I’m in a weird place with my business (which, for those who wonder, consists mostly of writing/coaching/teaching on business topics, along with a healthy portion of freelance editing). The weird part is that while I’ve been working at a minimal level since my youngest was born, I’m now slowly transitioning back into fuller-time work.
Transitions are always tricky and weird. In my case I’m finding things to be moving too fast some days (i.e. days when I do a poor job of following up with people or fulfilling my growing list of commitments) and too slow other days (i.e. blog traffic, coaching clients and paid writing/editing projects aren’t coming fast enough). Home life is transitioning too, with my daughter graduating from preschool and needing to plan summer activities for both the kids. Oy.
It has occurred to me several times in the last few weeks that I could probably solve some of the stuff that’s vexing me by following the advice that I give to my clients. So here is a list of some of the advice I think might be applicable, and an assessment of how I think I’m doing on that front.
Marketing advice: Hold a free informational workshop, seminar or other event. Self-employed folks and other small/medium-sized businesses often ask me how to market themselves. As I so often advise, one of the best methods is to hold a free informational workshop. For example, a landscape designer could offer a free hour-long demonstration on a Saturday afternoon on water-wise yard designs and choosing the right plants for your yard. A photography studio could offer a free demonstration on tricks for photographing children. A technology consultant could offer a free presentation on assessing security risks for small- to mid-sized companies.
Informational seminars are great marketing vehicles for a few reasons. One is that people value substantive information versus straight marketing appeals, and will be favorably inclined towards businesses that offer practical, useful info. This is a powerful way to develop a strong brand. Second, events tend to be easy to promote as they can be submitted to local calendars, such as in local/regional newspapers, magazines, TV/radio stations and websites/blogs.
Am I following my own advice? Well, in tiny baby steps, yes. I am hatching some plans for events in the fall and putting out some feelers to other businesses/consultants whom I’d like to collaborate with. But nothing is really set yet so I’m feeling a little anxious about when I’m going to be able to really move forward.
Networking advice: Make sure to follow up with your business contacts. Ongoing networking is essential for every business and self-employed person; I always describe networking as a lifestyle, not a task. But as important as initial outreach is, following through is essential. If your networking bears fruit in terms of possible customers/clients/collaborators contacting you, it’s crucial not to leave emails or phone calls unanswered.
Am I following my own advice? I am doing my best and mostly doing pretty well. However I must admit that some stuff has fallen through the cracks. To be honest I’m surprised at how even the baby steps I’m taking in terms of blogging and outreach have generated enough of a response that it’s hard to keep up. (I might as well take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who has been waiting to hear from me; please give me a nudge, K?)
Financial management advice: Besides the bare minimum of updating your books with income/expense receipts, generate reports regularly to see how you’re doing. Financial management is especially important in times of transition, including both growth and contraction. An age-old business truth is that growing is one of the hardest things for a business to do. Having the opportunity to grow is one of those “good problems” to have, but making decisions about where to put more resources and dealing with increased expenses can be treacherous territory. Having solid books and using them to generate predictive reports is critical.
Ditto for a business going through hard times: When income flatlines or declines, you need to have quality financial data, and to analyze it regularly.
Am I following my own advice? Yes, but I could be doing even better. Every year I get a little more efficient and streamlined with my bookkeeping. Sometimes this works against me, as I let myself get behind with data entry, knowing that I’m so much faster now at doing the entry and reports once I get started. I found myself in this boat towards the end of last year, but year-end tax necessities forced me back into line. And since the start of the year I’ve been pretty good at keeping the books up-to-date. I’m not even a month behind at this point, which is great for me considering the small number of transactions my tiny little business has. But I’m not generating enough reports or projections, so I’m going to try to improve here.
Marketing planning advice: Think way ahead about marketing opportunities so you can plan, promote and execute them well. One year I got a call from a local retailer who wanted to redesign its website in order to boost holiday sales. They called me on December 5. This request was so detached from reality it was difficult for me to respond without laughing or sounding condescending. But it’s only a somewhat extreme example of something I see businesses do all the time: plan marketing activities way too late.
Am I following my own advice? Yes. I keep patting myself on the back for starting my re-entry into work many months in advance. However. This strategy is not without its complications. The truth is that I have really limited time due to my 2.5-year-old still being at home full-time. Blogging regularly already has eaten up a lot of this free time. And as described above, follow-through takes time too. I’m plagued with the feeling that I’m not doing enough, even though it’s explicitly part of my plan that this is a slow ramp-up. Now that I’m more mentally engaged in work, I have a steady flow of ideas that I don’t have the resources to follow through on. So it can be frustrating and a bit stressful. I just keep reminding myself that these are baby steps and I’ll be able to do more in a few months.
Business planning advice: Take the time to step back, assess your big picture, identify opportunities (and threats) and strategize. As you’ve probably heard me say before, I call this taking time away from making the donuts and putting on your business owner hat.
Am I following my own advice? Yes. In fact, this is the main thing I do now and it’s driving me a little crazy. All I seem to do these days is think about business (both other businesses and my own), strategize and blog. I have no time to actually execute anything. So, to repeat from above, I just keep reminding myself that I’m tiptoeing back into career/business stuff and will have time to execute some plans in the fall.