When I kept being told by well meaning folk in my network that I should start my own thing, I would look at them incredulously and ask who on earth would pay for an innovation consultant who lives in the Cotswolds?
So, three years on here’s a few things I have learnt about accidently starting and growing my own business.
1. Be generous – I try to be really generous not only with my time but also my network. Let’s be clear, I am not a fan of working for free (who is?) but I do find if I invest time introducing people to others who they may find helpful and interesting, or pointing them to helpful resources, this ultimately pays off in the longer term. It feels great to introduce people and see them get on. Introducing different clients to each other has resulted in at least two separate co-creation projects which has been awesome.
2. Don’t be precious – I used to really dislike giving away my slides, templates and workshop designs. But I realised if that’s all you’ve got that adds value, it’s just not enough so now it doesn’t bother me.
3. Don’t spend time building websites, find customers instead – Purely by accident I had my first paying customer before I had a brand, website, or a registered company. My website does not help me find customers, it’s purely a tick box exercise so don’t sweat it. I built my website over a couple of days three years ago – good enough is good enough. A lot of people I work with don’t even have a website and LinkedIn is their online place of residence.
4. It can be lonely – Sometimes you just want to discuss your thoughts or a proposal with someone else to get a different point of view. I now have a strong group of people who I know I can ring and ask for their opinions and they will give me honest feedback, and this works both ways. I also find occasionally working with regular partners can help avoid the loneliness, but I’m super picky about who I work with as it must be with people who I can learn from and make me laugh. You know who you are…
5. Just blog – Blogging is my absolute least favourite thing to do, but it does bring me new customers; usually people who I have worked with some years ago and it’s a great way to re-connect. I also use my blogs to send out as a follow up after meeting new customers.
6. Nailing networking – Traditional networking events used to strike fear into my heart, partly because I thought the sole purpose was to find work. Now I have reframed networking as an opportunity to have interesting conversations and use a ‘give to get’ mentality. So, when I enter the room, I’m thinking how I might help these people and what might I learn. I find this totally takes the pressure off and I really enjoy networking now.
7. Show vulnerability - So this is hard, but often when I have demonstrated vulnerability with a customer it has won me work, not lost it. Last year I confessed to a customer I had a lean period coming up and I was a bit worried. He was delighted as he had a large piece of work which needed delivering immediately which he hadn’t mentioned as he thought I would have been too busy. I sometimes get asked to do work outside my core competencies or skill set. I used to worry about this, now I just say I may not be the best person to deliver this for you – but if I was going to do it, I would approach it like this.
8. The hustle – It never stops, and neither can you. I have found work by talking to the person sat next to me as I watched my son playing cricket, accosting someone on a train reading ‘Lean Start Up’ and by asking someone if they were bored at a networking event.
9. It’s OK to walk away – One of the best things about running your own business is you get to pick who you work with. In the early days I used to say yes to everything, but now I’m much more astute about working with people whose values are aligned and where I can make a difference.
10. Do stuff that scares you – When you first start running your own business everything feels scary and I think it important to embrace that feeling and keep moving forward. The things which scare me now aren’t the same as the things which scared me then. And not everything works out as expected and that’s OK too. I recently made a clumsy pitch to a Director of a high street bank who was so confused he thought I was after a full-time job. When I started, I would have been mortified, now I just laughed and thought perhaps I need to work on that.
So, three years ago I did accidently start my own business. I now have some amazing clients and partners and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my working life. I’ve learnt loads and a lot about myself. I don’t always get it right and I usually feel I’m making it up as I go along but it seems to be working. If you are thinking about giving it a go I would really recommend it; as if you don’t try you will never know.