Mystified about how to set up and run a business? Join the club! In this series of blog posts, I will discuss my top tips for start ups. Some people like to keep all their cards close to their chest and don’t give anything away for nothing. I’ve never really been one of those people. I’m all for sharing information, which was not always possible in my previous profession as a lawyer due to client confidentiality. Law can also be extremely competitive, especially in a large commercial firm, so some people can be reluctant to help their colleagues develop both as a practitioner and in their professional career as a lawyer. During my journey as a business owner thus far, so many people I’ve met along the way have passed on some gems of advice which I have gratefully received. I’m paying it forward, as a way of giving back to the community that’s given me so much support.
This is the third blog in a series of posts on this subject. In Part I of my top tips for start ups, I covered the subject of money. In Part II of this series, I outlined 10 further principles regarding creating and running a business. In this post, I will outline another 10 key principles related to start ups.
1. Reputation is everything
A business is built on the back of its reputation. During my law degree, I spent a lot of time researching the concept of reputation in the context of defamation law. For those of you who are interested, you can read my Honours seminar paper and Dissertation, which I have recently uploaded onto my website.
Please don’t rely on my work for legal advice. The articles were written a long time ago so the cases I examined may no longer reflect the current legal position. They are purely academic research. Not to mention the fact that the law in your jurisdiction may differ to New Zealand. If you’re a student, I don’t mind if you rely on my work but please remember to acknowledge me as the author and provide details of the source and date of publication. You certainly don’t want to be accused of plagiarism by your tutor!
Linked to the concept of reputation is the importance of image, which I will examine below.
2. It’s also about image
As discussed in my Honours seminar paper and Dissertation on the topic of defamation, reputation and image are two different things. Reputation is what a person (or business) is in fact. Image is what a person or business appears to be.
There is some truth to the saying that appearance is everything. Rest assured that this doesn’t mean that you need to look like a supermodel. However, you do need to be conscious of how you portray yourself and your business to others, including clients, allies (such as brands you’re promoting) and competitors.
3. Integrity is important
How you behave will affect your business’s reputation. In your business dealings, be strategic and smart, but not sneaky. Remember, you reap what you sow. Even if you’re not religious, you have to admit that actions have consequences. If you cut corners, fail to honour promises or deliberately deceive others, you will soon lose people’s trust and ultimately their business.
4. You (and your business) are worth something.
Don’t forget that your business accrues goodwill over time. Goodwill is inextricably linked to the concept of reputation (see above). It is an intangible asset (again, this takes me back to Accounting which I studied at secondary school. As a business owner, it is proving to be an incredibly useful subject!). Goodwill can be difficult to quantify. Also, don’t forget that you have value as an individual behind the screen of your business. It is easy to lose sight of this. This is very important for bloggers and social media influencers who have built a name for themselves and become a public figure in their own right. People will pay you to deliver talks, host workshops and promote their brand.
5. Expect to work your butt off
Start ups are hard work, especially in the beginning. I’m a testament to this. A lot of people are envious of my lifestyle, especially other lawyers. It’s true that I live in activewear and a lot of work is done from my laptop while lying in bed with the cat on my lap. It’s also true that I spend a lot of time on social media. However, nothing is ever as simple, happy or fun as it looks, as a very wise friend once told me. A lot of time and effort goes into maintaining an active and interesting blog. Don’t forget that I have to constantly come up with original content, so creativity is key. Then there is preparing the content of my weekly gardening newsletter. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Click here to read about what a typical day looks like for me. If you want better hours or are looking for a lifestyle change, then creating and running a business might not be for you.
6. Multi tasking is an important skill
In order to run a business successfully, you need to be able to multi task. I’m constantly trying to progress different things in parallel, such as writing blog posts and newsletters, pitching to businesses I want to promote and replying to correspondence from followers. This is not as easy as it sounds. I’m fortunate that I developed this skill during my career as a lawyer, when I normally worked on several different cases or transactions at the same time. While I was working at the Paris office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, I was involved in a very large arbitration, but had to deal with different aspects of the case simultaneously, such as interviewing witnesses, drafting submissions, briefing experts and quantifying quantum, for want of a better expression.
7. Keep up with the times
Don’t fall behind, especially with technology. I made this mistake myself as I was one of those people who refused to get a smartphone for a very long time. I succumbed in April this year after a lot of pressure from family members who kept complaining that they could never get hold of me. I can honestly say that it has changed my life. How else would I be able to snap photos of our garden and upload them to Instagram so quickly? It’s an indispensable tool for running a business and that’s the only reason I got one. There are so many great apps which help you to connect with your customers and promote your business for free. Some of my favourites include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat. Having finally mastered all of this, I’m sure something new will come onto the market next month.
You can’t do everything yourself. Learn to delegate and share the load with others. If you can’t afford to employ someone to help you with your business, there might be another solution. We host wwoofers who help us around the garden year round. This frees me up a bit so I can devote some time to my business every day.
9. Enjoy a day of rest
Give yourself a day off every week, even if you’re not religious. We all need a bit of rest sometimes so we can reset for the coming week. I’m notorious for working around the clock seven days a week and really need to practice what I preach. As you get older, you’ll find that your body changes and you don’t have the stamina that you had in your 20s. A day off doesn’t necessarily mean vegetating with Netflix and munching on a bag of potato chips. I’m a firm advocate of active relaxation because that’s just how I’m configured. For a start, switch off your phone. See a movie, read a book, go for a walk, spend time with your children or catch up with an old friend. You’ll feel so much better for it and you’ll be able to function more efficiently when you switch on to work again.
10. Learn to switch off
Learn to disconnect. This is no easy task as we’re surrounded by technology which puts our brains into constant overdrive. I’m continually plagued by thoughts about my business when I’m out and about, whether walking or running, at the supermarket or running errands. I actually carry a notebook with me so I can scribble down all my ideas as they come to mind! How can you detach yourself? Meditation can help. I took Les Mills Body Balance classes (a mix of pilates, tai chi and yoga) on a regular basis at a gym I used to go to a few years ago. It took a long time for me to learn how to relax but eventually I could see the progress. Be patient. You’ll get there in the end too.