3 months, 6 lessons

Double profit! It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

Approximately 3 months ago, I began my journey as an entrepreneur. These are the lessons I have learnt (or rather have been knocked into my head), not just by running my own business but also by observing successful and not so successful small businesses around me.

1. The founder has to do everything. 

When I started out, the first goal was to register the business.

Then get requisite permissions from the Government. Then set up the website and email account. Then get my visual identity package (logo, letterhead, visiting card, envelope) designed. Then promote and publicize the business. Then pitch to clients and get accounts.

Then do the actual work for my accounts. Then do the changes and corrections in the work. Then send invoices and collect payment. Then figure out my accounting and tax obligations. Then…

Yes, I have to do everything, everything on my own and it just doesn’t stop.

2. …and I can. 

3 months ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to accomplish any of the above. But I did. And the lesson is – anyone can.

The pattern is – a challenge comes up and you figure out a solution. Either ask Google or find an actual person who can help. I can’t tell you how much confidence and self esteem I have gained by being able to face all the challenges and come up with the solutions – for everything, on my own.

An entrepreneur needs to be comfortable with uncertainty, with asking questions and seeking help.

3. Networking is critical. 

I have to give credit where credit is due.

I would not have been able to do any of the things I did if it wasn’t for the help I received from people in online and offline networking groups. Tips, contacts, advice, solutions, business leads – you can get it all by networking in the right communities.

But remember, the first rule of networking is – pay it forward. A helps you and maybe you can help A in return. Or maybe not. But you can definitely help B and C.

I currently volunteer for a phenomenal networking group for female entrepreneurs – CRIB. It stands for Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses and is a social enterprise that empowers women to become successful entrepreneurs through networking, matchmaking and business incubation.

4. Communication is the difference between a successful business and an also-ran. 

In today’s world of instant communication – not replying to WhatsApp or Facebook messages within an acceptable period of time, taking days to respond to emails, not picking up calls despite previous confirmation, going off-the-grid without a word – is just not going to cut it. I am not saying that you need to be chained to your smart phone but responding especially to current and prospective customers, hardly takes any time.

A lack of communication hurts the reputation and credibility of your business. With so many choices available, a customer will just take her business elsewhere. But before doing that, she’ll write a nasty post about you on the Internet.

Is this really worth not picking up that phone?

5. Choose your clients/customers wisely. 

This is especially true if you are in the service industry. One gets a fair idea what a client will be like and what your experience will be servicing them in the pitching stage itself.

Do you want a client who pays you peanuts but expects artisanal chocolate in return? Who is obnoxious and thinks they have bought you? Who will keep asking you for options till the last minute and will never be satisfied? Who thinks they have done you a favour by hiring you and now they must justify the cost by making you do as much work as possible, even if it is not required?

Is their money worth the physical toll, the mental anguish? Won’t the time you give to such a client be better served on other clients?

This is a personal choice every business owner has to make but my answer is no.

6. Never give up – there is always a solution. 

Being an entrepreneur is hard – hard on the body, hard on the mind, hard on the soul. But we must remember why we chose this path.

I became an entrepreneur because I want to make money, I want to be the boss and I want to do this while taking care of my children.

Whatever be the challenge, there is always a solution. If you can’t figure out, ask someone else. Do some research. Don’t give up.

Whenever I feel low, I read Tim Ferriss’s blog. This guy and his off-the-beaten-track approach to life has been a source of inspiration for me for many years and finally, I am trying to put some of the things he says into practice. Do check out his site if you don’t know him already. You will definitely not regret it.

7. Manage your email well.

Here’s a bonus lesson – while communicating and responding are a must, you must learn to manage your email else email will manage you. Emails can become time sucks. Your work will be left unfinished if all you do is keep responding to emails all day.

If you are like me and don’t like seeing emails piling up in your inbox, then you need a strategy.

Unless you are in a business that experiences emergency situations, check emails no more than 3 times a day – morning (after putting in a solid hour or two completing urgent work), afternoon and evening (before the end of your work day). Try and respond as soon as you check the emails and not leave them for later. Set aside a time for this and don’t exceed the time limit. Aim to respond to all emails you receive on the same day.

Here’s wishing all business owners many more months and many more lessons!

What a haircut taught me about entrepreneurship.

A week ago, my husband and I took our son for a haircut. We were prepared for the usual meltdown. I tried positive thinking and affirmations but it didn’t work.

My son hates haircuts. He starts howling the moment the hairdresser puts the cloth around his shoulders. He did the same thing this time too. He flung the cloth aside, started howling, threw his head back, arched his spine and tried to get off my husband’s lap who was sitting in the chair, holding him.

I don’t know what we feed him but he is surprisingly strong.

The two of us just about managed to hold on to him with my husband pinning his arms down and I holding his head in a tight grip. The haircut took about 15 minutes – definitely the longest 15 minutes of our life. We ended up with a decent haircut (barring a small patch that was missed due to all the drama) and lots of hair over all 3 of us.

Now to the point of this story – throughout this ordeal, my son kept crying. Many a times, he would be sniffing softly, eyes closed, leaning into my husband, face covered with tears, snot and hair and we would be lulled into thinking he has given up fighting. Suddenly he would rear up and try to leap out of the chair. And he kept doing this throughout.

I was filled with admiration – what spirit he has. He didn’t give up. He kept fighting. He didn’t accept defeat. And this is the spirit we entrepreneurs need. Keep moving forward despite the roadblocks, the dead ends, the rejections, the curmudgeonly clients.

I thought this was just another cliché but now I know it to be true – you lose only when you give up.

The unimaginably traumatic haircut
The unimaginably traumatic haircut

Let’s do away with ‘free’.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am not immune to the allure of the ‘free’. That sign draws me like a magnet just like anybody else.

However, when I am buying a commodity, I know it is not really free. I have paid for object A to get object B for free. Object B is probably free because it isn’t selling anyway. Or if I am offered a free service say at a spa, they will collect my contact details – phone number and email – which in today’s world, you can’t really put a price on. They will also feel entitled to bludgeon me with their marketing pitch and I will feel obliged to listen to them because I got something for free.

Now that I have begun my journey as an entrepreneur, in an industry that anyway pays less than most others, some people – well – wishers, acquaintances and prospective clients – have suggested (subtly, of course) that I should work for free. They also say it’s not really free. I gain experience, I add a brand to my portfolio.

Once upon a time, I would have accepted such an exchange as fair but not anymore. I am at a stage in my career and personal life where that’s not enough value for the time and effort I put into my work.

If you want to read more on why communication and content especially is not free and shouldn’t be given for free, do read this article by Deborah Tan of Material World.

I don’t get angry when people say this. I get disappointed sometimes but not angry and I understand as well. To expand my business, I need services from other people but I can’t afford them right now. I could use some free stuff too. And there are many businesses which are in my situation. So this is what I propose:

Let’s bring back the barter system among startups. I tell you what I need and you tell me what you need and if there’s a match, we can help each other grow together with zero money involved. If you like this idea, do check out The Platform Collective, an organisation in Singapore which has formalised this very concept.

This system will solve some of our problems, not all. The critical issue – getting paying customers, who pay on time – remains.