Christmas is a time for festive cheer, but the traditional break from work also provides an opportunity for reflection on the year passed and planning for the year to come. As well as moving house and booking a holiday (or staycation), a lot of us will be thinking about changing jobs or launching the business we have always dreamed about. This year, there may be people who are forced down this path either because their old job no longer exists or there is little demand due to the restrictions imposed by COVID.
Whatever is driving your decision, we have some suggestions based on years of advising start-ups – 10 years ago, we were one ourselves.
First and foremost you are a BUSINESS OWNER
You might be very good at what you do, but you are no longer a plumber, an HR adviser, an accountant…you are a business owner. You are a business offering plumbing services, HR consultancy, or accounting advice. You have to learn to think like the owner. You will need to wear a lot of hats. It is not OK to say: “I am no good at…..paperwork, numbers, the legal stuff” (delete as appropriate). If this sounds unappealing, there are two important take-aways:
- If you don’t like it, it’s kind of tough I’m afraid – this might sound harsh but you are going to be forever miserable if you don’t accept this fact-of-life as a business owner from the start. Accept from the beginning that these things ARE now part of your job.
- Good advice – you will naturally be stronger in some areas than others. Identify your weaknesses and get yourself some good advice. Look for what you need whether that be a good lawyer, web designer, social media marketer, or an accountant. If you need someone to help deliver the service, think about hiring a subcontractor or employ someone. Do not jump into becoming an employer without researching the full implications*.
This is your livelihood
You are not a charity, this is how you will pay your bills. If you don’t make a profit, you are effectively paying your customer to work for them.
When I first started, I would work at a loss – sometimes it was even a conscious decision to do so. I justified it to myself that certain services would be ‘loss leaders’. Or, I would tell myself that if I did a particular piece if work at a bargain price, that the client would then offer me profitable work in recognition of the great job I had done. This is dangerous territory.
Offering to work for a sub-value fee sets a precedent. If you set your prices low at the start, you will struggle forever more to increase to a fair price with that client. You will also grow to feel resentful, even if it was your choice to do the work for that price in the first place. That is no way to form a healthy, long-term relationship with your customer.
You will also set your customer’s perception of the value of your offering – that’s human nature.
You are also doing your customer a disservice; how can you offer them an excellent service or product if you don’t charge a fair price for it? I am not suggesting for one moment that you rip people off. We believe in charging a transparent, data-driven fee for our services. We are very clear about what is included and what factors drive the fee that clients are charged.
Find your tribe
Get yourself a good support network because you are going to need it. If you have worked as part of a team throughout your working life, you might find running your own business quite lonely. It is also a lot of responsibility to carry all by yourself.
Join a networking group – many are currently running remote meetings until it is safe to meet in person again. You could look for a group close to you geographically. Or you might want to find a group who work in the same industry as you – I belong to a couple of Facebook groups for accountants.
Thrilling, I hear you say, but I can’t do justice to how much those two groups have helped me in the last 12 months. We face similar challenges and support each other when it comes to making difficult decisions. Find like-minded people and be prepared to be open and give as much back as you take.
I am pinching this from one of our service providers, Go Proposal. They are gold standard when it comes to customer service and we aspire to be as good as they are. It is tailored to accountants but it is true for all businesses. I had never thought about how clients see us in this way and it really made me take a step back and gave me a fresh perspective.
“Your clients aren’t comparing you to other accountants. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, they’re comparing you to world class businesses like Amazon and Apple and Uber. You need to create incredible experiences that demonstrate you’re an expert in cloud technology, you know how to make a profit and how you’re going to save them time. You can’t do any of that if it takes you a day to produce a proposal that you’re clearly not making much money from.
You need to be able to do this in 3 minutes or less to create an amazing, world-class experience for your clients, because experiences change how they feel and they’ll remember how you made them feel, doing after they’ve forgotten what you’ve done for them.”
As members of the ICAEW Business Advice Service and Enterprise Nation advisers, we are here to help if you are thinking of starting your own business. We have committed to offering start-ups a free 25 minute consultation with a qualified accountant – to take advantage of their experience and knowledge, email firstname.lastname@example.org with 1-page bio about you and your business plans. We will be in touch in January to set up a call.