So you’ve decided to become an entrepreneur? You go girl! It’s one of the most rewarding and exhilarating things you’ll ever do in your life. But do be warned; it’s not all sunshine and roses. Owning your own business is a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs that can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re pushing a giant boulder up a steep hill. So we’ve put together our top ten tips to help you survive and thrive in your first year of business.
ONE – Always be prepared
Sometimes you don’t have a choice about setting up your own business. Family life or redundancy might force you into being an entrepreneur and you have to get started with what you’ve got. But if you’ve been thinking about doing your own thing for a while then make sure you get yourself a solid plan in place before you leave your current employment.
Many people make the mistake of quitting their jobs first and then setting to work on their business. The frequent excuse is that there “isn’t enough time” or they “need the head-space to think about their business properly”. The trouble with this approach is that you end up starting your first day as an entrepreneur with no plan, no ‘product’ to really sell, and nothing to talk to people about. Do your research and make sure you have the right product, price, market and audience in place before going self-employed.
To ensure your pot of savings can last you until your first invoices get paid, start working on your business idea well before you hand your notice in. This initial planning stage can be a long journey. Working out your what, where and how can take time to develop before it all comes together. Run your company as a side project for as long as you need to until you’re ready – but don’t strive for perfection or it may become an excuse to avoid getting started! Your initial plans will change and constantly evolve – probably forever – so it will always be a ‘work in progress’. What you’re aiming for is to have enough planning and preparation done so that you’re ready to start making connections and generating your own revenue from day one.
TWO – Get set, goal!
What do you want to achieve in your first 12 months of business? If you can’t answer this question then you’re not ready to start your own business.
Start with your ten year vision and dream big. What does it look like? Create a visual mood board. Then move onto looking at the next 3 years, then the next 12 months. Make it as detailed as possible, breaking it down into manageable chunks by setting quarterly and monthly targets. After all, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ This will help you to not feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of what needs to get done. But do remember that plans and goals can often change on a daily basis, so it’s important to be adaptable, fluid and flexible. Like bamboo you want to bend not break with the wind.
THREE – Go with the cash flow
It takes time and effort to start making money with a new business venture, especially in the first 12 months. But be assured that if you put the hard work in you will be rewarded. The key is to have more coming in than going out. Keep your start-up costs low instead of investing in the best from day one.
As you build your business cash flow becomes one of the biggest challenges and can make or break you. Keep in mind that clients can take up to 90 days to pay your invoices even if you stipulate your own 30 day payment terms. Be prepared to chase these payments or find someone who can do this for you.
There are lots of great finance tools out there to help you. For a small monthly fee you can track payments and pay your suppliers. It also gives you lots of data, reports and geeky information that will allow you to analyze your business sales at the end of your first year.
FOUR – It’s all about you
After years of working for somebody else nothing can quite prepare you for the personal journey you’re about to embark on. The liberation and freedom is wonderful, exciting and also overwhelming in equal measures. When you work for someone else you frequently gain feedback with end of year reviews that give you the validation and steer in the right direction. Removing these can expose some of your biggest fears and insecurities, but you don’t have to go through everything on your own.
Finding yourself role models and mentors will help you enormously no matter what stage of the journey you’re on. You need like-minded people that you can celebrate the highs with, call on when you hit a low and who can give you a new perspective on your business from time to time.
Strong networks not only provide support and friendship but they can also generate business opportunities for you as you create your own ‘brand advocates’ that want to support you as much as you’re supporting them.
FIVE – Trust your instincts
It’s easy to get caught up with what other people are doing with their businesses, thinking perhaps you’re on the wrong path and that maybe you need to change what you’re doing or how you’re doing it. STOP! Trust your own instincts and don’t be afraid to be different or unique. There’s more than one way to skin a cat – so be bold, be brave and reinvent your business so it works for you, on your terms. If you don’t really need an office – don’t get one! If you don’t want to expand your business – then don’t do it. Define what success is for you and don’t be ruled by other people’s opinions. Trust your gut! After all isn’t it better to make your own mistakes than someone else’s?
SIX – Because you’re worth it
Your first year in business is going to be hard work – mentally and emotionally – so it’s really important to look after your emotional wellbeing as well as to acknowledge and appreciate just how far you’ve come and what you’ve learnt.
There are days as an entrepreneur where you’ll be overwhelmed or uninspired and they’ll most certainly be days when you’ll want to throw the towel in, but it’s important to recognise that all of these feelings are completely normal and that every entrepreneur goes through times like these.
When you feel this way, take some time out and disconnect for a while. Go out for dinner with friends, cook a meal, watch a movie or inspirational video on YouTube, put some music on and dance. One of the perks of working for yourself is that you’re able to take time out whenever you want!
Celebrating your successes is also a great way to stay motivated. Keep a note of your daily successes – big and small – and pin them up around you to remind yourself of those great moments that can so easily be forgotten.
SEVEN – Get over your Superwoman phase
One of the most important things to remember in your first year of business is that you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Successful entrepreneurs know that to get ahead you have to surround yourself with brilliant and clever people. Whether it’s a website developer, bookkeeper or designer, don’t be afraid to take on a contractor. There are many websites such as Freelancer, elance and oDesk where you can find freelancers to help you, but make sure you do your homework. Ask to see their portfolio and look at their ranking and ratings before working with them. People are often moonlighting on these sites so don’t expect a prompt response during working hours. Also, understand that the low price you’re paying for services will often reflect the level of service you receive. This will be a case of trial and error but the beauty of these sites is that your deposit gets held in escrow which you can get back if your freelancer doesn’t deliver.
EIGHT – Work smarter not harder
Advances in technology and the internet have made it easier than ever to set up and run your own business. One of the most important goals of technological advances is to save time doing tasks, with speed and efficiency among the biggest promises. Why then is technology also found to be a time waster? Could it be that we’re using it in the wrong way?
Don’t waste days having accomplished nothing meaningful, getting bogged down in the little day to day tasks. Manage your time effectively and give yourself new objectives every single day. Allot specific time during the day dedicated to checking emails and making phone calls, and avoid looking at them throughout the rest of the day as this can take you off course.
Make good use of the vast number of free or low costs tools and apps designed to make your life more efficient, allowing you to do everything from manage multiple social media networks, log your invoices and easily schedule meetings and appointments with multiple participants. Ask your support network and mentors what apps and processes they have in place to help you to work smarter.
NINE – Sleep
Being busy is now a status symbol. If you’re busy you’re important and you’re leading a full and worthy life. We often read stories about successful entrepreneurs who worked 20 hour days to get their business to where it is today. But it’s all a myth! If you’re working smarter you don’t need to be working 20 hour days. You need your sleep! Sleep is hugely important in creating a high performing mind and body. The benefits are vast and can make you feel like a brand new person. You’ll be able to concentrate more, be in a happier mood, make better decisions, be less likely to get ill and you’ll have a better memory. Overall a good night’s sleep will improve performance in all areas so make sure you get what you need every single night.
TEN – Tried and tested
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because mistakes are an inevitable part of growth and success. The trick is not to view these mistakes as failures because they’re anything but. They’re great opportunities to try and test out new ideas, discarding the ones that don’t work and celebrating the ones that do. If you make a mistake you either have discovery or data but either way you’re in a stronger position that before. Most businesses go down a whole lot of wrong paths before finding the right one and it’s all about your mindset as to whether you thrive in these situations.