The 3 biggest things I’ve learned about starting a business
So Brand by me is nearly 4 months old already!
Well that’s when I came up with the name and idea.
How time flies, eh? So I thought it was a good time to share what I’ve learnt so far. Not everything – that would take far too long. But here are the biggies, in the hope that some of you will identify with them and find them helpful. (In fact, I actually think these are good life lessons I probably should have figured out before now. Hence sharing with you lovely people).
Lesson 1: Get excited
When starting up, it’s easy to overlook or even dismiss your early achievements because you’re caught up in the admin of setting up a business. Or because you’re trying to establish your brand presence and voice on social media. Or build your website. Or write the business plan and forecast. Or many of the thousands of things you seem to have on the to do list which you add to daily.
But here’s the thing. From what I can work out and what fellow business owners have told me, this is the fun bit. (or at least a really fun bit). As a brand strategist, I can’t really express the sheer joy I’ve found in building my own brand – defining the purpose of my business, exploring my target audience and how I can help them through my offer and working out how to bring it all to life with a visual identity. It’s important that when you’re starting up, you take the time to get excited – to revel in the thrill of seeing your ideas become reality, to celebrate those early wins and achievements.
I read a lovely story in this month’s EasyJet magazine where one of the co-founders of ‘My Little Paris’ goodie boxes explained that they opened champagne when they signed their first €5000 deal and now come together every week to share achievements.
Even if they seem small to you, they all matter and they’ll sustain you and remind you why you’re doing it, when you need it the most.
Lesson 2: Get help.
Hang on, Coll, now that you’re self-employed and doing your own thing, isn’t the point to, well, do it yourself?
Nope. Remember above when I mentioned the huge to-do list? It’s not possible to do everything. You will burn out. (Note to self. Must take own advice on this one.). So ask for help. You’ll be surprised how many favours you can call in or how many of your loved ones have skills you can benefit from, or even how many people will be happy to trade help in return for you giving them some free help too. Not to mention all the great free online resources available for start ups (Tip: Start with gov.uk if you don’t know where to look. Or Pinterest.). And I’m not only including the freebies in this. Paying for help is often a massive saving of your precious time and therefore a vital investment in the business.
Obviously there’ll be things you really should do because you’re brilliant at them. And things you’ll want to do because they’ll help you build new skills or add to your experience. And there are definitely things that you’re obliged to do (or at least take full responsibility for) because you’re, for example, legally liable and accountable for them. (although these are often the things that it’s worth paying for help with. But you’ll still need to stay on top of them).
In any case, this definitely doesn’t add up to everything on that all important, ever growing list.
For me, this has been tough to accept and even harder to put into practice. But I’ve had to learn how. So when a friend offered me a free photo shoot in return for brand help when I needed images at the last minute, I jumped at the chance. And when my Aspire Foundation mentoring ended, and my mentor offered me coaching, it has been invaluable to have her support and practical no-nonsense business advice. Oh and it doesn’t just have to be business help. At this point, I have to give a shout-out to my Mum who came round and helped me sort out my house when I was just starting and the clutter became overwhelming and distracting (I work from home. Here’s an Instagram pic I once took of my desk back when I worked in an office. Believe me, help was desperately needed).
So you will need help. Seek it wherever you can. Not just to avoid drowning in work. But because it will free you up to do what you do best.
Lesson 3: Get rest
Even if you’re keeping excited and asking for the help you need, there’s one more thing you really must make sure you do. REST.
Take time out, step away and get lots of sleep. It’s really, really tempting (especially when faced with the list) to work round the clock and non-stop. Because it’s exciting. And there’s SOOOOO much to do. And it’s yours.
When I first started, I thought a change in career was as good as a rest. (Spoiler: it wasn’t). I was regularly doing 14 hour days, not taking breaks and working on my designated days off. And I was EXHAUSTED. After a near-intervention from my boyfriend and family, I had to change my ways. So now, when I’m working from home, I work a fixed number of hours as my work day (start time is flexible in case I need a lie-in). I have an hour lunch break which includes either 30 mins gardening or Zumba (depending on my mood and the weather). And I stick to my working week rigorously. Or I try to, anyway.
Obviously these are the things that work well for me. You’ll need to identify your own work habits (Zumba’s not for everyone).
I saw a great HBR article on the benefits of walking during the work day – not just as exercise and a break but to increase creative thinking and productivity. Definitely another habit I want to adopt.
So rest is key. Include breaks on your to-do list. Take time out to do the things you love. And make sure you get enough sleep. Sounds obvious doesn’t it?
There you go. The 3 biggest things I’ve learnt so far. Get excited, get help and get rest. I can’t promise that I don’t occasionally forget these principles myself. I’m not perfect after all. But i’m documenting them here to remind me. And hopefully they are useful to you too.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Any useful tips to share?