Happy Birthday To Me!
So, last month was my 5th birthday. Not mine obviously but the business birthday.
I was planning on having a cake and a few drinks with friends and colleagues but time and energy ran away with me. Plus I also appreciate that for so many businesses including lots that I have spoken to over the last few months, there have been no causes for celebration, survival and mental health proving a priority.
It has however, given me time for reflection. What have I learned from the past five years?What would I have done differently? Would I have set up a business at all knowing what I know now?
The answer to the latter is definitely! Running my own business has had its highs and lows. There have been tears on numerous occasions and times when I just wanted to throw in the towel. During the particularly difficult periods, it would have been so much easier to have found a job, guaranteed monthly income (no chasing invoices), several weeks holiday a year when you can properly and I mean properly, switch off. Being able to walk away from an office and leave the work behind, it all seemed so appealing, instead of constantly monitoring email, checking social media notifications and dwelling on ideas for what to do with the business as a whole, all often in the middle of the night. Everything, at times, was leaning towards jacking it all in and going back to the Monday to Friday 9-5. But I kept going and am so pleased I did.
I wanted to share a few things that I also reflected on and I hope may make a difference to you, especially if you are just setting out on the journey of self-employment, contracting or freelancing.
It's not about quality of life...yet
Maybe one day it will be but in the early years forget it. This for me wasn't some side hustle but a means to pay my mortgage and bills. So, I had to be dedicated. My thoughts and dreams initially however were that my quality of life would be better. Finishing work on a Friday lunchtime to play golf, working out of coffee shops when I wanted to, sitting on a beach several times a year, occasionally checking email, the list was endless. Unfortunately it just doesn't work that way. You will NEVER switch off in the early days whether its reflecting on why a certain post on LinkedIn didn't get many likes or comments, why your website traffic has slowed or why that potential client you thought was a definite money earner, hasn't replied to your email from three weeks ago. It is incredibly difficult to stop. Of course some of it is positive but when you are awake at 3 in the morning contemplating logo design, business names or whether you can afford to get someone to build your website for you, it can be relentless. Which leads to...
Look after yourself
I know it is easier said than done but I have met so many business owners at the point of burnout and exhaustion. When you have so many things to think about such as your business plan, bookkeeping, marketing, doing the actual job itself, looking after family or whatever your life entails (including avoiding a killer pandemic recently) it can be exhausting. It becomes easy to drop the gym sessions because you are too busy, of which I was guilty, working late and getting up ever earlier - definitely guilty - also maybe an extra glass of wine because you've 'earned it' - yep - guilty again. All of this starts to build up and can be destructive. In my workshops, I talk about your marketing wheel and concentrating on one thing at a time because we can't do it all. The most important section of that wheel is the 'Me' bit. Everything may be going so well for your business but if you are working ridiculous hours, not seeing family, your mental and physical health will be suffering. This is more important than whether your last Instagram post had the right number of hashtags or your LinkedIn profile picture looks a bit naff.
So much of your marketing is about YOU
Take a few minutes to check out other business websites, about sections on Facebook or bios on Instagram. So many of them are two dimensional, CV like and just state what a person or a business does, typically - Marketing Consultant with 25 years experience - Qualified Yoga Instructor and Nutritionist. The thing is with descriptives like that... I really don't care and besides, there are thousands of marketing consultants and yoga instructors. What is different about you? What makes you stand out compared to your competition? With bios like that, the answer is - absolutely NOTHING! Add a bit of personality to draw people in. Use your personality to showcase you. If you are service based, customers and clients are buying you. You are the product. Give people a feel of the person they are going to be working with or the type of business they will be buying from.
Don't undervalue yourself
Too many new businesses undersell themselves just to get the business in, I know I did. Prices are often too cheap, services provided well below their true value. It is so easy in the early days to get as many clients in, as many products sold, just to get the company going. Take some time to REALLY think about not only the costs of doing what you do but more about everything you bring to your customers. For too long I worked on what I thought was affordable for the potential client I was speaking to. I didn't take into account my years of experience, my list of contacts that I could introduce but more importantly always thinking - this job will take 4 hours so I will charge this price. It never does! Add on a couple of hours because invariably it will overrun. With products, don't go too cheap just to shift units. It isn't just how long it actually takes to produce your product and the cost of parts or ingredients. Think of how long it has taken you to source your suppliers, how much time you may potentially spend on customer service. All of these things will undoubtedly put your prices up but they will be a fairer reflection on what you are selling.
Everybody has imposter syndrome
Numerous people have mentioned this in workshops or in 1-2-1s with me. It is so easy to think you don't know what you are talking about or what you do is a bit of a smokescreen or everything isn't as good as you are making it out to be on social media. The truth is, everyone feels the same, it's just that some have come to deal with it and just get on with it and some feel it more than others. I have run 100's of workshops and 1000's of 1-2-1 sessions over the past few years and as people have walked into the room for a workshop or joined the waiting room on Zoom for our 1-2-1, doubt often creeps in. What if I can't help them, what if they think what I am talking about is rubbish? Remember you are the expert. You know what you are talking about and what you are doing. Nine times out of ten you will know more than the person you are talking to or selling to. Never forget that. And that one out of ten really doesn't matter as much as you think it does.
Also never forget...
...why you started this in the first place. What made you take this bold decision to go it alone. Was it because you wanted to help people, turn your lifelong hobby and passion into a career, you don't want to work for someone else anymore, you want to make a huge amount of money and emigrate to Australia (or whatever country may let us in!) Do you want to make your job work around your family or do you want to make people think more about the environment and buy your recycled or recyclable product. What has driven you to take the plunge? As well as my hoped for quality of life aspirations, I really wanted to have my own consultancy to work more in the food and drink industry but also with businesses that I wanted to work with. Five years in, that is happening more and more and is why I am so glad I decided to set up my own business. If you are thinking about it, go for it. It will be tough at times but you will get there!
There are still difficult days of course. I am however heading ever closer to taking Friday afternoons off to play golf. I wouldn't be here however if it wasn't for so many people. I would be grateful if you would allow me to indulge for a second.
I couldn't have done any of this without the incredible support of my beautiful wife Nancy. Without her, AdMia wouldn't exist. She has been my rock, my sounding board and my saviour. The support of my family has always been there and never taken for granted. Neil - I will never be able to thank you enough for putting up with my rants and mood hoovering behaviour. Scott, Sam, AJ, Tams, Olly, Iqbal, Giles, Grant, Martyn..the list is endless - you all know who you are and I love you all.