Setting up and running a business is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things you could ever do. If you've managed to go out there on your own - particularly during the current economic climate - you should pat yourself on the back.
But recession or not, it's always difficult to keep going once you're up and running. There's all manner of things to deal with from your own time management to ensuring clients pay on time. Speaking from my own experiences of going solo, here's my Ultimate Business Survival Guide for Freelancers or Small Businesses.
1. Learn how to sell yourself
When you're the owner of your own business, you're the sole 'face' of your company. You're the first person people meet or speak to when they consider hiring you. That's why it's so important to learn how to sell yourself and your services. Don't be afraid to show off your skills and expertise whenever you meet people. Learn how to create and maintain relationships and become skilled in asking the right questions as well as knowing when to give the hard sell and when to take a step back.
If you've only been freelancing for a short while and you're not yet experienced in selling yourself, my advice is to be friendly and open with everyone you meet. Make a point to listen and observe, reading people's body language. You'll be surprised how much you learn just by observing people. But if the opportunity presents itself to sell your skills, do it! Tell people who you are and what you do. If you get to grips with sales, you'll definitely make it long term.
Top Tips: Go to lots of networking events, always carry business cards and be prepared to sell yourself at all times. You never know who you might bump into. Make sure you always follow up on any new leads. And ask your existing clients for referrals. Create a CRM system to keep track of potential and existing customers.
2. Practise good money management
A key to survival is good cash flow, especially when you're a small business. Get into the habit of managing your money, so that you never run short. This means sending out invoices as soon as a project is complete and chasing payment when the standard 30 days are up.
No one likes to pick up the phone and ask for money, but you shouldn't feel like you're being rude. Simply say "I'm going through my usual monthly admin and am just chasing up on invoice number X. Could you please confirm that it's going to be paid as it's now overdue. Thank you." Just keep things friendly and professional and people will respect your wishes. I've never had anyone complain about me chasing payment for my own invoices. It's just something we all have to do and it's common knowledge that many firms just need that gentle reminder now and again.
Top Tips: Never live beyond your means and remember that some months you'll earn more cash than others. Save as much money as possible to build up a safety net reserve. To really tackle your invoices and bills, hire an accountant or consider using something like FreeAgent.
3. Get the right support
Whether you're a small business or freelancer, getting the right support is crucial if you want your business to survive. If you're picking other freelancers to collaborate with, you really have to make sure you get the right people behind you.
My advice is to put other freelancers through a stringent interview process. It won't do any harm to make absolutely sure that you're taking on the right people for the job. Ask to see CVs, portfolios... anything that demonstrates their skills and experience. Go the extra mile and make them do a test during their interview. And when you hire them, make them work with you on-site if it makes you more comfortable. That way, you can keep an eye on them and ensure you're getting your money's worth.
Of course, the beauty of hiring freelancers is that you can hire them on a project-by-project basis. This means you always have the budget in place and, even better - if it doesn't work out, you can simply go elsewhere. Read this article on How to Successfully Work with Freelancers for some more top tips.
If a freelancer just won't cut it and you need more daily support, then it might be time to employ your first member of staff. Taking the leap and hiring someone full-time is exciting but it can also be daunting. Because employing someone instead of hiring a freelancer is a whole new ball game. There are many things you need to take into account, most of which are nicely covered by ByteStart.co.uk. Don't be put off though - taking on staff is a great sign that your business is growing.
Top Tips: Becoming an employer opens up a world of new responsibilities. Learn everything you can on hiring staff and ensure you're fully clued up on employment law. Read this helpful guide on Employment Law from the government.
4. Never stop marketing yourself
When you run your own business, you tend to wear many different hats. Marketing is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful company, so make sure it's at the top of your agenda at all times. Do anything and everything to get your business name out there and in front of people looking for your product or services.
A good first step is to create a business plan and use your research to market your business in the right way. It's no good just going at it without any considered thought process, so make sure you do some thorough prep before you start marketing to the masses.
Top Tips: Whenever you're going through a quiet period, focus on your own marketing. Follow up new leads. Go to networking events. Send out an e-newsletter. Update your website and its blog. Carry on with your SEO and digital marketing. Make a few cold calls to potential new clients. And if you're still stuck for marketing ideas read 100 inspiring ways to market your business.
5. Work with the right people
Another key ingredient to survival is finding the right clients to work with. This means finding people who are easy to work with, who pay on time and who appreciate your hard work and expertise. Those dream clients that we all hope and wish for. Finding them is no easy feat but something you'll only get better at with time and experience.
What you want to do in the meantime is get rid of those clients that make your working life a misery. You know the ones I'm talking about. The low value clients who never pay on time, who demand more than they should get and who drain you and leave you feeling unproductive. As soon as you can afford to, get rid of them! It will free up lots of your time to concentrate on better paying customers.
Top Tips: Getting rid of negative, needy clients is never easy because you should never burn bridges or risk damaging your reputation. There are ways to walk away gracefully, like for example - making the client think it was their idea to walk away from you. You could achieve this by putting your prices up next time you quote for something or saying you're unavailable to take on any new work. Another great tip is to recognise the warning signs of difficult clients before you work with them. Here's a good article on How to Turn Business Away Professionally.
6. Manage your time effectively
Time is money, as they say. Your time is charged to clients and so in order to survive, you have to make sure your time is being spent wisely. That means having a good hard look at a typical working day to see if there's anything you could be doing to manage your time more effectively.
If you're finding yourself easily distracted, then read these Top 20 ways to Stay Productive at Work or this helpful article on managing your time more effectively. Both give lots of good tips to encourage you to review your working day.
Top Tips: One of the most common time wasters is bad clients. Get rid of anyone who is draining your time and energy for little profit. Make room in the day to win higher value clients who appreciate your work. Seriously, stop slogging your guts out for people who don't pay enough and chase after higher paying customers. How you do this is by improving your website and portfolio and putting yourself across as a high quality product or service provider.