Monday, April 26, 2010

Tips for Entrepreneurs

A friend of mine who is considering starting her own freelance business asked me for my thoughts on being an entrepreneur. It made me realize that I have 16+ years of experience being an entrepreneur and if my advice was important to her, it might be of interest to you. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

The self-employed business owner is responsible for every aspect of the business from sweeping the floor to serving the customer to managing the finances. All the while, they must ensure that staff are performing well and that new business is coming in to keep everyone (including you) in a job. That's a lot to be responsible for so it's no surprise that business owners are often heavily stressed individuals. Here is some advice on how to circumvent some of the most common problems:

Business Development
Cheap solution? Network. Join clubs and groups. Follow clients/potential clients on Twitter. Attend seminars and events. Make yourself do one thing that challenges you at that event. For example, introduce yourself to someone you don't know. Being a wallflower won't help your cause. Be courageous and make your presence known. Then find ways for others to promote you inexpensively. Go after industry awards and write press releases for newspapers to pick up. Put that news on your web site (get a free blog if you can't afford a web site). Make a business card which briefly lists your services and how the customer can benefit. Let your network know that you're expanding and looking for new accounts. Describe the type of clients you're looking for (e.g. manufacturing, film industry). Consider offering a small finder's fee. Read the newspaper to see who is expanding/looking for partners like you. Check procurement sites that your industry/province might manage such as NBON, MERX or OPBA. Believe it or not, job sites such as Workopolis,,,, and Monster often list contract work so check out those sites as well. Many of them will also allow you to freely post a profile of yourself and your services.

Another inexpensive way to develop new business is to do it from within your existing client list. Treat your current customers very well. Be in touch with them often, listen to their challenges and do whatever it takes to meet/exceed their goals. Then research new technologies or start foreseeing what things they are going to need next. Brainstorm with them. Prove to them that you're dedicated and they're likely to show the same dedication in return.

Time Management
Too many tasks and not enough time to do it all? Manage your time by reducing distractions, prioritizing and using an electronic organizer. Plan your day better by knowing right from the outset what you need to accomplish that day. Make a list (keep it reasonable), allot time slots and then plow through the tasks. Give yourself treats to work toward if you have to. Identify the things that are distractions to you (for example, the phone, IM, email and electronic news). Then schedule those distractions just like you'd schedule any other task -- and only every few hours at the most.

If you have a staff, create a Production Schedule for them. Then choose the most responsible one to keep it updated!

Having difficulty hiring/training people or don't want to spend money on an advertisement? Ask around for referrals for qualified people. The network that you developed above should be able to help. Post a news item on your site that says you're expanding and invite people with the right skill set to send in their resume. Put an ad on free websites such as Kijiji. Check out employee training programs that the government might be offering.

Cash Flow
Prepare (or have your Accountant prepare) a one-year cash flow forecast to manage money coming in and going out. Update the spreadsheet weekly. This will allow you to see potential cash flow shortages in time to correct them. Reduce expenditures. Send out reminders to clients to pay overdue accounts (show interest/fees) or have an agency/accountant recover Accounts Receivables for you. Have friends, family or a financial institution in place for a loan before you need the money.

Balancing Work and Life
This is a biggie. Most people start a business to have better control over their workday but they end up falling into the same trap that their old employer fell into. You don't know how to stop thinking about the business when you're at home and your life goals become work-related. Your business should be your servant, not your master. Identify 5 things that regularly consume your day or that you don't like/aren't good at doing. Then delegate (to suppliers or staff) what they're better at doing anyway! Revisit your life goals and start scheduling them into every day. Add them to your electronic organizer if you have to!

Let me know if you have any questions or advice to add to this.

Now, get out there and start enjoying work AND life again!

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