2018 has been a big year thus far at Ruby Assembly.
We’ve undertaken a rebrand. We’re celebrating a decade of social media. And we’re only half-way through the year. You learn a lot in a decade on earth, and you learn a whole lot when you’ve gone ‘off grid’ and choose to run your own business.
Now is the ideal time to reflect on each year in business, and the key lessons learned – each of taught the hard way courtesy of experience. I hope these ten nuggets of wisdom help ease your own journey in business. And here’s to the next decade of Ruby Assembly – who knows where we’ll be next time I ponder another decade of life and commerce?
1. Don’t register for GST before you need to.
Rookie mistake. Being compliant to the level of complete neurosis, I registered for GST from day dot of my business. This was due to a couple of factors – a) I went along to heaps of ATO Tax compliance seminars for small business and had the fear of God put into me and b) my accountant said it would make me look like a more professional business.
That was bullshit advice. I didn’t reach the required threshold for GST for many years. I wasn’t charging anywhere near enough for my service when I began, and I was starving myself by choosing to pay the ATO more than they were due at that stage in my business development. I accrued debt due to unnecessary registration for GST and it terrified me. Don’t register for GST until you need to. No-one will think you any less professional for not registering.
2. Get an accountant. A good one.
My business really took off once I found the ideal accountant. They taught me to use Xero properly, which gave me a terrific grip on my monthly earnings, invoices and bills due and expenses. I understood my business as a living, breathing creature in a way I never had before. They tidied up the inadequate work my previous accountant had executed. They helped me when it came time to become an employer. They hooked me up with a Trust Account and an appropriate insurance broker. Accounts: you really can’t do business without them. They’re so much more than an annual tax return, let me tell ya.
3. You can’t got it alone: Contractors and Interns
Unless you specifically want to remain an independent sole trader forever – because it suits your personality, lifestyle, business model etc. – you’ll soon be maxxed out with clients, and learn that businesses can’t be run in isolation. Within a year of Ruby Assembly’s launch were engaging the skills of contractors and running an internship program. They were invaluable, helping me to service the needs of clients and compelling me to look at my business model and processes as they developed. Contractors and interns are an important step in business maturity – paving the way to becoming an employer and engaging in higher levels of risk, return and responsibility.
4. Get outta the kitchen.
Working at home doesn’t really work. Not in the long-term. Don’t get me wrong – I continue to work two days per week from home. But working from home permanently is not good for you or your business. It’s isolating. It silos you away from trends within your industry and business more generally. Depending on your personality, it can make you retreat into your shell and move further away from the all-important prospecting all businesses need to do. I recommend locating yourself in a coworking space for a few days a week, or even sharing a studio with a few other freelancers. You’ll learn so much, feel a sense of camaraderie with your fellow freelancers an entrepreneurs … and odds on, you’ll win more clients, too.
5. Respect copyright.
Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and LinkedIn are copyright infringement machines. Only use artwork you have paid for or created or have explicit permission to use. RGs do not constitute copyright permission.
6. Get a lawyer. A good one.
If you’re not having the occasional legal skirmish in business, are you even living? Legal tussles are terrifying at first, but they can (most usually) be worked through and settled with the help of a good lawyer. Lawyers are also important for creating contracts of engagement, contractor and employee contracts and client services agreements. You need one to feel secure enough to really let rip in your practice.
7. Don’t sweat the haters.
Not everyone is going to love you or your approach. You won’t be the right business for every client. Not every prospective client will be a great match for you. That’s just life. It’s OK. You may even find your opinion or offering publicly criticized or diminished. This hurts, but just keep on keepin’ on. Outlast and outwit the haters.
8. Keep prospecting.
It’s your business to win business. Your craft or skill is the product you sell – but in order to sell your craft of skill, you must have a clientele. Too many businesses fail because they don’t want to prospect for new business. You can never stop reaching out to potential clients. Your product or skill alone won’t win you new business – only actively agitating for new business via inventive prospecting can keep you afloat. Choose your prospecting poison – we recommend a mixture of cold database building, phone calls, formal networking, digital marketing and creating meaningful content (just like this blog) regularly.
9. Become an employer.
My business really took off when I gave the Universe a vote of confidence in myself and became an employer. Did it feel risky? Hell yeah. Risky AF. But that’s life, innit? You can only ever demand a certain level of support from contractors – who likely have other freelancing opportunities they need to make themselves available for. The relationship with an employee and an employer is a unique one – if there’s mutual respect (and even better, friendship) between you, get ready for your business to go to the next level. It’s not that scary once you’re in the saddle, I promise.
10. Invest in your brand.
I have a substantial digital footprint. This is by design and strategy. I invest regularly in new photography of my team and myself. I spend big dollars on digital advertising and developing new products for my business. I take my peeps away a couple of times a year on retreat (note: this works because we like one-another). I update my website. I buy appropriate contracts and privacy statements to safeguard my brand’s digital presence.
My business is my first baby. I invest in it, because its success is a non-negotiable. Of course, my expenditure has scaled as we’ve become a bigger agency – but even in my earliest days, I purchased a website, logo, business cards and collateral.
There you have it. The core 10 lessons from my first decade in business.
We started at the bottom now we here.