5 things I've learned from 5 years in business
I’ve recently hit a wonderful milestone: 5 years in business. Over the last 5 years I have moved house twice, juggled working with babies and tried my very best to find my feet in this bonkers yet amazing world of self-employment.
Some of you know my story, but for those who don’t (and for the purposes of understanding what I’ve learnt), here’s a brief summary:
2011/12: Finished Musical Theatre degree, had fleeting dreams of singing and teaching before getting married and putting those dreams aside to start a family.
2013: Had 6 month old baby. Decided to train as a nail technician and start giving manicures just for fun. Thought ‘I’d better declare this income’ and then fell with a clunk into self-employment.
2014: Manicure business morphed into a passion for nail art and I decided to make my own nail polish - 6 months of research and experimentation and Box Polish (my own brand of non-toxic nail polish) was born.
2015: Qualified in cosmetic manufacturing and started making skincare products as well as nail polish. Business started to boom.
2016: Had an almost mental breakdown after realising I was running a successful business I never wanted. Sold the business and announced my pivot towards singing and teaching (finally).
2017: Qualified in contemporary vocal teaching, took on my first students and wrote and recorded my online vocal technique programme.
2018: Launched Business Choir and continues to sing, teach and direct.
So there you have it. I have made some terrible mistakes, missed opportunities and spent many sleepless nights, but I’ve also laughed an insane amount, made some wonderful friends and had the time of my life.
Here are my top 5 tips taken from what I’ve learned over my 5 years in business…
1. Marketing isn’t an activity - it is your business.
Marketing is one of those words which, if you’re a creative like me, feels icky and boring. I always thought it was just an activity I had to find time to do sometimes. In actual fact - marketing is your whole business. When you create a brand, it’s marketing. When you create your social media accounts, it’s marketing. Post a selfie of you doing your thing? Marketing. Go to a fun coffee and cake networking event? That’s marketing. Write a blog like this one? Marketing!
I’ve learned to stop being scared of the word and accept that marketing is simply letting other people know about my business and what I’m doing. It’s sharing tips with my followers, meeting other business owners and refining the feel of my brand. When you realise marketing is everything you do - it stops being the big scary elephant in the room.
2. Give yourself permission to ebb and flow.
This is a big one for me - and it took me a while to come to terms with it! I’ve learnt that my motivation, energy and enthusiasm ebbs and flows. Some weeks I feel like I’m on a roll - I wake up eager to get going and my mind spins with new ideas. I find it easy to get out my laptop and write a blog, sit at the piano and record a teaching video or plan the next term of choir rehearsals. Other weeks - I’m just not feeling it. My energy levels drop, I don’t feel any motivation to do any work and I question whether I’m even a business owner at all.
Can you relate to this? I want to tell you it’s okay. I let myself ebb, because I know there’ll be a flow around the corner! I now allow myself days to do nothing if I know it’s going to be a fight to stay motivated, because I also give myself permission to go go go when I’m in my flow. Those are the weeks where I record 5 videos in one sitting or plan for the whole year ahead. I used to feel guilty for being a ‘workaholic’ and not allowing myself enough time out (during the flow stage), and then guilty for being ‘lazy’ and not doing any work at all in my ebb. Now I let myself ride the wave and give myself permission to do as much or as little as I feel able to - and it’s liberating!
3. Stop trying to sell. Business is all about relationships.
When I first started my manicure business I was trying to advertise as much as I could. As a baby business owner I thought this was how things were done - so I offered my services here there and everywhere and wondered why I found it so hard to get new business. Sure, I did pretty well from friends and family and people they referred, but I didn’t get any new business until I learned to stop pushing my services on people, and start building relationships instead.
I often get messages in my inbox from people trying to sell me their business. I hate to tar a brush across a group of people, but I’m sorry to say these messages almost always come from multi-level marketing businesses. They ‘add’ me as a friend or ‘follow’ my account, then immediately message and tell me they’ve found an amazing company which helps them to earn full time income in part time hours and would I be interested in an extra £x a month for barely any work?? If they’d taken the time to build a relationship with me first they’d know I have absolutely no interest in skincare and make-up, and after spending 3 years working on a business which wasn’t aligned with who I really am - there is no way I’m signing up to anything which isn’t related to singing and music. If they’d built that relationship first, they wouldn’t have wasted their own time writing that message, and in fact they might have had access to my network of people where somebody could in fact be interested in what they’re offering. Relationships are better than sales, people.
4. Networking is the best way to grow your business.
Following on nicely from point number 3, a brilliant way to start making and building those relationships is through networking. It might seem counterproductive to take time out of your working day to go for coffee and cake, but believe me it is so worth it. I’d say that over 90% of my business comes through referrals, which are more often than not a result of networking.
There’s another key point to this one - don’t network with the intention of getting business right away. People spot a secret salesman and you’ll lose relationships before you’ve even built them if you’re not careful. If you find a networking community and work hard to give value to others within that community however, magic can happen. Help people, give advise (whether related to your expertise or not), be genuine and be kind. Go with the intention to give, and you’ll receive far more in return. I find myself often being tagged in posts, recommended online and sent referrals by people I’ve been networking with.
5. Be yourself.
There’s a danger here of me writing a whole other blog about this one. As you can see from my business journey over the last 5 years, I haven’t always been true to myself, and true to my passion. I didn’t believe I was good enough. I thought it was easier to run a business without being emotionally attached to it. That way, rejection didn’t feel personal. I convinced myself I cared about nails (I don’t), and about creating nail polish (Um….still don’t), and I lied to everyone, including myself. This only made running this business even harder because I wasn’t working out of my passion and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my business.
In comes a breakdown, a scary step to sell Box Polish and a brave decision to make myself vulnerable and follow my heart’s desire to teach singing, and I couldn’t be more passionate about being myself within my business. I don’t need to pretend anymore, I genuinely DO care about singing, and helping others do the same. I’ve been told that I light up when I talk about my subject - that the passion and love for what I do exudes out of me effortlessly, and that it’s inspiring. The best part is that I don’t have to TRY to make that happen, it just does - because I’m being myself.
In my marketing, I’m myself. I might be too much for some (yep - I can be a little loopy!), but honestly? The people who are put off by my over enthusiasm just wouldn’t enjoy working with me - so why should I try to be someone else to draw them in? Being myself means that I attract people who genuinely like me, and as you really do get what you see - they love working with me. Happy customers and it’s LESS effort on my part, because I’m just being myself. Sound too simple? Try it!
Here’s Business Choir with a little snippet of the vocal jam called ‘Be Yourself’ - I thought it would be rather fitting here!
There you go - the top 5 things I’ve learned from my 5 years in business. Do you agree with these? Are there any you disagree with? Is there anything you’d add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Want to network with us? Business Choir are always looking for new members to join the collaborative sound of entrepreneurs having fun. Book a free taster and try it out for yourself!