Last year, I posted an article about lessons learned during my first year in business.
I re-read the blog yesterday and it still rang true. You can find it here: Was I an April fool to start my own business during lockdown? – June Dennis
I’m still learning! So this post is a reflection of what I’ve discovered over the past year and I hope it will prove helpful if you are just setting off on the path of self-employment or running your own business.
With the benefit of further reflection, I can see now that the first year was about getting the business up and running. This second year has benefited from the foundations laid during this season. It takes time to develop business relationships and for ‘leads’ to become ‘prospects’ and then ‘customers’. Many underestimate this and do not have the financial resources to get through this dry season. Only recently, I’ve discovered that regardless of what people say at networking events, most eventually admit that they struggled to gain traction during their first year, and then suddenly things started to happen for them. Never assume you’re the only one struggling!
Self doubt & Ageism
The self-doubt that initially lurked in the background in my first year began to disappear. I realised that the reason why people didn’t ‘get’ me was that they were not my target market. I started to widen my sphere of networks with almost immediate positive results.
Part of this self-doubt was linked to age. Society is definitely age-ist, especially against women. My previous job roles and titles sheltered me from this (position power) but I felt terribly exposed when I was introducing myself as ‘me’. And yet, with age, as they say, comes wisdom and I have met so many wise women over the past two years who have so much to offer. Please don’t discount them/us.
Achievements & Opening Doors
As if to prove that age isn’t an obstacle, I’ve achieved two of the most significant highlights in my career this year – being awarded my doctorate and becoming Chair of the Board of Directors of The Chartered Institute of Marketing. Age should not limit us. Both achievements have opened doors to new opportunities – I visited Sri Lanka for the first time for the CIM graduation in January and made 100s of new connections while I was out there. I also run research methods workshops for professional students across the world and support SMEs through the UK Government Help to Grow programme at Brunel University, both of which are only possible as a result of having a doctorate.
I continue to learn. This year it has been about knowing when to accept and reject opportunities, maintaining work/life balance when things are busy, and keeping all the plates spinning. I’ve had to trust others with work that I’ve contracted to them and understand the value of my own time.
Planning is key
I’m in a good place. I keep reminding myself that it’s unusual for a small business to know where its business is coming from 6 months in advance and I’m fortunate to be in that position now. But I’m also aware that as a small business, I can never rest on my laurels and it is in the planning that seeds of opportunities emerge. I, like all business owners, have to allow time for this and I challenge myself weekly to spend a few hours on being future-focused. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t but when it does, it is powerful.
Takeaways for Entrepreneurs & Business Start-ups
So my tips, or words of wisdom for new professional service-based start-ups are:
- Assume you won’t get a significant customer for at least 6 months. Plan your finances accordingly.
- Clearly define your target markets and focus on them.
- Be ruthless about which networks you develop and know why you are a member of each (It could be for support and advice just as much as for new business).
- Ensure you diarise time for admin, promotional activity, and future planning. I need at least a day/week for this and a further day/month to keep on top of this.
- Opportunities will come from unexpected sources. Grab them!
- Be generous with your advice but know your worth.
I am so looking forward to what year 3 has to offer!