What I learnt in my first year

Jan 15, 2015

It’s just over a year since I started Sonic digital communications, and just like everyone else that starts their own business I’ve learnt a lot in that time. I’ve put together a list of the five most important things that might help you when starting your first business.

You can’t work from your living room.
(Or your dining room…) For the first month I tried working from home, specifically a mixture of my dining room table and my sofa (with my laptop resting on my lap). However, a combination of TV, Xbox, children and a total lack of willpower made it very difficult to sustain continued work. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and invested a few hundred quid into converting what was a very cold cupboard that used to have a fridge in it, to a still very cold cupboard that had a desk and some shelves in it.

Otherwise know as ‘Sonic towers’, what I learnt from this is that if you’re going to work from home you need to have as much separation between your workspace and your homespace. There will still be times when you do a bit of work on the sofa in front of the TV but those times are a lot easier to handle if they’re the exception to the rule.

Sort out your accounts.
Speaking as someone with the experience of doing 6 months worth of self-employed accounts in just under a week, this is one I can highly recommend. Whether it’s a spreadsheet on your computer or a notepad and an envelope it’s important to write down everything you spend, get paid and in as much detail as possible. The more you can do before handing them to accountant can make a difference of hundreds of pounds to your potential tax refund and accountancy charges.

Also, if you’re changing from paid employment to self-employment you could be entitled to a tax refund, the quicker you complete your tax return the quicker you’ll get your money back!

You can (and should) turn work down.
Being a new business you might think that you need to take on all the work you can get. But beware of the ‘difficult customer’, they’ll have little to no respect for you and your business and will try to negotiate a cheaper price or have a list of unreasonable conditions/expectations before you even start on their project. This is one of those instances where you should trust your instincts, if you think they’ll be difficult to work with – then proceed with caution. Take a little more time to speak to them, get a clear idea of what they expect and make sure they understand what they’re getting for their money. Most importantly backup any verbal agreements with an email that you can refer to later (if you need to).

There’s nothing wrong with turning work down, you may think you need the work but a difficult customer is likely to take up more of your time, meaning you can’t take on any additional work and they’re unlikely to become a regular customer as they’re always looking for a ‘better deal’. Having said that, I have been wrong in the past and ‘difficult customers’ have proved me wrong and been awesome to work with. However, I have only realised this after meeting with them more times than normal before starting on their project. So in summary, trust your instincts but don’t write someone off after only one meeting, they could just be having a bad day.

Set a rate for friends and family.
When starting your new business you might have some friends and family th
at’ll ask you if you can do them ‘a deal’. Personally I think this one is very simple, if you’re happy to commit the same time, energy and expertise to their project for a reduced fee based on their relationship to you then go for it. If, on the other hand you think you’ll do a lesser job because they’re paying you less then don’t. You’ll only end up with a project that you won’t be happy to use in your portfolio. The first few years is largely about building a portfolio of work you can be proud of and eager to show to potential customers.

Make quality connections.
Networking is a necessary evil of running/building your own business, and it can be done in many ways. One of the most popular ways is to find a local business networking club where (often for a fee) you’ll get the chance to meetup with and network with local business people on a regular basis. It’s a great time to practice new product pitches and a chance to refine your answer when someone asks: “What is it you do then?”

However, networking groups have their problems, some can be focussed on their members hitting targets of referring people which tends to remove the personal interations and will hamper your attempts at building good relationships. Then there are others that are just a bit of a chat and lack any real opportunities. Finding one that suits you can take some time so don’t be afraid to spend a few weeks trying out a few different ones and seeing which fits you and your business the best.