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!

5 tips to become an excellent volunteer

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to volunteer with a number of organisations – from NGOs working on social causes to business networking groups. I have come across many good volunteers, some bad volunteers and very few excellent volunteers. Here is how the excellent ones do things (obviously, I fall in this category).

1. Take on a project only when you have the time.

A lot of volunteers start out enthusiastically and take responsibility for a project only to realize later on that they don’t have the time to work on it. As volunteer work is unpaid, accountability is usually lacking and people don’t feel guilty about not doing the work properly, not finishing it on time or handing over charge to someone else at the last minute.

2. Communicate with all the team members.

Volunteer work usually means there is a lot of flexibility in terms of when and where you work. What is sacrosanct however is that there should constant communication between all the members so that everyone is on the same page. Nothing hurts a project more than miscommunication. In this age of WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, there really is no excuse.

3. Be involved throughout the process.

When a project begins, a certain number of people are marked on the emails. They are all supposed to give their inputs and feedback. What happens is that eventually only a few committed ones respond and give timely feedback. The project moves forward, is about to reach its goal when suddenly the dormant members will wake up and start giving their two cents on the topic. You have to listen to them as they are part of the team and there is no boss as everyone is a volunteer.  Work has to be redone, deadlines are not met and a smoothly running machine sputters to a stop. This also demotivates the team members who had been working on the project throughout this time.

4. Do not give excuses.

If you can’t or won’t do something, be upfront and say it. Don’t sit on things till the last minute and then give a 100 excuses to prove that it wasn’t your fault.

5. Treat the work like you would a job.

Being a volunteer doesn’t mean you can slack off. You still have to work as efficiently and effectively as you would in a regular job, in fact more, as places that usually need volunteers are resource poor. You have to be creative, accountable, work as a team and meet deadlines. If you can’t do this, please don’t volunteer.