Take it from me, starting a business is easy – anyone can do it. Running a successful one, well, that’s the difficult part.
As I close in on the first two years of Media Mortar, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learnt from the small business trenches.
I’ll start by saying I don’t profess to be an entrepreneurial expert, but I am often asked by other soon-to-be entrepreneurs about the steps I put in place to escape the shackles of nine to five and go out on my own. I also attend a number of female-centric business events where people pontificate about starting their start up, a lot.
Although I’m honoured to attend and answer these questions, to me this seems like such a silly area to focus on; it’s what happens after you have your ABN that really matters.
If you’re thinking of jumping ship from the corporate life into something of your own, my advice is – just do it. Don’t sweat the set up, sweat the set down once you’re battling it out in small business life.
Consider this post your shield, sword and armour for what comes next. These are the lessons I’ve learnt (usually the hard way) about what happens once you’ve pulled the hand grenade and stepped into self-employed life.
1. You’ll never work harder in your life
I famously walked out of my corporate job telling everyone that I’d have ‘so much more time’ to walk the dog and go to the gym at the elusive midday session.
Fast forward two years, and I walked Olivia once during business hours and went to the coveted midday session precisely zero times.
Like me, you’ll learn that time equals money and money only works when everyone else does. In small business, the hustle is very real and it can feel like you’re in the line of fire for everything.
2. Keep your eyes on your own target
This is one of the rules I live by, because I’ve found nothing good comes from comparing yourself to competitors.
In the past I’ve fallen into the vicious loop of looking at what other people are doing and how they run their business.
Comparison does little to lift me up to compete with them – instead, it makes me feel like we aren’t doing enough, which is kryptonite for motivation and creativity.
3. Invest in a coach or mentor
The old adage ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ will be alarmingly brought to life the minute you step into your own business.
Invest as soon as physically possible in a business coach to help achieve your goals – much the same as you would a personal trainer if you were wanting radical body transformation rather than the slow burn of weight loss earnt through the daily slog.
For the first five months I pushed through my business, but I can pinpoint the November I appointed my business coach, Lorraine Murphy, to upskill me in everything I had yet to learn about both myself and business.
For much less than the cost (and time commitment) of an MBA, I was able to triple our revenue and size of the team.
I continue to work with my coach quarterly and view her as much a part of our team as I do any of my staff.
4. Hire a team you love to spend time with
For me, team fit and energy is EVERYTHING. I’m so serious about it, I even had a psychic ‘read’ my potential future staff to make sure I had the right players on my team. You don’t have to go that far, but if you do, Helen Jacobs is my go-to.
When hiring, I look for soft skills more than hard skills – because I have no chance in hell in teaching phone manner, kindness or confidence but I am much better at teaching people how to write a blog.
I’m also adamant that the five people I spend the most time with each week (aka my team) are so rad I’m excited to see them every day.
Honesty, integrity and positivity are my three non-negotiables – and I’m so proud of the team and team culture we have developed over the past two years thanks to this hiring policy.
5. Learn about money
When I started Media Mortar, I didn’t know the difference between net v gross income let alone the intricacies of BAS, PAYG and being a trustee for a family trust.
In fact, I famously had cashflow confused with revenue for the first twelve months of the business before someone (kindly) pointed out the words weren’t interchangeable (oops).
Put simply, if you have NFI about your profit and loss, hire someone who does and then work your butt off to get up to speed.
The most respected business leaders and owners I know all have a healthy appreciation of money, how its made and how hard it’s earnt. They know their worth and work by the principle that ‘everything has a price’.
If you’re starting out and unsure what to charge, there are so many business books and online hourly rate calculators to tinker with these days to get you through your first projects til’ you’re quoting like a #boss.
A wise colleague of mine once said “always know your numbers, because no one can argue with them.” Since then I’ve worked really hard to know our monthly targets, outgoings, revenue and have changed the mindset of reading our P&L, which pushes us to reach our targets.
6. Be yourself and wear your point of difference on your sleeve
When I set up Media Mortar, I put the job title The Boss on my email signature as a joke, which stuck.
Since then, it’s turned out to be the best tool for client vetting, a happy coincidence from a snap decision and complete accident.
All new clients who come through our website get an email from me to arrange a call, which is signed off from The Boss.
Clients who see it and like the tone, know exactly what they are going to get just from this one interaction. Clients who are looking for something a little more inside the box know we aren’t for them and we part ways before going through lengthy quoting and scoping processes.
It’s single handedly been the best marketing tool we’ve done – and my whole team now wear ridiculous email signatures.
7. Learn from your mistakes and be coachable
If you want a successful business, you need to learn from your mistakes. One of my favourite quotes came from a Tim Ferris podcast I was listening to earlier this year – ‘If it’s not working, then change what you’re doing’.
So many of us tend to think the failure is someone else’s fault and keep delivering the same thing.
For us, the learnings at the end of the project are where the best insights come from. Nobody is perfect, and if you’re working for yourself, get ready to take criticism and feedback on the chin so you can adapt, improve and evolve.
In the corporate world they talk about the need to pivot. In small business, get ready, because it’s more like a constant orbit.
8. Trust your gut
You were born with a gut instinct – and in business it’s probably your best weapon and defence.
When money is tight, it’s easy to ignore your instincts and take on work for clients who don’t share your values.
As my business grows, I’m getting so much better at sending clients to the trenches who take us away from achieving our goals and objectives.
Most recently I had to do this with a very promising client – the kind of client who drops into your lap like a gift. We couldn’t have aligned better at the beginning.
The problem was, interacting with the owner/staff was like stepping on a landmine – they didn’t take our craft seriously – we were consistently made to wait up to 40 minutes for meetings they’d called with us, laughed at our ideas and most of all sent abusive messages out of the blue for things outside our control (or remit).
We could have persisted knowing the job had so much potential to put us on the Brisbane marketing map – but we didn’t because it was bringing such bad energy to our team.
The lesson: trust your gut and cut clients loose when required. Not only will you be free, you’ll set the client loose on your competitors. You don’t have to be an expert at the small business battlefield to know a win | win when you have one on your hands.
Media Mortar Boss, Hannah Statham, is proud to offer mentoring sessions for like-minded entrepreneurs wanting to start a business that makes an impact. Make an enquiry via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Hannah Statham
Hannah Statham is The Boss at Media Mortar. She’s a heavy weight wordsmith, punching with puns, analogies and metaphors that leave readers wanting more. When she’s not refreshing her Instagram feed, you’ll find Hannah walking her rescue greyhound Olivia.