This will be a collection of things I’ve stumbled on during my time as a business owner (or just in the business world in general). First off, all of my experience is with small business and the service industry, and the only way I see that changing is if my business really takes off. So far, owning a business has been one of the most unstable, stressful, and aggravating occupations I’ve had…but it has by far been the most fun. There really is nothing better than working for yourself. It takes a lot of drive and you really have to love what you’re doing. If you don’t love it, you aren’t going to be able to do it day after day, week after week, year after year. I guess that’s the first tip:
- Love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, what’s the point? You aren’t really getting anything out of working for yourself, and I can tell you now that for all the stress and work it takes to get a business going and keep it going, it’s just not worth it if you don’t get to do what you love for at least a small portion of the day. Find something you’re knowledgeable and passionate about, and the money and success will follow.
- Consider working with a partner. Owning a business is hard work. Sometimes more than one person can handle. In my experience, it’s been a lot easier having a partner than if I had to deal with everything on my own…someone who you trust and who shares your passion for what you do and for success. You can take a sick day and he/she will work in your stead, you can swap meetings with clients/customers, take vacations while the other one works, etc. You have to split the profits, but can make it up by doing almost twice the work anyway, and you get a lot more freedom.
- Be smart about your time. Since you’re just starting out and don’t have much (if any) capital, it makes sense to try and do everything (bookkeeping, equipment repairs, etc) yourself, right? Absolutely wrong…it almost always makes more sense to hire a professional. You make money by doing what you’re good at. You don’t make money doing time-consuming tasks that you aren’t trained for. Hiring a professional to help you out may seem like a waste of money, but you save money in the long run. They’re great at what they do, you’re great at what you do…so use the time you would have spent floundering with what they’re good at to do what you’re good at, and you can pay them and have leftovers. Need a contract? Hire a lawyer. Doing taxes? Hire an accountant. Being smart about your time is really important, especially when considering your personal sanity.
- “No” can be a great answer. Speaking of personal sanity, let’s talk about the most important word you can possibly have in your vocabulary. “No.” This word will save you. Trust me. You can’t really use this word when you work for someone else, so enjoy it. Try it now…say “no” out loud. Didn’t that feel great? What the hell am I talking about? You don’t have to do everything everyone needs (read: wants) all the time, and you certainly don’t have to do it when they need it. I’m not talking about when you and a client set a deadline and you decide you just don’t want to do it…that’s called laziness or poor planning. But if you find yourself inundated with work and a client out of the blue decides they need that huge project they’ve been mulling over in their head done THIS WEEK, “no” is a very appropriate response. “No” can also be used in other contexts.
For instance, someone comes to you with a project that doesn’t make sense or it just sucks. Or the project is the best idea ever, but you get a strange vibe from the person pitching it. You don’t necessarily have to use the word “no” in this case, but the general concept is there: money != happiness. Just because a project seems great at first doesn’t mean it won’t drag you into a fiery pit of everlasting hell later on. Listen to your intuition, and know when to turn something or someone down.
On a side note, the more you exclusively work on better projects with better clients, the better projects and clients you’ll attract. This isn’t a business technique as much as it is the way of the universe.
- Communication is essential. Want to know a great way to piss someone off? Go way over budget on their project, then send them a bill at the end of the month. That’s a recipe for the swift end of a business relationship. Are you going to be 2 weeks late on a deadline? Tell your client ahead of time. Are you way over budget? Let your client know what happened and why! The sooner you tell them, the more appreciative they’ll be. Honesty, transparency, and proactive communication are the foundation of any relationship, but also translate well to business relationships.
Also, be honest and verbose with your estimates. Sure, a prospective client may go with someone else with lower numbers on paper, but when they find out the other company more or less lied just to dupe them into getting their business, they won’t be happy. Also think of it this way: your numbers are the way they are for a good reason. If the client doesn’t want to pay your fair rate for a project, do you really need that penny-pinching tightwad arguing about every invoice with you anyway? Remember: the better the projects and clients you work with, the better the projects and clients you’ll get.
Ok, that’s about all I have in me for now. Maybe I’ll do a followup later, but hopefully these tips can help anyone new to business, or maybe give someone who’s been doing it for a long time a little perspective. A lot of this stuff I apply not only to my business life, but life in general, with great success on both ends. Keep in mind this is mainly geared towards the service industry, and being only 23 I’m not the most knowledgeable person in the world, but hopefully the things I’ve found so far are universal.