Running your own business: Get some help
Imagine arriving at your new posting and there’s no one to hand over to you. Your phone is already ringing and people are asking you questions you can’t answer. You have reports to write, deadlines to meet and not a clue how to do most of it. That’s exactly how starting a business can feel, says regular Quest contributor, Steve Bulleyment, director of specialist auto locksmith company Car Key Man, and he has a few ideas as to what you can do about it …
I’m amazed I made it through my first five years. Historically, only half of all businesses make it to that five-year point and, looking back, I understand why. There are so many new skills to learn. So if you’re thinking about going it alone when you leave, this article highlights some of the things you may struggle with and some of the help available. We’ll look at paid professionals, staff and technology.
The perfect business
The dream is to have is a full order book, plenty of long-term work from reliable customers and the phone ringing regularly to top up that work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work quite like that …
After a few years in business, I got to the point where I didn’t want the phone to ring any more. I’d be busy cutting car keys, with far too much on my plate, just hoping new customers would leave me alone. I couldn’t face any more demands on my time. Looking back, it was ridiculous because most of these people just wanted to give me money!
However, being stretched to breaking point made me realise something had to change.
If you’re in business long enough, there’ll be a time when you need some help. I’m not keen on the term ‘self-employed’ or ‘working for yourself’ because it suggests that it’s all on your shoulders. We all need some help to run a business. ‘But I can’t afford to pay a professional!’, I hear you cry.
‘If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur’
I understand. Professional services can be expensive. I’ve spent tens of thousands of pounds on book-keepers, virtual assistants, marketers, graphic designers and business consultants. Without doubt, a lot of this money has been wasted. However, I learned what helped me the most. Here are a few worth paying for …
A good accountant is essential. HMRC – that fine institution with the brown envelopes we all dread – can be slow to pick up you’re doing things wrong. You may get away with doing your own tax return for a while. However, when they realise the mistakes you’ve made, they’ll come knocking. When they get their teeth into you, it’s bad news. I’ve seen good people undergo tax investigations simply because when they started out, they tried to save money on their tax return. It’s not worth it!
How do you choose an accountant?
I’m on my fifth in 15 years. I’ve moved because of no advice, bad advice and, most surprisingly, because one went bankrupt! So, don’t be afraid to move about until you find one you’re comfortable with. My current accountant is a perfect fit for my company and I get help every month. Ask for recommendations from friends then meet the suggested person or firm for a chat. Find out exactly who you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis, so you can see how helpful or annoying they are – after all, you’ll be paying for them!
When you find one you’re happy with, ask questions, get on top of all your bookwork and be proactive – don’t ignore any problems or worries you have.
If you go onto YouTube, you’ll notice that several website companies are pushing things hard. Wix offers you the chance to build your own website very cheaply, or free. I’m sure it’s a good company, but do think about what your website is. As a first impression, it needs to look good and perform correctly, otherwise you don’t stand a chance. Plus, it needs a valid SSL certificate, otherwise Google won’t show it very high up the search rankings.
A good website company will understand that, as a start-up or small business, your budget will be tight. However, I truly believe that it’s worth finding a good local company you can talk to and meet with to help you with your website. Of all the things to pay for, a website should be high on your list. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune and a good company will let you pay monthly.
Advice and mentoring
This could be seen as a luxury. At one point I was paying £750 every month for business coaching. That is serious money. However, it made such a difference to my life because I just couldn’t figure out how to cope with my work schedule. It accelerated my business growth. My coach could see the problems I was having and helped turn me from a struggling sole trader, into a confident employer. He held me accountable and the business tripled in revenue in three years. So he was an expensive professional, but for me well worth investing in.
I need more hours in the day! (Maybe you need staff?)
When you get overloaded, it’s a good sign that you’re doing a good job as more people want you, so what about employing some staff?
‘But I’m happy as a one-man band.’
If you think you can work happily alone, think about this: can you shut down for two weeks without any drama? As a kitchen fitter, carpenter or landscape gardener, I expect you can turn the phone off without too many issues. No one’s going to have an emergency where a kitchen cupboard needs replacing or a door needs hanging. However, as a plumber or in my profession as a locksmith, customers need a fast response. If you fitted a boiler and it fails, or a pipe starts leaking from the new bathroom you fitted, it needs to be sorted out. If you’ve shut down for two weeks’ holiday, your customer aren’t going to be happy.
Unfortunately, you can only work so fast, for so many hours. To help cope with the extra work the two choices are to turn down work or expand your capacity. Neither is the right or wrong choice, but if you want to grow the business, you have a few choices. Which is more suitable, an employee, or a sub-contractor? Taking Simon on board as an employee in my company has been the best move. It allows me to take holidays, or even just a weekend off. While I’m spending time with my family, the business is still helping customers and making money. However, maybe you just need occasional help and a sub-contractor can take up some of the slack without you having to employ someone directly.
Whichever route you choose, getting someone to help your customers is a massive step. It can feel both scary and uncomfortable as you start to let go of your baby, but it’s worth it. That’s clear to me every year when I take my four weeks holiday and it all keeps going.
Read Steve’s regularly updated blog
Work smarter, not harder
It’s not just about putting in more hours. There’s plenty of good technology to help us in business now.
When I write these articles, I’ve always stressed the importance of getting paid promptly and having cash in the bank. To get paid, customers need an invoice. Not having time to do this paperwork is a common reason business owners give for not having any money. After all, who enjoys paperwork?
There are some excellent invoicing apps available now that are paperless. My advice is to send the invoice immediately and check the customer has received it before you leave the job. Getting paid is the most important part of the job, so give yourself the best chance.
Other apps we use send out marketing emails automatically, request customer reviews and other marketing tasks that otherwise I wouldn’t remember or have time to do.
Enjoy doing less
It feels good knowing that the important things are being taken care of without you putting in more effort. Whether you choose to stay as a sole trader or grow your business, knowing you’ve got professionals helping will make it so much more enjoyable. Having a business that works is amazing – there’s so much opportunity if you have the correct help, so good luck and get some help!
THE CAR KEY MAN
Steve’s business, the Car Key Man, is a specialist auto locksmith company covering Lincolnshire. Launching in 2004, Steve spotted an opportunity to solve the problem of replacing lost and stolen car keys. The company now offers workshop facilities as well as a mobile service. Recognising the needs of concerned vehicle owners, it offers free consultations to find an affordable solution to the growing number of car key problems.
Get in touch
07832 147601 or 01522 514141
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