A while ago I was asked to speak to a group of young people who were thinking about starting a business. They wanted to know about the things I had learnt on my journey as an “entrepreneur”, and also any advice I would give them as they started out in business.
I came up with ten key things that I had learnt, which formed the basis of the advice I gave them. Over the next few months I thought I would expand on these things.
Some people would disagree with me, but as I’ve built my business I have found these the ten most important lessons, and I hope you find them helpful.
When I started out, my first business was a “one man band”. I was living at home with my parents, my office was a desk next to my bed, and there was me, a laptop, and my car.
It took me about a year or so to realise that I was really, really unproductive. Why? Because even though I said I was at “work” (on my computer, at my desk), my head wasn’t completely in what I was doing – I was being distracted by other things.
I would get up at about 8am, (or maybe 11am if I didn’t need to be with a client!), and then turn my laptop on. I might check the news, then a few emails, then go downstairs and make a cup of tea, then get distracted by something on the internet, then have someone email me something funny… etc.
I would look back on my day and realise that even though I had been at work, I wasn’t working. I had only really done one or perhaps two hours of real work.
I guess today the temptations are even greater; Facebook, Twitter, iPlayer, YouTube... the list goes on. It is very easy to believe that because you spent eight hours at your computer today you have done eight hours of work. But you haven’t. In fact, you probably have done about 3-4 things that were “work”, and the rest of the time you were distracted.
It is hard to be your own boss, to only be accountable to yourself. You can easily justify not doing something, or putting something off. In fact, for many of us, having the flexibility to say no was the reason we became our own boss in the first place.
So, my first piece of advice would be this;
Make sure that the time you spend at work, whether that be Monday to Friday, nine to five, or less regular hours, is spent focussing on work.
This takes self-discipline, planning, determination and the ability to grit your teeth and do something that is important, even if you don’t want to. This won’t be easy, but you will find that you get massively more productive, and are able to look back on your day and think “wow” when you realise how much you have achieved.
You will also find that your business grows faster, and begins to get some real pace, because you are working, not being distracted. Then you can begin to employ other people who are better at the things you really don’t like doing, and you can ensure that you are making the best use of your time.*
Here are my tips for making this happen:
- Be organised. Know what you need to do, and which is the most important (I make lists!)
- You won’t enjoy everything you do, but grit your teeth and do it anyway. Some of the most important things for your business are things you won’t enjoy
- Turn off all distractions (email notifications, news feeds, apps and so on) and just focus
- If you need to, get into an environment that helps you work. This could be the corner of an office, a study, a library (in the UK, these are free and often distraction-free too!)
- Ask yourself “will this move me closer to where I want to be?” If not, don’t do it.
- Imagine you were managing you. Write your own job description and decide what you would want you to be doing, in terms of hours and work. Then review this every month, and ask “am I doing the right things?”
- Get someone to be accountable to, and tell them about what you are going to do. This could be a mentor, friend, partner or (probably the best!) your mum. Tell them what you are going to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and tell them to hold you to that.
- Reward yourself for hard work. Have time off, a treat, a nice meal out, something to reward your efforts. You’ve earned it!
And that’s the first of my 10 key lessons! I hope that proves useful for you. Tune in next time for lesson number two, which is all about not getting caught up in the day to day.
* A side note here, even when you employ people to do things you don’t want to do, there will always be other things that only you can do, that you don’t particularly enjoy. That’s why it is called "work"!