Lessons learnt from my first year in Business
Exactly a year ago was my first week of running my own accountancy business after being made redundant from my office job the week before my son started school. He’s now in his first week of Year 1 so it’s given me a moment to reflect on what this first year of business has been like, and these are 5 lessons I have learned and wish I could have told myself a year ago.
1. Nothing (well almost nothing) is quite as scary as you think it’s going to be
The thought of setting up your own business is scarier than actually doing it. I set up as a limited company (and if you want to know why and what’s the difference between that and a sole trader, head for this blog article: https://www.keynshamconsulting.com/post/sole-trader-vs-limited-company-which-one-is-right-for-you) and basically that is just a few clicks on Companies House website, it’s really not that scary, although maybe this is a bad example as being an accountant this is what I do for many of my clients, help them set up their limited companies, so I’m quite familiar with it.
But all the other things that I thought would be scary – setting up my own website, going to networking events, telling my friends and family about the business, having sales calls with potential new clients… none of these were as scary as I thought they would be.
Being a natural introvert, I thought the client meetings would be tough for me, but all my clients are people just like me – professionals/creatives who have taken that brave leap of setting up their own business. Like me they’re busy and trying to navigate their way through business life and are looking for some support, so not scary, actually a real privilege to meet such lovely, inspiring people.
The only thing that was scary was doing live talks (did I mention I’m bit of an introvert!) Having set up my business in the middle of a pandemic I had to do all my networking and marketing online, so Facebook groups were a great platform and I did 6 live talks/webinars in the space of 6 weeks. They did get easier, but the first one was terrifying… but having a little push out of my comfort zone was probably good for me!
2. Have confidence that you know more than you realise (about your own specialist area)
One of the thoughts that worried me in the early days was ‘what if someone asks me a question that I don’t know’. I worried that maybe I didn’t know enough to set up my own accountancy business.
Having spent almost 15 years working in accountancy practices and finance departments I’ve been constantly surrounded by other accountants so it’s easy to forget how much I know compared to non-accountants.
It’s not that often that I get asked a question I don’t know… but when it happens I’m always honest, say I will look it up and get back to them. Yes I can’t know everything, and even if I do have to look something up, I’m well placed to find and understand the answer due to my knowledge and experience.
So don’t talk yourself and your skills down, you know more than you think you do.
3. Don’t do it alone
It is hard to know what to do, and how to achieve the things you want, so get some support.
Chat to someone who has already done it/ find a mentor/ find a business coach/ join a networking group/ find a support group.
While we all have our specialist areas that we know lots about …. as mentioned above! But things like marketing, networking, getting clients, messaging, social media were definitely not my specialist areas. I had very little idea and luckily stumbled upon a business coach who specialised in helping mums in service-based businesses find clients (hello that’s me – and there was lesson number 1 right there on having a specific message to help clients self-identify! It was the fab Gemma Gilbert for anyone who is wondering https://www.gemmagilbert.com/).
I was also involved in a business summit where I did a live talk on finance fundamentals aimed at new start-ups run by the lovely Isabella Venour of https://www.mind-style.co.uk/ and it was all free so I attended some of the other talks to inform myself on other areas of business and really enjoyed collaborating and sharing knowledge with other business owners.
I also luckily came into contact with two other accountants running similar businesses to me (Caroline Boardman https://carolineboardmanconsulting.co.uk/ and Becki Brooksbank https://www.chaworthassociates.com/). They were 2-3 years further along and they were..... and still are so lovely and supportive and let me pick their brains. There’s no need for competition as there is enough work out there for all of us, so it’s been such a wonderful collaborative relationship.
Being in a business coaching membership has worked really well for me, but there are so many great options out there, find one that appeals to you and use the support.
4. There are no instant results, but consistent efforts will pay off
Everything in business takes time, very little has had instant results. Building up a network, generating leads, converting leads to clients, creating consistent income, it’s all taken time.
One of the resources from my business coaching membership was 90 day goal setting templates, and I have used these right from the start as I find they work really well for me and always seem to produce the desired results if I put in consistent effort for 90 days.
Another popular approach I’ve recently come across is a 6 week sprint – pick one big goal and focus consistently on that for 6 weeks to achieve it.
Also remember that it takes time to slow things down – when I felt that I had taken on too much and wanted to slow things down I couldn’t do it straight away as I had to see through the things that I had already committed to.
So I’ve learned now to plan ahead and remember that there’s no instant results, whether you’re trying to scale up or down.
This last one is specific to Accountancy businesses:
5. HMRC admin & processes are a nightmare!
The worst bit of setting up my own accountancy business has been HMRC’s admin and processes. It’s like a web of forms, authority codes, activation codes…. honestly it made me want to give up some days.
Every time I rang them to ask something I would sit on hold forever and then would speak to a different person who would give me a different answer.
Some important approvals could only be applied for by post, and then you can’t chase them up online or by phone… the only way would be to wait hopelessly or send a chaser request in the post!
As I said above everything takes time and this definitely applies to HMRC stuff – their processes are painful but necessary, so get on it sooner rather than later.
And as I also said above, getting support is important – being able to compare notes on HMRC frustrations, errors and the best way to navigate their processes with my two other accountant buddies has been invaluable and some days was the only thing that kept me sane!
It’s definitely been a journey, but a worthwhile one, being able to work the hours I choose, and meet such inspiring business owners has been a real game changer for me.
These days it feels so natural and normal that I sometimes forget that not everyone does this. Other days I almost have to pinch myself that I’ve actually done it, and I actually do run my own accountancy business while picking my son up every day from school. Who’d have thought it – don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something – you are stronger and more capable that you know.