5 Start-Up Lessons You May Learn The Hard Way

1. Your family and friends are not your clients

You’ve made the big announcement that you’re going to start a business and told everyone who is anyone about your intentions. Your brother’s-cousin’s-sister knows, your best friends know and wish you the best, your frenemies know and are secretly plotting to relish in your imminent failure. Your mum says it’s a great idea and you corral support from your friends, hoping that they’ll all shower you with cash in exchange for your shiny new products or services on offer. Sure, some of your friends may require your services but don’t depend on it. The best advice is to keep your friends and family as just that and seek out real clients (i.e. strangers who are willing to hand over cold hard cash for your expertise).

This part takes committed and sustained effort. As much as we’d like clients to suddenly materialise, desperately beating a path to your business threshold, the reality can sometimes resemble a scene of tumbleweed blowing across a relentless desert. When starting out in business, it’s less about opening your umbrella as shelter from the client deluge and more about taking out your shovel and preparing to dig – hard!

The keys to success in building a client base are persistence and patience. A gallows sense of humour may also help.

2. There is no such thing as a ‘big break’

It’s a commonplace perception that all a fledgling business needs is that one big client, breakthrough contract or ‘discovery’ by a famous influencer to hit the big time. I suspect that this perception has been fuelled by our love affair with the familiar entrepreneurial narrative of the ‘overnight success’, where a game-changing business suddenly springs from the obscurity of a spotty teenager’s bedroom to the world stage, propelling said spotty teenager to instant zillionaire status. Popular culture is littered with such stories but remember that behind each ‘overnight success’ is a great deal of striving, rejections, reflections and improvements which eventually grow into the visible business success.

Business success is more likely to take shape through a series of incremental breakthroughs. Building momentum through a strong portfolio, networks and contacts takes time. But keep at it – that’s the big secret.


3. Bills still need to be paid

It’s tempting to ditch the day job and pursue the business of your dreams. But doing so before your business is able to support you financially may quickly turn that dream into a waking nightmare. When starting out, the income does not come flowing in. Sometimes it will be feast or famine, even when work becomes more constant. I would advise in those early stages to keep the day job – even if it’s on a part-time basis, because there’s nothing worse than seeking new customers from a position of financial desperation.

There is absolutely no shame in recognising this necessity – in fact ignore it to your detriment! You need to be conducting your business with as much peace of mind as possible and it’s an issue of self-care to make sure that your finances are stable while your business is developing. Expecting your start up or early stage business to sustain you financially is a huge risk and an unnecessary source of stress.


4. Starting up is a journey

Every worthwhile journey consists of a progression of steps. On this journey, you will encounter ditches, dead ends, straight runs and home runs. Take them all in your stride. It’s essential not to miss any of the vital steps. Sometimes you will be hopping on the spot (perhaps in frustration), sometimes you will find yourself standing still for much longer than you care to.

At other times, the progress of your business will be racing ahead with you barely able to keep pace. Maybe you’ll even trip and fall spectacularly. It is important to recognise and accept each step of the way and don’t be impatient to skip any of these steps – it’s how you gauge learning opportunities and help your business grow. Awareness of where you are on your journey is the key to maintaining your balance.


5. Determining your worth is an inside job

How much are you worth? It’s easier as an employee to determine this, as in a job, your salary is set by your employer, so even if you think you deserve a pay rise, it will still be reasonably set within certain pre-determined parameters.

In the case of your own business, it’s up to you to set your own standards. It can be trickier than you think and requires you to pose and revisit certain questions. Do you set up your stall at the lower, middle or upper range of the market? How exactly are you meant to value your skills, experience and talents in a busy, jostling marketplace? Are you offering something standard or bespoke? Do you price yourself low to attract new customers and run the risk of being perceived as ‘cheap’ or do you charge premium prices and alienate potential customers?

It can be daunting when you realise that the answers to these questions are completely down to you, so take the reins – you’re the boss!