Diary of a start up: Learning to walk before I can run

I’m now more than halfway through my first year working only for myself and I’m quietly optimistic about the prospects for the business.

Flexibility

As with anything, things have developed and changed so I’ve had to adapt the balance of what I do. For example, the business is called Your Virtual PR because I anticipated providing my PR skills to small and medium businesses. But one of the things which has brought me the most work so far has been copywriting. I love writing, so doing the work isn’t a problem, it’s just not what I envisaged I would be doing.

You will may have heard about portfolio careers. It’s the new buzz phrase for people who choose to have a number of different specialisms, or who re-train and effectively have several careers instead of doing the same thing. I’m starting to think that I can apply elements of this approach to my business.

I have effectively compartmentalised the skills I have – my knowledge of the media, of how to effectively target certain customer groups, my writing skills, my coaching skills – and packaged them up in a number of different ways that people want to buy.

I’ve also thought carefully about the model for the business in terms of retained, regular clients versus one-off projects. I have a small number of retained clients and clearly these are the ones which provide security as they sign up for six or twelve months. But the project work can help supplement this and is the start of a new relationship and an opportunity to showcase my skills, so it is just as important.

I’ve never been afraid to adapt, and I view my first six months in business as a good way to test what people are receptive to. I guess the sensible approach would have been to do all of that market research before I launched the business, but hindsight is 20:20 isn’t it? I did do some research, but as the business has matured, so has the concept. I’m still being true to my values of providing flexible and great value communications services, there’s just more emphasis on one skill than others at the moment.

Networking: It’s not what you know…

I’ve been doing some more networking, dipping my toe into as many different types of groups as I can. I’ve not settled on anything that I feel should be my only networking solution just yet, but I’ve been surprised at just how many options there are out there.

I’ve also been surprised at the massive potential cost – £500 a year up front plus £50 a month in some cases. It’s not a cost I’ve been able to justify, so I’m sticking to the groups where you can just turn up and pay for that session or, even better, the ones which are free.

I’ve also tried to think a bit more creatively about what networking opportunities are available to me and have been attending a lot of free events in order to build up my contacts. I’ve got more strategic about who I want to target at those events, but I’ve also just enjoyed chatting to anyone and everyone who is in business locally.

It’s been a mix of targeted approaches and just speaking to people and thinking “How can I help this person?” Often that has been about me referring them to someone else, not just about what I personally can do for them.

As a result of the networking I’ve had a number of meetings with designers that are now starting to bear fruit.

What I’ve learnt about networking is:

  • Time is precious. You could genuinely spend all week networking if you wanted (and could afford it) so carefully check out any opportunities before you go along
  • Test the water. So many networking groups are keen to sign you up but there are infinite formats and philosophies on networking and not all of them will work for you. All of the groups I’ve come across let you go along at least once before committing, so make the most of these opportunities even if you decided not to sign up.
  • Have a plan. It’s great to speak to everyone and build up a contacts book, but it’s also effective to think about the kinds of businesses you particularly want to speak with
  • Tell people it’s your first time. With the more formal groups, saying you’ve not been before is an easy conversation starter and people are keen to help introduce you to others and make you feel comfortable.
  • Follow up. If you meet someone you think you could work with, a dedicated meeting is often a great next step. That way you can research each other a bit more and have a plan for how you could work together and give you an opportunity to get to know them better.
  • Informal networking is just as good. Networking doesn’t have to be about everyone in the room standing up and having a minute to pitch. Make the most of other opportunities to meet and talk to people.
  • It takes time. I’ve just started work on a project with a company I first came across in December. Networking is about building up the contacts, you shouldn’t expect to walk out of the door with new business (although that’s happened to me once and it was great!).
  • Keep at it. Just because you’re busy now doesn’t mean you can take your foot off the networking pedal. Continue to make time to do some networking, even in a scaled-down form, while you’re busy as you will need a new batch of work to start on.

Having the right tools

Running a business is expensive, isn’t it? But I’m a firm believer that you have to have the right tools to do the job properly. In my case that means subscribing to a service which monitors the coverage I secure for my clients and to another on which journalists post their enquiries so I can respond to any that are relevant to my clients.

Both of these services are relatively expensive – in my view. Yet they are necessary for me to provide a professional service to my clients.  So while I’ve got a tight grip of the money I have to pay out, these are expenses I can’t afford not to have.

Dear diary

In the last six months I’ve had to be at my most resilient to weather the ups and downs of running my own business. I’m sure you find that too.

I hadn’t appreciated the sheer extremes at that you can swing between – sometimes within a matter of days.

My coach urged me to get myself a notebook and keep a diary of the good times so I had something to read in the difficult ones. Being a sucker for pretty stationery I took myself off to buy something beautiful that I would really cherish. I’ve never kept a diary before, but I’ve found it really useful in helping to remind me that I can do this and that, when the going gets tough, there have been great times too.

I’ve also used the diary to set some targets for myself and the business and am keeping track of how I’m doing. In particular I have a page with a list of clients on, which I add to every time I get a new one. I’m really enjoying seeing that page fill up with names. It’s a visual representation of how far I’ve come.

Looking forward

So what is the plan for the next three months? Well, the whole idea of me starting the business was to rebalance the ratio of life and work in our household. So as we approach the school holidays I’m working as hard as I can to make sure that I’ll be able to ease off a little while the children are off school.

September will bring a new routine as my youngest starts pre-school, and that also means I’ll have more time to work. I’m making plans for how I can more effectively spend that time as well as looking forward to not working quite so many evenings and weekends.

Which brings me on to my final piece of learning – the value of boundaries. Running a business from home can mean that you never really stop working, so you don’t get a proper break or chance to recharge. While the necessities of my family routine mean I have to work some evenings and parts of the weekend, it’s also important for my sanity that I draw some boundaries.

For me this means I try not to work on Sundays so I get at least one day off and that I close the door on my office when I’m not working so I don’t feel like – or create the impression for my clients – that I’m constantly on the clock.

If you have any views or words of wisdom that you want to share, I’d be really pleased to hear them.

 

click here to see Louise’s first diary entry: Baby Steps

click here to see Louise’s second diary entry: Toddling Along

 

The day I put the start into startup

It is 8.45am on a drizzly and soggy Saturday in June, (got to love the British summertime!) and I am sitting, shivering, on the doorstep of a trendy west end restaurant. Clutching my bag of props and laptop I await the arrival of a staff member to let me in. This is it. It’s D-day! Why do we always give ‘firsts’ a war reference? Maybe it’s Do-or-Die Day! I take a few moments to gather my thoughts and reflect upon the journey so far.

The start up honeymoon 

I settled on the idea of running a training and mentoring business just for women about a year ago and I recall the clarity with which the original vision came to me and the way it warmed the cockles of my heart. I had created a process for tapping into the true source of purpose and passion and had tried it out on myself first. It had been liberating: I, Salli Glover, would become the Super-Heroine of Women changing the world! What followed were a couple of months of absolute euphoria as I ran around town sharing my great idea with anyone that would listen and began to research the market need. It all stacked up: The Government were on a mission to have more female representation at board level; Harvard, McKinsey, Deloitte and Bain were all extolling the virtues of women in leadership roles and business. Even the Queen got hot on the trail and changed a 300 year old law ensuring that the first born inherits the thrown – even if, wait for it, it’s a girl!

I was in heaven during that honeymoon period, I had a head filled with romantic notions of sell out programmes, women living outrageously delicious lives, employing my team of super-savvy female marketers and PR girls as I took up with the Big Boys in government and business and showed them that this indeed was the way. Bless me.

Beware – starting up can delay start up!

So I did what any sensible woman on a mission would do and I sought the help of experts. Many experts. Way too many experts. I’m not really sure what happened to the months of February, March and April, we could have had a freak tropical heatwave and I’d have been none the wiser. I lost my way, turned into a child of the cyber forests, got eaten by cookie monsters, tweeted and twitted and heard things about spiders that I still don’t understand, and I think if I had stayed there I may well have never come back from the void.

In amongst all of that noise and overwhelm and information overload, there was a little voice whispering to me from the echoes of my soul; “just get on with it Salli” and the occasional “stop fannying around” for good measure. I ignored her of course. I mean, couldn’t she see I was TRYING? Had she no idea how much there is to be learned? You can’t just START goddamit! What about brand positioning, and online presence, and building a list, joint ventures, content marketing, there’s blogs that need to be written, lead conversion to be considered and for goodness sake where have you been woman? That rush hour traffic to Successville is not going to drive itself to my website. Oh no, SEO, Google analytics, keyword search tool. Just make it STOP, please, someone just make it stop. To be honest there were days the noise in my head became so loud that I questioned whether I was launching a business or developing bipolar.

And so, concerned that I may well be certifiable, I brought myself back from the brink, and into the real world; where the real people live their very real every day lives and have real conversations with people who have actual faces. It was like The Awakening; suddenly the world had colour again. I noticed birds and trees for the first time in months. Even the rain made me feel alive. I reconnected with Women, starting contributing to them and their causes; I smiled a lot more and most importantly of all got realigned to my WHY. Ah, yes, my original purpose: To inspire Women to create a world that works for everyone. There she is.

 Just get on with it!

Now this may sound like a personal breakthrough, hurrah, I’ve reconnected with my purpose and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow suddenly appears. But no. I knew there was something else going on with me, beneath the perfectly acceptable shop front with the sign saying ‘gone learning, back some day’. I was interested in the truth beneath the truth. I was interested in that little whisper calling to me ‘just get on with it Salli’.

And there it was: I was hiding. Hiding from just getting on with it. The more I had focused my energies into a whole new realm of ever changing rules and strategies the farther away I had gotten from my real burning passion – to teach. To share stories and move people and take them on a journey. And in doing so I had also forgotten to take them on my journey. A lesson well learnt.

Enjoy the start up journey

Taking people on the journey with you is a Must. I have found compassion, support, collaboration and the best forms of advice since doing so. And people love the authenticity of a Woman on a mission who isn’t pretending to know it all; at no point do I declare that I have all the secrets to a ‘millionaire mind’ or gloat over my 6 figure sales breakthrough, and my customers and collaborators alike appear to respect me all the more for it. I make no apology at all for being a startup, and my brochures may not yet be glossy and my venues may not yet be exclusive but at the same time my early adopters are aware that they are reaping the rewards of this by virtue of not being charged extra for all those luxury trimmings. I have also been told that my startup status makes me more accessible, more real and in reach than if I was a big hitting industry name. In short, they can relate to me and I to them.

So it turns out there was no need to hide. That fear of being exposed as the fraudulent, inexperienced, new kid on the block was irrational, as all of our womanly fears tend to be. Paradoxically it was coming out of hiding and being raw and honest that won people over more in the end. I wish someone had told me this information in February (was there a freak heatwave by the way? I really have no idea). Then maybe I would have just got on with it and the little voice in my head could have bugged me about something else instead, like my split ends or how far behind I am on planning my imminent wedding…

 

As I sit there on that cold doorstep pondering my navel I have another realisation which makes me smile and glow all at once: St Martins Lane, heart of the Theatre District, and a much loved teenage haunt of mine. As a Cornish girl I had dreamed of appearing in the West End one day and would often wander up this road past all the hustle and bustle of lovies and theatre goers in total awe of the bright lights and the big city. In the end it turned out I didn’t get on with the ‘fakery’ of that world and so here I am, just little old me, sitting on a step in the West End, about to give the performance of my lifetime: As Salli Glover, just being me.

The event, contrary to little Miss Bipolar’s fears did not in fact crash, burn, self destruct or implode and was a roaring success, leaving me with only one question: What took me so long?

So, if you’re wondering whether you’re ready to get going or not, take a little advice from my little voice: Just get on with it! (And do try to enjoy the ride, freak heat wave’s are a rare commodity and not to be missed).

 

Networking Tips for Starting up!

So now you’ve chosen a career that right for you. What’s next? Our networking tips can help you! It feels great to know what you want to do, but how do you make sure that the opportunities will be there for you when the time comes? The answer is simple… Networking!

Relationship building and networking are the key to getting your foot in the door to many careers. Have you ever heard the expression “It’s not what you know, but who you know”? While we’re not saying that your knowledge and experience aren’t important, we are saying that the relationships that you build can make all the difference. The benefits of networking are many! In today’s competitive job market, a stellar resume is often just not enough.

You may not even realize it, but networking is part of our everyday lives. Each of these networking tips will show you ways that you can use networking to help you find the opportunity that is right for you…

The People You Know

Start your career networking with the people you already know!

This is one of the easiest networking tips! You probably don’t realize just how many people you already know. Start a list! Write down the names of everyone you know and then next to their name write what they do for a living. Once you’ve completed the list, you can highlight or place a star next to everyone that you think may be able to assist you with potential opportunities.

Professional Organizations and Clubs

Join Professional organizations and Clubs that can help you strengthen your skills and credentials while you network.

If you’re looking for networking tips, you may want to consider joining a professional organization or club. Organizations and clubs give you the opportunity to meet other like-minded people that share with you similar interests, careers, backgrounds, or goals. Building relationships with these people can lead to many opportunities for you both personally and professionally.

Social Networking On The Internet

Expand your contacts with online social networking, the backbone of communication in today’s techno-savvy
world!

The Internet! The lifeline of communication in today’s world! The Internet is not only a great place for information but it is a great place to network. One of the best networking ideas that we can give you is to go online. There are several popular online social networking sites that can assist you in your career search.

Internships

Get your foot in the door with an internship!

Another one of our valuable networking tips is to look for an internship! When you think of an internship, you may think that they are only for traditional college students or people who have just graduated. Actually, internships can potentially benefit all people that are beginning a new career.

Volunteering

Help others and network at the same time!

Another networking tip is to volunteer. Volunteering is a networking opportunity that can benefit both you and others at the same time! When you volunteer for an organization, you provide them a free service while at the same time building valuable professional relationships. Here are some volunteer ideas to get you started.

About the Author: Frank DeMaria is an expert at helping you to choose a career that has you feeling fulfilled, happy, and enthusiastic! It’s empowering to know each day that you are contributing to your organization and meeting your family’s needs as well as your own. visit  www.career-search-and-more.com to find out more.

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What did your friends and family say to you when you told them you were off to start your own business?

And how did it affect the way you went about creating your business?

When I first started telling colleagues and friends of my plans to start my own life coaching business back in 2004 [this is where I started 5 years ago], I remember all too well the sucking of the teeth and the “you’re very brave” comments. Continue reading “Business Attitude or Business Idea: Which is more likely to lead to your success?”

Working 5 to 9

Adjust your clocks as the world of work is changing. People in their thousands are heading home from the day job to build a business at nights and weekends. It’s what we call the 5 to 9 economy and it’s a great way of starting a business as it means low cost and low risk. Continue reading “Working 5 to 9”

Diary of a Startup: Sun bed perspective

I lie here on my sun bed in Spain soaking up the sun while relaxing by the pool and reading those women’s magazines – as we all do – profiling all those inspirational career change stories of brave and creative business women who have pursued their “eureka” moment.

As I read the stories of these female role model entrepreneurs – this year is different. I too have left the security of my permanent job – mine with a City and Westminster based pr agency – to strike out with my own business as a pr consultant. So let this be a salutary Continue reading “Diary of a Startup: Sun bed perspective”