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.
There is a lot of ground to cover, so this is the second 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 this post, I will outline 10 more principles related to creating and running a business.
1. You don’t need a business plan
It’s perfectly fine for your business to evolve organically. Mine did. Everyone’s business unfolds differently, a bit like career progression. There are no precise steps you must follow in creating or running a start up.
2. You don’t need business qualifications in order to run a business
Don’t worry if like me, you don’t have a Commerce degree or an MBA. Some of the most successful business owners I know dropped out of school at a young age and don’t have any formal qualifications. Merv Snell of Gardn Gro is a case on point. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of education and spent many years at university, training to become a lawyer. I have great respect for others who have dedicated years of their life to tertiary study. Who isn’t in awe of Oxbridge and the Ivy League institutions? But sometimes the best education occurs outside the classroom.
3. Learn on the job
Linked to not needing business qualifications in order to create and run a start up is the idea that you can and should learn on the job. My new venture requires me to wear many different hats. I have to be able to draw on a broad knowledge base and skill set in order to run my business. I don’t have a formal qualification in horticulture. I learnt about gardening by reading books and magazines, conducting research and experimenting in my garden. I had to work hard to master a completely different subject. At times, I have to play the role of a journalist in order to write articles for my newsletter, even though I have no formal journalism qualification. Running a business is basically an exercise in PR, yet I did not study Communications. You can’t study everything at university. You need to also learn by doing and pick things up along the way.
4. Collaborate, even with competitors
It’s very short sighted to see the competition as the enemy. Collaboration is really important for business owners, especially new businesses wanting to break into an industry and make a name for themselves. Collaboration is a term that comes up again and again in a fantastic Facebook group I belong to called Girls in Business (it’s a closed group so you’ll need to either ask to join or be added by an existing member. Thank you Jessica Condor Gelinas for putting me onto this one!). But what does collaboration mean? Put simply, collaboration is where business owners work together and support each other in their respective enterprises. An example of collaboration includes promoting another reputable business or person in the same industry on your social media accounts. Chances are, they will do the same and it’s a great way of increasing your number of followers. Don’t forget that even though the field of law can be fiercely competitive, lawyers also need to collaborate. Partners in different departments often share the same clients and advise on different aspects of large cases and transactions, which can be complex and require input from specialists in different areas. Also, different offices of a firm may end up representing the same clients, who also have branches across the globe. Be community minded. Reach out to others in the same industry and partner up, work together and support each other.
5. Business development is an on-going task
Don’t expect to ever get on top of business development. Building a business is an on-going process. Your work will never be finished!
6. Contacts are key
As with the legal profession, in business, contacts are key. Network! It’s a great way to market yourself and your business. Whenever I visit garden centres, I always stop to chat to the staff. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other very well and know each other by name. This made it much easier for me to approach these businesses and become their brand ambassador.
Contacts can often be formed in unexpected ways. Networking doesn’t only occur when you swap business cards at a conference. In my personal experience, the closest connections are formed over time and require a bit more effort. Allow me to illustrate this. After a somewhat disappointing experience at a store I regularly shop at, I got in touch with the manager via the website and highlighted the issues arising during my encounter. The next day, he followed up with a telephone call. He apologised and said that he had rectified the issues immediately. That weekend, he came over to our house with complimentary products which I had sought during my visit but had been unable to purchase because they weren't in a good condition at the time. If that isn’t great customer service, I don’t know what is. I must have just had a freakish experience, because since then every shopping experience there has been a good one. The manager has become a close contact and we always stop and chat when we run into each other in the store. I am so impressed with both him and the business more generally. I will be promoting that business in future through my blog and social media accounts.
7. Rome wasn’t built in a day
So my cousin and her husband once told me when they heard about my start up. They’re right. By nature, we’re impatient creatures. We expect to have achieved our key milestones months, if not years ago. Empires weren’t created overnight. The Greeks and Romans toiled away for quite some time. Good things take time. Be patient. It can take some time to see the fruits of your labour. Think baby steps. Which brings me to my next point.
8. Baby steps
Linked to the old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day, remember to take things one step at a time. Everything you do is a potential building block, a stepping stone to something else. Nothing is ever a waste, especially not education. Click here to read my thoughts on this subject.
I’ll use authoring a book as an analogy. As a friend of mine once posted on his timeline on Facebook, everyone wants to write a book, get rich and become famous overnight. But realistically, who will buy a book written by someone who isn’t very well known? If writing a book is your goal, you need to concentrate on creating a target audience first. Furthermore, sitting infront of a Word document and writing a novel is a daunting prospect, to me at least. You need to break it down into bite sized pieces. To start, you might want to consider starting a blog like me as a way of practising your writing. But before all that, it helps if you can write well to engage your readers. The ability to write well takes years and years of dedication as a student. Reading very broadly also helps a lot, as well as learning other languages. I found that studying French enriched my understanding of the English language.
While we’re on the subject, in my opinion, a blog is better than a book. In recent years, I’ve found myself not enjoying books as much as I have in the past. Books often contain boring bits. I’ve ended up skipping pages or even chapters, rather than reading from beginning to end. Times have changed and I don’t think people read as much as they used to. Whitcoulls, New Zealand’s largest book chain, nearly went into receivership a few years ago. Thanks to constant interruptions from technology, we have much shorter attention spans these days. Blog posts are short, sharp and sweet. Reading them is therefore easier to fit into a busy schedule. You can read a blog on your phone, which is convenient if you’re constantly on the move like me. You can also be selective and only dip into the topics that really interest you.
9. Go with the flow
Linked to taking things a day at a time is the concept of going with the flow. Sometimes, events can occur unexpectedly and life doesn’t always go according to plan. Like me, you may find that your career evolves in a peculiar way. Don’t try to swim against the tide. Sometimes you can’t go directly from A to B. This reminds me of a case I read when I was in law school, where a judge famously commented that the beauty of the common law is that it is a maze and not a motorway. Applying this idea to life, sometimes you might have to take a more circuitous route when working towards a goal. This brings us back to the idea of taking baby steps. You have to be able to walk before you can run. Life is an experience. Enjoy the journey!
10. Beware the law!
Businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. Don’t forget that everything we do, whether in our personal or professional lives, is governed by the law. In business dealings, contract law is important as you need to honour any agreements you enter into. Be careful what you say about others as you certainly don’t want to be sued for defamation. Intellectual property is another important field for business owners like me, who maintain an active blog and write newsletters which impart a lot of original information. Don’t forget that your work will often be protected under the umbrella of copyright. It’s sort of like the ICloud. Copyright arises naturally in the course of your work. Unlike a trademark, you don’t need to register copyright. People will need your permission before they can reproduce your work.
Watch out for my next blog in this series of posts on top tips for start ups.