Milestones like a ten year anniversary are always good times to stop and reflect. As women we tend to beat ourselves up over mistakes we’ve made, but I’ve been doing a lot of work in the last few years to put down the stick and try to make something constructive of it instead. In that spirit, I wrote this blog post not to make myself feel bad for not getting everything perfect in the first place, but hopefully to help others who are in the beginning stages of building a business.
“Well who are you to give advice to anyone else? You’re no expert.” Oh darn, it’s that voice again. Well listen voice, I have only one thing to say – I lived the experience and came out the better for it. So there.
1. Hire a business coach from the very beginning
In retrospect, when I started out my career as a physiotherapist I was likely dangerous. Why? Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s the same when starting a business. There are so many things of which you are just completely oblivious. While it is a significant investment at a time when resources may be scarce, it will save you so much more money down the road. More importantly, it will give you peace of mind and I promise it will make you a much less harried business owner from the very beginning.
2. Get clear on your “WHY” from the outset
When we are excited over starting a business we get caught up in all the details of what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. Sometimes we lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing, or we never even knew in the first place (other than bringing in some income). For example, if you are starting a business selling products, it is easy to get focused solely on what you sell and where people can buy it. But if you don’t think about why you’re doing it you are missing out on a big part of the action.
Brands that create the greatest loyalty (think Apple whose products inspire people to line up for two days to get the latest version of some device) are those who are selling you a “why” not a “what”. We don’t just buy Apple products because they are good quality – lots of other companies make electronics of good quality. We buy them because Apple is selling us a way of life where everything is interconnected, communicates seamlessly, and is always on the cutting edge.
When our “why” is clear we attract people who share our values and that makes for good business. If you would like to read more on this subject, I highly recommend the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
3. Be clear on your priorities – In business and in life
This is something my business coach has really helped me with. One of the first things she asked me was what I wanted my life to look like, not my business. Hunh? I was puzzled. Then she explained that it’s important to make your business fit your life and not try to squeeze your life around your business. If you do the latter it’s just not sustainable in the long term, let alone enjoyable.
This is particularly important if you are a busy parent balancing raising a family with running a business. For example, I know that if I don’t get any “me” time I not only become a less than ideal parent, I also start losing track of important things in my business. I need to carve out time during the week while the kids are at school for me to do solitary things I enjoy like kayaking or running. By starting with this as a priority then we were able to make a business plan to ensure this happens regularly. Happy life = happy parent and productive business owner!
4. Clarify your target audience and messaging
Marketing is an area that definitely needs to be considered if you want your new business to be discovered by prospective clients, but it is such a daunting task. Should I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, print ads, or local papers? Where to start? Hey, let’s just put a bunch of stuff out there telling people what we sell and how they can get it.
The thing is if you don’t start with a clear message and target audience you are just shooting around in the dark at invisible moving targets. In terms of messaging you want it to be consistent and in line with your values so that you attract like people. By starting with your “why” (see #2 above) this will become much clearer.
You also have to consider who your target audience is. You can’t market to everyone at the same time. What appeals to a 19 year-old athlete will likely not interest a 65 year-old retiree. By focusing your attention on a particular audience (for example moms of young school age children) you get clearer on what they would find interesting. Subsequently, you may also find that other businesses with a similar target audience will start sharing your content. The more eyes on your content the better.
5. Don’t focus on the competition
This is one I still find challenging. Physiotherapy has become a very competitive business. Where my clinic is located, physiotherapy practices are twice as numerous as Tim Horton’s. Now that’s saying something. It’s easy to get caught up in the “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality.
Other bigger physiotherapy practices do things like sponsor athletes or sports teams, participate in big health expos, and have a team of peeps to deal with their social media and marketing. I don’t have the resources to do that, but I have other advantages. I can provide a very personal approach and really let people see who I am and what my values are. I believe this is what attracts such amazing clients to me.
Honestly, in my nearly 20 years in private practice I can literally count on one hand the number of bad experiences I have had with clients, and that is a huge part of what makes my work so enjoyable. I used to think I was “lucky” to always have such great people around me, but now I know it’s because of the fact that people can see who I am and what I value. Bigger business just can’t do that.
6. Ask for help when needed
As a solopreneur, we generally feel that we have to do everything ourselves. “I got this,” is something I tell myself often. That’s great if the “this” is in fact something I have the expertise to do, but if it’s not then I need to find someone who does. For instance, I have always had an accountant and bookkeeping support from the very beginning. Sometimes people try to do these things themselves and in the end it ends up costing them a whole lot more fixing mistakes that were made. Just as people pay for my professional expertise, I pay for the expertise of others.
But what about things that we can do but just hate doing? It took me a long time to allow myself to get help in this area. Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it, particularly if it causes angst. I finally hired a virtual assistant recently to do some of the things I just hate doing. It was a big mental block to pay someone to do something I was capable of doing myself (kind of like the guilt of paying someone to mow your lawn when you are perfectly able – I still haven’t gotten past that one), but once I did I found it was the best decision I ever made. Not only does it get something I hate off my plate, she does everything in less than half the time it would take me. Love it.
7. Trust and believe in yourself
Anything I did in the beginning of my business that I wish I could do differently now can all be traced back to not following my instincts. As women we are particularly prone to doubting ourselves. While I am a totally rational and logical person, sometimes instinct is just better. Listen to that inner voice and believe that you will succeed.
8. Stop saying “I can’t….” or “I’m no good at….”
I have spent a lot of time convincing myself that I couldn’t do things that I had never even tried. I had lots of perfectly logical reasons for drawing such conclusions, none of which, it appears, were valid. Yes, when setting out in business there are a lot of scary cliffs to step off of, but a lot of times the cliff isn’t quite as high as we thought. And sometimes we even fly.
9. Be selective about who you work with
Whether you are looking to hire employees, work with contractors, or set up a referral network, be choosey about whom you surround yourself with. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that the best way to find your peeps is to show people what you value and not just what you do. I have met many like-minded people through just being me and speaking from the heart. Align yourself with people who have similar values and you can’t ever go wrong.
10. Embrace creativity
This was a tough lesson for me that took a very long time to learn. A lot of it had to do with how I defined creativity. I thought it exclusive to people who created beautiful works of art or wrote poetry for example. Now I realize that creativity is simply coming up with something that didn’t exist before. We all do this – if you are starting a business you are doing exactly this. So nurture your creative side and you’ll be amazed at how it impacts your business.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the key people who helped me learn these valuable lessons over the past decade. Thank you to Lindsay Leclair of Ascend Virtual Business Solutions without whom you wouldn’t be reading this blog, my business coach Lara Wellman of the The Biz Studio for absolutely everything, Joanne Lauzon of inDetail for helping me find my inner creative child, and all of my friends, family and colleagues who knew all along that I could do it.
Here’s to many more valuable lessons learned over the next decade of my career, for I believe that when you stop learning in your business, you should retire and I am definitely not ready for that yet!