Like other entrepreneurs, I launched my business in stages so I have multiple anniversary dates. It’s hard to believe, but I posted my first blog post a year ago. This anniversary is special because it’s also a few days before my birthday which is a natural point for reflection. It inspired me to think about the little things I wish someone would have told me a year ago about entrepreneurship, that having a great idea, business plan, and nine months of savings is not all you need. Here are seven pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs based on my experience.
1. Content is really king and you should bank it like cash. I belong to a mastermind group with other NYC coaches and when we talk about things that are working for us, everyone can cite examples where our blog has directly landed us a client. I’ve received business from the stodgiest of corporate clients through some very specific blog posts. Like you wouldn’t quit your job without a certain amount of money in the bank, I’d recommend having at least 20 blog posts ready to go before you set up shop. Writing is a process and as you blog more, you’ll get better, you’ll find your voice and discover what structure works for you- just start where you are.
When you get clients, you’ll get busy- I haven’t put anything up in the last two weeks and I’m annoyed at myself because I know better! That content bank will be essential if you want to achieve success faster.
(Image Source: DGDW Blog)
2. If you want to change the world, it’s happening online. When I started building my business plan, I met with all sorts of people across New York City. Many of them told me that social media was a slow climb- after all, did I think because I tweeted something that everyone was suddenly going to start following me or that I was going to become the next YouTube star? People advised me to start doing in-person events to get my name out. I would have been better off spending that time online in Twitter chats and doing research on who to engage with and follow. I am not sure why, but the relationships with people I have met online have been more valuable than those I’ve met at NYC events. I think if you’re a grown-up and you decide to spend precious time online, you’re intentional and strategic and those people are worth knowing.
I also received bad advice about my website. It’s important to have it ready to go on Day One and have a call to action on the first page.
3. Your business plan needs a section on building capital. When you get going, you’re focused on earning money and marketing, but you also need to focus on building capital and worth. Some of that will come through your blog, but if someone was going to buy your business tomorrow, what else would they get besides the cash you have in the bank? I constantly mind-map this. If someone would buy my business, they’d get engaged fans and enough free and private content to publish a book, a recognized leader with national press appearances, and innovative ideas that haven’t even seen the light of day… yet. This type of capital won’t immediately pay the rent, but building it up brings a steadier cash flow over time. If you’re in this for the long-haul, you have to pay attention to this.
4. Don’t stress about pricing. It’s your business and when you first start out, you can do what you want with pricing and no matter what anyone tells you, yes, you can change it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t completely ignore the market- make sure your prices are not too different from what other people charge. But if you think a price drop would bring more clients, have a sale and then decide to make it permanent because you love your audience. If you have too many clients and want to raise your prices, explain it to your customer base and give them a date for when it’s increasing. The average person understands market changes.
Also, don’t believe what people tell you about hiding the price, etc. When I put my PayPal buttons on my services page, my sales tripled. It depends on you, what you feel comfortable with and who you attract. My tribe likes transparency.
5. You’ll need new friends. When I told my friends I was going to leave my high paying job and start my business, I couldn’t believe how ecstatic they were. Hugs, cheers and free dinners all around! That being said, as I’ve traveled deeper into entrepreneurship, the support they’ve offered me has been limiting. They mean well, but most have 9-5 jobs and work with an office of other people and can’t relate to what I am going through and the utter loneliness I feel at times. That’s not their fault, so you’ll have to make new friends who can relate to that aspect of your life. I wrote a blog post for Brett Kunsch and Reverb about how to build these types of communities. This support system has made all the difference in what I can get done.
That being said, I have done a piss-poor job of engaging my friends so they know exactly what they could do to be supportive of The Opportunities Project. This anniversary is a good time to change that so if you consider yourself a friend of mine, expect to get a list of 8-10 very easy things you could do to help me make things happen. A point will come when you’ll have to explicitly train your friends that instead of replying to your latest newsletter telling you how proud they are of you, they know that pressing the Share buttons will make you feel 100% more supported.
6. You can’t do it alone. If you want to run a business, you need to get help. That might come through consultants, virtual assistants, or interns. Be smart about who you hire and invest your money so these people are working on things that you can use after they move on to bigger and better clients. Give those people referrals and they’ll help you over and over. It occurs to me I should write a post with the names of all the vendors and team members who’ve contributed to taking this company to where it is in its first year. I hope you’ll give them your business if you need that type of service.
7. You need a real sales cycle. When you start building your website, you’ll tell yourself that you have really great products and services, and a winning personality so you’ll NEVER need to be spammy and capture people’s email addresses, etc. Get over yourself- you will. And no one is going to give you a dime unless they have about seven interactions with you and you need to plan what those interactions are. One of those interactions may be a newsletter or a personal tweet, but they still need to learn to like and trust you. One of the best resources I’ve used as an entrepreneur is Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. I read it six times before I got the sales cycle chapter. Now I have a defined process where I convert someone from a website visitor to a prospect to a customer. It’s still a work in progress and I have a lot to improve on follow-through, but it’s more than I had when I started. What will your cycle look like?
If you’re an entrepreneur, I’d love your advice in the comments. Likewise, if you’re a budding entrepreneur, what questions do you have?