I set up my business providing HR consultancy and coaching services 10 years ago and, despite the inevitable glitches, late nights and a few moments of soul searching along the way, I haven’t really looked back. So does this mean I got it right? Some bits may be, but there’s been a lot of learning too (and still is) and so here, for those who might be interested in taking the plunge, are my top 10 tips for setting up a business. What are yours?
1) Have a clear business idea that you have confidence in. I realised my business had to be in HR as it is where all my skills and experience lie and I knew there was demand. I’d love to design gardens for a living, but going on the state of my own this would end in miserable failure!!
2) Understand your weaknesses. I knew I lacked skills and knowledge in some key areas – particularly tax and finance – so I quickly sought help from people who knew what they were talking about.
3) Identify your target market. I wasted a lot of time in the first year with a scattergun approach to my market – which was rather naively ‘all businesses who need HR help’. Spot a gap and be specific.
4) Network, network, network! A couple of referrals from my old boss and a friend secured me my first clients. I also joined two business networking groups. Aside from providing business opportunities, I gained invaluable advice from experienced and often inspirational people – who understood what I was grappling with. I was so inspired that a few years later, I set up and ran a business network for Mumpreneurs from which I gained a great deal of valuable insight, warm support from like-minded people (so valuable when you are working on your own), and new business. Of course, social media is also essential to networking and something you cannot afford to ignore. There is definitely a balance to be found – spend too much time networking on social media (which is very easily done) and I have personally found the rewards do not really justify the time input. Make sure you prioritise so other important work is not neglected. However, I have found that writing blogs and online articles is a great way to keep your skills and knowledge up to date, so there is another big plus to all that time spent.
5) Don’t undersell yourself. Research and work out what you should be charging your clients. Your market will tell you if you are charging too much (you won’t have any business!) and it is hard to increase your rates once you have established clients.
6) Create a suitable work environment. For me this means no noisy kids (childcare is essential), equipment that works properly (my last printer was nearly hurled out of the window), and not too many distractions (I can’t work with my mobile right beside me – the BBC News app is too tempting (I’m a news junkie!) – and if there is chocolate in the house I will eat it ALL).
7) View mistakes positively. We all make mistakes – they’re going to happen and once they have you can’t take them back. Instead of beating yourself up, understand and learn so you make better decisions next time (this is harder than it sounds!).
8) Accept that the perfect work life balance doesn’t exist and simply seek a better one. Generally, my plan to spend lots of time with the kids whilst they’re young is working out. However, there is a price to be paid sometimes for the successful running of my business. For me, this is some late nights working and feeling guilty when I use the TV as a babysitter so I can send an email or take a work call. That said, if the balance tips too far towards work, I have learnt to say no to new work (even though it goes against the psyche of the self-employed!).
9) Switch your iPhone off after 9pm! The worst thing for a good night’s sleep is reading a work email just before lights out. Your hubby doesn’t much appreciate it either…!
10) Keep reviewing your SMART business goals to make sure that you are making progress and that they are still relevant. Don’t be afraid to change your plans if circumstances change (personally and externally) and definitely don’t waste time flogging a dead horse!