What I've learned from eight years in business
I have been the proud owner of First Impressions Training for eight years today! 1st September 2010 seems a lifetime ago and yet, just around the corner at the same time. In total, First Impressions has been in business for 34 years and I am the third owner.
I was asked yesterday what I had learned as a business owner and what advice would I give to someone just starting in business now, so that got me thinking...
... I should start by saying that I wasn’t entirely new to business eight years ago, I had a brief dalliance in recruitment for my first two years of employment, then I was an accountant in industry for 10 years, I moved into software consultancy for the next 14. During some of that time I’d been a freelance consultant and co-founded a software consultancy business for another couple of years. I wasn’t a complete novice and had picked up huge amounts of experience and learning during my career. Having contemplated long and hard, here are the lessons that sprang to mind that I would share with someone starting in business now:
1. Go for it – you will always feel like you don’t know enough, so be brave and give it a shot – you will always regret the things you didn’t do more than those that you did.
2. Get support – I have so much support around me from my family, colleagues, peers, clients, suppliers, trusted associates and mentoring groups. Don’t try to do it all yourself, it’s the fastest way to drive yourself mad, burn yourself out and lose touch with family or friends if you are neglecting them too. Whereas, building strong relationships and both giving and receiving support is crucial to business success.
3. Keep learning – in this fast-paced world we live in, more than ever before it is essential to keep learning. The rate of change has increased due to digitisation, social media and technology. Don’t get left behind and become outdated. I attended two training sessions this week – both tech related and both were really useful skills to learn and apply in business straight away.
4. Recruit the right team – on the basis that you can’t do everything yourself, carefully bring people into your business who will add value, who will fit with the culture you wish to create and who will work well with your clients. This is the most-tricky area in business. I’ve seen examples where the wrong hire can wreak absolute havoc and what was once a well performing team can soon be poisoned by one individual. We often work with teams where there is some element of dysfunction and we get them back on track through a series of workshops and 1:1 sessions, but it is much easier to spend more time on recruiting the right team members, rather than having to pick up the pieces when it has gone wrong.
5. Pay attention to your culture – once you have your growing team in place, dedicate time and thought to the culture of the business. Your team and your prospects and clients will respond positively if you are able to articulate your purpose and your culture. It leads to happier employees and happier clients.
6. Love your clients – put yourself in your client’s shoes – what would excellent service look like, sound like and feel like from their perspective? Ensure that you look after the clients you have rather than only paying attention to finding new ones. In my experience, much of our business has come from referrals from our existing happy clients.
7. Give yourself a break – this is a tough one for business owners, I know many and they often worry about what will happen when they are away from the business. In reality, you really need time to recharge your own batteries. You are no use to your business if you are burned out and running on empty. Take the time to look after yourself, rest and recuperate and you’ll go back to your business with renewed vigour, creativity and ideas.
8. Know your finances – I would say that wouldn’t I, having a finance background! It didn’t suit me being an accountant, but I’m so glad I learned these skills as they have been so important in business. It’s absolutely crucial to understand your numbers. You don’t need a finance degree, just some time and effort understanding your profit, and loss, your balance sheet and critically, your cash. It’s easy to be a busy fool, spending time and effort on low-margin activity. Know where your profit is coming from and understand how to generate it. Keep a good eye on cashflow. Many small or fledgling businesses run out of cash, so get the knowledge to help you to avoid that pitfall.
9. Keep your head straight – with all of these aspects of business to think about, it’s so easy to get caught up in overthinking everything. If my brain is whirring and I need to quieten it down for sleep, I do a short meditation and I’m sound asleep in no time at all. We have loads of mindset tips in the free chapter download of our recent book – Trusted. You can download it here if you need any further tips on managing your mindset.
10. Celebrate!! Running a business can be tough, so make sure you celebrate your successes and milestones. I’ll be raising a glass of fizz later and toasting eight fun, roller-coaster years of business. I’m already thinking about what we’ll do after ten years!
So, what’s next for us? Well, I’m embarking on a growth plan later this year now that we have moved to our new offices, so watch this space! I’d love to hear your top tips for business, get in touch and let me know. If I can help with anything, please just ask.