Small business, big job

This week I stray from my usual topic of interior design to share a personal epiphany in the interest of helping others who might be considering going it alone and entering the world of  small business.

I have recently realised that my 20 years working for a big international corporation taught me a lot, but it also shielded me from some very everyday stuff. Yes, I can  write weighty business plans, lead big teams and run multi-million dollar projects across multiple countries, but until last summer I had never bought a mobile phone. I have only ever bought one car, which was back in 1997, and to be honest that day I went out to get a hairdryer…..Broken blackberry, printer not working, new business cards, expenses, etc all handled by the amazing Lindsey who I now miss and not just because she mollycoddled me. I tell you all this not so I can say “ooh look what an amazing job I had and how important I was” but to confess how inept I am compared to my peers in the land of small business owners. But I’m learning, fast.

I have always respected anyone who started their own business but I hadn’t really appreciated how much work is needed, and most of it is not even trade related. You need to separate your finances and buy insurance. You need a system for tracking all your business expenses, storing receipts and invoicing customers. It’s all well and good having a strong business plan but you need to find the time to develop the website and social media presence and execute the marketing plan, and track the results of all this effort. And that’s alongside actually delivering the services to your new customers. Yes the Government and other organisations provide advice and guidance but it’s still down to you to do something with that advice. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining. I’m actually loving the fact that at 41 I’m learning so much.

So to keep me focused on Interior Design (and out of jail) I’ve made some new friends like Mark the accountant and Josephine the lawyer. I had a lovely chat with Patrick from yell.com the other day after setting up a free listing. He showed me some very interesting stats on the number of people who had searched for an Interior Designer in the areas I am targeting. He was gutted we had to end our call before he could sell me any services because Mr W needed the phone line for a conference call. But I suspect he’ll call back tomorrow and we might become friends 🙂

So what have I learned that I can pass on to others that might want to start a business?

  1. Talk to other small business owners about how they got started. They will have already been through the pain of sorting out their finances, website, stationary etc so their advice could save you time and money.
  2. Write a business plan which includes a marketing plan that will bring you customers, but that you can realistically execute. You also don’t want to be turning customers away or letting them down because you went overboard on the marketing efforts.
  3. Get yourself an accountant early on and figure out your admin system so that you don’t have to play catch up
  4. Make the new bank account and credit cards a priority in case you have any problems with pin numbers and setting up online banking (grrr Barclays, sort it out!)
  5. Ironically I am now grateful to my former employers shockingly poor systems and IT department because it has made me pretty good at IT so I’m making good headway with the website and social media stuff. But from talking to other small business owners it seems I’m not the norm. So if you are the norm then get some help but don’t spend a lot and make sure you will be able to maintain it yourself or for little extra cost.

My final piece of advice only applies to those who left a job that was perhaps full on and paid well to pursue their passion. Remember why you left that job. Don’t work so hard that you’re just as stressed as you were before, but with less money to pay for the wine you’ll need to relax at the weekend. And if you do find yourself getting a little stressed now and again, get yourself some chickens. There’s nothing like a little chicken watching to bring down the blood pressure, I promise.