In fifteen+ years of operating my own business, I have learned SO MUCH in areas that I would never have anticipated having to know anything about. It would have been so helpful to have gone into this line of work with some insight, so that I could avoid making some fairly common mistakes. I thought this column might be a good place to share some of that knowledge with you.
Some major areas of learning that I’ll discuss are MARKETING, FINANCE AND ORGANIZATION
Just because you are a really, really good woodworker or fabulous baker will not guarantee success of any kind. I will sheepishly admit that in the beginning, I figured if I just throw up a really great design portfolio on a website that the clients would come knocking, just blown away by my talent. It took me quite a while to figure out this wasn’t how I was going to get work! In the beginning the bulk of your new leads may come from referrals. If you take this opportunity to blow your customer’s experience out of the park (and that’s not just craftsmanship, but your ability to show you genuinely care about the project outcome), this will go a long way to securing a steady workflow.
However don’t discount that people are incredibly busy and won’t be necessarily seeking you out. You need to be visible in the places they will look, whether that be having a strong and active online presence, local targeted advertising, face to face networking, or whatever strategy best suits your business. Being visible in this way requires a lot more being fabulous at your skill. Marketing takes time, patience and more forethought than you might assume.
REVENUE-EXPENSES=PROFIT. We all know this formula, but what if your invoices are only payable within the month and your suppliers are due within two weeks? What if your business requires expensive, capital-intensive purchases before you can even open your doors? What will ultimately determine your business longevity is cash flow, arguably just as important that the simple formula above. If you can’t float your monthly rent, loan repayments and employee salaries before you see sales that month, you may be headed for trouble in the long term.
If you have a small business, definitely drop into the Small Business Enterprise Centre here in St. Thomas for some amazing sound advice from their consultants. Their business plan bootcamp is an excellent way to get a general overview of how your expenses are shaping up and where your pitfalls may be.
By that I mean: how much do you plan ahead? For the day, the week, the year, for five years? The more you have a focussed goal within each time frame, the more likely you are to be successful. Do you have the software you need, the right team, ongoing professional development? Entrepreneurs who tend to be reactive and only address immediate problems will find themselves always in this defensive position, unable to get ahead. Think of the game of chess: the more you can keep the offensive and keep your player reacting defensively, the more likely you will win. Planning ahead for all possibilities and outcomes always helps.
In the same vein, just because you may have the skills and talent for the latest big thing, don’t assume it will always be there. Being a big deal on social media today can be wiped away with a small tweak of the algorithm tomorrow. Blockbuster scoffed at the opportunity to buy a portion of Netflix because they were unable to envision how quickly technology was changing. Always be exploring new ways to exploit what you do best.