Before we begin, let me give it to you straight. Starting your own business is bloody hard. So hard in fact that most of you reading this will quit before you’ve really began. A slightly harsh way to start an article about success you might think, but that’s really the whole point. Remember, if it was easily attainable, everyone would be accomplishing it. If I told you it was going to be an easy ride, I’d be doing you much more of a disservice.
Running a successful business is not easy. Working for someone else is easy. Letting someone else make all the difficult decisions is easy. Working an eight hour day and taking home a regular pay check is easy. Running your own business is as far from easy as it can possibly get.
When you decide to strike out on your own you will be inundated with people ‘helpfully’ offering you their advice and opinions. They’ll tell you that you’re mad to want to quit your job, and that leaving behind the security of a regular income is crazy… and in many ways they are completely right.
If I’ve kept you this far then hopefully you’re now thinking “Screw that! I’d rather work twice as hard so I can live a life and create something I really want – whatever the cost” and if that’s the case, then congratulations my friend, you may just have a shot.
Yet passion and determination are only one piece of the pie. You first have to have a damn good idea and then the drive, ambition and forward planning to actually make it happen.
For some people, coming up with their business idea is easy. They have a lightbulb moment or a brainwave when they least expect it. But for the rest of us it can take years to uncover exactly what it is we really want to do. So just how do you know if your latest business idea is a ‘good’ one or not?
Of course no-one can give you a definitive answer to this biggest of questions but there are a few things you can do when trying to figure this out for yourself. Firstly you need to obsessively research your chosen field and profession. You need to devour books, blogs, workshops and training courses. You need to take in as much information as possible and then you need to work your butt off practising over and over and over again.
If this sounds like a lot of work then you may not have uncovered your brilliant business idea just yet. However if this is something you’ve already done or you can’t wait to get stuck into then you might just be on the right path.
If you’re not obsessed with your chosen idea then drop it and move on. You have to really love what you do, and be willing to do it for free (or at least very little money) for a significant amount of time before you really make any traction or even a sniff of profit. If you’re not willing to work for free then you’ll likely give up before you’ve even really got started. If you don’t completely love what you plan to do then working for a regular pay check is always going to be an easier route to take.
Working for free gets a bad rep, but getting some experience under your belt before you start worrying about charging for what you do will be hugely beneficial for you and your potential customers. If you’re an aspiring photographer try to second shoot a wedding; if you want to be a blogger then work on your writing, figure out your niche and build up your readership and industry connections before you try to monetise; if you want to design stationery ask a friend who’s getting married if you can create theirs as a wedding gift.
Working for free enables you to not only get some first-hand experience in the area you want to go into, but gives you the opportunity to then ask for some honest and valuable feedback. Feedback can sometimes be tough to take (because, let’s be honest, who gets it all right first time?!) but it’s vital if you want to improve and grow. Ask people how they found working with you but also what they’d really love from someone doing what you offer. While you should always stick to your own core values, sometimes other people will notice a few little things that you didn’t realise needed improving. We grew the experience of The Blogcademy exponentially after getting some constructive feedback from our students in those first few classes.
If I’ve learnt anything from launching and running two successful businesses in the past five years, it is that looking for gaps in the market is imperative. There are a million other bloggers, photographers, designers and teachers out there, and so the best way to make sure you rise to the top is to differentiate yourself.
Look to your core values and ask yourself “what is it that makes me different?” The answer to that question is likely to be the ultimate key to finding your right path. In an over-saturated market like the wedding industry, clients are much more prone to book the suppliers that they click with.
If an engaged couple were looking at two wedding photographers, for example, and they both offered similar styles of work, packages and prices, what is it that will make them pick one over the other? The likelihood is that they’ll choose the one that they get on best with or who shares similar interests to them. So instead of taking the safe path and trying to be the same as everyone else, embrace what makes you weird/ awesome/ unique and run with it. Remember, if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no-one.
Once you’ve come up with your grand idea, the next thing you need to do is to construct a business plan. This is crucial for moving your business in the right direction. Full disclosure: I did not do this (I started Rock n Roll Bride as a hobby and it actually became my business completely by accident). However I know that if I had done, I would have been able to make my blog profitable a lot sooner than I did.
The benefit of a business plan is firstly that you have concrete goals to work towards, but also that you’re not just ambling along without any direction. Knowing where you want to get to and working out exactly what you need to do in order to get there will help you move along a lot quicker and make much more strategic decisions.
Year one will be tough and you’ll likely not make much money. You’ll be working ridiculously long hours building your client base, working on your brand and honing your skills. The easy option will still be to go back to working for someone else. However if you have a long term plan of where you want to go and how you’re going to make it happen then you’re much less likely to quit.
The misconception amongst a lot of new business owners (especially online) is that everyone else has it so much easier than they do. Everyone else appears to have it all figured out and to have found success quickly and easily. This is not the case at all. In this age of social media we’ve all got very adept at only sharing our carefully editing highlights online. The internet has made us all impatient for success but a business plan will keep you grounded and encourage you to look forwards and not sideways at what everybody else is doing.
After coming up with your idea, obsessing over it, researching it like a crazed fan and plotting out how you’re going to make it happen comes the final, most as crucial part: the action. Ideas are pointless without it.
You need to keep practicing, keep learning and to be open to making a few mistakes along the way. You need to realise that there is a chance you could fail but that you’re going to keep plodding on anyway.
In moments of uncertainly, always remember that no-one else has lived your life or has your experiences and that differentiating yourself is what will ultimately allow you to stand out. Always refer back to that business plan and remember to occasionally stop and notice just how far you’ve come.
Each and every turn in this journey you’re about to take will be an amazing opportunity for growth and improvement. Even if your first idea doesn’t take off in the way you might have hoped, revel in the fact that it’s still taught you something that you can keep using when you come up with your next one. Then go back and start again.
Instant success is rare and it not reaching it right away certainly doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. I firmly believe that no idea is a failure; it’s simply a work in progress.