A while back, Tina from Your New Wings Life Coaching asked me to speak at her event for parents who are wondering what to do next with their lives. She wants to inspire them to find their passion and follow it. As someone who’s done exactly that, Tina asked me to share my story and what I’ve learned along the way. I could write a whole book on that but today, I’m going to stick to the things I would do differently if I were starting again. So if the next newborn in your life is your new business, read on.
Starting a business – 5 things I’d do differently
Starting your first business can be overwhelming. There are lots of resources to help you decide what type of business to start, what legal things you need to do, etc, from people who are far more qualified to give you that advice than I am. So these tips are based on my own experiences and if I did have a time machine tucked away somewhere, these are the pieces of advice I would give myself back in 2008 when I was drafting my first business plan.
1. Don’t spend a lot of money on branding at the start
If you’ve read my other blogs and courses, you’ll know I talk lots about understanding your ideal client and what appeals to them as that has a significant impact on what will work photographically for you. So why am I telling you not to spend money on branding that should attract your ideal client?? Because at the very start, it can be hard to know who your ideal client really is. Your ideas when you write that initial business plan may change considerably in the first few months – mine certainly did and I’ve witnessed it with other business people too. I spent a lot of money on my first logo, business cards, letterheads etc before I launched my business and I ended up throwing it all away a year later when I realised it wasn’t right for the customers I found I enjoyed working with – it was far too masculine and corporate. In any case, branding is a lot more than just a logo and I understand that now. So spend a few pounds or dollars on a professional-looking logo, and some good quality business cards so you look like you’re serious about being in business, but don’t go overboard until you have a good feel for what is right for you and your clients.
2. Understand your core values
…. and create a business that doesn’t conflict with them. I spent a lot of time studying marketing techniques in my first few months as my previous jobs hadn’t involved marketing at all. Some of the things I was advised to do that were supposedly good practice in the photography industry, I was unhappy implementing. E.g. Offering discounts a few months later to customers who hadn’t bought anything from their shoot initially. That’s blatantly unfair to all those good clients who do place their orders promptly. Why reward those who haven’t treated you well? Or having a really low price offering to attract people in, then once you’ve got them hooked, they discover they need all sorts of add-ons to get what they really want. You’ve probably experienced being offered a £25 shoot including a small print, but when you come to the viewing session, you discover that you’ve got to spend several times that to get any other photos from the shoot, even if it’s just another print like the one you got with your initial £25 investment. I think that’s misleading. Once I understood that I was uncomfortable with those approaches because they conflicted with my core values of fairness and honesty, I felt happy about choosing not to implement them. Which leads me on to number 3 …
3. Have boundaries that work for you and stick to them
Lots of people, including me, create their own business to give themselves more freedom but often end up working longer hours and being a slave to their clients. It’s easy to think you need to be a people pleaser when you’re first starting out. But you don’t have to agree to do everything your client asks for. Being clear and assertive about what is and isn’t acceptable will earn you more respect. E.g. If you want to spend more time with your family, work out when you want to be with them and set your working hours accordingly. If it’s impossible to serve your clients unless you work weekends and you only want to work during the week, change your offerings or the way you deliver your services to give yourself that freedom. If you don’t want to wait for months to be paid, set payment terms that suit you and enforce them consistently for all your clients. If, typically, large companies say they can’t compromise on their terms, quote them an extra fee for paying on their longer terms. It’s amazing how many times they turn out to have a company credit card they can use when it’s going to save them money by paying sooner.
4. Work out what your niche is
Not everyone is your customer – it’s ok to turn away people who aren’t ideal. That’s a scary concept when you first start out but once you’ve worked out your values and your boundaries and worked with some clients, you should have a clear idea of who you love working with and who drives you mad. Targeting the types of clients who are a pleasure to work with will give you a happier, more fulfilling business life. Being a specialist rather than a generalist also means you can justifiably charge more for your goods and services and, unless you pick a crazy niche that’s impossible for you to access, you should find that you’ll attract more of the right clients to you with less effort. E.g. Even though I know all that, when I stopped taking wedding photography bookings last year, and despite having a plan in place, I was worried whether I really would be able to replace that revenue. But comparing this year’s figures for April to August with last year’s, my income’s gone up by almost 20%. So it can and does work.
5. Trust your instincts
This tip isn’t just for business – this is for life in general. When I look back over the years, there have been many occasions when I’ve let the logical side of my brain overrule my gut instincts about people or situations, and that logical side has been wrong every time. So if that’s true for you too, don’t be afraid to trust your instincts in business. You often have to go outside your comfort zone to make progress but there’s a big difference between feeling nervous about tackling something new and feeling uncomfortable because something doesn’t sit right with you. Referring back to your core values, niche and boundaries will help. If it’s a project that fits with all of those and you’re just nervous about it because you’ve not done it before, then going for it is probably the right answer. But if it’s a project that violates any of those or doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, then you don’t have to accept it.
So those are the 5 things that I’d do differently. My bonus tip is “you don’t have to take everyone’s advice”, so if you don’t agree with some or all of the above do what feels good to you!