One year older, one year wiser: what I’ve learnt in my first year running a business

Starting up your own business is a big decision. Exciting, scary, liberating, risky…I know because I’ve been there. OrangeSheep Research officially launched to the world one year ago, in October 2016. One year on I have been reflecting on my decision not to go back to the nine-to-five (or more commonly eight-to-seven) but to break away and see if I could make it on my own. I thought it would be useful to share some of the things I have learned in my first year, as I have been finding my feet.

I’m not saying I’m the expert. There are still many things I’d like to improve. I don’t blog as much as I like to and my social media presence is still limited as I try to strike a balance between time spent marketing/pitching for the work and time spent actually doing the work. My accounts are about 4 months behind where they should be. I still have no idea how to “do” SEO (or if that’s even how you say that). But I have been consistently busy, I am achieving beyond what my targets were for number of clients and turnover by this point, and most importantly I still love what I do! So here are my tips for what is important in the first year:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan. Before I even launched OrangeSheep I spent months reading about starting a business, developing a business plan, brand values, a vision and goals. I have referred back to this regularly over the year to help me focus and to remind myself, when things feel difficult, why I am doing this. Even if you’re not applying for funding (which I wasn’t) it is still worth putting time into this stage to clarify to yourself what you are doing, as if you don’t know yourself you can’t expect to be able to effectively communicate it to others.
  2. Keep your focus on the customer. What is their need or problem, and how will your product or service meet this need or solve this problem? Do your research on who your customers are, what they like, where they hang out online and in the real world and you will start to build a picture of how your product or service will fit in with their lives. You can ask your friends and family, pose questions on social media, or even post a short survey to groups where your customers go (for example if you are looking to sell children’s clothing, post your survey in parenting groups). Keep an eye on this blog for tips on writing questionnaires and making your survey appealing for people to fill in.
  3. Research your competitors so you know what you are up against and how you can make yourself stand out. You can do this online, searching for the sorts of terms you would expect customers to search to find you, and see what else crops up. You could ask people filling in your survey what brands they currently purchase from, or what services they currently use to meet that need. Work out a clear idea of what it is you will do differently and better, so you can start to construct your marketing messages. And don’t forget to check that what you are doing differently and better is actually something the customer wants!
  4. Join a business support and networking group. This may be an industry specific group or a more general one – or both! Working by yourself is lonely and it’s easy to get distracted – make yourself accountable to someone through a support group. There are many groups on Facebook and LinkedIn supporting businesses, for example groups for crafters, etsy sellers, home business support etc. Search, join a few, if they don’t suit you leave and try others. Once you are members of a few you may find others popping up in your suggestion box. Don’t waste your time trying to keep up with hundreds of them, pick one or two that suit you best and commit your time there. My personal favourite is “Superstar Tribe” which is run by a permanently cheerful and supportive lady called Suzannah – the free Facebook community is here (and worth checking out) https://www.facebook.com/superstartribe/.
  5. Keep moving forward! It’s all about small steps. Don’t let the to-do list overwhelm you – remember your goals, your priorities, and keep going. After I launched in October I had set myself a target of getting 3 new clients on-board by the end of 2016. At the end of December I hadn’t achieved even one, and I wondered whether I was cut out for this or if I was wasting my time. Fast forward 4 weeks and I had 3 new clients in January alone! The slow start was seasonal, not personal. Keep on going, keep doing what you’re doing on social media, keep questioning if you can do it better, keep learning, keep improving, keep moving forward.

 

The coming year will bring a whole new set of challenges as I take maternity leave from December and try to maintain a profile while I’m not actively working, then build things up again when I am back on it. These are challenges that I am looking forward to facing having done the groundwork this past year to prepare myself for.

Happy Birthday OrangeSheep Research!