I’ve always liked variety.
Whether it’s the contents of my lunchbox or my choice of footwear, I’ve always hated the predictability and monotony associated with any kind of routine.
(School, clearly, was a struggle: vegemite sandwiches and school shoes. Every. Single. Day.)
By the time I threw my uni graduation hat in the air at the age of 25, I was happy to leave the world of classes, teachers, vegemite sandwiches, and sitting in a chair when someone told me to sit in a chair well behind me.
It therefore seemed like the most obvious solution at the time to start my own business.
Looking back, it was slightly outrageous at how laissez-faire I was about the whole ‘creating a business’ thing. No biggie, right?
It just seemed obvious – I liked managing my own time, I was confident in my offering as a writer, and I didn’t like the sound of anything advertised. I wanted each day to feel different from the last.
I wanted VARIETY.
A few years in, and I can’t help but laugh at my naivety – how, precisely, did someone who struggled with the concept of long division manage to navigate the world of tax, contracts, website coding, and invoices? Google, that’s how.
So here I am. My writing and content business is doing fab, thanks for asking. I juggle anywhere between four to ten clients at any given time, and work on everything from fashion magazines to speech writing to futurism workshops. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it sure as heck has variety.
I’ve learnt a lot in these few years, mostly about tax evasion and different variations on baked-bean-based dishes. But seriously, I’ve pretty much seen it all: so here are those few crucial tips that nobody tells you when you start out.
Print it out, stick it to your wall, and remember to always eat breakfast.
HOW TO START A BUSINESS AS A TOTAL NEWBIE.
#1: REFINE YOUR OFFERING
Ok, so if you’re reading this then you must have already considered starting up your own gig, which means you have sufficient confidence in what you do.
But how can you refine this? What can you do, that no one else can? What are you an expert at? Be innovative, be smart, and think niche.
Think about what your industry needs, and promote it simply: wordy mumbo-jumbo doesn’t impress anyone. It’s just confusing.
#2: FIND A MENTOR
Once you figure out what your offering is, find the biggest, baddest player in the game. Email them. Tell them that you are starting out and admire them as a leader in your industry. Ask for half an hour of their time, every couple of months. Buy them a coffee. Talk.
Use that time to find out how they got to where they are now, and I swear you will discover even more important secrets to success than I’m sharing with you now.
#3: YOUR FIRST CUSTOMER IS YOUR HARDEST CUSTOMER
Your first customer or client is going to be a hell of a learning curve – so be prepared. You will be trying to appear cool, calm, and collected; whilst a panicked voice inside your head shrieks – “WHAT IS THEIR NAME? John? James? Joseph? I AM FIRED ALREADY!”
So be chill.
Try and have your processes in place before meeting them (How will they brief you? How does your invoicing system work? What are your delivery expectations?), and keep your notes in front of you.
#4: SPEND MONEY
There are some non-negotiables in small business, and one of them is a good website. It’s your shopfront. If I can’t see it, I can’t find you – similarly, if I don’t like what I see, I won’t come in.
Spend money on getting a slick site set up, get an email address, get a logo, get your brand set up. It will make the world of difference in how you appear to potential customers and clients.
Oh, and business cards. Get them, and give ’em to everyone.
#5: BE NICE TO EVERYONE, EVEN IF THEY ARE AN A$$HOLE….ACTUALLY, ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE AN A$$HOLE
When I first started out, I had a difficult customer.
She was picky, and rude, and pestered me regularly about jobs that were too small to warrant the time I was spending on them. But, on the advice of my Dad, also a small business owner, I was nothing but polite and helpful.
Sure enough, this woman then recommended no less than three other people to me. Be kind, always. (Even if you need to have an Ally McBeal fantasy punch-on in your mind…)
Mia talks about her experience starting a business. (Post continues after video)
#6: BE HONEST
When you don’t have a team or boss overseeing your work, it’s overwhelmingly tempting to lie.
It usually seems at the time that a client or customer would prefer to hear something positive (“Yes, the project is finished”) than the truth (“We won’t be done for another week”) – but one important thing to learn is that honesty is extremely rare in any business.
So, be the person that others can trust – even if it’s bad news you’re delivering.
#7: RAINY DAYS DO EXIST
So there’s this little thing called tax, my friends. Take a look at your money. Now take away around 40%. Now look at it again. That’s what you earn.
Because the early days of small business are all about balancing your cash flow, you will occasionally need to dip into your tax savings to eat, or pay your internet bill, or take a cab to a meeting – so always put aside more for a rainy day. (It will rain a lot in those early days.)
Find a good accountant, too. They are wizards.
#8: SAY YES TO EVERYTHING
At some stage of your career, you will be popular enough to pick and choose whoever you wish to work with. But, to start with, you will need to be humble.
Say yes to every opportunity you get. Say thank you for every opportunity you get. Do things that push you out of your comfort zone, and say yes to people you would never usually consider. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn.
#9: WAKE UP BEFORE 7AM
Whether you’re working from home or working from an office, make sure you get up before 7.
Make yourself a healthy breakfast, have a shower, and sit at a table (ALERT: not the couch, I repeat, not the couch) with your computer – it will set yourself in the right mindset for the day, and get your brain ticking over from the start.
Besides, tracksuit pants are bad for morale.
#10: REWARD YOURSELF
Settling into a cash flow can be tricky, particularly in those early days when every dollar counts. But seriously, babe, you are going to be tired. Shitty. Over it. I promise you.
Pour yourself a bath, pour yourself a wine, pour yourself a bowl of cheese-laden pasta, WHATEVER. Just give yourself time to rest, recover, and restore.
The key to remaining positive and passionate about your work, and to avoid burning out, is to take time in the week to stop and restore your brain that might smell slightly like an electrical fire due to overuse.
Above all, always trust your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Never sign anything without getting a second set of eyeballs on it first, and ask as many questions as you want – it won’t make you look stupid, it will make you look committed.
Did I mention how important breakfast is?