The things I wish I knew before starting my business

Knowing what to expect before you begin can save you time, energy and heartache.

From my struggles and mistakes here are the eight key things I wish I knew before starting my own business.

  1. You will work more hours than you think

You want to offer your expertise to the world, that’s why you are starting your own business. But you will be faced with a massive learning curve, as you will be managing a business and many of those skills you will have to learn from the ground up. You will probably spend 20 per cent or less time in your zone of genius and the rest of the time marketing your business and all the tasks that come with running the show. I can remember hovering my finger over the button to post #MyFirstTweet, and only ever using Facebook to stalk my teenagers – learning social media was time-consuming. Then there was back-end website and basic cash flow literacy. Yes, you can get others to help you in the areas where you are not yet competent, but be wary of point six.

  1. Focus on helping people and not making money

Have you ever met a small business owner who is so desperate to sell that it makes you feel awkward? If you think about serving instead of selling you will be able to form relationships that are longer lasting and lead to organic referrals and business. When you provide value to people, the money will naturally follow. Point five below can be a comforting factor here.

  1. Don’t get lured by shiny object syndrome

A singing and dancing CRM is not required when you only have a handful of contacts. When starting out download the smaller free versions of any software tools you need and then work up as you need to; those monthly subscriptions can add up (I was told I needed many of them), and I’ve since unsubscribed to all except my cloud accounting. You don’t need a fancy website to get started; your brand will evolve. Start off with a basic landing page or even an About.Me page so that you have a digital presence, but it can be easily changed as you work out what your offering and who your ideal client is. Evolving and adapting is good. Having a $10k website with all the bells and whistles that becomes outdated when you grow and morph is tough.

  1. Protect your intellectual property

As a new business owner, cash flow is tight. You may not feel that safeguarding your IP is a priority. Weigh up the cost versus the risk of not doing so. Your IP is your most valuable business asset; it is what differentiates you. Copycats are everywhere, and though it is true that everything has probably been done before (but not by you), some people will jump on and run with your idea and brazenly call it their own. Get expert advice on this one. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that your hard-earned ideas and work are protected.

“Be kind to yourself. Building a business is about forming and nurturing relationships; on the other hand, it’s a lot of time spent alone if you are a solo operator.”

  1. Have multiple streams of income

Some people will say that cold turkey is the way to go, but for me having a job that I could transition out of was a great asset. As my business grew, I reduced my contracted hours. There are many ways to have another stream of income – perhaps consulting or freelancing are a good fit for you. If you did jump right into your business and the cash is not rolling in as you manifested, then don’t feel guilty. Go and get a part time job – it does not mean you are a failure.

  1. Be wary of experts who say they can help you

There are self-proclaimed experts everywhere. Ask the right questions and check out their credentials and speak with someone who has done business with them. I made several costly mistakes in paying people to help me and then finding out that they lacked integrity or did not deliver on their word. I could have avoided this if I’d asked more questions and checked out their expert status. I would wholeheartedly recommend having a mentor but take time to find the right mentor, preferably one who has walked a similar journey.

  1. Some of your friends will not be on your cheer squad

Don’t be put off by people who tell you that you won’t make a profit for the first three years; it’s not that hard. The naysayers are out there, and are often the people who you least expect; the ones you thought were your friends will be the ones to tell you that you won’t make it. Maybe it’s time to step back from some friends and make way for people in your life who support you.

  1. Learn to love your own company (small biz can be lonely) and be a kind boss

I am the toughest boss I have ever had. I often work 12–14 hour days and spend far too many hours in front of a screen. Be kind to yourself when starting out. Building a business is about forming and nurturing relationships; on the other hand, it’s a lot of time spent alone if you are a solo operator. Use productivity tools to make sure you take regular screen breaks, exercise breaks and rewards. For me it’s four chunks of Pomodoro, then I get to check Facebook for five minutes while stretching or doing some cardio. I don’t feel guilty when I take an hour or two off in the middle of the day to do something for myself. Be kind to yourself; you are in it for the long haul. Celebrate your successes, have a gratitude board and a client love file. Remind yourself each day that you are making a difference.

Lisa Evans, director and chief storyteller, Speaking Savvy

This story first appeared in issue 22 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.