Kicking full-time employment to the curb to build your own business is a dream for many.
But for those taking the leap, it’s important to understand the difference between creating a job and starting a business.
A job stops and starts with what you’re doing at any specific time. You can be working every day with a healthy roster of current clients, but once you take yourself out of the picture, even for a short while (think sudden illness or unexpected family crisis), the roster – and the cash your earning for your services – stops rolling ‘round.
A business, on the other hand, carries on serving clients and making money even if you’ve checked out for a few days or more.
I’ll be honest. As someone who writes for a living, I regularly find myself negotiating the boundaries between being a freelancer and having a business. Amid penning articles and coaching women writers one-on-one, it’s easy to get caught up in what Sonaya Williams, an online Business Operations Consultant, calls, “working in your business, rather than working on your business.”
But, Williams says, “If you never look further than your immediate workload, you’ll never build a bona fide business. You might be working really hard, but if it’s all centred on delivering for current clients without developing systems for future business, then it won’t be sustainable.”
That’s not to say that being a freelancer or independent contractor is essentially “bad”. But if your plan for complete domination of your industry has always been to build a business that rocks and then some, here are some tips how to do it.
Step 1 to building a business: Systemise
According to Williams every business needs three simple systems to run effectively – Leads, Sales, and Clients. She sees these as the pillars essential in supporting ongoing business success.
“Leads, as in the potential clients you want to work with, are the fuel to keep your business growing,” she says. “So define who your leads are, where you find them and how you get in front of them.”
Williams suggests building a business development calendar to help you bang out how many networking events you’ll attend, LinkedIn messages you’ll send, and referral or cold calls you’ll have to make every month to get 10 leads. “Because if you get 10 leads, you’ll get one new client most likely”, she says.
Once you have your leads, the next step is knowing how you’ll nurture them through a sale.
“In order to do this,” Williams states, “you need to get really clear on what your service, product, or offering is. You also need to know what your “formula” is. In other words, how do you build success for your client?”
Again, Williams suggests taking some time to document your business framework. This could be the five or three steps that create transformation for your client.
“And as part of this,” she notes. “You must know how you get information from your client to enable that transformation. Do you, for instance, do on-boarding calls? Do they fill out a form? What does that form look like? Do you have check-in or update calls once or twice a month? What do they involve? Do you do off-boarding calls with up-selling included?
“You need to build out your framework for how you work with your clients to create a transformation for them because knowing that inside-out makes it easier for you to sell to them.”
However, clinching a sale is only half the work. The rest involves clear and followed-through fulfilment of your product or service.
“Having a firm idea of what every single step of a client’s time with you looks like and competently fulfilling on that is an excellent way to encourage renewals and referrals,” says Williams. “And of course, upselling to an existing client is cheaper, easier and less time-consuming than spending more time in the leads section trying to find new clients.”
Step 2 to building a business: Prioritise
Once you have these three principle systems in place, you’ve set your business in motion.
Now, rather than scrambling to find customers when your current ones are signing off, you have ongoing processes helping you to seek out, sell to, and support a whole batch of new clients throughout any given month.
But, as Williams warns, you have to really dedicate time to all three of the pillars. “Getting more clients is a revenue-generating activity and as a business owner, it’s where your main focus should be.”
That doesn’t detract from the work you’re doing with current clients, but she does make the point that you’ll be back at square one working as a “jobbing-something” rather than a business builder if you don’t prioritise client-sourcing. Knowing that you’ll be on-boarding Client B, once the work with Client A has concluded, or that you’ll be continuing to work with Client A but in a different capacity gives your business longevity.
But how do you really walk the walk and make this happen? One way of doing this, according to Williams is to “be your own client.”
“If you know you can work with five clients per week, then work with four and make yourself the fifth. Doing so enables you to get your client work done AND have sufficient time to do the development work necessary to take your business where you want it to go.”
In other words, if you’re blocking off four hours a week for each of your four clients, block off four hours in your calendar to work on each of the three pillars.
“And don’t drop the ball either,” she says. “You want to do your best work for your clients, right? Well, keep those same standards for when you’re working on your business too.”
Step 3 to building a business: Authorise
If your calendar is maxed out and you’re finding yourself constantly running to catch up, chances are you need to bring on an extra pair of hands.
Authorising someone else to manage some administrative tasks a couple of hours a week can free you up to get back in the business development saddle, says Williams.
And while many newbies on the business block may baulk at the idea of shelling out hard-earned cash for someone to do what they essentially could do themselves, Williams says this is a mindset that needs to shift. “You have to look at it as an investment and not an expense.
“If you’re earning consistent income but you’re not growing that income with new clients, then you’re losing money in the long-run anyway.”
Also, having someone else handling the work that keeps your business ticking over enables you to slow down, step aside or – god forbid! – take a holiday without worrying whether clients and work will still be there when you return.
So, create your systems, show up regularly to develop and not just deliver your work, and get support if it helps to keep your business growing.
Focus on those three areas and, as Williams notes, you’ll quickly forget about looking for the next “job”. Instead you’ll be building a sound, sustainable, and ever-expanding business.