In many ways, I am an accidental entrepreneur. It does not run in my family so was never in my DNA or overtly encouraged, to be honest. My parents didn’t own their businesses and I was always of the view I would not either. Until I did.
That is something I have not been able to do. I have two sons now 12 and 9. Of course, it was a different time in the era my parents raised a family some 30 years ago — many families need and want to have two parents working from a financial perspective alone, although many women, including me, have made a conscious choice to remain working because they value what doing career-focused work means even beyond paying the bills.
And it sounds ideal – to have your own business and work your own hours – but most entrepreneurs will tell you that philosophy is a fallacy. Yes, there’s flexibility, but there’s also a lot more responsibility and in a small business you’re not just ‘large and in charge’ you must do multiple jobs, especially in the early days.
My own business story over the past 15 years is not as remarkable as others, but it has been adventurous and continues to evolve. However, it’s my story and maybe one other can relate to it?
As Oscar Wilde famously said: “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.” How true.
Small beginnings, big ambitions
I officially started the first version of Bespoke Communications
on 2 December 2007 with one client and $1000 in the bank. It’s interesting how I recall the date so clearly. Prior to that, I’d had an awesome career in journalism and PR – working overseas and in Australia – a career many would envy. But eventually, there was the ‘call’ that many entrepreneurs speak about – the desire to really stretch me and go it alone.
I had not set out to become an entrepreneur or business leader, and the first year was hard yards, long days and nights, and not much cash flow – the way one-man bands often are.
But there are powerful lessons to be learned in those long days and tight cash-flow months. It’s amazing what you can create on a shoestring, and even today my business remains lean on staff – we use freelancers and contract out parts of bigger jobs sometimes.
We survived the magical “five-year mark” when only two-thirds of small businesses remain open for business And then I took a break, started another entity, and worked in-house for a time. Now as Pty Ltd business that is 15 years old, my first baby is older than my first born child.
Learning to lead
So, in an effort to encourage others to join the wild ride of entrepreneurship, here are my top six take-outs for you to ponder, no matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey.
- Embrace the numbers
As a wordsmith by trade, even five wonderful years as a business reporter didn’t make me love spreadsheets let alone understand them as much as I should. But the facts remain, if you don’t understand how to read a profit and loss sheet, create a business plan with a growth trajectory, or plan for downtime, you are only undertaking a side hustle may be and it is not a serious business.It took me a few years to find a fantastic, proactive accountant and business advisor, and mentors who took the time to explain the nitty-gritty to me. It was daunting but it also changed my life. So if it’s not your forte, hire a bookkeeper or accountant that does more than just “tick and flick” processing of your annual tax return.
- Start small
Very rarely do you need a fancy office in the inner city or a company structure or even tens of thousands of dollars in the bank to get going. In fact, the pandemic has made life very easy for entrepreneurs – work from home? Sure. It’s becoming the norm.Do think about your legalities though – including how you’re going to name your business, set it up, and grow it. Get professional advice because these can impact your tax liability. Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies, Sole-trader … there’s a lot to consider. Be open to change too!
- Find and keep the good eggs
Keep on speed dial a stable of reliable, casual labour so you can employ extra hands on a temporary or freelance basis as and when you need it. Take time to brief and debrief, so you can relax, and not have to worry about the tasks the team is undertaking.
- Be nimble
Hire slowly, fire quickly – this goes for clients, suppliers, and employees. It also goes for embracing technology, and how you’re running your business. Innovation doesn’t just mean coming up with the next best idea or product or service – adopt innovation in the way you’re running your business – don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Work with like-minded folks
Strive to work with only the most suitable clients that share similar values, profiles, and service capabilities. Say what? Know your market, carve out your niche and stick with it. Yes, be open to collaborations with clients or peers on projects you might not have considered, but don’t be afraid to say no, too.
- Reassess and walk away
Once you go from start-up to a more long-term business, always find new ways of working smarter, but certainly not harder. See point 4. I’m now past the point where I really work on weekends or late nights. And while a lot of that has to do with your business finding its own rhythm (which can take a few years), it happens eventually. After that, it’s a matter of focus and reassessment, sticking with what works and ditching what doesn’t.
Be true to your values and have the courage to make the big and small changes. Any business you run has to make money but has to be more rewarding, exciting, and fun than working for someone else.
If you wanted to have me share more of my business learnings or have a chat about communicating your story, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and drop me a message.