I was recently asked to answer some questions by someone who is looking to start up their own business. It took me a while to think of some decent answers, and to be honest, they're probably still not fully fleshed out, and undoubtedly will change over time. Nonetheless, I thought my answers may be of interest as a blog post, so here they are.
1. What do you wish that you knew at the beginning of starting your own business that you learnt later on?
I wish I'd known how to value my own time and skill. I started off charging ridiculously low prices, although they were probably appropriate for the quality of work I was producing. It took a lot of hard work and training for me to be able to comfortably value my work.
I wish I'd known that the clients are out there, you just have to find them. Just because the right clients aren't in your immediate vicinity doesn't mean they aren't out there. You just have to market well to attract them.
Something else that chimes with this is that I wish I'd known that no matter how great a product you make, that in itself won't sell it. You have to be willing to run a business, not just make a great product.
With Sharon Wee and Michelle Green, two business coaches to whom I owe a lot!
2. What are the three most important skills that you need to start up and run your own business?
It's hard to say which are the most important skills because I think attitude is more important. You can hire/train for skills!
First and foremost, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, accepting that and filling the gaps of your weaknesses either by seeking out training or hiring for your weakness.
Being able to think strategically, logically and analytically - that's probably the main skill I can think of.
Being brave and able to take risks and learn from your mistakes.
Being able to work with other people and have good, honest relationships with others, hearing things that aren't always comfortable, and being able to say things that aren't comfortable, and move forward with that.
3. What is the best part and the most challenging part of running your own business?
The best part is being your own boss and all that entails. For one thing, that means the fun and enjoyment of seeing something you created growing, and the satisfaction and sense of achievement in that. It also means being flexible with your working hours, with your task allocation and with calling the shots on where the business is going and its identity. If I don't fancy working one morning and I'm happy to work at a different time instead I can meet a friend for a coffee, for example (or I could, before Covid). There's always a give and take but you get to choose where that happens.
The challenges are the other side of this really. It's all on you - the responsibility, the sense of doom when things go wrong, the frustration when things aren't going well. It can be lonely. It can feel like you are working all hours and there are no boundaries between work and home (and that's something that's really important to separate).
4. Once someone has a business idea, what would you consider as some of the important questions that they should ask themselves?
Ask yourself, what is your 'why'? What is your 3am reason, when things are going terribly and you're awake worrying, that will keep you going? This will be different for everyone and it will change over time. But it has to be robust. Things like "because my friends said I should totally sell these" are not a good why, haha.
Ask yourself if you want to run a business or you just have a good idea or want to make a certain product. You have to want to run a business to do it. That doesn't mean you can't hire for lots of the responsibility, but if you essentially just want to be a chef, engineer or artist, who makes the goods, then that won't cut it. You'll just have a job with loads of extra stress.
Ask yourself if you can afford to take the risks you will need to take. If you can't, do you have back up? Is it worth the risk? What is the minimum you need to achieve in what minimum space of time to make it viable? This will be different for everyone depending on how risk-averse or risk-taking they are.
Is there actually a market for this? Have you researched it? Are you solving a problem for people or inventing a problem that isn't really there?
Is there an emotional hook for people to buy your product or service? Selling is really all about emotions. Can you access this?
What is your emotional relationship with making money and owning a business? For women and mothers especially this can be very complex. It can hold us back if we have an emotional stigma surrounding working and making money. I certainly had to come to terms with the idea of making a decent profit as I felt guilty about it for reasons I had to explore and work through. This is obviously different for every person. But running a business involves your emotions just as much as your brain so it's important to be willing to work things out in that sense.