Running and relying on your own business is exciting, but also petrifying, which is why today I would like to take a moment and share 21 things that I wish I had known before starting my own business many moons ago. In other words, this is a list of things that I wish my younger self had been told. So here it goes!
1. Multitasking is the absolute worst
Everywhere you look people seem to be celebrating multitasking, but nothing kills your productivity faster than trying to simultaneously work on multiple different things at once. Instead set aside designated time for each task/project and focus on only that work for that time. Then move on to the next thing. Not only will you end up achieving more, but you’ll be way less stressed too.
2. Saying ‘NO’ strengthens your business
When you are desperate to do the thing that you love, you tend to say yes, yes, yes to anything. Every so-called ‘opportunity’ that comes along seems like it might be THE big break you’ve been waiting for. In reality, however, saying yes to projects that don’t suit your brand, don’t value your time or don’t speak to your soul, end up draining you (financially, emotionally, even physically). Learn to say NO right now, because saying no to something that doesn’t suit your goals leaves room for something else that does.
3. You’ll put on weight
Oh yes, it’s pretty glamourous! The first two years (at least) of being self-employed brings a lot of stress and worry and when those emotions come a calling, chances are they’re bringing donuts. You’ll stress eat, a lot. Or spend never-ending days glued to your computer. Or be running around so much that you’ll skip meals and grab something fast while out. All of the above means your jeans will probably start feeling a little snug. Be mindful of this and make the time to exercise. Your future self will thank you!
4. Make exercise part of your workday
Not only because of all the stress eating mentioned above, but because exercise helps to reduce anxiety, depression and stress. The emotional benefits are equally as important as the physical ones. Treat exercise like a necessary part of your work day, because ultimately it will help to keep you calmer and therefore better able to make good business decisions.
5. Make a business plan
This is something that I am adamant about now, but way back in the beginning I didn’t see the point or value of spending days putting together a boring old business plan. Trust me, it matters and makes a world of difference. Not sure where to start? Take a peek at “8 dos and donts to write a great business plan.”
6. Think of yourself as a business, not a creative
Even if you are making $0 from your craft, whether that craft is writing, photography, illustration, designing, marketing, you name it, get in the mindset of regarding yourself as a business and operate as such. If you don’t take yourself seriously as a business, why should anybody else?
7. Talk to an accountant
Invest in the meeting and go and get all of your financial questions answered ahead of time. I’m talking about Business Numbers, BIN numbers, HST numbers, business credit cards, business cheques, payroll, a savings plan, proper accounts, the works! Set up your bank accounts and billing system properly from day one rather than muddling it out along the way. Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely do the latter approach, but you will waste a lot of time doing so and most likely lose money too.
8. Set your prices mindfully
Set your prices to make sure that your expertise, cost of production, time, training, equipment and all of that good stuff are being appropriately compensated for. If your prices break down to less than minimum wage, you aren’t valuing yourself professionally.
9. Your friends are not your clients
I hear this all the time during business mentoring sessions: “I can’t believe my friend hasn’t bought one of my products!” And my response is always the same: “Your friend is there to support your dream, not shop your dream.” Don’t expect your social circles to keep your business in the black. It’s not their job to be your clients.
Instead invest your energy in locating, targeting and drawing in people who are your ideal clients. These are the people who will sustain your business long term. Take the time to get to know them and keep your friends on speed dial for when you need a cocktail and a vent session.
10. Dress the part
Not answering to a boss makes living in pjs or yoga pants extremely tempting, but getting dressed for the work day, as you would if you were going to somebody else’s office, boosts productivity and therefore the likelihood of success. So get off the couch, invest in a professional and polished wardrobe and show up to your workspace ready to do business.
You don’t need a lot of outfits and you don’t need to spend a fortune. I always recommend choosing statement pieces that will last forever, like these gorgeous and oh-so comfortable Vegan Leather Leggings from David Lerner NY. Your work attire can make you feel confident and put together, while beautifully reflecting your developing brand. (Sidenote: these vegan leggings in particular look polished, but they feel like yoga pants – so you kind of get the best of both worlds.) Dress the part and assume the role of successful business owner.
11. Schedule free time
Sounds counter intuitive, but it is crucial for your well being. When you start a business it is easy to become consumed by it. You think about it all the time, you want to work on it all the time, everything feels frantic and urgent (although it’s not – more on that later) and the all-nighters seem unavoidable. Please, please, please schedule free time and stick to that schedule. Your brain and your heart will need it regularly. Plus down time will make you a better worker in the long run because you can come back to tasks re-energized and with fresh eyes.
12. Be organized
This one I knew before I started my own business and being hyper organized has always been second nature to me. But it isn’t for everyone, so I’m throwing this in to the list too.
13. Check your ego at the door
Starting your empire can lead to an excessive amount of ‘me, me, me’ thoughts without you even noticing. Be mindful of that and check your ego at the door. Don’t take notes, suggestions or advice personally. Feedback should always be welcomed and mindfully digested. Don’t think your work is the absolute best out there, because there is always somebody more advanced than you. Stay humble in your successes and don’t brood over your failures. You are bound to have both. Ego only gets in the way of progress.
14. Invest in your business
You know that saying, “You get what you pay for?” It is one hundred per cent true! Invest in the tools that you’ll need to make running your business more efficient and effective.
What tools you may ask? The answer will be mostly industry specific, but in general things like a polished website, a chic business card, standout branding, necessary equipment (in my case, my dream camera – which I worked up to by the way after making the business stable — a reliable computer, software), etc will make your journey in the business world a lot more confident.
Of course you can’t buy everything at once and you don’t need ‘the best’ of everything to begin. Prioritize your needs and be strategic with your spending. You can always find a bit of money from another area of your life. For example, stop buying coffee and lunch out, and watch the pennies pile up. Saving is another option and building your tool kit little by little in baby steps is absolutely okay!
15. Buy the insurance
Bad things happen. Accidents happen. The unexpected happens. I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m saying it because it’s true and inevitable. So for goodness sake, purchase the insurance you need for your business to keep it protected. You are going to need it at some point along this crazy mixed journey (and you will kick yourself when that time comes and you don’t have it). This really goes back to #6 on this list – treat yourself as a business. Buy the insurance. Be professional.
16. Find a business mentor
A what? I know, right? I had no idea what a mentor was either when I first started out. In the most basic terms, a mentor is an experienced business owner who can impart wisdom and guidance as you set out on your entrepreneurial journey.
I never had a business mentor personally; I muddled and struggled and fought and didn’t give up. BUT if I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would definitely make the effort to find a formal mentor whom I could meet with each month for feedback and advice, so that I could avoid a lot of costly mistakes and heartache, because trust me, I made them.
17. Keep a gratitude journal
When you’re in the thick of things, building and establishing your business, it is extremely easy to feel like nothing is going right. To help keep yourself out of the ‘depths of despair’ as Anne Shirley would say, keep a gratitude journal and log an entry at least once a week. It will help to keep you grounded, positive and focused on the things that really matter in life.
18. Stop being ‘instant’ about everything
As a creative soul, the instinct is to have an idea, flush it all out in one or two days and then throw it out into the world – sound familiar? And then comes the crushing disappointment when said brilliant idea doesn’t miraculously fly. Am I right? Get away from that now, now, now mentality. Let the ideas that you want to be profitable grow and develop. Support them. Think them through. Put a logical action plan together. It will make for a stronger experience all round.
19. Routine is the spice of life
When I first started my business I thought, “Great now I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.” And while this is true to a degree, I quickly realized that embracing routine in my day-to-day tasks boosted my productivity and success. Again, I truly believe this comes back to #6 on this list – treat yourself as a business.
A dentist’s office has clear office hours, clear procedures for patients, clear billing systems and house keeping. Your business will benefit from such routines too! Have defined processes in place so that you can establish a level of service for your clients. You can still have the luxury of creating your own schedule, but accepting a routine will drastically help with this.
20. Find a business friend
When you run your own business, you can become a bit obsessed about it. Suddenly it’s all you want to talk about, think about, casually mention, share on Facebook etc. This behaviour will most likely take a toll on your personal relationships. I suggest making a friend who also runs a small business, so you have somebody who LOVES to talk about profit margins, marketing strategies, product development and focus groups. Your spouses, parents, friends and family will get tired of listening to you. Plus a business friend will become somebody whom you can learn from, lean on and grow with.
21. Believe that it is all going to be okay
Because it really, really, really will be okay. Look around your neighbourhood or online communities – there are small businesses everywhere. There are people from all different walks of life running their own companies and making their dream jobs come to life. You can do it too! There is always a way, there is always a solution, there is always progress. Believe that is all going to be okay, because succumbing to the panic and fear isn’t productive and won’t help you get ahead.
Being self-employed and running your own business is a one-of-a-kind experience. Nothing really compares to it and it’s constantly changing, often quickly and without warning. I hope the above list is helpful and makes your journey a little easier.
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