10 tips for starting your own business

This week, I received a message from a friend. She is considering ‘going it alone as a freelancer’ and wanted to know if I had any advice for her. Oh boy, I thought. In three years, I’ve never regretted quitting my job and starting my own business – not even on the difficult days. But when I was considering leaving my comfortable corporate job, I didn’t know how difficult running a company could be.

Actually, I’m glad I didn’t, or I’m not sure I would have had the courage to take the leap. Still, there are some things I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Use your contacts. When you’re starting out, be sure to tell family and friends about the services you offer. You never know whose husband’s friend’s father-in-law will end up outsourcing to you.
  2. Join a professional organisation, such as the Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) or Safrea, for resources, networking, training and job opportunities.
  3. Keep a bit of back-up cash. Even if you have plenty of work, you should still have a lump sum of cash to fall back on. When I resigned, my freelance friends recommended having three months’ salary saved up, and I think this is a good guideline. Some months will be quieter than others and even after busy months, you still have to wait for invoices to be paid. Cashflow can make or break a business. You need that buffer.
  4. Know that your job is not only the services you offer. Unlike in a salaried position, the work is not going to land on your desk. Be prepared to spend plenty of time and energy hunting down business. When you’re not cold-calling, quoting or meeting with potential clients, you’ll also spend a lot of time meeting with existing clients, invoicing, sorting out your taxes … Your work schedule should allow time for this, and the salary you draw should cover this time too.
  5. Hire an accountant. Taxes are tricky. While you still need to keep track of some things yourself, accounting fees are worth the frustration you’ll save yourself, and you’ll be freed up to focus on your clients’ work.
  6. Cultivate a wide range of skills. Be prepared to take on work that isn’t your primary focus. You may think you can build your business on one skill – and, hey, maybe you can. But having a range of skills to offer clients is invaluable – not only to your clients, but also to your bank balance.
  7. Don’t freak out when work slows down. Some months are simply quieter than others. Some industries slow down at certain times of the year. Enjoy the free time and have faith that the work will come. It just doesn’t always come when it’s convenient for you.
  8. When the work rolls in, roll with it. Sometimes you’ll have too much work. If you only want to work regular office hours, entrepreneurship is not for you. If you have no problem working nights and weekends, the next point is for you.
  9. Don’t be a workaholic. Building a business is not for sissies, but burnout is serious. (And I know: I took my first weekend of 2014 at the end of March.) There will be times when you have to work longer hours to get something done, but draw boundaries for yourself and focus on keeping that work-life balance.
  10. Take time to reflect. This doesn’t only apply to business strategy (which will no doubt change several times). Take the time to enjoy this new life you’ve built for yourself. Meet a friend for coffee at 10 am on a Tuesday. Knock off early when the work for the day is done. Go groceries shopping during office hours – not because groceries shopping is fun, but because groceries shopping during the 5 pm rush really isn’t, and you don’t have to do it. Use some of your hard-earned cash for a holiday. At the end of the year, book a table at your favourite restaurant and toast to all the terrific and terrifying times you’ve had. It’s not always easy, but it sure is rewarding.