5 things I wish I'd known when I started my own business

 

hindsight glasses, 5 things I wish I knew before starting my business

{Hindsight glasses via Peppermill Projects-visit the link to get a free pair of your own!}

August was a pretty big month for me – after starting my own business a year ago and running it while also working full-time, I’ve finally resigned from my safe 9-5 job.

It’s taken a lot of talking, thinking, worrying, budgeting, planning, and fretting, and also a lot of dreaming, to get here.

But now I’ve finally made the decision I am so excited.

I’ve written a business plan, I’ve done cash forecasts, budgets, projected sales, cost of sales, market research, but most importantly…..

I’ve set-up a little office in our spare room.  Yippee!

It boasts:

  • a second-hand ‘beech effect’ desk (not quite the solid oak one with secret drawers I’d imagined)
  • an office chair donated by my mum (I had to evict the spider who’d moved into the space under the seat)
  • a desk lamp from my brother-in-law (new bulb?  Check)
  • and a photo of me and my boys (husband and three-year-old).

But enough about me and my small business adventure – while I’ve been navigating my way through the jungle of self-employment, I’ve learned a few things along the way – things that will hopefully help you avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve stumbled into.

So here are my top 5 things I wish I’d known when I started my own business a year ago:

1.  People want it to work out for you

I kept my own business to myself for the first six months, as I didn’t want friends and colleagues judging me or having expectations.  If it all went wrong they’d never know.

I quietly started building up an online presence, set-up my website, made contact with potential clients and networked til my throat hurt (and the letters on my keyboard faded).

But when I started telling friends and colleagues that I was starting had my own business, they were incredibly supportive.  They gave me referrals of possible clients, they told me about resources available to business owners, and what really helped me have faith in myself was their assumption that it would work out.

2.  No-one is ever going to give you permission

Deciding to give up your day job to focus on your own business is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Can you really afford it?  How will you stay motivated?  What about your pension?  Can you really make it work?  How will you cope with the loneliness of home-working?

But, just like starting a diet, doing the ironing, or writing a business plan (or is that just me?), there is always a reason not to do it.

I’ll wait until:

  • my little one starts school
  • we’ve saved up more money
  • I have 50 clients
  • my husband/dad/best friend says it’s okay

But there will always be a reason not to take the risk of losing the monthly pay cheque from your employer.

You just need enough reasons to want to take it.

3.  You don’t need loads of stuff

Quick back-story: My little boy was born 6 weeks premature.  We weren’t exactly prepared for his early appearance so didn’t have all the baby gear and equipment we’d planned to buy (not even a name….  He was Baby Thornton for three days).

While we were in hospital my hubby and I went through Mothercare’s Ultra Shopping Planner and ordered everything they told us we’d “definitely need”.

Three years later, we haven’t used half that stuff.  We needed a few outfits, a couple of blankets and the pushchair…

But the top and tail bowl?  Nope.  The baby hair brush?  Nappy bin?  Baby carrier?  No.

In my office at work I have access to a world of stationery and desk accessories – but what I use most is the computer, my coffee cup, pad and pen, so that’s what I’ve bought for my office at home.

The other stuff can wait – although my noticeboard’s coming with me when I leave…. along with my picture of Johnny Depp.

4.  Get organised and have a system

Before the business started to grow, I thought I was an organised person.

I’ve recently realised that this is not the case.

I send invoices to clients, but don’t keep track of whether they actually pay me (yes, I know, I know).  And if some money appears in my account, who’s it from?  I pay in the cheques but don’t record who they’re from*.

Basically my accounts are a mess, and I’m only a few months in.  When I come to do my first tax return I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.

So I now have a system – I keep a hard copy of invoices sent, then I write on them when money’s received, recording whether it was cheque or into my account.  I also have a spreadsheet where I write down money invoiced, money received, and money spent.  I do online banking to check-up on where I am with the business accounts.

This is pretty obvious stuff, but my administration skills are shocking, so I’ve had to go back to basics and put a proper system in place.

* PS Don’t tell any of my clients this – if they know how disorganised I can be, they may try and get away with not paying me….

5.  You can do it

The biggest barrier to me leaving my nice secure job and jumping head-first into the unknown was me.

My own self-doubt and ‘what-if’ nightmares.  Then I read something that made me think twice:

Imagine you’re 85 years-old looking back at this exact moment.  How would you feel if you hadn’t taken the plunge?  How would you feel if you had, but it hadn’t worked out?  Which is worse?

That made me realise that I couldn’t live with the ‘what-ifs’ of not giving it a go.

So here I am, at my beech-effect desk at my office at home, with an empty spider’s web under my chair, a picture of Johnny Depp on my wall, and all you lovely Oh My Handmade readers out there somewhere.

And I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

What about you?  What lessons have you learned along the way?  Share them in the comments below.

23 comments

  1. Suzi says:

    Lucy, thank you so much for writing this article! I started my business about a year ago too, but I have not been focused for much of that time. Now that I am focusing on my business again, it is so helpful to read articles like this one, from people who have been exactly where I am now.

    The first point especially resonated with me. I have been very secretive about my business for a long time. It was only recently that I started telling me friends and family about my new website, or directed them towards my new Etsy shop. It’s ludicrous in many ways, because my friends and family have given me business in the past, have always been supportive, and have been impressed by what I have achieved all by myself.

    There’s no real reason to keep them in the dark. I realised that as I read your article today. I should be welcoming their support and recruiting them to help me find clients. I know they would be very happy to help, and so I need to trust them, as they deserve.

  2. Megan says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! I’ve had my business for a few years now and will be going full time with it soon. Your post is just what I need, I love hearing about people following their dreams! Congratulations on your success and all my best to you!

  3. Mei says:

    Sounds like you’ve been a real whirlwind of adventures with starting up your business a year ago! I believe that essentially makes you stronger and smarter about future events.

    I resonate with numbers 4 and 5.

    When I started I wish I had vision!

    Congratulations to you for all your getting to where you are now 🙂

  4. Thanks Suzi – it’s great to know I’m not on my own too!

    Thanks for sharing your experience – I bet if you start telling more people about your fab decoupage then you’ll get referrals and business from all over the place!

    Believe in yourself and keep in touch with OMHG – there is some cracking support here with everyone in the same situation :o)

  5. Hi Megan,

    All the best to you too! Isn’t it exciting?! Your website is fab and your designs are just beautiful.

    The wedding industry is one busy sector so hopefully no shortage of business – are you on Twitter so I can follow your progress?

    Thanks for your comment – good luck my lovely! Lucy

    • Jessika says:

      Lucy I just adore you! I think the way you take such time to consider, reply to and connect with our readers is awesome: ) I’ll happily read 6 comments from you anytime! (but I do need to remember to figure out a better system for replying to comments here-its on the epic to-do list).

  6. Emmaline says:

    Hi Lucy,

    I recently (happily) undertook a micro business course for creative types, it was simply the best thing I have done for myself and my fledgling business. Upon completign this course I realised that I had given myself permission to follow my dreams, and you know what the ideas and drive havent stopped flowing. Readign your great post has only just reaffirmed this self permission- thank you so much for all your great posts- I am sure you will be a huge success.

    Emmaline

  7. Becky says:

    Great tips! I launched my business a year or so ago and I know how tough it is to juggle both the fulltime job (aka: steady paycheck) AND running your own biz “on the side”… it takes a lot of dedication. I also was a little quiet about telling others in the beginning, but most everyone is really supportive. It’s great. Congrats on taking the big leap! I wish you the best!

  8. Lori says:

    Love this post, especially when you said “Imagine you’re 85 years-old looking back at this exact moment. How would you feel if you hadn’t taken the plunge? ”

    I always ask myself a very similar question when I’m a scared about taking a big step.

  9. Jude says:

    I couldn’t have read a more perfect post today, thank you for sharing this! I’m trying to take the big, scary leap to get my online business going and gain momentum and so every single one of your points spoke directly to me. I’m going to print this out and put it on my notice board as a regular reminder to me! You’re a true inspiration…

  10. Tammie Teeter says:

    Leaving your secure job to focus more on your own business was DEFINITELY a huge risk. I think that it’s a decision you’re happy with though, and that’s what matters. Yes, it must’ve been daunting, but there’s as much a chance of it succeeding as anything. I hope that your business has kept you fulfilled, and that you haven’t regretted the decision ever. Good luck with your business!

    Tammie T.

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