This month, I am celebrating my ecommerce business Choose Me reaching one year of age. Whilst being incredibly grateful for reaching this milestone, it hasn’t been the easiest of years and I am sure many people out there would have experienced similar themselves!
Whilst getting this far certainly makes me no expert, It has inspired me to write an article to call out my top 5 tips for any others out there who may be embarking on, or part way through, a similar journey.
Achieving a work life balance was one of the reasons I left the corporate world, so it was something I was really conscious about when I started on my own. I knew I wasn’t walking into something that would enable me to work half the hours I did in corporate, but the ability to choose when I worked and when I took a break was a draw card for me.
Being able to watch my kids’ sports events at 3 o clock in the afternoon, to be there for their homework and to have dinner together was something I now loved being able to do because of this new flexibility. Yes, it meant starting a little earlier in the morning and/or working a few hours once they had gone to bed, but it was a balance that made me feel good and made my children happy too. Being able to choose when I took some time out meant I got the most out of it and was able to come back to work feeling more driven to take on the next set of tasks ahead.
The reality is there will always be something to do and you will never get to the stage where you look at your to do list and it is empty. But trust me, if you don’t add some chill time to that list and make it a non negotiable task, you will burn out quickly. You won’t (and shouldn’t) truly switch off, but you have to feed your body with enough sleep, exercise and ‘me’ time to give you the stamina and mental clarity that you need to succeed.
Planning goes hand in hand with balance. Without it, you will be constantly running around like a headless chicken! For me, I am a born planner. I am forever making lists and really do live by them in everything I do at work and home time. The trick is to have a master list and then break this up into smaller, achievable lists every day. I like to prepare my lists at the end of the day for the next, as it helps me sleep. Others prefer that to be their first task of the day, so do whatever suits you.
One thing I found with a start up is that there are tasks that need to be done that are outside your comfort zone and these you tend to gravitate away from. Avoiding them doesn’t help, so slot them in on times you know you are at your best or assign a day every week that you must conquer these and stick to it. I have ‘Finance Fridays’ and do all my financial tasks on that day, which then allows me head into the weekend feeling positive. The incentive of a large glass of wine after doing a day of finances is certainly a mental motivation for me!
This was a hard one for me, as being such a planner, my biggest fear is the unknown which constantly rears its ugly head in a start up. We naturally find comfort in doing what we know, but when you are running a business in its entirety, you have to wear multiple hats. There will always be new things to learn which we must open our minds into doing so with enthusiasm.
I knew social media was so important for my business, but it filled me with fear. I knew it was a massive part I had to get my head around in order to become a success. Sure, I could post my own pictures on Facebook but these were only seen by my friends and family. Posting content to the public was just way too much for me to comprehend. The anxiety that goes hand in hand with posting something that will be seen and hopefully ‘liked’ by an audience of diverse personalities was intense.
No joke, it took me about six hours to prepare my first post for Instagram and it was just a simple picture and some copy. I was petrified about using the wrong hashtags, worried about grammar and spelling and had at that stage looked at the photo so long that I was second guessing whether it was even really post-worthy. I finally pressed ‘post’ and was then an anxious mess for the next hour, checking every two minutes to see whether anyone had liked it or commented on it. It was literally soul destroying ….. but I survived. Each post got easier and easier and eventually I got over the fear. It is as simple as remaining true to yourself, be authentic, just be you. If people like it then great, if they don’t then don’t beat yourself up about it, learn and move on.
If the idea of failure is a fear (as let’s be honest, when is it not?) then try and embrace the new skills you are learning along the journey. Even if the business ends up failing or not being what you expected, know that you have grown professionally and have a thicker level of resilience which will make you stronger going into your next chapter of life.
I am not sure anything could quite prepare me for working on my own day in day out. Being an introvert, I thought I would find it pretty easy and actually looked forward to being able to get so much more done without the constant interruptions of someone walking into my office. But after a few weeks I found myself having full on one way conversations with my dog, having longer than usual conversations with the courier guy and not hanging up immediately on those pre-recorded sales calls! It was clear that even my introvert self needed a bit of human connection every now and then!
Friends had suggested network events and if I am honest the mere thought of them made me cringe with dread, but having been to a few I am pleased I did. Sometimes it was just the energy and passion of others that stirred up the creativity in me. If you are going to attend some network events be sure to do a bit of research on them before you do go. Your time is precious and sitting in a two hour presentation on a subject with zero relevance to your field can have you back talking to the dog in no time.
I also realised (probably later than most) that you didn’t have to physically go and meet someone to network, but could do so through joining local groups on social media where a whole heap of people, many on the same entrepreneurial journey share their stories and advice. Being a part of a group like that instantly made me feel less alone and I am pleased to say that through these groups I met the people who form a part of the Choose Me team today!
Also, realise from the start that you cannot do everything on your own. I‘ve already mentioned the tasks that stretch you beyond your comfort zone, but be careful you don’t stretch yourself too thin. Get help on certain things, as spending hours and hours on something is time and energy taken away from the bigger picture. Outsourcing is not always as costly as you first think.
Unless you are sitting on a stockpile of cash or have a start-up that requires little or no capital to execute, the likelihood when starting up is you are using funds from various, if not all, forms of savings and loans. The scariest part for me was ploughing in cash that had taken years to save into something I had no guarantee would work.
My biggest piece of advice is to set the budget for the first year and ensure the money needed to get you up and running is no more than 30% of the funds you have available. There is probably a more mathematical way of calculating this, but my point is that later down the road if you need a cash injection you will be happy you have some to inject versus trying to raise additional funds due to pumping all the cash in at the beginning.
However, the only way to do this is to start small. By all means let your dreams be big, but start lean and you increase your ability to be flexible.
The other thing to consider is learning to live lean! If you are still working alongside your start up then you will be lucky enough to still have a stream of income coming in. If you going solo straight away then be prepared to live lean for a while.
Even when the sales start coming in, be careful to not get over excited and let the anticipation of future rewards lure you into spending money that’s not there yet. You may have planned salaries into the budget, but if it’s you alone, chances are yours will be the first to be cut when times are tough. You could be paying someone else for assistance long before you are able to take a salary of your own.
In closing, there are lots of us out there striving for success. There will be many fails and there will be days when you feel like chucking it all in! Share your fears with those closest and never be too proud to take advice from others. The most important thing is to stay passionate and persevere!
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover."
Mark Twain, author