When considering stepping into the world of self-employment and running your own business, there is so much to consider. With 20 years’ experience in industry before making that move, I thought I was prepared, but there is always so much to learn! Here are 5 things I wish I had known before getting started.
1. You will always be scared.
Scared of declaring that you are trying something different,
Scared of starting something new which you don’t know if you will be good at, or can make money from,
Scared of stepping away from what your career has defined you as so far
This fear doesn’t go away, but you do get more used to living with it. For me, it was opening that door to say “I have expertise I can share”. If it’s a success then great, if not then I will learn from it and I feel OK with giving that a go. I am reminded of a Dr Suess quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
2. Feedback is a gift!
If you have a potential business idea, or a problem area you have identified, it helps to share it and talk about it, but you also have to trust your intuition when you receive feedback. Friends and family can be supportive, but not necessarily objective - certainly in Ireland the fear of offending someone can be a factor.
One of the most effective questions from fellow entrepreneurs was “How is it going to make you money?” No matter how much you feel you want to “do good”, and “help others”, your business will only be successful if you know people are willing to pay for the product/service and you are able to find those people and sell to them. Your business idea has to make money.
Business mentors (from networks, or LEO) can also provide advice, but it is necessary to be mindful of who you are getting advice from – What is their field of expertise? What is their comfort area? The best mentors have the ability to see your potential. They will offer the opportunity for reflection - letting you “look in the mirror”, ask questions, and challenge your thinking in a positive way. Seek them out!
On my journey, I received advice which set me on a different path, and even though my instincts (and emotions) told me it wasn’t right for me, I still wasted a week thinking about it before telling myself to “Stop!”. Feedback can derail you. As a result of this I created a very simple tool which I now use for every bit of feedback I receive. It consists of 3 simple headings
(1) What I liked about what you said,
(2) What I didn’t like about what you said, and
(3) What action will I take from this?
By writing down, acknowledging the positive and the negative, it enables you to take control of the next steps.
3. Stepping into the unknown
When you have a job, with money coming into your bank account every month, you don’t realise the army of people behind you. There is a team to do the jobs you can’t, give you feedback and development opportunities, and to support what needs to get done. When you step into being an entrepreneur, there is no instruction manual or step-by-step training guide. All jobs become yours - marketing, delivery, manufacture, training, and financials! But there are supports which you definitely should tap into:
Networks – find one that works for you, whether in person or online, for example for female entrepreneurs, Women’s Inspire Network, gives access to other women entrepreneurs and their wealth of knowledge - they are only too happy to provide support if they can.
Local Enterprise Office – this is often the first point of contact for entrepreneurs. They offer selection of training especially in social media as well as access to mentors.
Use free resources available – There are multiple sources of free training and businesses (especially associated with social media and digital marketing) which offer complimentary “discovery calls” - these calls can be used to discuss your business and how they might help you. While you may not be ready to sign up for their service yet, sometimes they offer an impartial sounding board giving you the opportunity to talk out loud and explain your business. Again, be aware of the feedback you receive and filter it as needed.
4. Social Media
This is really up to you to decide how it can help your business and which platforms best reach your audience. It is never too early to start your own personal branding by asking yourself “Who is your authentic self?” “What’s your story”, “What is your expertise and how to demonstrate this”. Once you figure out what your brand is, start living it on the relevant platforms for your customers. If not you will hear those dreaded words “Well, we need to jazz up that profile Diane!”
5. Learn that it is ok not to be perfect.
Your initial idea may not be where you actually end up, this “pivoting / transformation” is often necessary to get to a successful startup. As Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Planning and preparation is critical, it is never too early to test, talk and try out. In those early days, you do not need a website, but you do need to know “is there a customer who will buy into your product or service”. On my new workshops and online courses, I show you some simple approaches to get you off to a great start including ”how to identify potential customers”, “how to test your idea early”.
Remember, only you can make a success of your business. I hope this advice helps you on your journey to success.