So, I hear you’ve decided to leave your job to embark on your ultimate dream of starting your own business. Sounds kinda cool…I’m sure you’re feeling pretty pumped about it all, and maybe a bit scared?
Ok, a lot scared. Well that’s why I’m writing to you, to say, try not to worry too much, I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it will be tough at times, but you’ll muddle your way through. Plus you’ll learn a lot and have quite a bit of fun at the same time.
Here’s a few things I’ve learnt in my own first year of business that I thought you might find useful, because, well…I’m nice like that :)
Lauren, I get it, you want autonomy, that’s who you are, but this pathological need for self-guidance stems from the fact that you are a complete control freak. As such, this uncertainty thing is going to be a bit tricky for you.
There will be times when you will have no idea whether your business will survive another month, and others when you think the whole premise of your business is stupid, not because it is, but because you’ll keep telling yourself you’re stupid and you don’t know anything, which even if granted at times is true, is not particularly helpful (1) .
Mostly though, you will have this overwhelming sense that there is insufficient data for the decisions you need to make…which brings me to my second point.
If you don’t know something, which in your case is the case most of the time, find out about it. Set aside time each day for “data input” (aka. reading and conversing - your two favourite things!).
One problem with being a business owner is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and of this stuff that you don’t know, you won’t know what will be the most important to know…er, yeah...so start with a question, propose a hypothesis then explore widely and finally dive deeply.
It probably goes without saying that what I mean by “data” isn’t just quantitative facts and figures, I also mean getting out there “in the field” and LISTENING to people in your industry.
Read about best practices from leading thinkers in your area, subscribe to useful podcasts and have a face-to-face chat over coffee (your shout) with people in your network.
Find out what other businesses need and want and then go away and spend time thinking about how this relates to your own business services.
ABCD goes for everything you do - whether for you or your clients, business decisions need to be based on good questions, rational thinking and well-conducted research (2).
Coming up against competitors and proving you can outperform them is difficult in your first year of business. Firstly, no-one really knows who you are or what you do and secondly you only have a so-so idea yourself.
So steal from everyone and imitate no-one (3). Identify how you’re different to your competitors and do better stuff with clients who are ready for something loud, fresh and exciting. And then be loud and excited about this fresh project.
Find out about emerging trends, read about the new challenges your industry is facing and look ahead to the cool things pioneers are working on across a range of different disciplines.
Also, in anything and everything that you do, remember, when a company engages with you, they are giving you something much more precious than a slice of their budget - they are giving you their trust (4). So honour that trust and do amazing work.
Celebrity 20-something entrepreneurs are like fashion models - they are a statistical anomaly. This isn’t about a shiny new macbook or a fresh moleskin (5).
Business is hard work, not always because of the hours you do but because you need to be resilient and always ready for what's next...even though you don't yet know what that is.
At the end of the day, setting yourself unrealistic benchmarks and wasting time you don't have to find ways to envy others isn’t useful. All this does is distract you from your own ambition.
Set fair expectations and goals for yourself, and if you’re doing it for the money, then don’t, because frankly, in the short-term anyway, you’d make more money in a 9-to-5 job (the long-term is uncertain, see point 1.)
Get inspired sure - go to meet ups and networking events and meet like-minded people who are passionate about their work BUT don't get caught up in the mind-games of Entrepreneurial success and associates because, honestly, it will make you feel like an isolated failure.
Besides… A business can’t run on hot air.
There are going to be times when you feel like you are twiddling your thumbs and getting nothing done. For you Lauren, these are the hardest times because, well, you’re really quite bad at sitting still.
Don’t feel guilty because you have time on your hands to stop. This is when you gather what you need to keep going.
Reflect on your progress - just because it feels like you aren’t making progress “right now” doesn’t mean you haven’t already achieved things.
Think about what you’ve learnt and what you need or want to learn more about next. Take an afternoon off and enjoy the calm before the storm - because the storm is always just around the corner.
Move in a different way - get some exercise, go for a walk or a swim. Write something, for heaven’s sake, you always talk about how much you love to write! So write!
Reach out to an old colleague or have a coffee (or, wine) with the awesome people you meet everyday - and no, there is no such thing as “too much wine" ;) (6).
If that doesn’t sound like it’s productive enough (which by the way it is) then remember this: Your BEST ideas have almost exclusively come from the STOP times. Not the GO times. That’s how the human brain works, it needs time to digest and connect information (7).
Like I said, it’s going to be tough, but I also know you’ve got an awesome best friend, a wonderful fiancé and super supportive family and friends who will be there to talk things through with you after the 10,000 times you fail at something in this next year (8).
There’s definitely no way you could do any of this without them, so make sure you let them know how grateful you are…often, ok? None of this one-off “thanks everyone” nonsense on some blog post or LinkedIn article you write to your younger self in a year.
I also know you’re fired up and ready to go, so I won’t take up anymore of your time, just remember (and I know it’s a bit cheesy) but that fire is what will keep you going in your first year in business.
Best of Luck!
Ps. One other thing I can tell you which may put your mind at ease: Your business, Pacific Content? It does survive it’s first year. Actually, it does quite a lot better than you probably think it will, and your second year is looking like it will be just as interesting, exciting and challenging as the first!
(1) This will most likely be when you have just read about someone who is younger, smarter, richer and more autonomous than you - see point 4.
(2) psst…use that science degree you kept saying was “interesting but vocationally useless”… Also, google “grounded theory”.
(3) Stolen from Austin Kleon.
(4) Not to say that cash isn't important, cash is EXTREMELY important!
(5) It is simply a co-incidence that you are 20-something and that your business will purchase a macbook and moleskin for you in the next few months…
(6) And now I'm meant to say "drink responsibly". There.
(7) You’ll know what I mean when you finally pick up “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin - that book your fiancé got you for your 26th birthday because he knows you so well. Read it. It’s brilliant.
(8) That’s only a very slight exaggeration
In the spirit of reconciliation I would acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. I pay my respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living and working on the land today - the land that always was and always will be, Aboriginal land.