At 28 here are 10 lessons I can share after founding 3 businesses, selling 2, all whilst maintaining a full time job.
1. Maintain a source of reliable income to support your business endeavours
I have worked for a global software company since leaving university and the first business I started actually came to light when I was looking for something to do when working in Franklin, Tennessee. There was very little to do and so outside of working 70-80 hour weeks and watching football I began drawing up my business idea. I have gone on to become their Marketing Manager but had I not had this income I wouldn’t have been able to support my side ‘interests’ (starting businesses!).
2. Be up front with your employer from the start
Ensure they know that what you’re doing isn’t a conflict and won’t eat into your full time work commitments. I tried to keep my first business very private not wanting to bring personal activities into my work life. I find out the hard way that this caused more bad than good as it was perceived that I was hiding what I was doing which had some people assuming I was doing this during work hours.
I have significantly fast tracked my personal development through my own business ventures and have brought these skills back into my full time job which has enabled me to improve my output in my full time job and take on responsibilities I otherwise never would have been able to do. Entrepreneurship and innovation are forming part of a lot of job advertisements these days for this very reason.
3. Up skill yourself as much as you can so you can
Your start-up will become more and more expensive as you develop and more so if you’re outsourcing everything. Learn as much as you can about the areas you’re looking to outsource so you don’t have to. There will be some unavoidable areas that you have to spend money in but the less you do this the better. Having started three businesses I can now manage finances, write media releases, manage my own SEO and SEM, build websites, mobile apps, videos and much more. I now offer these skills and insights to help other start-ups to SMEs through my own marketing business.
4. Follow your area of expertise and find a solution to your problem as a user and buyer
My three businesses have been across hiring services, property, real estate, building, marketing and digital services. Until starting my businesses I had no experience or detailed knowledge into any of these bar the last two (marketing and digital services). Funnily enough I found these the easiest and by far the most successful because it’s where my inherit skills lie. I know the industries pain points and solutions inside out because it’s where I operate daily.
5. Market research before anything else and do it well
Speak to your users and buyers before spending a cent and build your solution around them instead of building a solution to your perceived problem. I remember when starting my first business downloading a business plan template from a government website and filling a few lines into the market research section. It formed no part of my business model, design or strategy.
I have since learnt this is the most important starting point and phase of any development. If you haven’t done this before I suggest speaking with someone who has for guidance. Identifying your end users and buyers and being able to speak with them is the most crucial part of your business. This isn’t easy to do which is why it can so often be overlooked. Bring these users and buyers on your journey and measure the success of this by their willingness to be part of a user group and commit to purchasing your product or service if it meets the criteria they have set.
6. Be aware of what you’re getting yourself into
You will have to sacrifice sleep, money, free time, late nights and weekends. If you’re not willing to do this for years then you minimise your chance of succeeding. Having just sold my second trip I rewarded myself with a quick international trip with my partner. It was the first time in as long as I can remember that I had a sleep in and was able to turn off (both my email and mind). Starting a business is incredibly stressful but of course when you have a win like finding a paying customer it is all worth it.
7. Network as much as possible
This was my biggest area of weakness and it’s taken me far too long to appreciate its value. Attend meetings, seminars, workshops and where possible, see if you can be the presenter. This article is ironic as I’ve never been one for wanting to talk about what I’m doing and what I’m learning in business at the risk of coming across as bragging or being a know it all.
I have found however that speaking about these things is fantastic for feedback and also referrals. I was recently speaking with my friend who is a dentist about what’s happening in the world of marketing. The following week I had a call from another dentist who he had given my details to asking to meet up to discuss what I can do to help grow his practice. This never would have happened if I kept quiet!
8. Develop based on your paying users’ feedback
Of course consider other factors such as competitor activity, market trends and other external factors but prioritise the requests of those who already believe in your business enough to invest in it. They’ll likely become referrals and promotors.
As part of my second business, Popupshopup, which I founded with a partner we had an online portal for listing and activating vacant retail and commercial space. It took time to build our user base but once we found them we saw steady growth. We found this aligned closely with the features we were adding which were based on direct client feedback and conversations.
9. Develop a solid and organised sales process
Present something to your customers that make them aware of how much you care. A key offering in my latest business (Bray Marketing) is a comprehensive marketing package which includes market research, competitor analysis, SEO and keywords, a new website, social media and a marketing campaign as part of the launch.
The first step I take is working with the customer to complete a requirements document which I have put together and allows me to form a solution proposal. I do all of this for free to demonstrate that I truly care about the problems they are trying to solve (rather than just “needing a new website”) and that my proposed solution is based on fact. This has significantly sped up the sales process and makes for an extremely smooth project as you set clear expectations of what you will achieve.
10. Seek to turn your happy customers into case studies as success stories
If you have solved a problem for your customer (and you must have if they are a customer) chances are they’ll be happy to repay you by speaking about it. Plus it’s free PR for them too! During our time at Popupshopup we wanted to develop some case study videos to help drive the Message on our website and social media. We thought we may have to offer them money or some form of compensation for their time but found out they were more than happy to do this for us (without ever asking for anything!). Not only did we get a fantastic testimonial but we got even more insight into how we were helping companies which in turn improved our value proposition and feature development.
Ronan Bray is the Marketing Manager for INX Software and the founder of Jobs and Services, Popupshopup and Bray Marketing. He has gone on to sell 2 of his companies.