Passing the milestone this month of 10 years of self-employment looks like it has taken its toll on me a bit… Ok in truth I’m not quite that old looking or worn out by working for myself. In fact, I’m not worn out at all, as the last decade has been by far the most invigorating and rewarding period of my career. And that’s down to all of you.
Just after the financial crash, I left a secure, well-paid job and set up my own business. This was something I’d wanted to do ever since doing an MBA at the turn of the century. So what have the last 10 years taught me?
Clients make it all worthwhile
Just as you get a buzz from providing excellent financial planning solutions to your own clients, I get the same from dealing with you. Financial planners, financial brokers, life & pension providers, trade associations and other industry players have generously supported StepChange over the last 10 years. You’ve challenged me, kept me on my toes, encouraged and helped me to deliver my best work and been my source of income, and for all of that I’ll be forever grateful.
Just as important, because of you I keep learning every day and you’ve brought about the most enjoyable days in my career. I haven’t regretted the move to self-employment for a single day, even though running a business is seldom a smooth path.
The amount of goodwill out there is unbelievable
This was the first welcome lesson I learned as I started out – the amount of goodwill out there is incredible. This started on day one, and is still the case 10 years later. If people can do you a good turn, they usually do. This might be a word of advice, a cup of coffee, an introduction and sometimes placing your faith (and your wallet) on my judgement of the need for a piece of work to be done.
You must be willing to learn
Not learning new skills and picking up extra knowledge is simply not an option when working for yourself. If you go stale and start coasting, soon you won’t be eating. Clients rightly deserve your very best work every time and if they don’t get it, they will go elsewhere. Keeping your skills up to date and knowing your market is critical to staying sharp and adding value.
What I probably hadn’t realised when I started out though was the array of skills you need when working for yourself. Apart from needing my planning and marketing skills for working with clients, I soon realised I’m the IT department for desktops, printers and devices and the finance department who manages cashflow, issues invoices and ensures accounts and tax are submitted and paid on time. And guess who the office cleaner is…
You need courage and to back yourself
I could spend my life second guessing myself and getting nothing done; who should I be approaching, is my proposition right, is my pricing right, are the suppliers I’m dealing with the right ones? Yes, I’ve made mistakes in all of these areas, but hopefully I’ve learned from them. Navel gazing and doing nothing is a luxury I just cannot afford, as doing nothing doesn’t move you in any direction…
This was a big lesson, as in corporate life you tend to get more time to carry out proper analysis before a decision is made, there are lots of people to bounce ideas around and you still get paid during this time. Not so in your own business. So often I’ve found I just need to back myself and go for it.
You must never neglect business development
2013 was a really difficult year for me in my business, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I had a pretty poor year in terms of income, and it was all down to neglecting my pipeline of potential new business. I was really busy with lots of projects underway going into 2013, I put the head down and delivered these as quickly as possible over the first few months up to the middle of May. And then nothing happened… I had completely neglected business development and didn’t really secure any new business until after the summer. Then that work had to be delivered of course before I saw payment for it. It meant a poor year but a brilliant lesson. No matter how busy I am now, business development is a constant activity…
Social media really works
I believe 100% that without LinkedIn and my monthly newsletter, I wouldn’t be working for myself. If used properly, LinkedIn is unbelievably powerful in helping SMEs to build effective networks and generate new clients. It has been a constant source of new clients for me. Do you want to know how? There’s a first project we could work on!
Email newsletters help you stay on the radar of contacts and clients too. You don’t know when a need might arise for your services – the key is to be top of mind when it does. A regular newsletter helps you achieve this.
Listen to wise people
Listen to your clients, they teach you most of what you need to know. My best business initiatives have come from discussions with financial brokers and planners, from having a coffee with a provider or from having a pint with an industry contact or friend. Your wise words or sometimes a gentle kick in the backside to get me to take a chance on a business idea have helped me no end in terms of developing new services and increasing the value I can add. So many of you have made an enormous difference to my business, and that is never forgotten or taken for granted.
I wouldn’t change my career for the world and here’s to the next decade together – thank you.