Flying solo: retrospective on two years in business


4 min read
14 Sep
14Sep

Introduction

About a week ago my business turned two. I know this not because I am big on anniversaries particularly, but because Companies House send an alarming brown envelope emblazoned with “Important: take action now!” when it is approaching time to update your records with them. Birthday card it is not.

The incorporation date does not really stick in my mind because it was just me being typically prepared. I began trading officially at the start of October. About this time in 2019 I wrote a similar piece about my first year in business and you can read it here. I have just re-read it myself. I sound different, I think. A little bit more assured.

Apologies, but this does not contain any tips about improving your marketing. But if you are thinking about what owning a business might be like or you are a prospective client wanting to get to know the person behind the business a little better, this one is for you.


Executive summary

I had just one client doing one thing in my first year and met my financial and time-working goals. This year I have worked with five clients across the three different groups that I offer services to – see this for more detail about that. I increased revenue by over 25% in year 2. Not bad at all, given the Covid-19 curveball.

Before I unintentionally upset anyone, I should say that I have increased revenue only because I have worked for longer than last year. My voluntary commitments have been on hold since lockdown, so I had more time. I also thought it wise to take more paid work because I anticipate the downturn in my field may be delayed but protracted.


Investment

I ploughed some income from last year back in. Hired a copywriter and subscribe to two paid Mastermind groups to help me with areas of running a business that I am less good at. I reviewed my outgoings, resulting in switching insurers and accountants. Upgraded various software and bought some recommended business books.

I have also spent some free time reading those books and trying out their advice; working through exercises on each Mastermind program; and testing numerous productivity tools, mostly freeware, to understand the minimum level of tools and systems that allows my business to function efficiently.


Diversification

A year back IR35 was a hot topic and changes in legislation were due to come in back in April. I wrote about that here. If you want to know more about it head over here. I had a taster in March while negotiating a contract that would have spanned the change were it not for the government’s (11th hour, very welcome) delay until 2021.

That is why this year aimed to and did work with clients where IR35 does not apply or will continue to be my liability. Working with different types of clients did impact what I was able to charge in some cases, but for the eggs-in-several-baskets peace of mind and the kick I got from facing different types of business questions, it was well worth it.


Recognition

I was picked by Theo Paphitis on Twitter in December and joined the #SBS family and you can read more about that here. The annual event just squeaked in before lockdown and I feel that I owe it now to Theo to learn how to use Twitter properly in year three! I have also been named by a publication as something, but that is yet to be announced.

I have an awkward relationship with this kind of thing, but I force myself because if I do not hype myself sometimes, no one else will. As an introvert having a topic to build a post around that is third-party opinion is more comfortable than putting out a thinly veiled “Buy My Stuff” message. I am still terrible at those. Despite running a business.


Lockdown

My business is home-based and so there was no change to my daily working routine. On-site working stopped obviously, but I have successfully completed two engagements entirely remotely – one with an agency and another with a local business. I do miss my voluntary work desperately though and it dulled my spark for a little while for sure.

I was already a member of several fantastic online communities for independents and these became more important – and grew rapidly – during lockdown. The face to face networking groups that I had joined have now all moved online. Some are considering keeping it that way based on member feedback on time and cost savings.  

 

Enduring worries

In my first year I feared most things. I tend towards the worst-case scenario anyway and the more I learned about running a business the longer my list of concerns grew. I have overcome the overwhelm this year with a notifications-off policy on almost all my apps. I drastically pruned the mailing lists to which I am subscribed. Less info can be better.

I am no longer concerned about getting no future work despite the current economic climate being fragile. Yet I am constantly anxious about getting paid despite not yet having had a non-paying client. Thanks, brain. I learned to reflect to understand whether worries are rooted in fact. To try not to seek solutions for problems that do not exist.

 

Enlightening learnings

  1. Getting rejected is OK. It is just one business telling another that the offer is not preferred. If I only pitched/proposed/applied to “sure things” I would not have a sustainable business, not have learned from mistakes, not have done new things
  2. Going slowly is fine. If you are clear about what your business does and does not stand for and what you need from it, you are halfway there. Trying to sell anything to anybody is a short-cut to unhappiness in one form or another
  3. Saying no is good. There is never enough time and you will never be done. You will need to make choices about what you focus on. The trick is to have a clear enough plan that you can weigh up which opportunities will get you there
  4. Boundaries are essential. I have not been an employee for three years now and yet still catch myself asking “when do you need it?” rather than “I can do that by ___ - is that OK?” As a business owner when/where/how much are yours to set
  5. Joy is paramount. Yes, most business’ purpose is to make money. But if you do not get any satisfaction from doing what you sell, you will become unhappy – it is not a sustainable business. That is exactly why I am now hands-on  


Summary

If you are thinking of starting a small business my personal advice is not to read any business survival stats, at least not initially. They could well magnify your fears to the extent that you never really get off the ground. Because you may need to leave your comfort zone and make nausea-inducing decisions like you never imagined.

I have chosen to offer services in the same field that I used to work in when employed. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand I have skills that I know are in demand and a strong network of ex-colleagues that I can work with, for and talk to. But the same people may see me fail or I end up comparing myself to them, despite not competing.

Some people now (Q3 ‘20) are flying solo because they have been made redundant. My advice to them and to others who have left employment due to unhappiness is to realise quickly that running a business rather than being employed simply exchanges some challenges for others. Accept that, and you will be fine. Gotta run, year 3 planning calls.

 

Please ask before reproducing my material partially or wholly for commercial use.
 © Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2020

16Jun
Comments
* The email will not be published on the website.