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What I wish someone had told me when I set up my business

What I wish someone had told me when I set up my business

There’s just so much to think about when you set up your new business and take on board, so I thought I would share a few pearls of wisdom from those who have travelled that path already.  
When starting out, my advice would be to establish a support network and to build your community – whether virtual or actual.  For me, two of these are Andrew & Pete’s Atomic (membership group) as well as the excellent Freelance Heroes Group on Facebook.  To both, I must give huge thanks for everyone’s input and the sharing of their experiences for this blog.
I love having access to both groups (*other groups are available!); not only does Atomic provide amazing, ongoing, inspirational training sessions but it provides an opportunity to listen to everyone’s different views and opinions (incredibly valuable) but the group also provides a sounding board for ideas as well as giving those “encouragement sparks”!  The Freelance Heroes group are there to support and answer those questions when you’re stuck … what do you think, do you know anyone who could, how would you deal with this, etc?  Their breadth of knowledge and experience is immense and there’s always someone happy to help and support.
Thank you, everyone, for sharing your invaluable and varied input – so here goes …

Planning & Developing Your Business

“Be absolutely clear as to what you offer and who you target from Day One,”

“We wish someone had told us how to focus on the right things and make better decisions after knowing where the focus was. There was a lot of advice around why it’s important to focus, but not a lot around HOW to actually do it.”

“To use Toggl from the first moment so you start to learn how long a task takes you.”

  • “Work out the cost of doing business
  • Choose a decent online accounting package
  • Learn how to deal with late payers
  • Understand the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act
  • Communication techniques
  • Sales techniques and pipelines
  • Consumer rights act 2015″

“Launch in the direction you want to go and don’t try to get everything perfect before starting. Paying clients will help you figure the rest as you go along. I made SO MANY assumptions about what clients actually want, before launching and the business looks totally different now.”

“Get your clients contracts, onboarding processes and other admin organised at the start.”

Marketing Yourself

“Don’t fall for all these cold-calls promising lots of advertising. Get a good website and sort your SEO out. Also, get your Google My Business listing sorted. Lastly, get lots and lots of reviews/testimonials!”

“The Google My Business bit is really important”

“Don’t be embarrassed about promoting and selling yourself. It’s part of it all and you’ll find your preferred way of doing it.”

“For me, it’s the power of having a memorable brand hook: the 5–6-word “stock cube” that summarises what you do and why you’re different.”

“Once you’ve established your name, domain and brand, make sure you have some good content and photos for your digital online presence. A couple of pages will do initially and get someone to check for grammar and spelling errors. Make sure you look at your competition and see what they are doing. You don’t have to be on every digital platform. Focus on one or two at first.”

“You can’t just rely on online connections and friends to make you money … you have to be seen.”

“To be yourself. It took me so long to figure this out and to feel comfortable just being me when it came to my business.”

Clients/New Business

“I wish I’d known to be more patient – to trust that work will come your way! By that I mean if you stick at it, things do happen.”

“I’d say the biggest challenge I had was learning to say ‘no’. However, I’ve enjoyed the process of learning tbh and without all the lessons we’ve had to learn we wouldn’t be the freelancers we are today.”

“Don’t say yes, yes, yes – just because you need work. If you busy yourself with the wrong type of work, you won’t have time/energy to find and honour the type of clients you do want to work with. After all, the choice is yours.”

“Avoid cheap clients, it’s hard when you first start out and are desperate though.”

“My one pearl of wisdom would be to say no to work more often.”

“Set boundaries about when you can be contacted by clients, particularly if you work part-time to facilitate childcare arrangements (like I do). Also, if it’s appropriate to contact you ‘out of hours’ and methods of communication that are/aren’t acceptable. For example, is SMS / WhatsApp ok? I personally use these with clients in a very restrictive way because they are quite difficult to manage and are quite intrusive (if you don’t read and action it straight away it risks getting forgotten about since you can’t flag for later attention).”

“Some clients really are more trouble than they’re worth. You can’t always tell before you start working for them (though over time you start to see the warning signs earlier – and your gut feeling is also a good indicator if you’re unsure), and it’s hard to walk away especially when you’re just starting out. But you can save your sanity by not taking repeat work from a troublesome client.”

“Go with your gut. If you talk to a potential client and you just get a bad vibe, trust it.”

“You can have all the great branding in the world, an awesome name and be blasting social media but if you don’t have clients coming through the door, you don’t have a business.”

Money

“Payments on account in your first tax year.  I didn’t know that tax payments on account were a thing, so I got a terrible shock after filing my tax this year. You’re expected to pay basically twice as much tax in your first 1.5 years. I really think that’s a thing freelancers ought to be warned about.”

“Pay your pension weekly/monthly like usual.”

“Make sure you have at least six months of finance to cover your business and living expenses. This then allows you to make better decisions when taking on clients rather than just doing jobs for the money – it’s an endless cycle that will get you nowhere.”

“That often it can take a lot of time to actually make money … but not to lose heart.”

Personal

“To have a day off when your inner critic shows up.”

“Rest more.  As soon as I open my creative mind, I get a 1000 idea and end up burnt out. I really should rest more so I’m more productive. Plus find good support.”

“I’d also say make sure you allocate time for stuff that’s not paid work (pitching, marketing, developing relationships, your own training and development). You need to do all those things – and shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time for them because you’re not getting paid.”

“Don’t waste time reading every article, watching every webinar and researching your business rather than just getting on with doing your business. I wish I’d had more confidence, in the beginning, to just face the fear and get on with it!”

“Write down your personal goals (pin them up!) and never lose sight of why you started out in the first place. These goals are why you’re in business.”

“Know your worth and be very proud of it.”

What’s the most important piece of advice you have received?

Would you like to find out more about what we do?

If you’d like to dicuss anything further, then why not get in touch and we can have a chat.

Do I really need to be on Google My Business?

Do I really need to be on Google My Business?

It’s a noisy world out there on the internet and your fledgeling business may be struggling to be heard.  Whereas once upon a time all you needed was your website, and voilà, now you need to maximise your exposure in an increasingly overcrowded place.  Google My Business (GMB) makes your business more visible and easier to find

Google My Business can often be overlooked but it could be a good option for your business.  Whilst not everyone wants to publicise their company, for example when they work from home, for those who have an office or premises it is an excellent option.

How to set up Google My Business

Set up an account with Google and then head over to www.google.com/business to start filling out the information – what your company does, how to contact you, opening times and then add your logo and a few great photos.  In order to finish your profile, Google will need to verify that your business is where you say it is.  If you choose the postcard option, it will arrive in a couple of days and once verified you will go live.  Your business won’t be top of the search list straight away but at least you are out there now!

Helping your customers find you online

GMB is also very helpful when people are searching for a service “… near me” – as you will come up in the results.  If you’re not on GMB it will be your competitors that show up.

Keeping your business information up to date

GMB comes into its own on a mobile in the way it provides information to help your customers.  It shows your location (and provides directions) on a map, your telephone number (call option), when your busy times are and it provides a link to your website.   As well as providing normal opening and closing times you can also add holiday opening hours when necessary which will save someone a trip if you’re closed on a Bank Holiday.

Photographs

Often people will view your business on GMB before your website so make sure you have some really good quality photos to showcase … and keep them updated.

Reviews - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

One of the main features of GMB is that customers can leave reviews for you.  For Good Reviews, engage with your customers and thank them for taking the time to leave a review.

Then there are the Bad Reviews and you really need to think about how you are going to deal with these before they come in.  If it is a genuine complaint, acknowledge it, be polite and then try and take it offline to sort out any issues.  Don’t let it become heated or angry.

However, the other bad reviews occasionally come from trolls who have never been near your business and for one reason or another think they are being clever or smart by leaving a one-star review or some unpleasant comment.  To begin with, you can try and report this to Google but most of these “troll” reviews don’t breach their guidelines so Google won’t take them down.  If you can’t get the review removed, then politely call the troll out and ask for further clarification/facts but don’t get into a heated exchange with them – they’re looking for attention. 

Whilst it is incredibly frustrating and annoying that someone feels they can review your business unfairly or maliciously when you have worked so hard, most people looking at GMB can clearly see through this sort of negative behaviour.  Why not be proactive and ask your customers to leave a review for you.  Soon the negative one will be outnumbered.

It’s often a struggle to be heard amongst the clamouring noise of the internet.

Still have questions about Google My Business?

If you’d like to dicuss anything further, then why not get in touch and we can have a chat.

What should you think about when designing your website?

What should you think about when designing your website?

You’re off!  You’ve got a great business idea, you’re raring to go and you need your website up and running now!  Before you rush ahead too quickly have a look at this “Take Five” – where we consider a number of things you need to think about in regard to your website and the questions you need to ask when designing (or engaging someone to design your site).  The points are also relevant to those companies who have a website up and running already but have neglected it somewhat!

Think about your website as your digital shop front – it’s often the first contact a potential customer has with you.  So what sort of impression are you giving?  Is it soooo “creative” that a visitor to your site will have absolutely no idea what it is you offer, what it’s all about or what you sell?  Is it chaotic and too difficult to find anything or is it laden down with corporate phrases and acronyms (yawn)?

How easy is it to navigate your site?

People won’t go round the houses to find what they want and if they can’t find it easily, they’ll head off to another site that is easier to navigate.  Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes – what are they looking for and how quickly can they find – two clicks should be the maximum.

What should I double check?

Mobile – Is your site mobile friendly? What does it look like on a smaller device?

Photographs – Are the photographs resized so the page load time is kept down?  Are they consistent in style?  All black and white or all colour?

Colours – Are the colours user-friendly?  What if your customer is colour blind or visually impaired?  Is there enough of a contrast between the colours?  Just because they’re your favourite colours doesn’t mean that they’re everyone else’s.  Ask someone to be honest with you!

Pop-Ups – if you’re using pop-ups (say for sign-ups) have you checked they’re not popping up too much, covering your content or are difficult to get rid of.

Text – Is your text too small or difficult to read?  Are you using the correct type of font (sans-serif fonts are easier to read online eg Arial or Verdana)?

Is your content relevant and jargon-free?

Good content helps your customers connect with you and you communicate with them.  It provides continual awareness and exposure of your brand and products.  A website (and social media) gives you the ability to update your business news as it happens.

How can you attract new customers if they don’t know about you and what your business is about?

Will I be able to update the site myself?

You may wish to send your changes over to your designer but if you’re confident that you can make the edits yourself, can you easily access the site platform to make those changes?  If it’s WordPress or something like Squarespace or Wix then you should ask for the login and password.  Before you start your new project it is a good idea to ask this question because if someone hand codes your site for you it could be that only they (or someone with technical knowledge) can edit and update it.  How many people do you know who understand html and css?

Have you remembered your "Calls to Action"?

You’ve designed a great site and your customers love it but you’re making it really difficult for them to contact you.  Again, no one has the patience to trawl through a site or rummage through a cluttered page, so make sure that one call to action is obvious and easy to use.

Also try to ensure that other contact details are easy to find – phone number, email address, social media links, and general contact forms.  Don’t put too many obstacles in the way!

Think about your website as your digital shop front – it’s often the first contact a potential customer has with you.

Still not sure in which direction to go?

If you’d like to dicuss anything further, then why not get in touch and we can have a chat.

Why does my business need to be on Social Media?

Why does my business need to be on Social Media?

Of course, your company can exist without Social Media but have you ever considered how much business you are missing out on because you don’t use it or your platforms are looking a bit neglected?  If you think it is too time-consuming, that you are not comfortable with it (and you would rather it go away) or that it is not for you, then think again. 

We all need to learn new skills and different concepts so don’t shut the door on something you don’t understand, stick your fingers in your ears to block it out or just ignore it and hope it will go away!  It won’t and if you think like this you could be affecting your profits (and not in a good way) …  This is my second “Take Five” which I hope will give you the confidence to head out on your social media adventure.

Which platforms should I be on?

This all depends on your business!  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be on everything (because that’s what everyone else is doing) because all you’ll end up doing is spreading yourself too thinly and not reaping the benefits.  A corporate company will gravitate towards LinkedIn whilst a designer may head straight to Instagram and Pinterest and a holiday rental may split their resources between Instagram and Facebook.  It all depends on your target market (and what your customer profiles are) and where they hang out online.

What's the minimum you need to do?

Time – One of the worse things to do on your social media profiles is to post randomly – all in one go and then post nothing for months.  If you’re going to run your social media yourself then think about how much time you can dedicate to it whilst running everything else.  Block out some time in your diary each day or each week to create your strategy, content and posting schedule. Don’t underestimate how much time it takes.

Knowledge – Social Media should be integral to your business marketing, not an afterthought or something you’ll do when you have a moment.  At the very least you should understand the basics, so if you’re feeling unsure then think about booking a power hour with an expert to put you on the right track. The more you use each platform the more you will become familiar and comfortable with it. 

What are the common mistakes to avoid?

Not engaging with your customers – don’t leave their comments or questions unanswered

Just broadcasting and selling and not being social and engaging.  Don’t forget the social bit of social media

Using poor quality photos – blurred, wonky or wrongly sized

Undervalue how important Social Media is for your business

Not posting regularly – just sporadically.  If you can only manage once a week, then put it in the diary, plan out your strategy

Producing dry corporate (over managed) content – be authentic, be real – keep the same tone of voice throughout all your posts

Forgetting or not bothering to look at your social media statistics – if you don’t, how do you know what’s working and what’s not?

What are the advantages of being on Social Media?

Helps your customers connect with you and you communicate with them

Increased and continued awareness and exposure of your brand and products.  How can you attract new customers if they don’t know about you?

Ability to update your business news as it happens

Build a network and make new connections

Should I outsource my social media management?

Yes.  If it really isn’t your thing then don’t ignore it but get an expert in. It will leave you with more time to do what you’re good at and run your business.  A qualified social media manager can really enhance your business.  They will create a strategy, plan your campaigns and positively promote your business, engage with your customers in an appropriate manner.  Don’t under estimate a good social media manager!

At some stage you might also like to think about Facebook and Instagram Advertising – and we’re not talking about dabbling with a boosted post or two  (but that’s a blog for another day).  Again if you feel this would benefit your business then get someone in who knows what they’re doing – Facebook and Instagram Ads are extremely effective when targeted and executed in the correct way.  

 

 

Does my business really need to be on social media?  I’ve got some many other things on my plate, I don’t know where to start …

Still not sure in which direction to go?

If you’d like to dicuss anything further, then why not get in touch and we can have a chat.

What to think about when setting up a new business

What to think about when setting up a new business

You’ve had a great business idea, you’ve taken the plunge and you’re ready to get going but there’s so much you need to think about.  Suddenly there’s a myriad of things you need to understand (with no corporate IT Department at the end of the phone) and you’re being offered unsolicited advice left, right and centre. In my first “Take Five” I will hopefully be able save you some time and stress (well at least digitally).

I have been privileged and honoured to have been present at the start of many successful businesses.  Here are a few helpful hints (well advice) on how to avoid some of the regular digital pitfalls.  To ensure your adventure starts off on the right foot and that you don’t encounter too much trouble (well on this matter only) , here are my FIVE  pointers to send you in the right direction (the views are all my own).

Domain Names

Please don’t enthusiastically rush off and register your domain name with some random hosting company (particularly if they’re not in the UK).  Talk to your website designer and ask for their advice on where they think both the domain name should be registered and where your site should be hosted.

Have a look at your potential domain name – does it have other connotations when run together?

Do you need .co.uk and .com?  How will you feel if your business grows and suddenly you realise that whilst you have the .co.uk domain name someone locally is using the .com option (yes, it’s happened to a company close to here!)?

Try to avoid dashes, complicated names or lots of initials in your domain name.  Not only will it be a pain to remember for visitors but it will be mistyped and you may not be found.

Please ensure that the domain name is registered in your name (and therefore your company’s), that you know where it is registered (and how to login to the account) and that you are paying for your domain name. You don’t want to be held hostage by a third party who can’t or won’t let you have access to it.

Social Media

Check that the social media names for your new business are available on all platforms and then set up these platforms immediately (they can always be finished later).  You’d be pretty upset to find that they’re no longer available once your carefully crafted website is complete.

How do these social media names look?  Do they make sense or do they spell something inappropriate? Can you believe that Camp America’s Instagram name is @campamerica69

Are your names obvious and easy for someone to tag you on social media (we have a shop nearby that has a completely irrelevant Facebook @ tag – frustrating)?

Are the names too similar to another company?  Recently South Eastern Railway (our local train company covering London, Kent and East Sussex in the UK – @se_railway) was tagged in an angry tweet which was meant for @serailwaykol (Kolkata – India). South Eastern (UK) did politely reply and point the cross gentleman in the right direction.

Website Login Details

If someone is designing your site please don’t forget, at the end of the project, to find out the hosting company details, logins and passwords as well as the admin passwords for your website login (WordPress or template builders).  If one day you can’t get hold of the designer at least someone else will be able to update your website.  Yes, this can happen (a number of times of actually!).  Ask for a summary of all this information if it hasn’t been provided.

Photographs & Graphics

Yes, copyright does matter. Pay for a subscription to something like Shutterstock or Twenty20 or use a royalty-free service but do not under any circumstances use someone else’s work. No, you can’t just copy someone’s logo or photo off the internet and change it a bit. They will find out and they will have every right to charge you handsomely for it.

Digital Budget

This should not be an afterthought but an integral part of your business budget set up. Think carefully about how you will build your online presence and if you need to include a budget for paid advertising like Facebook or Google Ads? Your website hosting and email will not be free and as your website is your digital shop window you need to ensure it makes your business look good. Don’t cut corners but find someone you’d like to work with and who you feel understands your business.

It can sometimes seem so overwhelming …

Still not sure in which direction to go?

If you’d like to dicuss anything further, then why not get in touch and we can have a chat.