I started Concise Training 5 years ago last month. Now that I have taken on my first employee, it feels like a good time to reflect on the lessons learnt from 5 years in business.
The first day I started to work for myself, I went to a networking breakfast meeting in Faringdon. What a revelation, I didn’t even know these things existed and suddenly I found loads of networking groups in the area! At the Faringdon meeting I met Amanda Barnett who has become a client, a supplier and a friend. Amanda introduced me to the 4Networking group. I joined for 2 years and it brought me some fantastic clients, contacts and friends. On that first day of networking, I also met Graham Hill who took me to the NRG lunch networking group the next day. I’ll never forget the kindness of these two people who showed me the ropes when I first started.
- Networking does work – but get the balance between networking and paid work.
- Become a regular member of a group.
- Review your networking strategy every 6 – 12 months to make sure the groups are still working for you.
2. Be Flexible
When I started Concise Training, I was offering Microsoft Office training using virtual classrooms and screen share. I still do train in this way – but offer face to face training as well. Soon after I started attending breakfast meetings, my son broke his arm and needed a lift to school so I couldn’t go to the networking! Instead, I started using social media to promote my business and identified an opportunity to teach others how to use this method of marketing. Loads of research and experimenting later, I created a series of workshops and started to work with businesses. Thanks to Diane Morgan and Nigel Morgan for asking me to deliver workshops on their behalf at the beginning.
- Never say “No” unless you really can’t deliver – you never know what it might lead to.
- Don’t be scared to try new things- what is the worst that can happen?
- Keep an eye on new trends in your sector and identify changes you need to make.
3. Be Unique
In 2010, I was talking to a colleague of mine, Di Dawson, about the direction of social media and how annoying it was that people were jumping on the ‘social media bandwagon’. I know of people who were managing social media for businesses for vast sums of money but didn’t really understand what to do. I have heard of businesses being charged £1000s each month but only getting 1 or 2 updates a week on their Facebook or Twitter pages. (It still goes on).
Di owned a virtual City and Guilds centre and we put together the units and a task book for a bespoke ITQ qualification to teach best practice and how to use the full range of Social Media tools properly. City & Guilds accredited the qualification and we have had 10 graduates, and 23 people currently doing the course. This led to all sorts of other qualifications and work including a Social Digital apprenticeship and our E-Learning courses which have been licensed by Pitman Training Group.
- Think of ways you can be different from the competition
- Make sure you tell people about what makes you unique (something I need to improve!)
- Go with the flow – you never know where it might lead
4. Consider Book Writing
In 2011, I was approached by Paul Ovington, Sarah Williams and Albert Wright to become an associate for a new company they were starting – Right Angle Consultants. In the theme of ‘never say no’ I was delighted to join them. Although for various reasons, this didn’t lead directly to work, I was asked to write a chapter of their book ‘Breaking the Barriers to Business Growth’. I wrote about Social Media strategy.
That chapter led to a workshop, an E-learning course and ultimately ‘Social Media Made Simple’, published in 2012. The book has added credibility to my brand and I have been contacted by people all over the UK who have bought the book and wanted further training. I have also recently written ‘Social Media for Personal Gain’ which will be published by BookBoon shortly and I will be writing Word 2013 for BookBoon later this year. Thanks to Chantal Cornelius for help with the first book and Alison Thompson for help with the second.
- Do consider writing a book. When I tell somebody that I have written a book, it immediately gives me more credibility.
- The book will be a marketing tool. Any money you make is a bonus!
- Get help if you need it.
5. Take care of the Cashflow
When I started my business, I was fortunate to not need to earn much money in the short term – but I didn’t want to lose money either. I took the decision very early on not to spend more than I could earn. There were a couple of things that I did invest in at the beginning – a website from Sarah Hills, my business cards and my networking membership. Apart from these, I didn’t spend anything unless I had the money to pay for it. Although this meant that my growth was slow and steady, I still think that this was the right decision for me.
- Understand how much you can invest in the business and be strict
- Make sure that money you do spend will get the return on investment you require
6. Trusted Advisors
I have been grateful to have been able to work with people who have understood me and my business and have suggested ways in which I could develop personally as well as within the business. Paul Ovington worked with me in the early days and more recently Kath Bonner-Dunham has worked with me under the Growth Accelerator scheme. Kath in particular, has taught me to value the knowledge and experience that I now have and charge appropriately. A difficult lesson and one that I am still learning!
- Seek out advice from people you can trust.
- Consider reciprocal arrangements if necessary.
- Identify any government funding you may qualify for.
- Put a value on your knowledge, experience and the research you do when you are not in front of the client.
I’m sure there are many more lessons that I could add but that is enough for now. I would love to know if any of my ‘lessons learnt’ resonate with you. Please add your comments below.