KnightVision Marketing Inc. has been in business for two years as of this month. In celebration of making it this far (in what we’d all agree has been a very challenging business environment), I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips for those who might be considering starting their own business.
So, in no particular order of importance, here we go:
1.) Cash is King – On second thought, this is the most important principle if you’re going to be in business for yourself because if you run out of money, that’s all, folks. I worked for corporations for 30 years and cash flow was something you never even thought about (that was the finance department’s problem). But when you’re out on your own, happiness is positive cash flow. And you should always be conservative in figuring out what you’ll need since it’s amazing how slow some companies are in paying their bills (it seems like the bigger they are, the slower they pay).
2.) Be Clear About What You Do – This seems to be an especially acute issue with consulting firms (like mine) since it’s hard to say “no” to a client willing to pay you to help them. At least try to be focused on what you’re really good at. For example, on the homepage of my website, my opening pitch is “I’ve helped build brands at P&G, PepsiCo, YUM and eBay, so let me help me build yours.” If you can’t put it in a sentence, go back and think about it until you can.
3.) Over Deliver – In an age of overpromise (seen any TV commercials lately?), I think it’s critical to make sure that whatever it is you promise you’re going to do for someone, you go “above and beyond” their expectations. Not only does that make them happy, it makes it really easy to get great referrals for future clients.
4.) Be Easy To Find – One mistake I made was not creating a company website until I was in business for a year. Once I got it created (thanks, Dave!), it made a huge difference in terms of my professional credentials as well as attracting new business (I have two clients that found me just based on my website). In addition to the website, I’ve worked hard to create a robust Twitter account (with almost 400 followers now) as well as Linked-In account (with almost 1,000 contacts). Type your name and your company name into Google on a regular basis – your goal should be to dominate the first several pages of the search results.
5.) Add Overhead Cautiously – I was in business for one year before I hired my first employee. I converted one of my bedrooms to an office and the basement into a conference room. I use Kayak to find the cheapest hotels and flights. Spend money where it really pays off (like on a great computer, research, stationery, etc) but be deliberately tight fisted in areas that aren’t going to make any difference to your clients. If we need a fancy meeting room, we can always go out and rent one…no need to have it 24/7 if you use it once a month. And most clients would prefer you go to them anyway.
6.) Learn How To Do It Yourself – I still come across managers that don’t know how to do their own PowerPoint presentation or how to operate a fax machine. Yikes! I’m not suggesting that you need to become a Jedi master of Excel or be able to write your own computer program. But you should always be looking for ways to learn how to do something yourself it it’s a skill you’re going to need on a regular basis, usuch as QuickBooks, Excel (basics) and PowerPoint/Keynote.
7.) Network, Network, Network – This is not a “nice to do”…this is absolutely critical for several reasons. First, you never know where your next client is coming from and the larger your network, the more likely it is someone is going to meet someone who needs exactly what you do. Second, you’re going to need others to help you out on various challenges and the more people you know, the more likely it is you’ll find exactly who you need when you need them. Finally, it’s a lot more fun being in business when you have plenty of friends to share your challenges and experience with on a regular basis.
8.) Remember To Say “Thank You” - While I’m a huge fan of email, nothing beats a hand written note when it comes to expressing gratitude. A former boss of mine (Peter Waller) was terrific at doing this….he would send out notes on a regular basis to a host of people letting them know just what it was he appreciated about what they had done. Be specific. Be sincere. And you’ll be amazed how much this will be appreciated.
9.) Stay On Top Of What’s Happening In Your Field- I think this is especially true for marketing (which is going through some revolutionary changes right now) but I think this applies across any business. There’s no lack of great (and often free) information out there to take advantage of….one technique I use is to follow marketers and thought leaders I admire and follow them on Twitter (they’ll point you in the right direction with links to articles that you’ll be glad you read).
10)Enjoy The Ride - This is the one that’s the easiest to forget. When you’re having to work an entire weekend to finish a project or you’re wondering if you’re ever going to hear back from a prospective client on if they want to proceed, I think it’s important to try to keep it all in perspective. Schedule time to exercise. To explore. To think. To relax. And to appreciate that most of the time things work out even better than you’d hoped (at least that’s been my experience).
Here's a salute to all the small businesses in America - I'm proud to be a part of this amazing ecosystem!