I started my coaching business knowing I wanted to help people find focus and direction. I also knew how I wanted to do this using my professional skills and personal qualities as a coach.
Now here’s the slightly surprising thing. I’m in the business of coaching clients in career change. Yet I spend days and sometimes weeks doing accounting, administration, marketing and a myriad of other essential tasks. While I understand that these activities are vital to the health of my business, they just didn’t fully figure in my first flush of start up excitement.
I’m keen to share what I’ve learnt about what’s involved in getting a business up and running, and transitioning from office life to solo business adventure.
1. Wear 500 hats
Some days I feel like I’m channelling Bartholomew Cubbins. Like Dr Seuss’s copiously capped hero, each time I remove one hat, a new alarmingly flashier one magically appears. As CEO, CFO, HR, and occasional hatless head of marketing, sales and admin I’m solely responsible for every major and minute thing that happens. This regularly taxes my patience and my energy because I set up my business to coach, not to learn about Facebook ads or balance my cash flow spread sheet.
At the small but significant end of things, I can’t rant to my colleagues when the printer jams. Even worse, I can’t call John in IT to sort it. Odds on, while I’m busy dismantling the printer’s innards, an urgent email will arrive asking for a vital bit of additional information about a career change workshop I’m running.
Google the small business catch phrase ‘working on your business not in your business’ and you’ll plunge into an ocean of advice on how to juggle everything involved in creating a successful solo enterprise. ‘Delegate outsource and automate’ appear often in the suggested strategies. This is sound advice, but for many of us it’s just not an option at least in our fledgling phase.
I realised pretty quickly that there are parts of running a business that I love doing, and other less absorbing but essential parts that just have to get done. Disciplining myself to sit down with a cup of tea and get through them has been a steep but valuable learning curve.
Sort out your headgear
When the pressure of wearing multiple hats threatens to do your head in, I suggest taking a turn on the Wheel of life. This simple highly visual tool can help you review and recalibrate your ‘in and out of work’ lives and restore your balance.
2. Redraw your boundaries
Once you ditch the ‘9-5’ it can be tricky to create and keep a healthy routine.
I have an office now, but I started my business by working from home. While working in your leopard print PJs or smelly sports kit is widely touted as a home office plus, it just wasn’t for me.
I needed to set the working day tone by glamming up office style every morning. That said, outside of 9-5 I soon fell to the ‘open all hours’ trap. When my partner was away, I started working later and later. Deprived of our regular evening catch-ups, I found myself still answering emails at 9pm.
While occasionally working long late hours is perfectly fine, it’s useful to reality check any big shifts in your work practices against how you did things in your former life. If regular midnight or Sunday morning stints were unthinkable then, why do them now?
3. Start as you mean to go on
Set some boundaries between your work and out of work lives from the beginning. It’s easy and entirely understandable to feel stressed about making every waking hour billable, working when you’re sick and pushing on when you genuinely need time out to recharge. While you won’t get paid sick leave, you also won’t recover without rest. I’ve found that deciding to take time off to recharge or recuperate is the smart, brave thing to do. I always come back clearer and calmer. Often I also bring a clever lateral solution to a problem or a fresh perspective on what I’m going to do next.
4. Embrace trial and error
Every massive and minute decision belongs solely to you. Try not to kick yourself too hard when something you thought would fly falls flat. Calculated risk taking and experimenting with new systems and products and services is essential at any stage of building a sustainable business.
Without experimentation and failure most of us would struggle to find our feet in any aspect of our lives. Learning from your mistakes in business plays a huge part in discovering and filling your niche.
High five yourself
Celebrate small wins that mark your early milestones. Registering your business, securing your first paying client, receiving a random complimentary comment on your Facebook page, getting a glowing testimonial. These are all worth a quiet or even a noisy nod to your courage and commitment to making good things happen.
5. Approach ‘learning opportunities‘ with caution
As a new business I often find my Facebook page besieged by adverts aimed at fledgling entrepreneurs. Courses that promise to show me how to ‘to earn my first million dollars’ and‘accelerate my business’ inviting me to ‘download our free PDF’ as step one in a subsequent and often strongly written sales pitch.
Lots of these courses hit on the pain points of budding entrepreneurship and spruik credible solutions. If you’re feeling a bit uncertain or unfocused, the seductive prospect of a quick but costly fix can be hard to resist.
I’ve taught myself to step back and take a hard headed look at the likelihood of a particularly attractive sounding program delivering the skills and knowledge I really want to learn. I’m big on personal recommendations so I generally try to ask someone who has completed the program ‘if, why and how’ they found it useful.
6. Break the isolation
Protect yourself against the potentially devastating personal and professional isolation that can follow you out of your crowded collegiate workplace into solo entrepreneurship. I felt the sudden absence of a supportive team very keenly. There was no one to talk to about my fantastic weekend or my crappy day, no after work drinks or shared lunches.
As an introvert I have a high tolerance for my own company and I need significant recharge time in quiet tranquil spaces. Despite popular mythology, these characteristics don’t make me a social or professional isolate. Although I can find networking events seminars and courses exhausting, they’re a great way to meet like minded others who are starting out in their own businesses.
Connect and share
It can be tough to replicate the reciprocal sounding board arrangements you shared with collocated colleagues. However, there are real time and virtual ways to rebuild those relationships. Co-working spaces are a growing source of shared inspiration for established and emerging businesses. As a solo businesswoman I highly recommend the Facebook group‘Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine' - enough said!
Schedule social time out
As part of my transition to working from home I’ve made sure I have one daily encounter with someone who isn’t a client. This might be a purely ‘goof off’ coffee with friend or lunch with a potential business contact or a Skype or phone call to a classmate on a shared training course.
7. Be patient and honest
Building a business takes time. Some days it will seem as if you’ve planted heaps of seeds destined never to yield clients, cash or contentment. These are the days where it’s vital to remind yourself about why you began, what you’ve achieved already and where you’re headed. I’ve found I can up my patience and perseverance quotients with some honest heartfelt sharing with people I really trust.
I like this sensible grounded advice on why truth telling beats the big lies we‘re tempted to tell about the stellar success we’re not actually having, at least not YET.
By Jo Green, Career Change Coach
I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done! Changing your career can be lonely and confusing so I'll walk alongside you, be your cheerleader and help you figure out what meaningful work is for you.
Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.