I set up Events Northern Ltd in 2004 at the age of 23. In June 2015 we will celebrate 11 years in business. As you can imagine I have learnt a lot about running a small business during this time!
Here are the top tips I would give to someone starting out and some of the things I wish I knew at the start!
Be Passionate About What You Do
Your business and line of work has to excite you – your passion and enthusiasm will shine through if you are doing something you love. Likewise if you don’t love what you do this will be evident and it may be harder to summon the commitment and drive you need to get a business off the ground.
Have Faith In Yourself
Starting out in business was a huge step to take and in the beginning I spent time worrying that I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of my age. Put any self-doubt and negative thoughts such as this out of your mind (you have more important stuff to think about anyway!). So long as you do a good job and offer a great service your reputation and business will grow.
Give Your Business the Best Start
Starting out you need to do whatever you need to do to give your business the best chance of survival. I juggled a bar job in evenings and weekends for 6 months until I was confident my business could pay my wage and I started off working from home to keep overheads to a minimum. When starting out do you really need that fancy office block anyway? Be realistic and cautious!
Be Prepared to Put the Hours In
Don’t expect to work 9-5. You are paying your own wages now and you need to put the hours in as required. If you want regular hours you probably need to work for someone else!
Remember Your Vision
No one ever went into business wanting to be mediocre so be brilliant in business!
You Can Achieve a Lot in a Day
When your to do list is longer than your desk, try not to despair as that is simply counterproductive. You can achieve a hell of a lot in a day so don’t crumble under the pressure, get your head down and get on with it!
Don’t Forget to Market Yourself
When you start out and you are probably doing everything yourself it is easy to be so busy that you don’t spend time marketing your business but this is absolutely vital. Put time aside for updating your website, networking face to face, writing a blog post, updating social media, sending out a press release, etc as often as you can.
Get a Signed Contract
I learnt the hard way when someone that I thought I could trust completely took advantage and let me down, even though we had a written agreement in place. Don’t start work until you have a signed agreement in place, checked or drawn up by a solicitor if required.
If you are ever in the position outlined above then take pride in the fact that you acted honourably, even when others didn’t, and believe me “what goes around comes around!” – Karma.
Work with Good Suppliers
We have some brilliant suppliers. We have worked regularly with our AV company, photographer and other suppliers for many years now which means they know exactly how we like to work and expectations. It also means that we can sometimes pull in favours when a quote doesn’t quite fit our budget or we have a last minute request.
Be Flattered By Imitation
It’s hard to see someone copying your work and ideas but unless it is something you have a definite copyright or legal contract over it is often difficult and costly to prove. So depending on the circumstances it is sometimes best just to take pride that you did it first and ensure that you do it best! Take it as a compliment.
Look After Your Customers
It is much easier to look after and keep a customer than it is to win a new one so cherish the customers you have and do everything in your power to delight them and ensure you gain their repeat business time and time again!
Keep Good Staff (and Quickly Lose the Bad)
Good staff are like gold dust and I am lucky to have found some real gems! Gill who has worked for Events Northern Ltd for 7 years is the backbone of the company, cares as much as I do and I simply could not do it without her!
Helen Brady will also always be a much loved part of the team and “one of the gang” and Tanya Shepherd is a trooper at filling my shoes when I inconveniently schedule holidays, due dates or generally need a Senior Event Manager to get things done the way I like them done!
On the flipside, we haven’t always been so fortunate in our recruiting decisions. If you have a gut feeling that someone doesn’t make the grade, they don’t! There is no space for slackers or lackadaisical members of staff in a small business.
You Don’t Have to be an Ogre to Succeed in Business
Sometimes the media puts forward a stereotypical image that to be the boss you have to be mean. Whilst it probably helps to be tough you certainly do not need to be an ogre! There is more than one way to get results.
Know Your Strengths (and Weaknesses)
In the beginning I did everything, including doing my own accounting and VAT returns for numerous years, which I absolutely detested doing! I was a much happier bunny when I stopped doing this, got help, outsourced it and spent more time in event management – where my real talent lies.
Adapt to Survive
A fair few years into running the business everything was going swimmingly. We had worked out our pricing structure, we were making money, we had some fantastic clients (particularly in the health sector). Then the dark days of the recession took hold and everything went out of the window. Fees were dropped, it was a cutthroat environment to operate in and many of our competitors simply didn’t come out at the other end.
Furthermore with the transition and restructuring of the NHS our niche market vastly reduced the amount of events and training they commissioned, which was perhaps understandable during several rounds of redundancies and changing environment they were operating in. This forced us to explore other sectors and to adapt to survive.
Our niche markets may have evolved and our confidence to charge what we should may have been eroded for a time, however we count our blessings that we survived and we are still here to tell the tale! Don’t get me wrong, times are still tough, particularly ‘up North’ but the outlook is much more positive now.
Watch the Pennies…
It may sound clichéd however every little can help; not only in terms of saving money but also reducing waste. Save those paperclips, reuse the other side of paper you no longer need, don’t print something unless you need to, buy in bulk if it gives you greater buying power, switch off your computer overnight. These savings really do add up.
Being Your Own Boss Can Be Great
Being your own boss isn’t all ‘skittles’ as people who don’t work for themselves often seem to think it is, however I certainly wouldn’t swap it for the world! It can sometimes feel isolating though, so develop a network of other small business owners to share stories, offer advice and support each other!
Work with People you Like and Respect
This is sometimes easier said than done but try to surround yourself and work with positive people who are on the same wavelength and buoy you up and spark creativity, rather than people who bring you down.
Sales Calls are a Waste of Time
Perhaps controversial but I have never ever purchased anything as a result of a sales call (Has anyone? Really?). I detest the games and time wasting these unwelcome interruptions cause to my working day. Put a gatekeeper in place and/or get good at determining the sales calls from the genuine calls and cutting them short – your time is precious.
Know When to Say No
An important skill (and one I am not very good at!) is saying no. Whether it is an impossibly short lead time, a ridiculously low budget/fee, a favour that will cost you a lot of valuable time or something else – remember the answer doesn’t always have to be yes.
There has been hours of worry, stress and even tears over the years, particularly during the recession and downturn. Worry about how much work was coming in, worry about how to pay the bills, wages, etc, then at the opposite end of the scale worry about how to cope with the amount of work we have. The most important thing that I have learnt during almost 11 years in business is not to waste time worrying. What will be will be and everything will work out for the best in the long run. Honest.
Do you agree with my learning? What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business? Do any of these tips resonate with you personally? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.