As my two-year anniversary of starting my own business passed, I took some time to reflect on what I learned. Having done the b-school thing, and the corporate gigs in a variety of industries and functional areas, the last two years have far surpassed any learning in the classroom or on the job.Being your own boss is hard. Giving yourself a day off, or a weekend for that matter, is a challenge. Dealing with the major swings in demand and revenue can be frustrating. Yet, I would not trade this experience for the world. It’s taught my daughters that women can do it anything they truly set their minds too, it’s made my relationship with my husband stronger (we now work together), share my passion with my family (my niece also supports the business), and it has helped me fuel my real calling for women’s leadership.
I get to go to work now, I no longer have to go.
I meet countless people that think that they want to start their own businesses, and they often believe it is not possible. If you are one of those people with a great idea, but lacking the courage to make it happen, then this blog is for you. The frequently asked questions here are a culmination of what I am asked most often in one-on-one discussions with clients and aspiring entrepreneurs.
How did you find your very first clients?
I was lucky. I got my start with a consulting client of mine asking me to work directly with them. I had worked with this client for four years, and they trusted me. They saw something in me that I am not sure I had seen in myself. They saw me as a coach and facilitator and wanted me to provide my services for their customers.
Although luck got me started with a steady book of business, perseverance kept me a float. As clients often do, this client’s demand patterns have shifted significantly over time. As they change their strategic direction, their needs change. That means lots of ups and downs for my revenue and my travel schedule. If I had not been actively building relationships and diversifying my revenue sources, I could have gone out of business. Putting all your eggs in one basket is dangerous. People change, companies change. That’s a good thing. As a solopreneur, being nimble is key. Anticipate the changes ahead, and make sure that you are networking and proactively keep a pulse on your current and future client needs to change with them.
How do you market your business?
Marketing builds awareness, which is the single biggest challenge for a new business. People do not know you. You have to make it as easy as possible for people to know who you are what you stand for. This means that dialing in your purpose or mission statement is pivotal. Having a succinct statement like, “I develop leaders and coach women to build winning career game plans,” has been my opening for nearly all of my discussions with new people. They get it, and it sparks further discussion.
Online presence is key for more businesses starting out. I recommend keeping it simple to start, and build your own website yourself using a tool like Weebly or WIX to start. If your online presence is a key component of your business and SEO (search engine optimization) is important, hire a team to build a basic website on a platform like WordPress. I had a bare bones website the first year, then invested year two, and it did improve my business. Start small, and build it as you grow. Grab a domain if you find a clever name, and anything similar to it. No matter what type of business you have, people will Google you early on to learn more, and you need to have some type of online presence.
Social media and email marketing are incredibly powerful tools, and easy to invest in early. It really only requires your time to manage it. I average about five hours a week writing blogs, prepping email communications, and posting daily on the major social media channels where my customer is. Know your customer and how they like to communicate and engage. For me, LinkedIn and email are huge. That’s where she usually is looking for what’s next in her career or seeking leadership advice. Know your audience, and speak to them about the things they care about, not what you want to talk about. Hopefully, there is a great intersection between what they are craving and what you are uniquely positioned to educate them on. Write and post about those subjects. Create a calendar or use a tool like Hootsuite to schedule your posts. As an entrepreneur, keeping it simple is critical. My time is my biggest constraint, so I delegate these tasks now to my support staff. It frees up my time to do what I do best – facilitate, coach, and network.
What would you recommend to someone first starting out?
Have a plan. A simple one or two page plan with where you are going long-term and how you are going to get there. Those with a plan are 80% more successful.
Recently, I sat down with my best friend to build her plan for her business idea. She’s an aspiring entrepreneur, and she and her husband have been thinking about starting their own business for eight years. They just have not pulled the trigger yet. After meeting with her for just a few hours and asking her a lot of questions, I was able to facilitate her thinking and we were able to document her plan. She said that having the ideas in her head and not being able to articulate it had really held her back from taking the first step. The plan did help her take her first step – securing her domain name for her business and the Facebook page. And, she has all the steps outlined to officially start the business this fall. Having the plan helps hold her accountable. And her best friend coach to boot.
If you are thinking about starting a business, think about these questions to begin building your plan.
- What are your three-year goals? (clients/year, $ in revenue, % revenue increase, revenue by client type, etc.)
- Who is your ideal target client? (needs, values, willingness to invest, things they say and do, etc.)
- How will you build awareness with your clients? (referrals, online, events, etc.)
- What are the key activities you need to do to reach your goals? (partnerships, events, ads, etc.)
- What do your services look like? (key questions, simple visual to market, etc.)
If you are looking for additional resources, there are a number of great organizations that partner with women thinking about entrepreneurship – StartUp Ladies, NAWBO, and LEAP for Women are a few I love. Chances are your local chamber of commerce also has a group dedicated to supporting women and providing resources to help you get started.
If you enjoyed this post, and could benefit from talking 1:1 about your plan, find time on my calendar for a complimentary coaching session. I will help you take your plan to the next level. We also offer working sessions to build your plan together using our proven Pivot Point process.
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