Starting up a business is a scary thing. There's little security, a lot of risk and sometimes it is exhausting.
We are now in our third year of business, which is admittedly still very early days. We still have a lot to learn as we continue on this crazy and unpredictable journey. Even so, I realise that we have a few pieces of advice which we can offer...and perhaps because we are still so fresh in this journey ourselves, the advice may be relevant to someone else on the verge or early days of such a decision.
So here are some of the most important things we have learnt so far.
Get well connected.
Meet people, lots of people. Surround yourself with others who understand this very unique feeling of being in business. Get involved in a couple of different types of business groups.
Join a group of like-minded business people. These are people who you can trust, and share the load with. They might be the first people you tell if you are worried about meeting your mortgage payment that week or if you are excited about some new success or accomplishment. As encouraging as your other friends are, they might not be so excited about meeting a new influencer or nailing the gst for the first time.
Join a networking group. The local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to start. Not only do you get to meet other business people who may want to use your services or refer you, but there is a wealth of knowledge and support here also. Generally speaking, the people you are connecting with are wanting you to succeed too. There are other networking groups such as BNI and it's a matter of going along and seeing where you fit in. There's no problem in joining multiple groups either. The more people you connect with, the better!
We have certainly appreciated the amazing advice, connections and experience that others have had to offer us.
Sometimes we all need that bit of extra advice or direction.
Someone to say "This way".
Value your expertise.
One of the most difficult things to do is to set pricing. Sometimes it is difficult to know what others in the industry are charging. What we have learned is that your expertise has value. Yes, it's true that others may have equipment, enthusiasm, or some basic level knowledge. It's easy to feel inadequate in such an environment and feel like maybe anyone can do your job. That is...until you see the results of their work. You aren't in your industry for no reason. You're doing it because you can do it and because you're good at it! Place value on your creativity, your skills and knowledge. These didn't happen overnight. I love the saying that it took ten years to be able to do something in ten minutes.
Two excellent pieces of advice we were given with regards to pricing have been:
a) If you try and undercut the industry you will be in a race to the bottom. So true. I remember when I was a kid the supermarkets in our town started trying to provide the cheapest bread in town. Over the period of a week each store tried to outdo the other. Eventually they were just about giving it away at 5 cents a loaf. How ludicrous. The last thing you want to do is devalue your industry. If this happens, no one wins.
If you try and undercut the industry you will be in a race to the bottom.
b) If you win every deal you are priced too low. Eek. This is a scary piece of wisdom. I remember the first deal we lost. We were so gutted. It made us second guess everything. In the long run this was a good process for us. We analysed our pricing, came up with a better way of presenting our offer and also realised that we didn't want to be the cheapest in the market. We wanted to put out a great product at a fair price. Our reputation goes a long way and we always make sure we are generous to our clients.
Do what you do well.
I've already alluded to this, but it is so important. Make sure you get it right. Keep going back and make sure your customers are happy with the quality of your work.
Going the extra mile will go a long way to keeping a good reputation.
People will want to come back to you if they know that you will get it right and make it easy.
Light many fires and see where people warm their hands.
This was another excellent piece of advice we were given early on. In the early days of starting up a business it's not always clear what your customers are going to want. This can be influenced by the culture of your town, the other businesses that are operating in your area, and the types of expertise that surround you.
We have spent many long hours brainstorming different ideas and researching what is happening in other centres. Sometimes the culture of your town means that it is not ready yet for the big ideas that you have. It's ok to put them aside for a while. It will become evident quickly enough what customers are wanting and there will come a time when your ideas are ready to grow into a reality.
Use social media.
Social media is a key way of connecting with people within and without your own circles. Your message can be communicated cheaply to a large number of people over a short space of time. It is also a way of having conversations about your industry that might not otherwise happen.
Don't be selfish in your social media interactions. If you had a converstation with a person you just met and all you spoke about was yourself, they wouldn't be too keen to converse with you again. The same goes in social media. Try and share interesting posts that are not just about your own business. This is ok sometimes but not all of the time.
Use social media to read up and learn from other's experiences.
There are a lot of fantastic blogs and articles to learn and grow from. Linkedin is particularly useful for this.
The lessons we have learnt in this first phase of being an entrepreneur are wide and varied. I'm pretty sure it will be an ongoing journey, each day there will be something new to learn and a new experience to be had.
One thing I am sure of. Owning and growing a business is anything but dull!
Author: Sarah Galbraith
EBOP Chamber of Commerce