As I wrote in an earlier blog, I sure made a lot of mistakes when I started as a full-time freelance writer, but I learned from every one of them. On the plus side, however, I also made some really smart decisions about how to run my business in those early days. Most of them have stuck with me through to today, and I have no doubt they played a big part in surviving the first few years.
Here are five smart ideas for starting your own business:
Focus on Honing Business Skills – The smartest decision I made was to spend as much time as possible sharpening my business skills. And that was a good thing too…because I had almost no natural business acumen when I started. In those early years, I sought out opportunities to talk with successful small business owners (not necessarily writers) and to read books or attend classes on sales, marketing and negotiating – topics I felt were weaknesses for me.
Fine Tune Business Activities – Related to the point above, I have always tinkered with the way I run my business, constantly looking to make improvements wherever I can. A business should never become static. Most of the changes I’ve made over the years relate to marketing and sales. I am constantly trying new ways to promote myself and pitch my services to prospects. And I always keep notes on what works and what doesn’t.
Stay on Top of Invoices – People have trouble believing that I’ve had only a couple bad debts over the past 25 years. I have to thank a buddy of mine for this one. He owned a small business, and just before I started mine he told me the number-one killer for start-ups was improper management of accounts receivables. Right from the start, I never let an invoice get more than a month overdue, and it really helped me avoid cash crunches.
Stay Neutral with Editors – This was a tough one because I became friendly with the editors of certain trade publications over the years, and occasionally they would suggest we form some sort of alliance or partnership. But I always politely turned them down. Although my relationships with them were important, I have never forgotten the person signing my paycheck is my client. That’s who I work for. As a result, I’ve always made sure to submit a client’s article for publication in the magazine that best meets their needs.
Set Aside Specific Time for Business Development – Prospecting for new clients is critical when you’re starting a business, and I recognized this. Rather than fit it in when I had the time, I set aside every Monday morning for business development. I spent hours back in those days making Xerox copies of my published articles, writing pitch letters and mailing them (yes, mailing them) to prospects. That discipline paid off big time for me at the start. While I may have lost my discipline at various times, I still make prospecting a regular part of my schedule.