HOW TO START A BUSINESS: EIGHT TIPS I WISH I KNEW THREE YEARS AGO
1. GET COFFEE
Get coffee with anyone and everyone (in the beginning) and be willing to listen. When I was first starting my company, I thought I knew exactly what we would be doing and how we would be doing it. But after talking with a number of folks, and learning from their experiences, I realized that I needed to adjust my approach. I needed to expand some initial areas and narrow focus in others. Early in your company’s life-cycle, try to be a sponge. Your best idea could come from anywhere or anyone.
2. PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME
After you have visited every coffee shop in town and you’ve become a regular at the local lunch spot, learn to say “no”. When you are starting your company, especially if you are the only one, your time is absolutely the most valuable asset. Guard it with your life. Constantly assess whether you are spending your time in the most valuable place. In business terms “what’s the potential ROI of this meet & greet”? Are you likely to land a big account from the lunch meeting, or are you wasting two hours chatting about the weather, sports, and vacation plans? Save that for the weekend, when you (might) have time for beers with your mates.
3. DEVELOP (AND STICK WITH) A ROUTINE
One of the greatest allures of owning your own business is that you can work whenever, wherever you want. But for those of us who are not able to stay on track without some rigidity in a daily schedule, it can be a death sentence. The first few months of owning my business, I spent most of my days bouncing from task to task and doing things as I remembered them. Add client work and deadlines to the mix, and it can get real messy real quick. So, I came up with a system that worked for me. I begin every week with “Business Ops” time which is when I pay bills, organize my CRM, do sales projections, and other general business tasks. The rest of my week is focused on Client work either by myself or in meetings. Friday’s are generally reserved for “Business Development”. This is when I research new leads, follow up with contacts, and make sense of the Sales Pipeline. If you chunk your time for specific activities, you’ll be less likely to bounce around and your time will be infinitely more efficient.
4. FLEXIBILITY HAS VALUE
As a business owner, cost control should always be top-of-mind. But there are times when paying a premium isn’t worth it. My wife and I decided we would try my new business for at least six months and then assess whether or not to continue. Six months can be a pretty short time frame, especially when trying to setup an appropriate infrastructure for your new venture. And most support systems (web hosting, email, software, office space) will offer you a price break for signing a one-year agreement. The price reduction is valuable…. only if you need all twelve months! Allow yourself some flexibility in the agreements you sign or products you purchase. You may have a completely different set of needs four months down the road.
5. INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE
Again, cost control is important. But remember, your time is most valuable. That rule trumps everything else. If you can invest wisely in a few tools to make your life easier, keep you organized, and promote a professional look – it will be worth it now and later when your business scales. We invested in a robust FTP file services from day one. It was a little larger than we actually needed in the beginning, but it’s now the backbone of our file storage. We send / receive files with clients on a daily basis. Also, QuickBooks has made my life so much easier. I can categorize expenses on my phone whenever I have a few minutes. The initial investments were costly and a bit scary when we first began, but they have become invaluable as we have grown.
6. GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD
Aside from the fact that you may need a credit card to occasionally help bridge expenses, most business cards will give you cash back for your purchases. In the first 8 months of business, we received more than $600 cash back just for charging normal operating expenses to our card and paying it off each month. Some of your vendors may levee a fee for paying by credit card, but if its less than your cash back percentage, you’ll still make money! And every dollar counts when you own your own business.
7. ENJOY YOUR FREEDOM
Because you can (and will) work at all times of the day, you might start to believe you should be working all the time. After all, isn’t that what being a business owner is about? Hustling all the time, never sleeping, and always working. Well, eventually that pace will catch up with you. And when you crash because you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, you’re no good to your clients or your family. I’m not suggesting you can get by with three-hour workdays. But I am suggesting that owning your own business is a lifestyle choice. For some people, the prospect of making more money is what is most appealing, but for me, it’s the flexibility and ownership I have with my time.
8. EXPECT TO HAVE BAD DAYS
As the cliché goes “if it were easy, everyone would do it”. I cannot foresee whether your business will be successful, but I can say with certainty that you will have difficult days. Days when your clients are driving you crazy, or you lose an account, or you just feel uninspired. Each person has their own mechanism for dealing with such frustrations. For me, its enjoying my freedom (see above) and playing golf or going for a run. Whatever your “tool” may be, keep it sharp and don’t be afraid to use it. Owning my own business has been more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but after the first three years it’s been the most rewarding journey of my career. Best of luck to you and congrats on getting this far!
Chief Executive Officer, CASTUS
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash