When I published my post on how I quit my job and spent a third of the year travelling I received messages from people saying they wish they could do the same. The post was mostly tips on how to travel freely when you already run a business or freelance. SO many people have told me their dream about becoming a remote consultant or running their own business – whether it’s because they want to travel, stay at home with their children or just because they want to be their own boss. That’s why I’ve decided to write a post rounding-up some of the best advice I’ve picked up since launching my own business.
I can barely believe it’s been 3 years since I quit my job. I had no idea whether it’d be successful or if I’d be having my house repossessed in 6 months. I had some savings behind me and was prepared to go back to normal employment if things didn’t work out. I must have had a moment of madness, along with a bad day at work, to finally come to the decision that I was going to leave my job and go freelance. Now that I look back I can’t believe I found the courage to do it, but I’m so glad I did because it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
When I left my job it wasn’t because I hate where I worked or because I had a burning ambition to run my own company. I just wanted to have a better work/life balance. I wanted to wake up when I wanted to wake up, I wanted to choose who I worked with, and I wanted to travel when I wanted to. It wasn’t until I started my business that I realised the potential, and my ambition exploded. Everything changed, and I probably work more now than ever, but I’m so happy especially when I see the company go from strength to strength.
For those of you that don’t know, I own a multi-award-winning digital marketing agency in Cornwall. We partner with the world’s most exciting brands from London to New York to deliver Google Ads management and SEO services. Our company has flourished the past couple of years, from winning national awards to working with giant high-street brands, growing beyond my wildest dreams. I’m no expert on running a business, but here are some tips that really helped me when starting out and this is how I built a 6 figure business from nothing.
Don’t quit your job without a financial safety net
This is the biggest mistake that I see freelancers make. It’s easy to see when you’re looking in from an outside perspective. I witnessed a few people doing this, and the heartbreak when they have to return to work because they ran out of funds too quickly without a chance to turn things around. Believe me, just a few extra hundred pounds makes all the difference when you’re living month to month and building a client-base.
When I first started attending business workshops from Unlocking Potential there was one piece of advice that really stuck for me. Save at least 3 – 6 months living expenses before you even think about writing that letter of resignation. It sounds like a lot of money but you’ll need it when you have no source of income. It’s crucial that you have money to ease cash flow at the beginning because you don’t know how long it’ll be until you get your first client. Once you get moving you’ll be able to forecast your potential income with more accuracy. Until then, save.
Plan as much as you can before leaving
When I decided I wanted to go freelance, it was very difficult for me to start up. I was in a job position that prevented me from going after my own clients because I was working at another agency (in the sales department, to make things even worse!). I have a lot of respect for the company that I was working at, and I was going to tarnish my integrity by going behind their back and trying to secure clients whilst I was committed to working for them. It felt wrong morally and based on my contract, probably legally, too.
I didn’t go into work one day advertising the fact that I was going freelance. I actually didn’t think it was going to be a big deal because I never anticipated the business growing this much… But instead, I began thinking about names for my business in the evening. Then I started thinking about logos, web design, and who I wanted to work with when I eventually left. This meant when I finally handed in my notice and was officially self-employed, I could start focusing on my business with a clear vision in mind, whilst maintaining my integrity. I wasn’t just dumped in the deep end without a clue of what I was going to do next.
Be prepared to work your buns off initially 🍑
I feel like people want to start a business because they’re going to get rich overnight and then they’ll be able to kick-back and stop working. Sadly, that isn’t how it usually works. If you have a friend that runs a business and you see them not them taking some time off mid-week, it’s probably because they’ve already done an obscene amount of hours and they need a break. Growing a successful business takes a lot of time, energy and commitment. If you’re not passionate about your industry, you’re probably going to have a really hard time staying motivated.
Once your business is rolling, you’ll be able to take a step back (but that’s a challenge in itself!). Be prepared for some long nights and spending a lot of time learning and growing. This is when you really need to roll your sleeve up and get stuck in so you can keep your business going. In truth, it’s such a rush running your own business (no two days are ever the same!) so the first couple of years flew by because everything was new and I was learning so much along the way.
Read, read, read and then read some more
The world is full of successful men and women that have built profitable companies. They’re all full of advice and knowledge that can completely change your perspective and steer you in the right direction. If you’re lucky enough to get talking to one of these people in the flesh, then listen carefully and ask lots of questions. If not, then you’re going to have to find the answers to your questions someplace else. Believe me, you’ll always have questions. Every time my business goes through a new growing-pain, I have something new to ask. It’s a constant learning curve.
The best thing about reading is that you start asking even more questions that you hadn’t even thought about. I feel so motivated and engaged when I’m reading a good business or marketing book, and I end up learning so much more about what I want out of my career. This ends up shaping my life and subsequently, impacting on my happiness. I honestly couldn’t recommend this more. Utilise the information and data that’s available online and you’ll see your business grow quicker than you’d ever imagine.
Attend business events and workshops
Going to good local business networks and courses are crucial for growth. When I first launched my business I attended a lot of EU funded Unlocking Potential workshops – and I continue to go along to their events now. If you’re not based in Cornwall, just do a quick search for free business workshops in your area. These sessions will help you grow and develop your business, as well as giving you the opportunity to connect with like-minded business owners. It’s a great way to get new clients but most importantly, you’ll learn so much from other people in the room – so remember to listen.
Be wary of workshops you choose to attend. If you’re paying to attend a networking event or business workshop then do some digging around first. You’ll soon learn which are the best ones to go to and which aren’t worth your time. Even if you aren’t paying to go to an event, you’re still committing your time by going to the event. That time is so precious, especially as your business grows, as those hours can be spent on marketing your business or working on your client projects. As we’ve grown we’ve had to be really picky about which events we attend.
Don’t neglect project management and processes
Without Asana, I’d be completely lost. Asana is a project management tool I religiously use every. single. day. It has every task I need to do, broken down into individual projects. As your business begins to grow you’ll soon find that a simple to-do list doesn’t suffice anymore. There are a few different options out there for project management, so find one that works for you. I’ve trialled a few different ones and Asana is the one that worked for me and my business, so I ended up using it more and now it’s one of the most important tools in my business.
Processes will help you to scale your business enabling you to grow confidentially and efficiently. You’ll naturally begin to form processes as your business grows but I can guarantee you, you’ll want to take advantage of the free time you have at the beginning of your business journey. As your sales grow your time will be more limited. You can set up processes using CRM systems such as Hubspot, project management tools and Gmail extensions.
Write a business plan that works for you
When you register your company you’ll feel like writing a business plan is mandatory. During my business and marketing undergraduate degree, I had to write a few of these for assignments, so it came naturally to me. I was comfortable writing them but I didn’t feel like there was any value. It didn’t feel like a helpful document and I was just writing it for the sake of writing it, because I felt like I should do, even though I didn’t need it (you might need to write a business plan if you’re going to funding, investment or a business loan).
Last year I was lucky enough to meet Peter Jones from Dragon’s Den. I forced myself to write a business plan ahead of our meeting so I could be as prepared as possible. I explained my thoughts on the business plan document and said I prefer to write long, organised lists in a timeline with goals in Asana. He explained that IS what a business plan is and that I don’t have to write a traditional document just for the sake of it. What a relief! So don’t worry about writing reams of A4 with junk that isn’t useful, instead create a plan that works for you. Without it, you’ll lack direction and your business will grow considerably slower.
Get yourself a good business mentor and/or coach
A good business mentor or coaching program is so valuable. My business mentor Lucy helps me find a new perspective, she gives me her shoulder to cry on, and she challenges my opinions. We meet up every month or so and talk about how things are going. She’s been by my side from day one, offering advice, helping me set goals and opening up doors. I always find clarity and motivation after our meetings.
Lucy doesn’t own a digital marketing agency – as you might assume. She runs a successful eCommerce brand. This is really refreshing and it’s great to speak to someone that models our prospective client, rather than a competitor. Her business tackles the same growing pains as we do except she has a boatload more experience than us. The most important thing is to find a mentor that understands your business and someone you feel comfortable around, as you’ll be sharing a lot with them.
Put yourself out there and don’t worry what people think
I was at a judging day for an award today and somebody said something that I really resonated with. She said, “my goal last year was to get comfortable with the uncomfortable”. When you’re running a business you end up doing a lot of things that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes they’re good things that just take some time to get used to, and sometimes they’re bad things but you learn to work through them. Either way, these are important lessons that’ll help you grow professionally and personally.
There will be things that you’re not confident about but take the leap. Growth comes from pushing yourself outside your boundaries. It can be hard to tackle a fear but it’s worth it in the end. There are so many things that I do now that I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing 5 years ago (for example, standing on a stage in front of 3,500 people talking about digital marketing!). Now pushing the boundaries is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and it’s the reason I’m in love with what I do. If you’re worried about the haters, you’ll need to grow some thick skin because those people will always exist but just ignore them and power through.
Be mindful of your health and avoid the burnout
You only have to Google “Small business advice” to find hundreds of articles about how to grow your company online and make money from home. Nobody really writes about looking after your mental health when you’re a business owner though. Long hours and investing all your energy into making something your passionate about can be draining. It can be especially tough if you’re working from home because it’s harder to metaphorically close the door on work, feeling like you’re always working and never taking a break.
Make a routine – set working hours, schedule breaks and give yourself a weekend. You’ll need to figure out what gives you energy and learn what makes you switch off from work. For me, cleaning the house, swimming and having a massage is how I can completely disconnect from work. When my skin in salty from the sea and my muscles are loose from a massage I feel like I’ve hit the reset button. I have a new lease of energy which makes me far more productive, so I feel better, get more work done and avoid the dreaded burn-out.