
But for most of my working life I never thought I would go into business for myself because only ‘entrepreneurs’ start their own businesses and I just didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur.
This past year has proved to me that anyone can be an entrepreneur. Like me, you simply need to have a passion that you can turn into a business. But passion alone is not enough.
10 lessons from my first year in business
Starting and building a business is far from simple. There have been a lot of both highs and lows, but as I’ve been thinking about all that I’ve accomplished this past year, I realise that I’ve learned an awful lot along the way. In this post, I discuss the first 5 of 10 lessons I’ve learned:
Age-old advice – from Marc Anthony ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’ – to Maya Angelou – ‘…pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well people can’t take their eyes off of you’.
When I was first thinking about starting my own business, everyone told me how hard it would be – the long hours, the stress, the uncertainty. And it was scary, for so many reasons. But of everything I’ve experienced this past year, none of it has felt hard.
Make no mistake, none of it has been ‘easy’. I’ve had to do many things far outside of my comfort zone and learn how to do other things that had always been done for me in the corporate world. But if you’re doing what you love, it just doesn’t feel like work. Every day for me is new and different, exciting and energising, and most importantly, every moment is my own choice.
I’ve spent more than 25 years as a B2B marketer, and my love of marketing has not diminished. Yet as we go through life our ambitions change and what we want from our working life changes. When I was considering this next step in my career I thought long and hard about what I really wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. I spent a lot of time understanding my own motivations and articulating what I wanted to achieve. This meant defining what ‘success’ for my business looked like to me, and developing clarity about what I wanted my business to be – in other words, what I was actually going to do.
Probably the single most important thing I’ve learned this past year is that having clarity of purpose around why I wanted to go into business for myself in the first place is what would see me through the down times.
There are SO many marketing consultants and consultancies out there. It’s easy to say ‘I’m a consultant’; there are few barriers to entry and low set-up costs. And when I started doing my research I got really depressed. How could I ever compete in what was such an overly crowded market?
But I spent a lot of time on the research and my initial depression gave way to a new sense of what consulting actually means to me. It was precisely this research that enabled me to understand and articulate what I was really good at and where I was going to focus my business.
I was then able to write my business plan, develop my service offering and feel confidence in my fee schedule, ensuring it all aligned to my purpose, and gaining real clarity around what I did and did not want to do.
I started planning for going out on my own years before I actually did. It began as a vague notion that I’d like to become a marketing consultant ‘one day’. But I quickly realised that if I was going to do so, I needed to start doing a lot of things so that when I was ready the foundation would already be in place.
It began as building my external networks – attending B2B marketing events, conferences and networking activities – and then extended into building my ‘brand’ and personal profile out in the wider marketplace. I became an active social media user and blogger, started speaking at B2B marketing conferences and writing both online and offline articles, all of which I continue to this day.
Then, when I was getting ready to make the leap, writing my business plan was critical to ensuring I had all the elements in place to make a go of it. I looked very hard at my finances, understood exactly what I needed to earn to make my business sustainable and how long I could give myself to do so; in other words, how much savings did I have to pay the bills while I built my business.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of networking – no matter where you are or what you may do in your career. And if you are going into business for yourself, it is critical to build your profile and credibility – your personal brand – in your chosen markets before you start your business and to build relationships before you need them. These relationships and networks provide much-needed support in the early days of your business, as well as a sounding board for your ideas and a reality check for your plans. And, importantly, your first customers are most likely to come from these networks.
For me, the biggest benefit of these relationships has been having a network of professionals I can talk to on a regular basis. One of my concerns starting out was that my working life would become too solitary. But critically, through my networks I have found other people – mostly women – who have all started businesses at about the same time as I did, for similar reasons. Sharing our various experiences has become a regular coffee catch-up over this past year, and it’s been such an important part of my journey, to know that I am not alone, that what I experience – both the frustrations and the delights – is normal.
In my next post, I’ll share 5 more lessons I’ve learned during my first year in business:
In the meantime, are you thinking about or have you just started your own business? I would love to hear about your experiences!
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.