12 months, 12 learnings
Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday Creative Cadence … etc.
Anyway, enough of that. They say the first year in business is the most difficult, but blimey, as of today, I've actually gone and done it. A year ago, I set out on the journey of starting my own business and I'm still here, which is fantastic (and a relief!)
I've learnt an awful lot on my journey so far – way more than twelve things, but I thought it might help other start-ups and be of general interest to others to list those learnings that stand out for me as most important:
1. Be nice
I’ve always been a big believer in the phrase ‘never burn your bridges’, but it’s absolutely true. As much as you have to grit your teeth sometimes, people really do buy people. Be pleasant, do a great job, be entertaining even, but if you’re likeable, clients will come back to you. They’ll obviously look at price and quality of product, but it saves them a job if they know someone they’ve had a good experience with. You never know, they might also recommend you to someone else.
2. Be business-like
As well as a great personable relationship, clients also want a professional one. Whether it’s via email, phone or in person, your brand needs to come across in a professional manner. Whether it’s an email signature and proper address, a business card when you first meet, or the way you present your product, no-one wants to deal with the brand equivalent of a Hotmail address.
3. Be official
This one I’m only just getting around to doing after much research. As a business you need to protect yourself with proper procedures where possible. Clear quotes, so both parties know what to expect, clear pricing and clear sign-off procedures. Sounds dull, but you'll be thankful if something goes wrong, that you’ve got something to fall back on. I’m currently starting to use Signable as a way of physically getting clients to sign things off before going to print on large jobs.
4. It’s ok to say ‘no’
At the start of the Creative Cadence journey I struggled and panicked, wrongly thinking I had to say ‘Yes’ to every job that came my way. I still hate to say ‘No’, but I’ve hopefully learned to be more honest about whether I can truthfully fit a job in. A job needs a decent amount of time to be done well, so if I don’t have the time, I try to push the deadline back, or regretfully say ‘No’.
5. A week can feel like a month when you have no work
I’ve been lucky enough over the past year to have only been without work for a week at the most. However, it still sent me into a spiral of panic about ‘what was I going to do?!’ Even though I still find it difficult, the key is not to panic, but do something useful. Do all those things you normally don't have the time to do – accounts, a blog post, update the website, start a personal project – this was where my Cycling Obsessions project was born, so I’m thankful of that week now!
6. Buy cheap, buy twice – literally!
One of my pet-hates is getting print quotes … got to be done though. After getting a range of quotes, a client classically went for the cheapest. The end result? A poor quality print job, meaning I had to re-run the job using a printer which my instincts had told me right from the beginning, I should be using. Yes, they were more expensive, but by golly was the job a better one.
7. Guilt can be a crushing feeling
I still find it difficult to ‘not work’. It’s my business, I run it and own it, so I should be able to do what I like, right? Wrong. I still suffer from thinking I should be working a strict 9-to-5 (or more) and feel guilty for taking a lunch break, sloping off at 4.30pm on a Friday or not starting on the dot of 9.00am. The whole reason I started the business (apart from the love of creativity) was to give myself more flexibility. School-run, cheeky bike ride, longer lunch with a friend or client (or both!) I still need to work more on this one … birthday pint anyone?
8. Get out and about
Linked with number 7 a bit, in that it's hard not to feel guilty if I'm not strapped in front of my iMac ‘designing’. But … taking time to meet people, attend talks during the working day, even take in an art exhibition are all completely valid uses of my time and will enhance the way I think and benefit the business in the long-run.
9. Don’t be afraid
Fear is possibly what caused me to hold off starting Creative Cadence until I was nearly aged 41. It’s been totally fine, it’s worked really well, clients have loved my work and I’ve even enjoyed it. So, if you’re thinking of doing something similar … get on with it!
I’m not sure if this is as a direct result of starting the business, but over the past year, I’ve started reading a lot more. Novels of fiction, books of scientific fact, random stories of travel and even how the world began. It’s been fun to read about these other things, even if they’re not directly related to what I do. You never know where the next idea might come from though … and reading is a great way of switching off.
Prior to starting Creative Cadence I’d only ever attended one formal networking event and I had horrific memories of it. Lots of suits and boots, not knowing what to say to anyone, let alone approach anyone. They’re still not my favourite thing, but I’ve learned to embrace them by being myself, wearing what I like (within reason!) and just going for it. The main thing is to find one that suits you. I found an early breakfast networking group. It doesn’t impact too much on the rest of the working day (see point 8!) and it’s worth it just for the cooked breakfast alone! I’ve even had some great new business from it.
12. Try to have fun
I constantly need to remind myself that another of the main reasons I started the business was to enjoy my work. Don’t start a business doing something you hate … that simply won’t work (you’ll hate it). My Dad always told me, “If you can get people to pay you for doing something you love doing, then it’s not all bad.” He was a P.E. teacher and spent all day trampolining and playing badminton … but he was right.