Lessons from 3 years in business
This month marks three years since I became a full-time copywriter. And while I had dipped my feet in the deep pool of copywriting before that, May is when I celebrate actually starting my business.
The time has flown. And even though a large chunk of my time in business has been during a pandemic, I’m really happy about how things are going.
Fortunately, as a copywriter with an online business, I’ve been able to grow my business. This time last year, I might have said I was just happy to keep my business trundling along at a nice, slow and steady pace.
But in the last six months, as I’ve learned more and grown in confidence, I’ve decided that I can – and should grow my business so I can support more clients and provide opportunities for new copywriters.
One of the key things I’ve learned about business is that it is rarely about reaching a certain point and saying that’s it. I’ve succeeded. It’s a journey, with twists and turns, highs and lows. There are times of intense activity and growth and times of calm, measured work.
I’ve realised that wherever I am on that journey of starting a business, there is always something new to learn.
In this blog, I’m sharing (in no particular) order, 13 things I wish I’d known before starting a business.
1. You don’t need all your ducks lined up to start
If you wait until all your ducks are in a row, they’ll all be dead.
If it hadn’t been for this outstanding advice from Kate Toon, I probably wouldn’t have a copywriting business.
When I started out, I thought I needed to have all my processes sorted, and know how to write every single piece of copy I might come across.
But thanks to this advice, I realised that the only way I was going to get started was …..wait for it…. to start.If you wait until all your ducks are in a row, they’ll all be dead. Awesome advice from Kate Toon that helped me launch my copywriting business #BusinessLessons #StartingABusiness Click To Tweet
2. Start as you mean to go on
While you don’t have to have everything perfect to start, there are some things I think you should do right from the start.
These include registering your business name, opening at least one business bank account, investing in accounting software and having a proper business email address.
3. Get your money sorted at the beginning
I highly recommend checking out Profit First. I admit I haven’t read the book, but I’ve done a couple of training sessions.
You divide your money (from each invoice, each week or month) into separate accounts. My money comes into my business income and I allocate it to business expenses, profit, tax (GST and income tax) and my personal account.
And on that, spend the money on accounting software and getting it set up properly. Even if you think you’re too small, getting it set up right from the start will save headaches down the track – and will make you feel more professional.
4. You website doesn’t need to be perfect at the start
As important as your website is, it’s OK to start with a basic website. Your website is not written in stone. As your business grows, you can invest in building a new website and getting professionally written copy.
Starting out, you at least want a home page, an about page, a page outlining your products or services and a contact page. As you grow, you can add pages for your individual services or product collections, your portfolio, testimonials and a blog.
5. Stop using training as an excuse not to get started
You don’t need to wait until you know everything to start your business. One of my biggest regrets is not starting sooner. I have continued to learn more along the way about working as a copywriter.
Obviously, there are some skills that you’ll want to have in whatever business you start. But find others you can learn from while you’re doing the job.
6. Don’t discount your previous experience
As a copywriter, what I bring to my business is a depth and breadth of experience. 15 years working on a range of issues as a diplomat, then several years of working for myself as a trade consultant and doing everything but winemaking for a winemaker.
But it took me a while to realise how much writing experience I actually had. In the 15 years I was a diplomat, I had written everything from website copy and ministerial speeches to press releases and briefings. And in the years since, I’d blogged, written presentations for my consulting business and created newsletters and emails for the winemaker I worked for.
Even if you haven’t had a job that involves writing, you’ve been a consumer. Perhaps you’ve run a business or you’ve worked in another industry, so you have specific knowledge of that niche. With the right skills, training and support, you can use your previous experience to enhance your copywriting offering.
7. Put yourself out there
When you’re starting a business, it’s unlikely that you’ll have clients banging down your door. You need to get out there and raise your profile.
I’m not suggesting you need to send cold emails, but tell friends and family what you’re doing, share on your social media and update your LinkedIn. Look for opportunities to attend local in-person networking events and investigate online memberships.
In my experience, word of mouth has been my most valuable source of work.
8. Have a clear USP and know your ideal customer
Be really clear on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). That is:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Who do you do it for?
- Why do you do it better than anyone else?
And in doing that, you need to be really clear on your ideal customer. I know from experience that when you’re starting out, you’re just happy to serve or sell to anyone that wants to pay. But trust me when I say that in trying to appeal to everyone, you’ll be so bland that you won’t appeal to anyone.
This doesn’t mean you need a specific niche. It could be a type of person in a certain area who needs a particular product. Give them a name, be clear on the problem you’re trying to solve for them. It will make it so much easier to write copy that truly appeals to them.
9. Don’t waste money on things that aren’t essential
When you’re starting a business, it can be tempting to sign up to courses or buy things that make you feel more professional. It’s especially hard when you see people you’re inspired to, talking about the latest course they’ve done or the fancy new app they are using.
We all love stationery (don’t we?) but you don’t need a new packet of highlighters or 15 different notepads to get started. Besides, you’ll want to have something on your wish list when you head out for some retail therapy to celebrate that first win.
There will always be the temptation to buy a new app, sign up to a new course, or implement a new process.
Sometimes it’s worth doing. But before you do, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. Could you use what you have better? Are you just distracting yourself from the genuine work at hand?
10. Set boundaries like a boss
You are the boss. You have to set the boundaries. Not your clients or your staff.
If you don’t set the boundaries, someone else will – and chances, you won’t like them.
Make it clear to clients when you’re available, how they should contact you and the process for arranging meetings.
If you don’t want clients contacting you after hours, don’t contact them after hours. And if you want to catch up on emails after hours, do what I do and schedule them to send in business hours.
11. Don’t let past failures stand in the way of future success
While I feel like that’s something I read on an inspirational quote somewhere, it’s actually so true.
In the beginning, I doubted starting my copywriting business because my previous trade consultancy business hadn’t worked out. And even though I always saw it as a learning experience, I worried others would have viewed it as a failure and doubted my experience or capability to run a business.
I’m so glad I got over myself, shoved aside concerns about what anyone thought (surprise, surprise, they weren’t thinking about me at all) and just got started.
12. Have clear terms and conditions and get contracts signed
This is so important, even for small jobs or working with existing clients.
Sometimes, there might be value in having a lawyer draw up specific contracts or terms and conditions. Otherwise, check out the templates available to your industry.
Set out your pricing, your payment terms and how you work. My terms and conditions are six pages at the end of my proposal, and while it might seem like there is a lot in there, they aren’t relevant to every job, but the peace of mind is worth it.
13. You are enough
Whatever happens, just remember that you are enough. And while it’s hard to separate ourselves from our businesses, especially as solo business owners, it’s something we have to do.
Your worth and your value to your friends, family and community is so much more than your business.
Over to you
Wherever you are in your business adventure, I hope you’ve found these points useful. In my next blog, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the past three years.
What do you wish you’d known before you started business?
And if you think this blog would be useful for someone you know, I’d love you to share it.