Have you ever found yourself thinking I am desperate to get out of the rat race and in the same breath thought but I have no idea how I would make money? The feeling then gets put on the too difficult pile and you batten down the hatches and face the rush hour onslaught. I propose to give you a feel of what it is like to run your own business so that you can decide whether it is for you or not. I am going to do this from a number of perspectives – in part by sharing some of my story as a new business owner and peppering that with thoughts from others more experienced than me. You may already be thinking that I am mad to start a business in a recession but if a business is recession-proof, it can only go from strength to strength in a bull market!
Know yourself and your strengths
The most important thing is to know yourself. What are you good at and what do you enjoy doing? What are the things that you do instinctively that others struggle with, so much so you may not even know what they are. If that is the case listen to what those that know you best say about you. For me there was one constant theme and that was my ability to network. Initially I did not hear what people said because I could always think of people who I thought were better at networking than me so therefore it could not be true. However I now know the validity of that statement because it is what is bringing me new business. In my network are a number of successful coaches with more established businesses than mine and they are offering me associate work. This is just as well because direct selling and marketing brings out an allergic reaction in me and I squirm whenever I do it.
There is more to say about networking and selling. I will never forget my experience of being a member of a very well known London-based women’s network when I worked for a global consulting firm. Every time I attended one of their events, I enjoyed the speaker part of the evening which was of very high quality but tolerated the opening networking time. This was because I was often surrounded by people who had their own businesses and were focused on one thing and that was selling their product or services to me and anyone else from a corporate. Networking only works when you spend time getting to know the other person and finding out what you can do to help them. In other words there are very few gains in the short term, it is about an investment of time and money but if you follow those rules and you attend regularly then dividends should follow over the long term. By long term, the view is that it will take up to 18 months to build relationships which could lead to work for you.
Be realistic about how long it takes to get to market
If like me, you tend to be optimistic when thinking about your proposed or new venture then do get a reality check. I remember being incensed when I heard a presenter at a business link event outline the pitfalls of being self-employed but I have since discovered there is some validity in what he said. It can be tough and lonely working for yourself. You need to have buckets of perseverance and belief in yourself and your idea at the beginning as set backs are very common. In particular the one thing that I have learnt is that the timescale between a lead/ prospect becoming a sale with a contract/ money in your hand can be months. It takes between five and eight interactions with a prospective client to clinch a deal. So make sure you develop a system that works for you with regard to following up new contacts. Also cultivate as many leads as you can because as many as nine out of ten can end up going nowhere.
Recently I attended an event where I heard the old adage cash is king in a recession especially for micro and small business owners. As a coach, I offer a service to clients. Currently I have a growing private practice and I needed to find a way to receive regular, timely payments. As part of my contract with a client, I have included a clause requesting payment by the first of each month. This means that I know what my monthly income is going to be in advance and ensures against non-payment. This works well providing clients actually sign and return a copy of the contract. I have had one or two that have procrastinated over signing the contract and invariably that has led to problems later on!
If you are going to start a venture in an area in which you have no track record then it is important to build in time to raise your profile and get known. Think about those who have circles of influence within your life that would be happy to promote your products and/ or services. Some business owners even have formal arrangements with individuals and pay them referral fees. Another short cut if you are offering a service is to work as an associate for a more established business in your field.
Being a business owner is like waiting for a bus
An analogy that I have found helpful in my first year is to think of developing a new business as a bit like waiting for a bus. Sometimes you are waiting for ages for one to turn up and become cold and fed up in the process and at other times there are a whole string of buses in a row. In other words I have weeks when I am very busy and other times which are very slow. This perspective on business gives me hope when the going is tough. That combined with remembering why I set up on my own in the first place which was because I wanted the type of work where I could control my hours and thereby spend quality time with my children too. As a business owner I have the freedom to do what I want when I want. This sounds easy but can be difficult to put into action. I realised that I was spending my working days glued to my laptop and phone. Now I build swimming and meditation into my work day routine to ensure that I balance how I use my time. Finally it has been important to me to remember to have fun too as taking oneself too seriously can impact adversely on a potential client!
About the Author: Kate Griffiths specialises in working with women going through the whole transition from corporate world to motherhood and the process of deciding whether to return to work and in what capacity. She helps women recognise what they have achieved through becoming mothers and to celebrate that. She also helps women become more confident about returning to work and enable the transition at whatever stage of their journey be smoother and more enjoyable.