What you really need to know about starting a business

Recently I was asked by an ERDF funded programme The Big House in Nottingham to give a talk on starting a business from your home, so I thought I’d share my learnings with you too!

So here goes my guide to starting your business from your home.

But first I wanted to tell the story of starting my business in case you thought this amazing yellow branded woman was all a big part of my overall strategy.

I had no idea what I was doing when I started out!

I’d just moved into a more expensive rented house with my daughter when I was let go from my job. (It was all very amicable, I’d just spent 2 years setting up a new social enterprise and it was obvious that I was getting bored, so I worked with a fabulous lady, who said life is too short to be bored, here’s 2 months wages, go and discover what it is that you really want to do).

That fabulous lady also gave me the contact of a man who was setting up a very similar social enterprise in Camden in London, so I went and worked with him freelance setting up it up and my first business Heard Media was born. The rest as they say is history!

1.      Ride the horse in the direction it is going.

Want to start your own business, or in the midst of it all? First of all you want to think about what you already know about, what are you excited about, what gets you all fired up in the morning – can you turn that into a business?

What contacts do you already have that you can lean on to help get you started? If you want to sell products do you know someone who can show you Etsy or have your products in their shop, offering a service, can you think or 1 or even 5 people you know who could buy it from you?

And then what can you actually sell? What is marketable? What’s happening in the current field you want to be moving in? Do some research, look at what’s out there and work out how you can fit into that.

2.      Check out your assets

What do you need to run your business? Space? A laptop? A studio? A kiln? What is it that you need to get this up and going? The more of it you already have the better.

I prefer a lean start-up approach. Get going as quickly as possible, test ideas out without having to spend a lot of money. So test if your ideas have legs before big investment.

Assets also include people, contacts and your support network. Who can you talk to about this, where can you go for advice? Is there free business support in your area? Check out all possibilities and gather as many people around you as possible. You’ll need them!

What tech do you need to get going? Free tools like wave for accounting, buffer for scheduling on social media and canva for creating graphics are fantastic when you are just starting out.

3.      Create your space

Unless you have created something entirely new then you will have competition. And you won’t just have competition from your competitors, but literally from anything people can decide to spend their money on that isn’t you.

So how do you inspire people to part with their cash and give it to you?

Know your customers. Your customers can’t be anyone with a debit card. So get to know the people who your are best served to please. When you were setting up your business, who did you image would buy your products or services?

What do they want? What does success look like to them? Why should they be bothered about you?

Then niche. Become the expert in your field at what you do. Find a niche and carve out a little area for yourself within that. Become to go to person. Turn you website into the Wikipedia for that specialism. Think about what you want to be known for.

4.      Think about multiple revenue streams

It can be really hard running a business and relying on one thing to pay your mortgage. So think about multiple ways you can bring home the bacon.

Can you teach? Could you offer an online course? Could you help people like you? Can you do something on the side?

When my business first started I would have not off been able to survive had it not been for child tax credits. These kept me and Robin topped up so we could pay our way while I was getting established. Without them it wouldn’t have been possible.

Some people also have a husband or partner who keeps everything going while they get their business off the ground.

If you don’t have tax credits or a husband to rely on, it is a big ask to get your fledgling business to pay for everything from the get go.

I love the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she writes that it is too much pressure to expect the thing we love (whatever our business is), to pay our bills for us. It takes the love out of it. It outs a lot of pressure on everything and almost makes you hate the thing you love because it’s just not working yet.

Elizabeth is a big advocate of part-time working. Doing something that doesn’t take up too much brain power to pay the bills, so that we can get back to loving the thing that we are doing.

Lots of writers and artists worked part time and did their craft around it until they got established. So as disappointing as it is, if there are no government top ups and husbands paying the bills you might have to find another way to top up your income.

My business would not survive if I just relied on the income from coaching coming through debbiedooodah. I get all my money in lots of different ways. An online membership community, lecturing at university, running ERFD funded workshop for The Big House, mentoring start-ups at The Hive in Nottingham, mentoring established business for Nottingham Trent University, running workshops in industry settings and getting involved in side projects like the toolkit for female entrepreneurs at Nottingham University.

All of these things combined mean that I get a nice healthy pay check at the end of each month.

5.      Focus on One Thing

This may seems counter intuitive to the point above, but…

Go back to what you want to be known for. Work out what your goals are and work towards that. Be known for One Thing.

Amongst all the things I do, social media is the lynchpin. And if you go to my website it just focuses on one thing – getting people to book a call in with me to find out about coaching.

I’m not selling workshops and getting involved in side projects, or lecturing. I’m just focusing on social media strategy and coaching. I am known for one thing. But because I am now seen as the expert the other things come anyway.

What is it you want to be known for? As people we like to put people in boxes. What box do you want people to put you in?

When you know your one thing, you can start saying no to opportunities that might veer you away from your one thing. Know where you want to go!

2 books that have really helped me with this are; The One Thing by Gary Keller and The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.

6.      Understand money

You need to make money to make your business a success and so you can pay the bills and not end up homeless in a cardboard box. So let’s talk about money!

First you can take a look around at what everyone else is charging. But boy oh boy is that a big road to take. Some people doing what I do charge £40 an hour, others £3,000 a day. That just adds to confusion. How long is a piece of string? There is always higher end and lower end, so…

Work out how much you want to earn a week? Know that you won’t be able to work all the hours, as you’ll have the running of your business to get on with as well (marketing, answering emails, invoicing, training, meetings etc). Plus, you might want some extra for holiday & sick pay. And maybe even a pension!

So don’t do what I did! I listened to my friends when I first started my business. People who worked for other people. They said, well if you want to earn £30k a year, that’s £15 an hour so charge that. Big mistake. Running a business is not like working for someone else. You don’t get paid when you’re on lunch, or chatting to your mate, or in some training. And so I earned hardly any money! Don’t do that!

Work out how many hours you can actually work. What are your billable hours. Then maybe half it, because you’re not likely to be in demand when you first start up!

Now work out what you can charge an hour. I bet it’s more than you first thought of.

And if you feel icky about money – most of us do, here’s a simple solution for you.

Charge what you feel comfortable with at the beginning. When you’ve made 5 sales, up the price by 10%. Keep going like that until you’re charging something you feel comfortable with. You’ll get to flex your money muscles without making a big leap.

And here’s the thing. People pay what you think you are worth.

Plus make money your friend. Don’t hide behind your bank balance. Love your bank balance. Know the ins and outs of your business. Don’t wait until your tax return to work out if you’ve made any money.

I have a big white board in my office. It’s split into 12 sections. In each section I have money in, money out and money made. So for every month I have a quick check on the health of my business. Make money your friend!

7.      Believe in yourself

Now this is a biggie. But essentially if you don’t believe in yourself, why on earth would you expect other people to believe in you?

You make your own success. You get to decide what your life and your business looks like. You get to decide who you feel about stuff. Are you in charge of your business, or is it in charge of you?

And be yourself. The more myself I am in my business, the more money I make. Period.

When I started out I was a lot more corporate, running Heard Media, wearing high heels, being what I thought people wanted. As soon as I came out (and yes it felt a little like that) as debbiedooodah my income jumped through the roof.

We buy from people we know, like and trust. Let people in. Be authentic. That’s one of the things that is going to make you stand out from the competition.

We all want business to be relatable these days. So open up and let your ‘youness’ shine through.

You might me a bit marmite. All the better. Look how successful marmite is x

8.      Have a room of your own

This might be tricky at first. But it is really hard to run a business from your dining room. That’s where you want to eat, and putting it all away, or having to look at it every time you want to eat will wear you down.

Can you create a little bit of space for your business so that you can work undisturbed and bit a bit messy if you like. It will help your mental health no end.

Also make sure your home insurance allows you to run a business from your home. I didn’t pay attention to that and only realised 3 years in that my home insurance didn’t cover it.

9.      Get a community

In the darkest days of running my business is it the community I have built around me that has kept me going.

Find your community, there are people out there. Both online and in real life.

Running a business can be lonely, there are so many other budding and established entrepreneurs out there, so go and find some you love.

I started the Blue Stockings Society so I could meet women like me and share the experience. If there’s nothing like that near you, why not start your own network?

10.   Make social media your friend

Don’t see marketing your business as just another annoying task that you need to do.

See it as they way to build a relationship with your community and customers. Get on social, start talking to people, look out for opportunities and be visible.

Bored of posting about your products and services? Stop doing that, start having conversations instead. You and your customers will get a lot more out of it.

Your business only survives if people know about it, so see social as the big dinner party in the sky. A way for you to get chatting to people about the thing you love doing.

11.   Look after yourself

Cor blimey running a business is hard work. Make sure you build in breaks. Give yourself time off, Go to bed on time. Get off the phone in periods of rest. Smell flowers, do yoga, go swimming.

Make sure you only answer emails in office hours. Let people know when you’re on holiday. Build barriers to protect yourself. Say no.

You are not productive when you are exhausted. We work more hours than anyone else in Europe and we are one of the least productive companies.

Enough said.

12.   Create goals

How do you know where you are going if you don’t know where you are going?

Where do you want to be in 20 years time? 5 years? 3 months? Dream big. Put your dreams out there. Write them down. Manifest like crazy. Let the world, the universe know what you want.

When you know where you want to go, you’re more likely to notice the opportunities. You’re more likely to say no to things that don’t fit. You’re more likely to start moving in that direction.

And then give yourself prizes. Want to earn £3,000 a month. Well what are you going to give yourself when you get there? I bought myself a diamond ring. What to earn £3,000 a week? What are you going to give yourself then?

Create goals, give prizes, write them down, get laser focused.

Go get those goals!

13.   Don’t be a can’t

Something feels out of your comfort zone? Good, it means you’re growing and learning. Grab opportunities, say yes to things. Feel the discomfort. Sticking in comfortable never lead to those goals you want. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

14.   The best time to start is now

What are you waiting for? Fortune favours the brave.

Ready to get your business making money?