Updated: Dec 16, 2020
In February 2020 I went fulltime in my coaching business. Up until then I had been working as a contractor Business Change Manager, supporting organisations through - sometimes impactful - organisational changes.
So, whilst I was familiar with running my own business (as a contractor you get to do all the fun stuff, like invoicing, setting up your own Ltd company, and taxes) I thought that - at the end of 2020 - I'd share some key insights into what it is really like to run your own business.
Because some of you may want to go the path I took. Setting up your own business. Going it alone. Doing something you love, in the way you want to do it. And you may want to learn some of the key lessons early!
So here goes:
What went well
The set up
I was already set up as a limited company. I always knew I was going to do change management AND coaching. So my limited company was set up to accommodate that. I had an accountant, and knew how to file tax returns, invoice customers and pay myself and others. I had insurance and a business bank account.
So the scary stuff was done. You know, the paperwork. The set up. The first year of accounts.
So what is my top tip when it comes to this stuff?
Get an accountant. Yes, they cost money. But if - like me - you're not a numbers person. If you'd rather focus on the things that YOU'RE good at (and why wouldn't you?) then getting an accountant would be my tip. They can set up your limited company, organise your payroll and will do your corporation tax, VAT and income tax returns. And give you good advice along the way.
Daunted by marketing? Intimidated when it comes to terms like 'social media plan' (or worse: strategy)?
Yeah, I'm right there with you!
But at one point I started looking at marketing as - basically - a communications plan. Something I was more than familiar with from my change management career.
A communications and engagement plan. A plan to tell women what I'm doing. To engage women. To get women interested. To help women decide if they want to work with me.
In ways that I liked. On platforms I knew professional women would 'hang out'.
There are multiple marketing gurus out there who will tell you exactly what to do when it comes to finding your niche. But, in my words, it comes down to the following:
Who do you want to work with?
What do you want to help them do or achieve?
The point of niching is that you're focusing. On one person (or organisation). One problem. Because you can envisage them sitting in front of you. You can envisage having a conversation with them (or, better still, that's exactly what you should be doing)!
In other words, you will know what your customer's problem is. For which you offer a solution.
2. Building your network
I always knew my ideal customer was going to hang out on LinkedIn. That they would be in 'professional' mode. Thinking about their career. So choosing LinkedIn as my marketing platform wasn't hard.
But building a network? That was totally different!
In early January 2020 I had around 400 connections on LinkedIn. People I worked with. Ex-colleagues. Managers. Directors. Friends. Recruiters. I never accepted any invites from people I didn't know. I never engaged. I never posted. I was a lurker.
Turns out there is a whole network of people selling services and goods on LinkedIn. And if you're one of them (or aspire to be) you're going to have to become proactive about creating connections.
So I established a routine. Of sending connection requests to women who fit my 'ideal client' profile. Every day. Of introducing myself. Saying hello. Telling my story.
That, and posting content that engages your clients was the trick. Content based on what clients are telling you. The struggles you know your clients are going through.
On average I now get at least 3 messages a day with people who want to have a conversation. Who want to tell their story. I connect with - on average - 20 women a day on LinkedIn.
And, before you ask, in the beginning I was absolutely obsessed with 'likes' and comments. But over time I've come to realise that these numbers are no reflection of how well you're doing. They're vanity metrics. Social media is ruled by algorithms. No one knows how they work. It's not worth working it out, because next week they'll change. Focus on providing your customer with the best service you can give instead.
3. Natural marketing
I like writing. I like talking. I like listening. I like reading. So that's what I do:
I write. On LinkedIn (and on Facebook, but I believe only my mum reads it there!). Every day. And occasionally on here as well. I comment and read other people's posts. I contribute and support. I engage.
I listen. To customers. And potential customers. And hear what they've got to say. What their problems are. What's holding them back from achieving their dream career. And use it (anonymised, of course) for my marketing material
I talk. I have conversations with women every weekday, and often on Saturdays as well.
I read. Lots. And talk about it in my monthly Book Club.
My message here is: marketing doesn't have to feel unnatural. You can just do what comes naturally to you.
Don't like writing, but love to talk on video? Do it!
Would you love to have a podcast with interesting people? Do it!
Do you want to write a book? Do it!
This is your business. Run it the way you like it.
But my most important lesson? Consistency. Posting once and hoping for the best is not going to give you result.
In change management we say that people need to hear the same message seven times before it gets internalised.
Be consistent. Repeat the same message. Until you're sick of it. And then do some more. Your ideal customer needs to hear what you've got to say. More than just the once.
It's hard to start a new business. Especially when you don't know that you're about to be hit by a worldwide pandemic and the worst economic crisis in history.
But I've managed to engage with lots of women. I ran a free coaching programme in April to June, in which I supported over 50 women through a 10 day programme, focusing on 'Creating Career Ideas'. I had conversations with over 100 women throughout the year.
And most importantly, I started to get paying clients. Slowly at first, but more consistently as the year went on.
Being able to engage with your customers is so important. Without conversation there is no business. Once you set up your business you may find the same.
What didn't go so well
Trust me to go fulltime in my own company six weeks before a global pandemic hits.
What it taught me?
That you've got to be flexible and allow yourself to 'pivot' when things change. That there are opportunities, even in a global pandemic. That where there are things going down, there are also things on the up. Oh yeah, and that now everyone is online and knows how Zoom works! Which means that you can run your business from pretty much anywhere (unless, of course, you choose to open an actual shop, or a diving centre).
A word of warning. The moment you identify yourself as an entrepreneur there will be an army of businesses descending on you. Trying to sell you courses. Their fool-proof way of earning you 6-figure incomes. Telling you to do this, don't do that.
Distraction is a real risk. Shiny object syndrome is what it's called. Because one way or other all these pitches make sense.
It's a strong person who can stand aside and say 'No'.
It becomes a lot easier when you've got a plan (I love a good plan). And stick to it.
It's too easy to get distracted. And whilst a lot of business people have got things to offer that are useful, it's too easy to spend your money. That same money that you have to earn first.
I was debating if I should put this under 'What went well' or here. In the end I chose here.
What I've learned is that you can have a lot of money mindset issue. About what you're worth. What your services are worth. How much value you offer. How much your clients want to pay, or can afford to pay.
And also, from a pure business perspective: the insecurity of when money is going to come in. Cashflow. When you pay yourself, and how much. (See my tip on having an accountant).
Yes, I've learned a lot.
The biggest trap, however, is that you can fall into is to think that - because you've started a new business - you should start at the bottom of the ladder.
This - of course - is not true.
When you are starting a new business, you are bringing all the experience you've gained over the course of your career. What you've learned. What you've read. What you've experienced. How you solve problems. You bring all of that to your new venture. And your clients will benefit from this.
And finally, your offer.
I bet you've got a great idea about what you want to offer to clients. How you can help them.
I also bet that - 9 months in - you will change what you're offering. That you're going to make your offer clearer. Clarify what your client will get for their money. How you can help them. What it costs. And most importantly, what your client will have at the end of their work with you.
Which is why I am currently working on an exciting new programme - called Calm, Creativity & Courage - which is aimed at supporting you through your career change (even if you're not setting up your own business!).
I will be launching this in May 2021. And if you want to be the first to hear when I launch then sign up now for the Waiting List!
It's been a weird year. A tiring year. A year that has been a disaster for lots of people.
From a business perspective it's been a year of learning. Of trying things. Of finding things out. What works. What doesn't. But most of all about myself.
Is it hard? I won't lie to you, it is. Because you are embarking on something completely new. And change is hard. Because you are learning. Every day. But most of all because you learn so much about yourself. About what's important to you. And how you deal with stress, now that it's all on you.
Is it all worth it? You bet! The value you can add to your clients. The personal satisfaction. And most of all, the feeling of wanting to go to work, doing something you love. Nothing beats it!
Tineke Tammes works as a Women's Career Coach, who specialises specifically in supporting experienced professional women to make successful career transitions into work they love.