A few things I’ve learned
I get asked regularly to give advice on setting up his new business, having been through the process and, to all appearances, made a decent fist of it. You can get the basic advice on the mechanics (getting an accountant, bank account, registering at companies house etc) from anywhere, and I am the last person you’d go to for advice on personal admin – but that’s the easy part. The hard part is knowing what will work and what won’t, what will help and what will be a waste of time, how to keep thinking clearly and so on. So, to that end, I have decided to post a collection of my own personal collected wisdoms that are a product of 20 years trial, error and, in some cases, bitter experience. They are in no particular order.
I do this so you don’t have to
- Don’t sound like a snake oil salesman
Be careful with the copy on your website and in your other comms. Try to avoid corny cliches and vague, general boasts about your expertise. Anybody can say things like “our consultants are seasoned industry experts with unrivaled experience” or whatever. ANYBODY can makes the same tedious boasts. That’s why it’s a waste of space on your website. It’ll just get tuned out by visitors as white noise. People can say it even if it isn’t true, AND THEY DO. Try to say things that other people can’t say and qualify them with specific examples. Why do you think I write these blogs?
Oh, and always tell the truth. It’s always better in the long run.
2. Writing in your own voice
People that have met me often say that when they read my blogs, emails and even my training course notes, they can hear the words coming out of my mouth. I’ve somehow learned to write the way that I speak. It’s a way of writing that is consistent with the way I am in person. There are a couple of advantages in doing this. First, it stops your material reading like you’ve copied and pasted it. Second, people like consistency, people trust consistency. I’m not a natural writer and it took me a while to find a style of writing that I could actually apply in a way that worked. I don’t use a lot of adjectives and my writing isn’t stylish or flashy, I’m just not good enough with vocabulary to do that. I write in short sentences and I try NEVER use a word I wouldn’t use in everyday speech.
3. Never underestimate the value in being taught a harsh lesson
You will make mistakes. Sometimes painful, embarrassing and expensive ones. I would never be so patronising as to suggest that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – that is patently not true – but there is usually something to salvage from a wreck. Don’t dwell too long on the damage because it’s already done. Try to work out what the lesson is and learn from it. There is usually something you can take away from it.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Or something like that
4. Do favours freely
There are advantages in being the good guy and it’s a useful reputation to have. Putting some goodwill in the bank is like any investment, values can go up as well as down. Actually its quite not as bad as that, I can’t remember actually being harmed by trying to do someone a favour. Some people return the favour, but some don’t. Some people don’t return the favour just because they don’t get the opportunity to. Don’t use the occasional apparent lack of gratitude as a reason to stop doing favours. It is rare to encounter ingratitude, but odd times you might get taken advantage of. I just see that as acceptable collateral damage and no reason to stop being kind. Sometimes people will ask a lot of you, and ask then ask again. But most people will realise when they are asking a lot and will be a bit embarrassed about it, so they’ll only do it as a last resort. Genuine people will tend not to ask then ask and ask again. People that do that are invariably going to take a lot more than they are ever going to give, and don’t care one bit that they are asking a lot of you. So put some limits on your goodwill. There has to be a limit, because sooner or later you’ll have to get back to doing some work that gets you paid.
5. You get more work from people you know than from people you don’t
I used to put a lot of time, effort and money into search engine optimisation (SEO). Whilst being high on google rankings is an advantage, it isn’t everything. Remember that customers that use google will usually be relatively uninformed and often price sensitive. There are customers for whom confidence that you can do a good job is more important than price. Think about what you need to do to develop that trust and confidence (see point 1 above).
6. and finally, costs …
Start ups are fragile entities. Chances are you will spend money before you will make money, and you want to get into self sufficiency as quickly as you can. The problem is that there will be costs, so be careful not to operate like a millionaire before you are one.
Happy New Year. If you have any of your own to add, please post them as a comment.