The first year in business is without doubt tough for first-time entrepreneurs. We all struggle with self-doubt, fight off impostor syndrome and negotiate the highs and lows. We take on clients you wish in retrospect we hadn’t. We work long hours, including weekends. We probably won’t earn much money. And our family and friends don’t understand what we’re doing, although this won’t stop them offering us unwanted and unsolicited advice! Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted.
BUT before you start feeling depressed …
… if you’ve followed a clear and consistent plan, by the end of the first year your business should be at break-even point. You’ll have built enough momentum for your business to start taking off. For those of you in the startup phase, here are my 10 top tips to help you succeed as a first-time entrepreneur during your first year in business.
1. Have A Clear Business Strategy
You wouldn’t attempt to drive from London to Edinburgh without GPS (or my case a map) and set of written directions. A business strategy is your route map; a set of directions setting out how you’re going to get from having no (or very few) customers to building a solid customer base. It forms the foundation for setting out your goals, your business and marketing plan as well as a 12 month budget and cash flow forecast.
2. Keep Your Business Strategy Under Regular Review
You should set aside at least an hour at the end of every week, to review how your week has gone and update your key monitoring documents:
The information in these documents will tell you whether you’re on track to reach your goals, and help you to assess the effectiveness of your business strategy. You can then adjust your marketing activity, taking into consideration what has and hasn’t worked.
Planes fly off course most of the time! If the nose of a plane destined for New York is just 1% off course when it’s sitting on the tarmac at London Heathrow, it’ll arrive either upstate in Albany or in Dover, Delaware. Think of yourself as an airplane pilot, correcting your course direction at regular intervals. Like a plane, just a small deviation from your course can significantly affect whether or not you achieve your business goals.
3. Build A Company Culture
In my article Why Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast, I explain why, if you want your company to reach its full potential, you should put in the time and effort to work out what sort of culture you want to instill within your business and how you’re going to create it. (Think of culture as the way we do things around here).
Clarity about your company culture and values is your compass, guiding your strategic and operational decisions, including the type of customers you take on, the businesses you decide to partner with and the people you hire. It’s much easier to on-board and integrate new employees into ‘your way of doing things’ if you’ve taken the time to create a business culture.
4. Build Your Business Network
When I first talk to first-time entrepreneurs about their marketing activities, I always recommend that they make it a priority to expand their network and focus on building quality relationships. This is important because to get great results in business, we must surround ourselves with like-minded people. Mind-set and emotions are highly contagious and we’re unconsciously influenced by those around us.
The ‘Law of Association’ says that our income is generally the median income of the 10 people we spend most of our time with so your net worth really is in your network. Often our friends don’t understand why we’re investing so many hours in a business without the promise of a steady pay check. Don’t waste time trying to change their minds; get out and find good business people who share your mind-set and ambition.
5. Make Time For Learning
From the new developments within your industry to studying what it takes to become a successful business leader, set aside regular time for learning. The most successful entrepreneurs set aside time every day for their own private study, often first thing in the morning.
Be intentional about your learning. I often recommend to clients that they focus on improving their weakest business skill as this is what will hold back growth. When I first set out as a first-time entrepreneur, my weakest skill was selling. This is quite a hindrance when you’re starting a business and trying to get clients! So I resolved to master the skill. Whilst not yet a sales expert, I’m now competent and my skills are improving all the time, thanks in no small part to the sales training I undertook with Catherine Watkin.
6. Look After Yourself
One of the common mistakes first-time entrepreneurs make is to not look after their health and burnout. You can’t be great at work unless you feel great; and you can’t be a source of positive energy if you have no energy. So it’s really important that you take the time to look after yourself, from making sure that your diet is healthy and balanced, to taking time out each day to exercise (even if it’s going for a short walk) to scheduling regular time off through to spending regular time with loved ones.
It’s so important to enjoy life whilst you’re chasing success. And by ensuring you’re on your ‘A game,’ you’ll be far more effective leading your business.
7. Differentiate Yourself From Your Competition
Compete on value, not price. This means being able to explain to your customers what is unique about your business – not just the services any decent business of your type is offering. It also means having a clear niche. For example one of my friends offers life coaching to women who are going through a divorce. This doesn’t mean that my friend doesn’t have clients with other problems – she does. But because her branding and marketing activities are tailored to this niche, women going through a divorce are easily able to find her and understand how her service will be of direct benefit to them.
I love working with small business owners who’ve come from a corporate background and are making the transition to becoming a successful entrepreneur. A former CEO myself, I understand what it means to be a ‘corporate crossover.’
8. Market 7 Times More Than You Think Is Necessary
Remember the Marketing Rule of 7 x 3. The ‘rule of seven’ is one of the oldest, and most helpful concepts in marketing. The rule of seven simply says that the prospective buyer should hear or see your marketing message at least seven times before they’ll buy it from you.
The important thing in the rule of seven is not the number, but the message. The rule simply says that you need to let the prospect hear and see your marketing message a number of times before they’ll buy. There are many reasons for this level of repetition which are outside the scope of this post. Suffice to say that you can’t expect buyers to trust you and make a buying decision the first time or even the second time they see your message. You cannot simply run a couple of advertisements and expect people to buy your product. This means that your marketing efforts have to be repetitive and consistent.
9. Don’t Try To Do Everything Yourself
An entrepreneur is not the plumber! Even though your instinct may to get your hands dirty with every aspect of your business, this is not a good use of your time. I see so many first-time entrepreneurs caught in the DIY trap. Your time should be focused on income producing activities. Successful entrepreneurs are brilliant at marshaling resources. So as soon as you can afford a bookkeeper, virtual assistant, call answering service – whatever will most benefit your business – bring these into your team. If you lack a particular skill set – like marketing, advertising or copywriting, admit that it’s you’re forte, and then find someone with great recommendations and engage them. If you’re not in a position to take on a permanent employee, you can buy in the amount of time you need (or can afford) through outsourcing.
10. Plan For A Marathon, Not A Sprint
It takes considerable energy and effort to build up enough momentum for your business to take off. Setting up a new business has a lot in common with marathon running. Marathon running requires extensive planning, practice and forethought before the race itself. During a marathon, restraint is required – sticking to your game plan and pacing yourself. The same principles apply to the first-time entrepreneur.
Questions: What’s your top tip for first-time entrepreneurs? What do you wish you’d known when you first started your business? I love to hear from my readers so please do tell me in the comments box below.
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