When you are just starting your own entrepreneurial business, there is a bewildering array of things to think about beyond just providing your product or service. Even those who have been running successfully for a while might still benefit from a more structured approach.
Here are some areas that helped me get up and running. I’m sure that many of you reading will also want to share your experience and hints in the comments below too.
You’ll need to register your business with HMRC. Do this as soon as possible, i.e. Week 1!
Get a current account for the business. Don’t mix your own funds with the business funds. It will make everything much easier to track.
You’ll have to pay tax on any profit, so keep track of how much you’ll need. You might want to have a separate account to stash a percentage of any income to ensure you have enough.
“Payment on Account” – if you expect to be paying more than £1000 in tax by the end of the first year, you’ll also need to set aside an extra 50% to pay for half of the following year’s tax bill in advance. Yeah, this comes as a surprise to many people. My advice during year one is to save save save. It’s not ideal at the start of a business, but after that initial shock, it does make things easier because the tax is spread through a couple of payments in the year.
Use some accounting software and/or get an accountant. The latter can save you money if you have any complexity in the business, even after deducting their fee.
Track your mileage. You might be driving around to various clients and network meetings. Keep a note of where you went and how far it was so you can easily apply this to your tax return. There are even mobile apps that will track this for you.
Tracking the business
If you have a service business like mine, it takes a while between the point where a contact tells you they are looking for something and the point at which you close the deal, or they decide not to go ahead right now. You will need to get used to welcome the latter and accept that this might happen more times than the closed deal. Unless they have found someone else they are going with, they will still be worth going back to later.
I keep a Prospect Tracker. When a business expresses interest in one of my website services, I add them to the tracker along with the date. Some people sign up the same day. Some people take half a year of follow-ups! Imagine if I’d given up after a couple of weeks of chasing.
The tracker allows me to get an idea of how many people I need to speak to get a close and how long it takes. Maybe these numbers will improve over time.
Again, for services businesses, I recommend a contract and agreement of payment terms. For large jobs I normally go with 50% deposit and 50% on completion, which shows both parties are serious and trust each other.
Set aside an amount of time regularly for marketing yourself. This might be 30 minutes a day on social media or time in a Facebook group demonstrating your expertise, plus a little extra every now and then for a blog post if appropriate.
Get yourself known locally. Get to know other businesses you will need locally. Networking is idea for this. Join MNC if you haven’t already, and as many other networking groups and events as possible to ensure people remember you and recommend you. It might take 6 months to a year of regularly turning up before you are imprinted as a local reliable expert and those referrals start to come in. Similarly, after a while, you’ll be able to remember the right people to recommend when either a friend or your own business needs something.
Get a website. If funds are limited, then you can make one yourself using one of various site builders. If you have funds at the start or already have a site but need it to work better for you, spend it on a web expert like me to come up with a plan that will drive the right traffic to your site, delight the visitors and make you money.
Choose a social media platform appropriate to your business and figure out how it works. Don’t spread yourself across multiple social channels from the start – if you really want to cover all the channels, get help from a social media manager, because each channel requires a different approach.
Get Testimonials from clients. My preferred method is via my “Google My Business” listing. I can send clients a simple link. They click it, give me a star rating and say something useful. I can then use that text on my website, and Google sees regular ratings. You may have to incentivise them to do the review somehow. I offer a link from my site to theirs for full website builds or social media shout-outs for smaller consulting jobs.
Ask your happy clients for referrals. Simple.
Plan each day before you start it. If you are not a morning person, then do it the night before so you don’t have to try to be one of the “Look at me, I’ve done yoga, day plan, meditation, read a training book, listened to inspirational leader podcast and it’s only 5:30am” type people. Science has shown it’s not productive to force yourself to operating in a different body clock, so figure out when you are most productive and work it.
Learn to say No
If you have a services business, keep in mind that you won’t get along with everyone and you aren’t the right match for everyone. Build relationships first and business will come from the right people. If you are too eager to take any piece of work, you might spend too much time earning too little money, with no spare time to take on decent pieces of work when they arise. Even if you think you need to say No, you might still be able to give some useful advice or refer to a peer in the industry. You’ll get kudos for this and word will spread.
Have faith in your skills
Understand what level of skills you have and price appropriately. If you are just starting out, your technical skills might be on point, but your business skills and faith in your own ability might not be there yet. Don’t undersell yourself to grab business. Prices I wouldn’t let myself dream of charging when I started are now accepted without clients batting an eyelid. Remember, like the scarecrow that won a Nobel Prize, you are outstanding in your field. Find your niche and own it.
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