A lot of people think the best way to start up a business is to begin as a side hustle, make sure you’re earning enough money and then slowly shift to self employed life. Moving to part time work gradually.
I really didn’t take this route! I attribute all my success to having a fire burning under my arse and needing to make it work. As my husband is a successful Creative Director, I think some people believe that I have my own ‘pin money’ business and am dependent on him. Not true at all! I quit my job and had to spend a while recovering from an illness. Then, just as my wedding day was approaching, my husband got made redundant (after taking some quite heavy pay cuts before this). The day after my wedding, my mother in law died, leaving my husband in bits. Now not only was he redundant, but his motivation for life had just faded. He also had debt from having his pay reduced, but still having to pay the same rent and child support. I had a feeling that he would not be getting a new job for quite a while. While he did secure some freelance work at a really good agency in Sheffield, and was bringing in some money from his art work. It was no where near enough to live comfortably and the debts had to be paid.
Knowing there was no way I could work happily for someone else, I knew I had to make my business work. And a fire was lit and then getting pregnant about a couple of years after my marriage made me go into turbo mode. I wanted everything for this baby and wanted to leave a legacy to him. I never wanted him to struggle financially like we had. I wanted him to be the kind of kid that could take a gap year and go travelling round the world on Mummy and Daddy’s buck. I wanted to gift him his first house. I knew that I did not want to get by, I wanted to be rich.
And I knew that this was a possibility as a self employed person. My income was scalable, the market was perfect, I’m good at what I do, all I had to do was find some good freelancers to work closely beside me and get in some new clients.
I buzzed about like a blue arsed fly getting in new business, while being heavily pregnant and having an unemployed husband to support. Rent had to be paid, baby clothes had to be bought. Then, just as I was approaching my due date – my husband got a great job! Now to some extent, I can finally think about living life in a more full way, getting a pension, mortgage etc and going on fancy holidays. Being more of a ‘kept’ woman, I can keep more of my money to myself. Has this changed my ambition? Not one bit, when Henry is older, I still want to expand my agency. Working on bigger and better projects and taking in more clients.
So you may be wondering, how did I start a business with not only nothing, but less than nothing? Here’s how I did it:
I made sure everyone knew that I was looking for work. I got my first client because a friend recommended me to him, then I got my second client from a client he recommended me to. Having two clients was enough to live off. They continue to give me referrals and I would even recommend paying people for referrals so they have an incentive to help your business out. You better believe that not everybody will care enough to do it out of the kindness of their own heart.
I get the majority of my leads from LinkedIn. I post there as frequently as possible and always made sure to comment on and like other people’s posts. Because of my activity on LinkedIn, I get more leads than I can actually cope with. I turn down or refer the majority of work offers I get, meaning that I can focus on the projects that are perfect for me.
Branding and website
Ok I am very lucky with this. I did my branding and got my website made for nothing except hosting costs. I can build my own websites, so this was no problem. Even though my website is self built, I get a lot of compliments on it and I think that it is competitive with the other agencies in my city. My husband is an excellent corporate brander, like seriously one of the best in the world, so I got him to knock me up a logo and branding in one evening. My regret is that I did not do this early enough, because I got so much work from LinkedIn, I didn’t think a good website and SEO was necessary. It so was, but I didn’t realise it until I’d actually finished it.
Aligning with agencies
I currently have two clients through two agencies. These are strong, good clients and agencies can offer better projects in some cases than you could attract as a freelancer. I have written a guide to working with agencies as a freelancer (click here.) I had had bad experiences with agents, a lot of the times they wanted to have meetings that didn’t go anywhere and just wanted to steal my pricing model/ideas or simply check me out as a competitor. But finding the right agents has been useful, and I’d advise you to not give up.
I have done quite a lot of speaking events all over Sheffield and Leeds, while I did not get any work from these. I feel like they raise your profile and give you that extra little bit of legitimacy. And, it’s great to give back to the community and help others.
Speak to people who are more successful than you whenever you can and ask for advice and feedback. People are usually more than willing to do this. While I don’t have a specific business mentor, I get a lot of good advice from reading and networking. I have a whole wealth of successful business people in my network – my clients, so it’s good to speak with them from time to time about life as a self employed person.
Never ending self belief
After my first year of business (which was a bit shakey for me confidence wise), I never questioned myself that I could do it. I had to do things that scared me, like going on sales meetings with big companies. But I never allowed the fear to take route or to doubt myself in any way. When I started to get more secure footing in the business world, my competitors started to take jabs at me, but I only saw this as a sign that I was on the right path and that I was beginning to threaten people. When I’m feeling like I can’t do something out of fear, I just imagine the money flying out the door and quantify it: ‘That’s a holiday to Jamaica, are you really going to ignore this opportunity because you’re scared??’