Nine years ago I left my teaching job to launch a business. That business doesn't exist now. Neither does the other one we bought! Now Sparkle has changed beyond recognition.
2018 is the first year since I left teaching that I don't have a business partner to welcome in the New Year with and that I am on my own. But change (and failure) is a good thing. Without it, Sparkle would not exist.
The following list are the 12 things I really wish someone had hammered home to me at the beginning of my self-employed journey ...
1. How much fun I would have.
All the good stuff is on me (you). All the bad stuff is on me (you). Every decision I make is on me (you) and that's rather marvellous, Sparkly, daunting and brilliant. There is nothing that I (you) must do. It's all our own choice.
2. Realise your own importance.
Your business will not exist without you. You are important! Pay yourself. Even if it is just the minimum wage, pay yourself as much and as quickly as you can. Be kind and value yourself in your journey.
Mistakes are inevitable, don't beat yourself up over them, just learn.
3. Set your own targets and goals.
Understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. What is driving you to work on your own? Financial freedom? Flexible working time? Whatever it is focus on your goal but at the same time be flexible to new opportunities.
When new challenges arise they may take you down an unexpected route, but that could be the best thing to ever happen!
4. Get some business buddies.
Running a business can be lonely and it is hard work. The only people that understand how hard it is are those that have done it.
We all need to talk (and listen) to those who can genuinely empathise. Join groups and meet new people. Surround yourself with people who have skills that can help and who you can help in return.
5. Know your figures.
Your business should make money. It should make profit. Profit is a great thing. It means you're doing it right. Know your bottom line, your true costs and work from there. Set your aspirations high.
What's the point in leaving a job with a secure salary and not earning at least the same on your own?
6. Get out and about.
Meet people. Listen to their stories. Tell them about you. Go for coffee. Do exhibitions and shows. Go networking. Develop your own network. Be visable. Enjoy people!
7. Marketing is vital. So are sales.
You need customers to buy your products and services. People need to know about your products and services. Raising your business profile is essential. All marketing is good, but plan in order to get it right. Of course digital marketing is fabulous, so learn how to #dodigital right.
Great marketing leads to sales. A business must have sales. You need to know how to sell.
8. Get to know your customers.
If marketing is vital, marketing to the right customers is even more so. Find out who they are, want they want, what their values are and how your products and services can meet their needs. It's all about them.
9. You can't do everything yourself.
Use other experts to help you run your business. Get a great bookkeeper – they are invaluable! People to help you with your marketing. Free yourself up to do the stuff you're great at.
We can't do absolutely everything. Work that network you're busy developing. Back to point 4 ...
Invest in your brand. Right from the beginning. A logo on its own isn't a brand, it's an image that represents your business name. Your brand is your vision, your colours, your fonts, your aims, your objectives, your ethics. Your brand is how people perceive you.
Who are you? What is your business about? Why does it exist? Why should we buy from you? Work it all out. Invest in getting it right from the start.
11. Niche up.
Over the last nine years I've been a project manager, event's organiser, guest speaker, social media manager for other businesses, trainer, marketer, 1-2-1 mentor, content writer, online and print magazine editor, boss, sales person, collaborator and chief bottle washer.
In 2017, I concluded that training, mentoring and sales are my three business loves. So that's where the business focus lies. The other skills are very useful to have and are often part of a wider marketing plan, but first and foremost I am a social media trainer and micro-business mentor.
12. Know who you are.
I get bored easily. Really easily. There always has to be change and something new happening to keep me engaged and excited. This has huge consequences for how I work and what I need to do each day. I am not a manager, I can't cope with people in my space all the time. However I crave people to help my creativity. I've worked out the balance and I am much more effective as a result.
Oh, and I use my hands when I'm training an awful lot. They have a life of their own!
Truthfully, I am looking forward to 2018 more than any other year in business. Perhaps it's because after nine years I am sure that whatever happens I'll get through it. My resilience is my best business skill. But, looking at the list above, it's still as relevant to me now as it was nine years ago.