With high-profile tech entrepreneurs consistently making headlines across the media, it’s all too easy to allow your personal achievements to feel dwarfed. If you’re constantly on the lookout for the next awe-inspiring rags to riches tale, you’ll appreciate how those individuals can gain almost rockstar status in young entrepreneur circles – like a wannabe superstar, you can work hard to reach those dizzy heights with your own start-up, but this is akin to starting a band with the aim of becoming the next Rolling Stones.
Guiding your start-up through the varying stages of success is an exciting prospect; after all, the journey is the most thrilling part of being a business owner. Although we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s all or nothing and success must be imminent, I’m going to discuss the more traditional model that is: starting small, building a solid brand and growing on that success to create a long term, reputable company.
Referring back to the music analogy, this amounts to starting out on the local scene, building a fanbase, sparking interest in the media and ultimately retaining full control of your brand.
Starting a new business inevitably comes with varying degrees of risk, but as a risk-averse personality type myself, there are certainly ways to minimise that risk whilst still maximising your growth. For me, that meant reducing my outgoings, working three jobs, picking up new skills and learning on the job. Here, Adam Mezzatesta of live music agency Bands for Hire, discusses some of his recommendations to turn your one man band business into a market leader.
1. Reinvest profits and minimise personal outgoings
When you first start a new company, you’re going to revel in every enquiry, every social media mention and hopefully, every sale. As those sales turn to profit, you’ll need to reinvest every penny in order to take your business to the next level, and that may mean some cutbacks in your personal life.
My early career began as an independent musician (aka unsigned, struggling musician) and so I was already adequately trained up in this area. With sidelines that included a function band and web design moonlighting, I was able to juggle all three until the time felt right to focus my efforts on what mattered most. If you’re lucky enough to have a sideline or skill that you can utilise in parallel with your business, then this may be the right step for you. Remember that right now we’re talking about playing it safe – not everyone was born to risk it all and go for glory.
By keeping outgoings to a minimum and drawing a small income elsewhere, you’ll be able to build a steady cash flow, giving you the confidence to invest in marketing and other areas to speed up growth.
2. Work smart
In the early stages of your business, you may find yourself working as a one man band, taking on everything from product development, branding and marketing to networking, accounting and website maintenance. That can certainly be overwhelming, but by incorporating quality systems into your day to day work life, you’ll take the pain out of the mundane and increase your productivity threefold. For me, working smart means spending more time on something initially that will inevitably save you time long term.
A key aspect of working smart is reducing unnecessary administration time. As the owner of a booking agency, one of the first things I had to overcome was how to avoid typing the same email replies over, and over again. After a little research I came across an app called TextExpander which has many features to severely cut down on your typing, including boilerplate email replies, shortcuts for today’s date, general typo corrections and abbreviations for words that you almost always type incorrectly or just can’t be bothered to type at all!
Years later we introduced a web-based system to manage our bookings but still to this day rely heavily on TextExpander to reduce our daily workload.
It can be tempting to manually take care of your accounts using spreadsheets and invoice templates, but while this may seem like the easy way to begin with, eventually it will drag you down and you’ll have no choice but to move over to a web based system. From April 2019 all VAT-registered companies are required to submit returns digitally, so you may as well get started straight away.
There are a number of well-known accounting software solutions out there; we use Sage which ties in nicely with our payroll and card payments but other popular options are Quickbooks, Clearbooks, Xero and KashFlow. Most will offer free trial periods, so it’s worth playing around to find which suits your requirements best – transitioning from one accounting system to another is something you’ll want to avoid in the future, with so many other aspects of the business taking priory.
Utilise messaging apps
You may have lighting fast thumbs, but nothing beats the efficiency of having everything in one place. Companies such as Clickatell offer a full solution which allows you to send and receive SMS text messages online without the hassle of using your phone. If that’s a step too far for your current needs, then it’s definitely worth making use of the current apps on the market such as the desktop version of Whatsapp, the web-based version of Facebook Messenger and Apple’s desktop-based Messages – something which has revolutionised my daily working life.
There are a whole host of ways to improve productivity, from Adobe Sign to get your contracts and agreements signed off with ease, to the Sign feature on Apple’s Preview app to numerous free and paid software solutions for anything and everything.
3. Retain control
Going it alone isn’t the right choice for everyone, many businesses simply need the investment in order to move forward with a healthy cash flow. If growth in the first year is slower than expected, you may feel the urge to look for funding to accelerate that growth. On the other hand, if you’re happy to go slow and steady and have confidence in your product, retaining full control can often be the smart way forward.
If your company was a new band, you wouldn’t necessarily sign up to X-Factor in order to build a long and lasting music career – it’s far more realistic and rewarding to put the hard work in yourself early on than put your future in someone else’s hands.
4. Focus on your marketing – it’s free
Marketing is an area where you’ll undoubtedly be spending a lot of time and money, but this doesn’t need to be the case in the first year or two. By spending time researching social media marketing techniques and working hard on your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), you should be able to gain enough momentum to dip your feet into the market and pinch that small market share that will get your business up and running.
SEO is a wide and varied form of marketing, but it’s something that can be done without a budget if you put the hours into research and exert the required effort. By cutting down on marketing spend in areas where you excel, you’ll have more budget available elsewhere, giving you the edge over your competitors.
“Having some form of web design knowledge will be extremely useful in the long run”
5. Learn basic coding
Regardless of the type of business you’re running, having some form of web design knowledge will be extremely useful in the long run. The very basics such as HTML and CSS can all be learnt for free online and will give you a massive advantage when it comes to reducing your costs early on – it’s perfectly acceptable to get your hands dirty with a little DIY in the first few years of starting out. Some basic web design knowledge will allow you to tweak and update your website without relying on third party companies and that’s going to seriously cut down on your outgoings.
6. Create a bespoke system
As your company grows, you may find you need a more robust way to organise your business, at which point it could be time to ditch the combination of online and desktop apps you’re currently using and create a bespoke software solution that fulfils all your needs. Creating a bespoke system will be costly and can be built in stages but is an essential step in order to increase your productivity and reduce the time spent on wasteful administrative activities.
7. Excel at customer service
As a one man band business the buck ultimately stops with you. With your name on the door, there’s no one better equipped to provide exceptional customer service than yourself – something which larger companies sometimes struggle to compete with. By offering more time per customer you can offer exceptional customer service catered towards each individual. With such a crucial advantage, you’ll be in a prime position to syphon away your competitors’ clients and edge your way forward into the marketplace.
8. Employ your first member of staff…sooner rather than later
Many entrepreneurs never get to the point where they take on their first employee and so remain a one man band forever. My biggest mistake in business was waiting too long to employ my first member of full-time staff and when I finally took the plunge it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
You may find yourself in a favourable position where the business is thriving and you’re paying yourself generously, but this can be a dangerous thing for the entrepreneur – while it’s nice to finally be enjoying some financial freedom, short term gains are not the end game. If you’re thinking big, it could be time to loosen the shackles of the safety net and delve into the ugly world of recruitment, payrolls and pensions.
Young entrepreneurs with a hunger for success may be more than willing to take a gamble on a new business, but for others, taking the big leap to become a business owner can come with risks that are just too great to bear. If you work smart, work hard and never lose sight of the end goal then hopefully you’ll find that slow and steady can win the race… eventually.