10 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started My Own Business
I made the leap to go into business for myself without thinking through all the risks. I wasn’t scared because, at 27, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Plus, I figured if it didn’t work out, I could always get a regular job.
Nineteen years later, I can tell you I've loved owning my own time, having flexibility in my schedule, and learning new things every day. I’ve made my share of big and expensive mistakes, but I’ve never turned back.
If you're wondering whether or not to take the leap to work for yourself, I have two answers for you: (1) Absolutely, and (2) Just know these things before you do.
1. You’re not going to be good at some things. Get help in those areas, and kick ass where you can.
I am a terrific strategist, communicator, idea-person and I can execute any digital marketing campaign I devise. However, I am not good with numbers. Running a business requires you to be good with numbers. Luckily, I was able to recruit my husband, who joined the business with excellent skill sets I did not have.
2. It's OK to work with family.
You don’t have to immediately discount the notion of working with a spouse or another family member because of the taboo of mixing family and business.
Under the right conditions, or with the right relationship, it can work. Building a business and a family with my husband has made us happier because we love what we've created together.
3. Your reputation is your biggest asset. Spend time and energy protecting it.
People will work with you, hire you and recommend you if they think you're honest, have integrity, and are good at what you do. My first client was the book publishing company, Henry Holt. They hired me as a consultant right after I resigned … all these years later and I am proud to say that they are still referring business to me. (Thank you, Henry Holt and Company!)
4. Be clear about about WHY you're starting a business.
Money can be sexy and alluring, like the time my husband and I were offered $5 million for half of our company. I was tempted, until I heard their proposal for my company. They wanted us to develop a cookie-cutter marketing program for every book and author because it was scalable.
That was not my vision for my work. I started my company to give my clients 100% on my time and attention. I wanted to have deeper relationships with my clients and develop customized marketing campaigns for their books. We turned down the money, which was scary at the time. People told us we made a mistake, but over time, I know we did the right thing.
Money is sexy, but so is staying true to your values. Being debt-free and having full control over your company (and life) … that’s even sexier.
5. Get to know your customers before you begin developing products and services to help them.
As you can imagine, the authors I work with want their books to sell well. Any aspiring entrepreneur wants their products or services to sell well, too. The key to marketing success is to find your ideal audience and serve them better than anyone else.
6. Go for quality over quantity.
When I talk with authors/clients about their digital marketing plan, I always tell them to go for quality over quantity. Engagement is much more valuable than the number of followers.
While we all love the instant gratification of getting 1,000 shares and 10,000 followers, it’s better to aim for quality relationships of give and take with customers and clients. Quality followers are people who are engaged with your work and they are interested in what you have to offer.
7. The best relationships are never developed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Publicity (or media attention) is important for any business. I once thought a well-written press release would be the ideal way to help authors get the word out about their books to the press. I quickly learned that the best relationships (with media or anyone) are never developed with a one-size fits all approach. I now advise authors (or anyone trying to get media attention) to contact each editor individually and customize their message to that person.
8. Think carefully before you expand. It may be an ego-boost more than a good idea. (It was for me.)
This is one of the most challenging and expensive lessons I have learned in business. I had no plan for how big a company I wanted to have. As work started coming in, I started expanding. I hired more people, got bigger office space, bought more office furniture and then realized that my job had changed from a "maverick idea-person" to a manager. I was not happy.
No one's fault, I just didn't know then what I do now about what makes me happy. Working closely with my clients and coming up with creative strategies that I can change on the fly keeps me excited about my work. It’s difficult to do that with a large staff. We ended up downsizing, which was painful and expensive. I still have some of the desks from that period in my basement reminding me of the expensive lesson.
9. Find your break-even point, and never accept any fee less than that. The purpose of your business is to make a profit.
"Being busy" and "being profitable" are not the same thing. It took me a long time to understand the difference. Setting your pricing and sticking to it is one of the toughest things to do when you are freelancing.
You may not realize how much your time is worth, and let's face it, there is always someone willing to work for less. Sure you can take less because you love the work, but if you're not making a profit, you won't survive for long.
10. Take time off and unplug.
As a purpose-driven entrepreneur who often burns the midnight oil working, it took me a long time to give myself permission to unplug. Stepping away from client communication is not always easy, but I am happier and more productive when I periodically unplug.
If you're planning to take the leap, go for it. Work is challenging whether you work for yourself or someone else. The important thing is to know what makes you happy, because then those challenges don’t feel stressful, they actually feel energizing.