Five things I have learnt from starting my own small business

#1 – You are it

There I was, surrounded by parts from the flatpack box, looking at the incomprehensible diagram. My printer started beeping as it jammed – again. It hit me like a two-ton truck – when you run your own business, you are IT. Having to put a chair together? You become the chair mechanic. Printer jams? Guess who is going to be the first line of defense as IT technician. Filing? You guessed it. Cleaning your office? Yip, it will be you, in the beginning at least.

Want to advertise your services? You are the only (and last) say on what the media campaign looks like. You are going to be the one putting it together, designing your logo, creating your stationery. Putting together your website, getting active on social media, attending networking events and pushing your services – the list is endless. Intimidating, but also exciting.

Except for being the chair mechanic.

#2 – If you lose it, you lose out

A big part of any small business is recordkeeping. Who you invoice for what. What you spent on what. Items that previously were not important, in corporate life, like petrol or toll fees, are suddenly tax deductible. As are books and magazines – well, depending on your business and their content. But if you are not meticulous about keeping all records, reconciling incoming vs. outgoing monthly, you cannot make good decisions. You lose out, on business opportunities, tax deductibles and in hours spent on dealing with the whole lot at the end of the financial year.

#3 – Keeping momentum

There is a lovely quote from the musical Evita, that says “Sometimes it is really hard to keep momentum when it is YOU that you are following”. You need to push for clients every day. Every single day. Even if today was good, and the diary is full for tomorrow, you need to push, push, push because of the big white open spaces looming in next week, next month. The pressure is relentless.

You need to keep momentum. Even when things are not going well, you need to push harder, more, differently. Focusing on today’s tasks and mini crises, while still keeping an eye on next month’s activities. Hard. Taxing. Relentless. Intimidating.

Rewarding, in the long run.

#4 – Create a system, and use it

One of the things I see in small businesses – and I have been involved in more than 10 over the past 20 years – is that there is often no time to sit back and see the patterns. Which pieces of work, if you tweak them slightly, you can use again, in the future. Not having to re-invent the wheel again frees up your time for other things.

Had to put together a proposal for a big corporate? By all means, rush to finish it and get it in on time. Take the time, the next day, to break the proposal into component parts, file them and name them where you can find them easily again. Next time you have to do a proposal, you have some building blocks to start with. Yes, your services should be tweaked for every single proposal, to answer the customer’s needs, but your introduction, your bio, your business’s terms and conditions stay fairly constant. Create those as component pieces, and next time you do not have to re-invent that wheel again. You will have time to spend on crafting the pieces that matter.

#5 – Make sure to reserve time to do what you love

I know so many people who “followed their passion” and started a small business, only to find that they have no time, as they grow, to do that very thing that was their passion to start with. The guy who loves growing plants, the guy who loves to code, the girl who started a bookshop as she loved reading – it happened to all of them.

I know the current trend in entrepreneurship is to work ON your business, not IN your business. You as owner should be working to make your business more profitable, spending your time on longer term decision making like media campaigns and new service offerings, short term specials and long-term pricing strategies. Which is all good and well, someone has to think about those things, and who better than the business owner?

There is a danger here, though. If you, who loved WHAT your business does, end up spending all your time working ON your business, you will lose your passion and drive. And if you lose your passion and drive, guess what will happen to your business?

Make the time to maintain your passion. It is what will set you and your business apart, and will lead to your success.

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