What a Difference a Day Makes?
This blog is a bit like therapy for me, you see it is my first birthday; my first business birthday that is. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year and share some of my experiences to people who might be just about to ‘take the plunge’...
It all started one day around 18 months ago; Lucy a colleague at my previous employer and I were talking and she thought it would be great if I created a blog about the world of training. It is fair to say that at the time my attitude to toward social media, blogging and twitter was not overly ‘open’, in fact I was very down on it. Well that one day started something. Over the course of the next month I gave it more thought and created a blog using WordPress. To my surprise people were actually interested in what I had to say and within a short space of time, I was rambling on about anything and everything to do with training and developing people. After a short time, life changed in a way that I would have never have predicted; after 16 years I was to be made redundant from the company that I loved and had all but tattooed on my arm.
Now 18 months on, and exactly 1 year to the day of trading under my belt, I am the proud owner of my own training company. ‘SerialTrainer7 – Getting You There Faster, Leaving You There Better.’
I had the chance of working for myself many years ago, but I wasn’t ready, timing is key and your mindset needs to be in the right place. People often said things to me such as “you should go it alone, you will be brilliant, go on take the plunge.” All encouraging stuff, but when you have a little chimp on your shoulder tapping his watch saying ‘the time isn’t right” you tend to listen. After that fateful day talking to Lucy, I knew something was happening, things felt different and I knew I was about to embark on a different career path.
This first year of being in business has changed me and taught me so much, hopefully for the better. In that time family, friends and former colleagues have all been nothing but supportive to which I am very grateful. So in the spirit of paying it forward I want to share with you, in no particular order the top 10 things I have learned, and if you find yourself on the brink of being in business for yourself I hope this might be of help.
- Customer Service
You might think you know about customer service and you might even have been told you are good at it. Well let me tell you, when you run a business for yourself, you really learn what customer service is, why? Well they are your customers, it means more to you, it is personal, and you will need to take whatever you have learned before and turn up the volume…a lot! You will protect them like a bird does her eggs, you will nurture them and you will move heaven and earth to ensure they are happy. If you do this, they will write testimonials about you, and you can then use those to sell to other clients. If you do not ‘get’ customer service, don’t even think about doing business with them. If you do, prepare for a great experience. Oh and by the way, there is a lot of talk out there about delighting customers. Really? You know what, there is no such thing; think about it, do we delight customers? Are we supposed to titillate a prospect? No, and how many times have you actually felt delighted? Not many huh? So manage your expectations when it comes to customer delivery, go for the heart and create a devoted customer, a customer who is dependent on you, because what you offer is non substitutable, scarce and valuable to them. Just make them happy. Really, really happy.
- The Power of the Networking Mixer
The thought of going into a room with a group of people you do not know and talking to them can be intimidating. Suck it up. If you need to learn the art of making small talk read my blog on the same subject. Put on your game face and go to as many mixers, business breakfasts, networking events and business gatherings as you can. Yes you might have to listen to some boring speakers, eat a lot of stale croissants and drink poor wine but it can and does lead to business generation. Try to be a speaker at these events, get your name out there. Don’t underestimate the networking; you can then talk about it on social media! Have lots of business cards ready, think ‘tits and teeth’ and slap on a smile, your on!
- Freemium Work
From time to time, you might have to do some work for free. If you offer a premium service for free then it is called ‘freemium’ work. This can seem like a no go, after all why give something away? But sometimes people like a gesture, a sample and it can go a long way to help network your name and business and generate money, so before you discount this as an option, weight up the pros. I do a lot of this and it pays huge dividends and has generated the holy grail of business networking, the referral!
- Getting a Website, Social Media and Self Promotion
Before I started out, I hated it, could not stand it. To be honest I am still not that keen, but it is essential. It prevents you having to outlay too much on advertising and if done correctly, can work wonders. There are lots of people out there who can teach you how to use it and I am sure that I have not harnessed the full potential of it yet, but I know it works, I only have to look at my invoices! Here is what I did.
WordPress – I created a free blog on the WordPress site, I am no writer, as you can tell, but people who read and comment on them say they can hear my voice in them. The thing is my grammar is shot and many Production Editors ask me if they can tidy up my writing, the thing is when they do, my writing loses my voice, so I keep hammering out grammatically challenged work, oh well!
I created interesting and topical content and learned from social media whizzos how to use keywords to help people searching for material find me. I use calendar events, big sporting events, TV and film to help create subject matter and ride the train of trending subjects. An example would be when Fifty Shades of Grey came out; I created a management blog called Cracking the Whip, 50 Shades of Management. It worked a treat. When Wimbledon was on, I created a sales blog on selling against the competition called Game Set & Match. It just takes a little imagination. When posting a blog WordPress it allows you to publicize them simultaneously through your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Useful huh. Oh and you can also write them in advance and set the time and date for when they get published, so you can plan ahead. I am writing this right now a week ahead and will set it up. The site also has my training services, things I like reading about, a page on testimonials and a page to give something back to the people I want to help, so other suppliers, reciprocation is very powerful.
LinkedIn – Most people in business use this, I love it, sharing news stories etc., but many people believe it to be an online CV too, well OK I get that, but I use it for clients to post testimonials about my work. To me, when they get posted on LinkedIn it feels more authentic and as such I then harvest them from there to my website and then to any client proposals I create. Very powerful.
Twitter – AKA word of mouth advertising! This little blue bird is brilliant. Couple of pointers for you, tweet what is about to happen, what is currently happening and what has just happened, it spikes interest. Also tweet 7.30am for the UK rush hour, 12.30 for the UK lunch hour and the USA east coast rush hour and at 5pm for the UK rush hour home, the USA east cost lunchtime and the USA west coast early rush hour. By doing this you capitalize on the best times. If you have nothing to say, then look up quotes, people love a quote and post that.
Facebook – Create your own page for personal stuff and one for business, keep them separate. Apparently 9 out of 10 people have a Facebook account and they use this to find people, find you. I did not want to be on Facebook, but it has generated business so it stays. Your blogs, testimonials, photos and videos can all be pushed through here, not to mention any promotions you might have. You can also jump onto other pages too and promote through there.
Instagram – Anything image based push through here too, photos of your work, places you go to, that type of thing, every little helps.
I know that self-promotion is vulgar, however social media can do a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ stuff for you when you are busy doing business development. Remember you are in business to make money and self-promotion needs to play a part to get your message out there. Just a word of warning, do not spend so much perfecting, polishing and refining your site, it will change and evolve as you go. Remember as Churchill said “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Many people spend months on this before they start trading, but for me, it is better to get out and talk to people, network and sell you first. The website will support you and your business just fine, but what is the point of spending all that time and money on it if you have no one to look at it!
- Boring Stuff – Accountants, Tax, Receipts & Bank Accounts
First up. Take independent financial advice. This is just my own experience OK? Bank Accounts the banks are keen to get you to have a business account, but really they are just a way of making money out of you, and don’t get me started on the sheer volume of sales calls from them, enough already! I was advised by my accountant to just keep things neat and use my own account whilst starting up, you do not need to expend cash unnecessarily. Oh course everyone is different and I am not a financial advisor, so do what works for you, ask around.
Accountants – essential and your new best friend. I can recommend some crackers if you need one, but work with them and they make things super easy and painless. You will need to register as self-employed or as a registered company and your accountant can advise. Look closely into VAT so that you can navigate the pros and cons. I found out that when I do my first tax return that I will have to pay not only my first year, but also half of my second in advance based on the first years earnings. So be warned you will have to do this, just take advice and plan for it. I always divide my earnings three ways, 50% to live on, 25% for the pension and 25% for the taxman. That way I am prepared! Talk to your accountant about what you can claim back too, there are generous allowances for equipment, travel and business mileage, and costs. If you work from home, then there are tax advantages with that so find out! Keep a log of all of your receipts on a spreadsheet, month by month and keep talking to your accountant.
- More Boring Stuff – Administration
Admin is boring but it has to be done. When a client engages your services you need some sort of contract, or formal confirmation with T&C’s etc. Create templates of these and fill in the relevant info as you go to save time. The same with invoices, work out payment terms, most companies will do 30 days, some 60 days others ‘end of month following’. It is a negotiable thing and should be put into your terms of business. Use your time management skills effectively and plan for days when you need to just get your head down and get this done. Keep on top it and do not let things pile up. If you can afford it, get a P.A.! Email needs to be managed too, keep your inbox to a minimum; I keep no more than 15 emails in my inbox at any one time. The rest are filed to a folder with the clients name on. Keep some order to your email. Any attachments save to a client file on your desktop and then back that up external, just in case things go belly up. I know this sounds so simple, but all to often these things get missed in the busy times. Proper planning!
- Being a Sales Person
I train a lot of people who run their own businesses, and many of them hate selling, they don’t like it, fear it even. However, if you run a business you are in it to make money, that is what businesses do. Don’t be naïve in thinking what you have will sell itself, nothing does. Work hard to refine fundamental sales skills, I am not talking about turning into a cliché salesperson, just good stuff like effective questioning skills, good rapport building, demonstrating the benefits and value of your product or service and then simply asking for the business. If you don’t think you can do it, let me tell you, you can. Remember these simple rules. 1- why would a client want what you have? 2- what makes you unique in a marketplace where similar products or services are on offer? 3- what can you do to help a client believe in you? Think about evidence to support your claims. 4 – Learn how to negotiate by remembering the simple words “If I do XXX will you do YYY” think what’s in it for me? 5 –Always listen out for the client saying ‘Yes’; if you hear enough of them then the chances are they want to buy from you, so ask for the business. How to do this? Ask “Are you happy to go a ahead?” or softer “Does that sound OK to you so far?” Want help, contact me I will help you. You will sell, and if you don’t want to then you will fail. Simples.
- The Constant Worry & Self Doubt
It has been terrifically hard work, good hard work; putting in more hours a week than ever before. Keeping disciplined and focussed can be a challenge too, I won’t lie, there have been times when I have been really low about it, thinking that things are drying up, which leaves me really ‘off my game’. The thing is I have learned you need days like this, it makes you appreciate some of the good and it is ‘business natures’ way of keeping your feet on the ground. It also forces you to kick back sometimes and take a day off. There are times when you can get simply get ‘too close’ even though it is your own. Then next day, you get your shit together and carry on. The fear of the bubble bursting stays with me day and night. I worry all the time that I will end up with nothing, that things will go wrong, that no one will want what I offer, then I my partner will not want to be with me, then I will lose my home, my life will be shit and basically I will just die. Crazy thoughts! Honestly you think this, but it keeps you going somehow, it keeps the momentum going. I train business owners who often say, “I would love to just catch up on things, and stop having to spin so many plates” I tell them that the minute that happens, you stand still and when you do that you start to rot, so get used to it, and be happy that you are working and have things to do. Do not worry about the worry. You cannot control it; we all feel it, so embrace it.
- Taking the Plunge
As a large sports manufacturer says ‘Just do it!’ yes it is a big step, but big journeys start with a single step. When you start have a plan, make it a formal business plan if you like, but have a plan, and surround yourself with those on the same mission as you. Here’s a contingency thing; a safety net if you will. Are you employable? Go on ask yourself that question. The answer is ‘yes’ right? Well that is your safety net, if all else fails you can go and get a job. Stack shelves in supermarkets if you have to; I know I would if I had too. Hopefully I won’t but knowing that I am employable means I feel happier in what I am doing. You will too, be brave and believe me when I say, you will never look back.
- The Referral.
Nothing speaks volumes louder that when someone refers you to another customer. Word of mouth, testimonials, advocacy, call it what you want, it is the holy grail of business. Be prepared to refer people, use Twitter or Facebook to recommend them, have something to give, be supportive and generous, and people will do the same for you. Always work with a customer with this in mind as an objective, it is part of the customer process and journey and hopefully like mine they will refer you too.
My Final Thought.
When I look back over my career in training, I have been blessed with meeting and working with some amazing people. Generous people who have come back to me and given me so much. One such person was a mentor to me, as a trainer and he gave me some advice, which has shaped me and over time has come to be my personal mantra for being in business. He taught me to create ‘echoes’, things that in time will resonate and come back to me. “How do I do this?” I asked He said, “Always strive to leave people better than you found them. “ Simple. Gerry Ricketts thank you.
So what a difference that one day talking to Lucy made? Who knows where I will be this time next year, but right now it is about being present. Now it is about year 2….
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Should you require training, coaching or development for yourself or your business please do get in touch with me Simon Hares at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07979 537824