Yesterday marked exactly 3 months since I kicked off my foray as a start-up by setting up my small business as a consultancy specialising in social media, digital PR and personal branding.
In those 3 months I have learned many things, so thought I could give a little back by jotting down 5 tips based on my experience.
Long and Winding Road
1 – Believe in Yourself
Sounds obvious right? But you need to have the courage of your convictions during the first three months because it isn’t going to be smooth sailing. You have to get your head around a ton of new stuff from accounting, to invoicing, to marketing, to sitting in a café on your own, to the highs of getting a proposal accepted, to the lows of not having phone calls or emails returned.
You shouldn’t be going solo unless you really think you can do it, and really thinking you can do it means you have to have done lots of research and have psyched yourself up into a frenzy of self-belief.
2 – It’s OK If You Fail
Really it is. I had a lot of self-belief when I left Microsoft, but what has also kept me going is that friends and family have admired my courage and helped me understand that if I gave it my best shot, if I was truly prepared and gave it everything I had and it didn’t work out, then at least I could say I tried.
How many people do you know have started their own business even though they have had a slew of lucrative job offers waiting in the wings? I bet it’s not many. So to branching out on your own is a pretty unique escapade in the grand scheme of things, so if you fail, you fail, but people will think more of you for having given it your best try, and you will think more of yourself.
3 – Know Your Value
When you start your own business a curious thing happens. People get a whiff that you’re just starting out and try and get your services for free or at radically reduced fees “because you need the experience right?”
My advice is to stick to your guns and know your value. If you truly trust your experience and worth then charge accordingly and don’t do free stuff as it sends you on a spiral you’ll find it difficult to get out of.
I don’t charge by the hour. I charge by the project or on a retainer basis because if you charge by the hour, there are only so many hours in the week that you can bill for. You’re restricting your potential and your value to time.
With 12 years experience in digital marketing, companies are paying for that experience and my connections. That doesn’t translate into an hourly rate. It translates into a fee that adds that experience and value into that client’s company and people.
Know what you’re worth and know that you’ll respect yourself better if you turn down work because it cheapens your value.
4 – Keep It Small
After I left Microsoft, I must have asked 50 people for their opinion on what I was about to do. Many had small businesses, agencies or consultancies themselves and most of them them asked if I had grand plans for Delightful. When I said I did, I was repeatedly warned to keep it small. It might sound awesome to be heading up an agency of 25 people with hundreds of clients being billed tens of thousands of dollars a month, but how much of that money is actually going to go into your pocket? How many of those clients are you actually going to interface with? How much of your experience and value will actually be used on real work?
Chances are you’ll be the CEO and buried in payroll, tax disputes, legal wranglings, HR issues and marketing conundrums, instead of actually doing any of the work you love to do. Chances also are that, unless you plan on selling the business, you could earn as much, if not more by being a one man band with a couple of contractors on hand for busy periods.
Keeping it small reduces headaches I’m told and I’ve not had to reach for the professional Advil once in the last 90 days.
5 – Know Your Niche
When setting up your business really try and research your market to find a niche. I knew setting out that if my business specialised in something I could potentially charge more. It would be crystal clear exactly what I did and (sometimes more importantly) what I didn’t do, and it created talking points with potential clients that built trust because I was demonstrating I understood their business problems and could really, REALLY help.
I’ve hung my consultancy on three specific pillars: Social Media Integration, Digital PR and Personal Branding. I tell the story that these were the three areas I had the most success with during my time at Microsoft and it’s true that businesses struggle very often with these channels. I’m not a catch-all marketing agency. I won’t set up your Twitter account or Facebook page. I won’t manage your social online reputation on an on-going basis, but I will set you up and teach you how to do that. I know my niche.
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P.S. Also, read “Million Dollar Consulting” by Alan Weiss. The book sounds ghastly but was recommended to me by Jun Young, so I thought I’d pick up a copy. It’s a remarkable read packed full of advice from how to market yourself, how to write a killer proposal so it gets accepted and how to navigate the minefield of fees and what to charge.