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Ask Lawrence: What tips do you have for starting a small business?

09 Nov 12:00 By Lawrence Akers


A few years ago, I studied to become a hypnotherapist. Yes, admittedly it is a bit of a detour from my usual creative recruitment work but it is something that really engaged my passion and is now something that I do alongside my creative recruitment work. When I finished my Diploma I decided to engage a business mentor, stating at the time that it made little sense to have spent all this money learning how to become a hypnotherapist and assuming that I knew how to run a business.

Technically, that wasn’t 100% true. I had come from another small business where I had been actively involved in the management for many years and so I understood concepts such as client retention and customer service. I have to admit though that what I learned in the first 12 months of running a business was something that still continues to impact on how I approach business now.

You might wonder how any of this relates to you?

If you’re someone who is starting up your own small business, and that can be a business that consists of one or more persons, then some of the tips here may help you to further your reach, get in front of more clients, and to hopefully have more opportunity coming in.

Perhaps you’ve been in business for a while and you recognise all of these points already? Perhaps you might even have more - in which case, please share and send them through. Ultimately, business all runs on similar principals and so considering some of these points may help in expanding your own business further.

This is by no means comprehensive. In fact, there will be several other applicable areas that could/should be included but hasn’t made it this time around. This is more a brain dump of thoughts that I know have resonated with me over the past few years that I feel are worth considering. Don’t expect an MBA article here - it isn’t one. Look at it more as friendly advice from someone’s own personal first hand experience that I feel is worth considering.

Who is your market?

When I opened up my business as a hypnotherapist, I got a brand mark put together, ensured I had a whole lot of print collateral ready to go, had my website up and running, and then sat by the phone waiting for it to ring. In all honesty, it rarely rang.  

When I sat down with a mentor to discuss what was going wrong, one of the first things he said to me was ‘who are you talking to?’  

‘I don’t know…’, I said. ‘People with problems?…’

It was all too vague and I had no idea as to who my key demographic actually was that I was trying to appeal to.  

It’s much the same experience of asking your partner what they want for dinner and you get ‘everything’ as a response. That everything tells you absolutely nothing about what they feel like.

So who is it that you’re talking to? Who is going to benefit the most from your service? Is it other small businesses who have no idea about creative? Is it in-house studios who need an additional hand? Is it packaging studios who need a specialist in FMCG? Is it agencies who need someone with strategic skills to help come up with campaigns?  

I often talk about you being your brand. This is exactly it. The brand isn’t just the brand mark. The brand is what people think of when they think about you.  

Once you’ve defined your market, then you know how to gear all your marketing material. This would be obvious in the creative industry and yet, more often than not, it just doesn’t happen.

What is your market’s pain points?

The second issue my website had all those years ago was that I just spoke about me.

If you have a problem that you think a hypnotherapist could solve, why the hell would you care about the hypnotherapist’s story? Surely what you would want to see is how they understand YOUR problem and what they can do to help YOU get rid of your problem.

Even now when I talk with clients and with creatives, one of the key things I aim to understand is what is the problem that they experience on a constant basis and what can I do to help them reduce or eliminate that problem. It’s all about finding the solution.

If your website begins with how many years experience you have and how great you are, then you might be missing the mark because, in all honesty, most people don’t care about YOU specifically, but they do care about having their requirements taken care of and that you have the understanding and experience to achieve that.

How do you communicate with your market?

Once you know who your market is and what their needs are, how do you communicate with them?

What social media do you use? What is the message you put out there? Where do you find those people that have the requirement you can solve for them?

Is it a monthly newsletter? Is it testimonials from other clients who you have provided a service to? Is it video engagement where you show people just how authentically passionate you are about the clients you’re working with? What special promotions might you offer to attract people to give you a try?

What about your SEO? Are you on page 1 in a Google search? What is the content that you’re producing that has those key search terms that is going to get you there?

You could easily stay quiet, especially if you start to compare yourself to others out there. How do you push through and step outside that comfort zone so that you do it and start to build a habit of putting yourself out there?  

What social networking events do you attend? What forums do you frequent? What is your message that you create and how do you set yourself up as being a specialist in your chosen creative area?

How do you maintain communication with your current clients? What do you offer them over and above your newer prospects to help them feel special or informed?

I didn’t say that all this is easy - in fact, some of it takes a bit of work, planning and even some soul searching to push through the discomfort that comes with things you’re not a natural at doing. But these are the things that will have you been seen because your clients need to be able to find you and they’re not going to by just setting up a website like everyone else.

Review, Revise and Refine

Constantly be self-critical about what you’ve done to promote your business and look for what return on investment (both financially and time) you’ve made.

If you look at your Google Analytics and you can see that you have an incredibly high bounce rate, then your website is not resonating with your chosen market. You will need to consider changing the image, the message or both.

Perhaps track down a copy of the classic ‘Ogilvy On Advertising’ and have a ready about some of the key messages and ad strategies he found the most successful (chapter 7 for those who already have it). It’s a fascinating read and definitely gives food for thought.

One thing I also learned was this - and this is aimed more at those who are just starting out in business - you’ll have your initial budget that you use to create your branding, print collateral, website, advertising, etc. I would recommend you take your initial budget and half it, putting aside some cash for 12 months time. Why? Because in 12 months, you’re going to have a far better understanding of who your key demographic actually is and chances are you’re going to need to revise and re-do some of the marketing material you had created 12 months earlier.  

These are all just food for thought tips but these are things that, if implemented, can help to improve your chances of new clients finding you almost immediately. Even three years in with my own personal business, I’m still learning, reviewing, revising and refining on a weekly basis and I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to do that. Perhaps look at what you need to make your own business a raging success (how many hours per week at how much per hour?) and consider your plan of attack. If you were wise enough to create a Business Plan prior to opening, do you still refer to it? If not, why not? What is no longer realistic in it for you? Does it need a review to reflect your insights and knowledge now?

My hope is that something here has helped you in considering how you approach your own business and what you can do right now to begin attracting more new opportunities. Of course, as your business begins to grow and you need more assistance to get through the workload, remember to give Creative Recruiters a call to get in some freelance creative help.