Navigating my first year in business

This week marks one year in business for The Word Lab and wow has it come around quickly. The days and weeks slip by faster than ever when you’re busy running a business, and it’s hard to find time time to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned.

Here’s how I’ve navigated my way through year one...

1.    I’ve stuck to doing a few things well

A very wise former team leader of mine (the wonderful Fiona) had a mantra: do a few things really well. At the time I was working in a corporate environment where we had to prioritise a huge workload; our focus was on doing a few things well to achieve our goals within realistic timeframes, rather than rushing to get multiple messages out on every possible channel!

This mantra is something I’ve gone back to almost every day as a consultant. I use it to decide what work I take on and what I refer to other specialists. What am I best at? Communications strategy and writing. There are other things I can do well, but they’re not my area of expertise. I’ve formed good relationships with other contractors and businesses to ensure my clients can get the best support for the job – even if that doesn’t involve our services this time.

I also use this mantra when helping clients understand why it’s important to have a strategy that informs your communications and marketing tactics. It’s better to do the few things that are going to enhance your business the most and to do them well, rather than to shout random messages across all the available channels in the hopes of connecting with someone out there who is interested – especially when you’re a small business.

2.    I’ve recognised the strengths of others

You can’t do it all when you run your own business – believe me, I’ve tried. Attempting to be your own bookkeeper, accountant, administrator, account manager and then actually do all your client work on top of that is ultimately setting yourself up to burn out – especially when you start to grow.

Outsource what you’re not great at and spend your time doing what you do well. I’m lucky to have the support of a great bookkeeper (who puts up with my frequent Xero questions) and now have a fantastic team member in place to keep up with the workload of my growing business. I also regularly partner with different web companies, designers, marketers and other consultants to form project teams, where we can each play to our strengths, spread the load and produce the best result possible for our clients.

3.    I’ve constantly reminded myself why I started

I didn’t leave my full-time communications role to make better money; I left it because I wanted to support small businesses and not-for-profits at rates they could afford. I wanted to support people who were making a difference at a grass-roots level. I also wanted to be able to have a more flexible lifestyle.

Finding balance has not been easy and I wouldn’t say I am there yet, but the late nights are worth the 3pm walks on the beach with my dog and the lunches with my Nan. My time is mine and I choose to use it wisely.

I keep my focus on the types of clients and projects I set out to support and I remember that my business is just one part of my life amongst all of the other important things. By reminding myself what I set out to do, I can make better decisions and prioritise.

4.    I’ve trusted my gut

That funny feeling in your tummy tells you a lot and while it’s not an exact science by any means, your gut should never be ignored. I have learned this from experience; I started working with a client that I was unsure of and it turned out we weren’t the best fit for each other - and that’s okay. I also started down some paths that I didn’t feel were right but that people were asking me to pursue, and again, ultimately those pieces of work weren’t the right fit for me, or for what I want to achieve with my business.

I trust my gut much more strongly now and I also have a good network of mentors, friends and whānau who I can bounce ideas off when I’m not sure. You’d be surprised by how many people will offer their advice and help if you just put your hand up and ask.

One year later and I’m feeling a little wiser (and certainly a lot older). I still have a lot to learn but I am so thankful that I took a leap into the deep end and started out on my own. I am very grateful to my clients for choosing to work with me; to my collaborators for having my back on projects; and mostly to my friends and family for putting up with my doubtful ‘what am I doing?!’ moments – and for feeding me and giving me a glass of wine.

What did you learn in your first year in business? I’d love to hear from you.