Seven habits of highly effective (and happy!) start-ups

Want to start your own business, or already running a start-up? A fellow entrepreneur shares seven lessons she’s learned since launching her own venture.

After 18 years of working for some of the UK’s well-known household brands, including Anadin, McVitie’s and TOMY toys, earlier this year Joanne Gray decided to set up her own marketing consultancy.

Since starting The Progress Lab, first-time entrepreneur Joanne has learned a number of important business lessons. And we asked her to share some of them with us.

Seven habits of highly effective (and happy) start-ups

When I made that bold decision to set up my own business, I was provided with an endless stream of good advice from colleagues, family, friends and other entrepreneurs.

While not all of it has been applicable to me, I’m now starting to see some of that advice ring true – as well as building up my own valuable bank of first hand experience. And in the spirit of paying it forward, I’m going to share my collective top tips with you.

So here they are. My seven habits of highly effective (and happy) start-ups for anyone thinking about, or in the early days of starting their own business.

1) Have a business strategy – but be flexible

Yes, it’s important to have a business plan when you get started, but it’s just as essential that you are open to changing it if needed. After all, what you start off doing might not be what you end up doing three years down the line.

As a marketer, it’s all about having a well considered strategy that you commit to and build your communications plan around, and giving it enough time to prove itself.

So this piece of advice is the antithesis to the theory I had lived by for years. But in the world of start-ups, you need to be flexible and reactive – in some respects it is a journey of discovery, so with the best will in the world you need to be adaptable with your strategy.

If you can see early on that something isn’t working, then take a long hard look at why and come up with an alternative solution quickly. In my case, I had a very clear service offering when I launched my website, but after a month or so in business, I started to realise that there’s some things I like doing more than others.

So I decided to remove the services which I can do, but just don’t really enjoy and added in others which I have discovered that I really like doing. For example, training and development replaced managing organisational change. And I’m still keeping an open mind as to what I’ll be doing in three years time!

2) Use your network and make an effort to add to it

Contacts are the lifeblood of many fledgeling businesses. So make sure you nurture and leverage yours whenever possible.

To date, almost all of our work has come through existing contacts recommending us to people they know who need marketing support, which has been great. But it’s a big world out there, and many more opportunities may come from people we don’t know yet.

So I definitely recommend making an effort to find ways to make new connections. If you have an idea that you think could have mutual benefit and have found a contact that it could be relevant to, then be brave. Introduce yourself via Twitter, LinkedIn or email. Or even better – pick up the phone.

It may seem a daunting thing to do, but what’s the worse that can happen? I’ll be honest, I’ve had a few potential contacts that have completely ignored me, even after multiple emails and calls. But I have also been fortunate enough to meet some really interesting and like-minded people who are now firmly added to my list of contacts.

3) Don’t be despondent if you don’t get immediate responses

When planning your marketing efforts, it’s wise think long term, and not get too disheartened if you dont see an immediate response.

There have definitely been times when I’ve questioned the efficacy of some of my posts on social media, and wondered what the point is. But then I’ve gone to industry events and met with old acquaintances that mention they’ve read my updates, and seem to know what’s going on with my business.

So, this reinforces the point that keeping top of mind of potential clients is important. They might not need your services right now, but when the time comes that they do, hopefully they’ll think of you.

4) Do free work if it benefits you

I received a lot of mixed advice with regard to doing ‘stuff for free’. One entrepreneur argued that you shouldn’t do anything for free as it devalues you, while others have argued that it acts as a good sampler for clients who don’t know you.

I made the conscious decision to follow the advice of the pro-gratis faction, so I ran some free training sessions to a number of high profile companies. The reason for doing so was to give me some first hand experience of training facilitation, as well as getting some great testimonials (which I did and have shared on social media and on our website). So, for me that made a lot of sense.

5) Do fun stuff on quiet days

When you’re starting and running a small business, there will be plenty of days when you’re working until midnight, so make sure you take advantage of the quiet days to do some more fun stuff too – it all balances out in the end.

In my first two months of setting up, I worked relentlessly on creating protocols, developing ways of working, templates, marketing plans, business proposals – you name, it I did it. I felt guilty finishing early or going to the gym during the day because I felt I needed to be doing everything I could for my new business.

But then the work started coming in, and I soon realised that there’ll be peaks and troughs with regard to workload, so I decided to cut myself some slack. I now make a conscious effort to go out and have ‘fun time, mum-time’ days with my daughter if things are a bit quiet on the work front. After all one of the biggest benefits of being your own boss is that you can be flexible!

6) Remember you’ll win some, you’ll lose some

In the brave new world, winning and losing new business feels a lot more personal than when you worked for a corporate organisation – after all this is your business.

I’ve already had to deal with a few knock backs; such is life. But you can’t spend too much time dwelling on them. You need to see the preparatory work you did as experience, take any key learnings and move on and seek out the next opportunity. And on the flip side, when you do get a win, make sure you celebrate in style!

7) Surround yourself with supporters

When you set up your own business it’s helpful to have people around you to act as a sounding board and to give you a sense of encouragement.

I have been very fortunate. I have my fellow ‘Progressivists’ who work with me, as well as a wonderful husband who has been hugely supportive. He proof reads almost everything I write and endures being a guinea pig for my training programmes!

So don’t be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you. In most cases they will genuinely want to feel like they are helping you fulfill your ambitions.

Keep looking forward!

I hope some of this advice helps you and even inspires you on your new journey. My final words of advice would be don’t look back – only forward! Stick with it even when it feels tough, and remember you are in control and you always have options.

Joanne Gray is Founder and Chief Progressivist at The Progress Lab, a progressive thinking marketing consultancy aimed at helping ambitious people and businesses unleash their potential.