This is the first article I’ve written for My Entrepreneur, and I don’t mind sharing that I procrastinated about what to write for quite a while. Do I write something that tees up my business experience and credentials? Do I dive straight in with an in depth ‘how to’? Or do I help you get to know me in the hope you come back for more? I went for the latter! It’s been done before but I wanted to share the top 5 things I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey. It’s a relatively short journey in real terms but I’ve learned a hell of a lot. And I think there’s some important lessons to share for both those just starting out and more seasoned business leaders alike.
If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I’m a business coach. I’ve been running my coaching business for nearly 2 years now and the learning curve has been steep to say the least. I learn something new every single day. It’s one of the best parts of running your own business, and sometimes one of the worst.
When I look back at those first two years, it’s clear that I’ve spent a great deal of it in a completely incompetent state! Bear with me, I’m talking textbook incompetence – I’m a more than competent coach.
In the four stages of learning, as illustrated above, you start by not knowing what you don’t know. I’m sure many of you can relate. I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know and when I did know, I often still found it difficult to work out how to get the right information or guidance, such is the complex world of too much information that we live in. This is all great from a personal growth point of view, of course – spending this much time out of my comfort zone has really helped me to develop. In terms of getting my business off the ground, however, it’s probably meant a much slower start than I anticipated. I naively assumed that as I’d been very successful in the first 15 years of my career, it couldn’t be that hard to start my own business.
As the diagram says, the learning happens as you become conscious and then competent. If you’re looking to speed your learning journey up, or just get back on track. Here’s five things I’ve learned on the journey that I think may be of use.
Stay in your lane
Early doors, when you’re still establishing yourself, your product and your customer base, it can be really easy to look at what everyone else is doing and be swayed or influenced. It can also be tempting to get sidetracked by opportunities that are outside of your niche. The best advice I’ve been given is to ‘stay in your lane’. I’ve changed my niche three times in two years and I’ve always come back to my first idea of helping small businesses through the growth stage. It’s where my experience lies, it’s where my interest lies and it’s what I’m good at. But it’s taken time to find the right clients and it’s easy to get impatient. I’ve also swung from thinking no one is doing it so it’s not a good idea, to thinking everyone’s doing it and I’ll never be able to compete. Needless to say, nothing comes quickly and competition will always be there. The trick to staying in your lane is to do your research and then spend time working out what your unique abilities are. Never stick your head in the sand. Take a very black and white view of the competition, be empirical, break down their offer and how they back it up. Work out who they are aiming for and where are they visible. Then make your own plan and broadly stick to it. But…
Get comfortable with trial and error
Your business is unique, and so are you. Your clients will be the people who get to know, like and trust you. Finding them, and helping them to find you, will often be a case of trial and error. Give yourself the best chance of success by making sure you plan and research everything you do properly. Then track what you do and do more of what works. Don’t spend too much time beating yourself up for the things that don’t work, recover and move on quickly and learn from your mistakes. This will allow you to capitalise on my third piece of advice…
Focus on output as well as input
As small business owners in 2017, we have more access to information and resources than anyone before us. It can be incredibly difficult to sift out what’s truly going to help us. The key is to learn by doing and then seek out specific advice, skills and knowledge to support you to move to the next stage. Don’t fall for anything that promises anything in 10 easy steps, it’s likely to be very high level and anyone giving this stuff away for free is pushing you into a funnel where you’re begging to pay for the next piece of the puzzle. Make time to review what you’re learning along the way, and think ‘learn-do-learn-do’. One of the best places to learn and grow is through your network…
Be intentional about your network
I left my job thinking I had a huge and supportive network. Through the different lens of my new business it looked a whole lot different. Some of the best advice I’ve had along the way, and the biggest learning curve, has been to do with networking and how to manage my network. This has also been one of my main areas of trial and error and one of the biggest drivers of not staying in my lane. The trick to good networking is to work out what you want from it. Do you need a support network and a community or are you networking to meet potential clients? It could be both but go to the wrong networking events, or with the wrong intentions, and you could end up confused and a bit lost. Go to the right ones and you feel buoyed and optimistic. I’ve experienced this first hand and the difference is significant. As a very brief summary of the best advice and tips I’ve picked up – decide whether you’re going to meet clients or peers, start local, look at sites like meetup.com and Eventbrite, always review the other attendees, target who you want to connect with and absolutely nail your elevator pitch.
I spent a very happy hour with two local entrepreneurs this morning discussing setting up a new local networking group. When I told them I became a coach because coaching changed my life they both gave me a wry smile and said they had had exactly the same experience. Both of them had worked with a business coach and both felt that it had changed both their business and their life. Neither were coaches but both agreed that more people need to be confident to make the investment the sort of tailored support that a coach can provide. It’s honestly one of the best investments you can make as long as you take the time to find someone who can provide the exact support you need. You would say that, I hear you scoff! However, I say this from the point of view of a client not a coach – I have a coach and I couldn’t live without her, it’s been my biggest business investment and my biggest business driver. Choose someone you like but that you respect enough to be challenged by and look for a proven track record of results – and make sure their offer focusses on their clients and not the lifestyle their business has afforded them.
These are by no means the only lessons I’ve learned, and I’m sure they won’t be the last either. Running your own business is a wonderful, tiring and hugely rewarding journey. I’d love to know your biggest business challenges so I can make my column as relevant as possible going forward. Let me know in the comments below!
I help fast growing product and service based businesses move from start up to grown up. By supporting them to optimise every element of their business they can maximise profit and minimise complexity.
Drawing on 15 years experience working on improving businesses from the inside to increase revenue, grow profit, kill problems and build amazing teams, I support business owners to create structure, process, clarity and the right mindset.
My extensive practical experience is supported by a Postgraduate Diploma in Coaching and Behavioural Change awarded with Merit from Henley Business School. I began my career working for a number of blue chip consumer goods companies managing large senior teams and high profile projects. I was awarded the European Supply Chain Excellence Award in 2014 for my work providing commercial advantage through outstanding team engagement.