In keeping with this month’s #FarillioFeeling of Be Smart, we got chatting to some incredible startup founders to ask: what do you wish you’d been smarter about when you were starting out?’
And before we share what they said, we’d like to say a big “thank you!” to all of those who gave us their pearls of wisdom so that their past can help shape future decisions for not only themselves, but other small businesses too!
Lucy from Lala & Pom on goals...
The first person we spoke to was Lucy Stephen from Lala & Pom (@lalaandpom). In 2016, Lucy created her pompom accessory brand, designed for kids and grownups with the mission to put pompoms on everything...which sounds so perfect to us!
Before this, for 7 years, Lucy worked with companies and agencies and then moved to work with high-street brand Boden for a further 10 years before taking redundancy and, rather by accident, stumbling upon her new business idea.
‘The business came about because I was not working and had a one-year-old and a five-year-old and wanted to make some cash for Christmas presents. So I started researching knitters and faux-fur pompoms and it started from there.'
'I think if I was doing it again, I would have set myself goals, written a business plan and talked to an accountant – as it happened, my business was more organic; it started as a hobby and grew from there. And now I have a limited company.'
You know, Lucy's certainly not alone here.
Many new business owners know what they want to do, and kind of know how to make it happen, but they don't necessarily know how to make it happen in the most efficient or effective way.
If you're setting up as a sole trader, like Lucy (and many other new business owners) started out as, the actual process of starting your business is really quite simple.
But, as Lucy shares, it's the goal setting and planning that's the tricky part – especially if you've had no experience or training in that kind of thing before setting up your new venture!
Knowing this was a common problem for many entrepreneurs, we collaborated with sales expert David Kirk to produce a guide to help you to get started with a sales strategy – it shares what you should have in your sales plan and how to pull it all together... which is also highlighted in David's other contribution to Farillio's resource library: 15 essential factors to achieve great sales results.
As we all know, the path to setting up a business is never smooth – so we asked Lucy what she believes the hardest part of setting up her business was...
‘Doing it alone,’ Lucy confessed. ‘I was so used to being part of a big team, and making decisions on suppliers and stock is a big one to make alone. I think a business mentor would have been good.’
We just know Lucy's not the first to have felt like that either.
In all the excitement of thinking up an awesome business idea, doing our research, and getting the idea off the ground, we don't often stop to think about the huge change in our day-to-day workstyle that comes with being a entrepreneur.
Even if you can run your business by yourself, it takes some getting used to being the only one in the office, without colleagues to share ideas with or to validate your own ideas. And not forgetting the annual office party...which isn't quite as fun on your own!
But Lucy's point is key – without a team around you, it's up to you to make some pretty huge decisions...
Which supplier will you use?
How much stock will you buy?
These kinds of decisions can make or break a business' success...and being the only one making them isn't always ideal.
But, really, you know your business better than anyone else. And you know what your audience want more than anyone else. And so, if you're ever feeling concerned about making a decision in your own business, feel confident and empowered that the decision you make will be a very well informed one!
And remember...even if you don't have a team, you can build a fab community with social media! In fact, this is what Lucy said when we asked what skills she believed she has developed since starting her business...
‘Social media! I have grown sales through my Instagram and Facebook. Now looking at Pinterest as a driver to the website!’
Social media is huge – with 60% of all small businesses in the UK having a social media presence (according to a report by Turnerlittle in January 2018). And that’s set to rise... it’s still growing and is now an often untapped market place.
We then went on to ask, with the wonder that is hindsight, what one thing Lucy would change about her development story...
Lucy shared, ‘Being too quick to say yes to third-party offers (such as platforms to sell on... a few of them aren't worth the money!) and suppliers.. not delivering what you had agreed!’
This is where legal documents such as contracts and Ts & Cs are so important – as they spell out exactly what each party is responsible for and gives information on what the other should provide if the agreement is broken.
To help you with your relationships and trading terms with suppliers, you can access a whole suite of expert guides and editable templates for all things customer-supplier over on Farillio.
Anna from CakeDrop on finances...
We also chatted to Anna from CakeDrop, who delivers some of the most beautiful cakes from some of the most gorgeous London-based independent bakeries to offices around the city.
You may remember Anna from the #MVPtoVIP interview with us a while back, where she shared insights from her experience of starting up CakeDrop. ...And we're still getting sugar-rush flashbacks of that wonderful multi-coloured cake she brought to our launch party!! :)
Anna wanted to give you some very similar advice to what Lucy shared (so this tip must be important!)...she wishes she'd taken on an accountant sooner.
‘The most exciting thing about starting out is the creative freedom of being able to come up with new ideas and run with them.'
'However, the financial side of running a business can be a burden, which eats into your time.'
'Of course it’s possible to learn things from Google and YouTube to help with the basics, but getting a good accountant (shout out to the guys at Cone Accounting!) has been a brilliant investment.’
Sharing more about her experiences, she said: ‘Looking back, there are lots of things we could have done more efficiently and mistakes we could have avoided.'
'However, trial and error was the smartest approach we had starting out and on the whole it’s served us well.’
Great answer, right?
Many of us are saying the same thing.
And while we had Anna’s attention, there was something else we wanted to ask her... how did she fund her business, and what would she have done to be smarter in her approach?
‘We ran a Kickstarter campaign in December 2017 and arguably could have been smarter by launching at different time of year (research suggests that August is the best month for crowdfunding).'
'Thanks to the support of our backers, we were lucky enough to reach our funding goal, but it’s difficult to know whether the Christmas season helped or hindered that.’
Crowdfunding is a fab way to get funding for your business – if it’s done smartly, it not only gives you much-needed cash to fuel your idea, but it works as a very effective marketing tool, too! We actually have a guide to crowdfunding on Farillio – so, if you're planning on trying this funding route, check it out!
Much of being smarter in business means learning from mishaps...and in answer to our question, what’s one piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you first started out?, Anna seems to feel the same!...
‘You’re going to make it work, so always focus on being the best for your customers and don’t let any setbacks take away from that focus.’
She then further illustrates the point with her top tip for being a smarter entrepreneur: ‘See everything as an opportunity – good, bad & everything in between.’
We totally agree. One of Farillio’s 4 core values is Tomorrow Focused – and it’s something that we not only strive to be in our own work, but it’s something we strive to help other small businesses achieve too.
And, as Anna perfectly illustrates, sometimes it’s important, as a small business, to look back and allow your decisions to be informed not only by your own mistakes but those of others.
We just love Anna’s positivity. In fact, regardless of any mistakes in her business journey so far, she says that the one thing she’d change about her development story would be to ‘Do it all earlier and faster.’
Francesca Tortora on outsourcing...
Another entrepreneur we spoke to was Francesca Tortora, a freelance graphic designer working with sole traders, small businesses and established brands across the arts, media and charitable sectors.
Some of her clients include BBC Performing Arts Fund, Imperial War Museums, Virgin StartUp and Southwark Council. Impressive!
She’s also Mum to 2 children and is the founder of Doing It For The Kids, a community by and for freelance and self-employed parents. And the photos on their Instagram page are enough to melt your heart!
When we asked Frankie what she wish she'd been smarter about when she was starting out, her response was centred around the financing of her business... similarly to our last two interviewees, Lucy and Anna.
‘Money, always money. I’d educate myself a lot more about what my financial obligations are and about how to better manage my money – I’d open a private pension from day one when I was kid-free and had lower monthly outgoings.’
And that’s the thing – many entrepreneurs aren’t experts at financial management... they’re experts in what they do, whether it’s graphic design, making beautiful accessories, or improving workplace morale by sourcing and delivering scrummy cakes to an entire city!
But it’s something that all business owners need to know… it’s a major part in how successful a business can become – whether getting to grips with tax 101, working out which business bank account to choose, or how to invoice with success – it’s vital knowledge for all entrepreneurs.
She then went on to tell us about some of the skills she’s developed both as a freelancer and in her role in her Instagram community...
‘I’m a sole trader working on my own, from home, so I’ve had to learn a huge variety of skills since I started working for myself in 2012 – from accounting, to blogging, to product photography and back again.'
'But it was having my first child in 2015 that really pushed me to develop how I work and my approach to getting things done.’
It's such a huge part of many entrepreneur's role – not only to do what you do best, but to also keep the business running – and for small businesses, that often means learning a bunch of new skills so that budget can be spent elsewhere.
But even though Frankie managed to learn these skills herself – she does feel that if she could change one thing about her development story, it would have been to outsource some of her client work out to others, so that she'd have more time to concentrate in other important areas...
‘I wish that I’d had the guts to outsource earlier, particularly the first time I went on maternity leave.'
'I completely shut up shop when I had my son three years ago and lost a few clients as a result – whereas with my daughter, I’ve outsourced a lot of my work to another designer while I take leave and been open about that with my clients.'
'It meant that I could work right up to the day I went into labour, as I had someone else to pass any outstanding work to (I was literally sending artwork to her from my laptop in the hospital!)’
And that’s one of the good things about being a freelancer – the ability to outsource your workload to someone else when you need to.
In fact, it’s one of the many ways HMRC decide whether they deem a freelancer inside or outside of IR35…
For those of you who aren't familiar with IR35, it's the name given to the law that means HMRC has the rights to investigate and penalise both parties if a freelancer is actually working for their client under the terms that an employee would work.
Getting the status wrong between employee and freelancer can be rather costly – with HMRC able to ask for all of the employment tax that should have been paid if you’d technically been an employee.
If you want to check your own contract terms alongside the IR35 factors, take a look at our guide: Contractor or employee? Essential facts affecting freelancers and contractors (including IR35)
Another huge part of being smart in business is being productive. And Frankie shared a humorous (yet accurate!) view someone in her network shared...
'As someone in my Doing It For The Kids Facebook group said to me, “having kids is the ultimate productivity hack” and it really is.’
And that's just it – when we need to, we can be so smart with our time – prioritising projects, juggling responsibilities, and maintaining a work-life balance. It's all about working smarter, not harder. And that's something that Doing It For The Kids celebrates and champions.
And lastly, Frankie told us one of her top tips about being smart in business...
‘Let go of the idea of perfection’
We totally love this. Sometimes, you just need to be brave enough to just go for it… to get your business started, to share new ideas or products with your community to start getting feedback, which you can then use to improve upon.
Sometimes, just getting started is the smartest thing you can do.
In addition to our chats with these 3 awesome entrepreneurs about their experiences of starting their businesses, we also got chatting to a number of equally awesome business owners on our travels, and we couldn't resist asking them what they thought they could have been smarter about at the start of their own business adventures too...
Stacy from Tilly & Sage on bookeeping...
‘My answer would definitely be making sure you keep up to date with your books. I was always so far behind and found it all really stressful until I finally caught up earlier this year. Never again!’
This is something that's so simple but so effective!
It's so easy to get bogged down under emails, receipts and other odd bits of paper... and staying on top of them can be a rather daunting task.
But the more you leave it, the taller the pile will become... and the longer it will take.
So, as horrible it sounds, maybe pencil out time once a day, once a week, whenever is convenient for you and your business to get on top and stay on top of all the paperwork.
Breaking it down into manageable chunks will make the whole thing less daunting, and it'll enable you to be smarter with both your admin and your time!
Albie & Sebastian on social media...
‘We are still quite new, but I wish we’d been more prepared and maybe done some courses on marketing and social media. We learnt along the way, but I definitely think that would have helped us more if we had more knowledge in the beginning. It’s been such an eye opener and learning curve, and we still have a long way to go :)’
With a staggering 79% of the UK public aged over 18 using Facebook and Youtube, 47% having a Twitter account, and 41% on Instagram, social media is such a huge platform for businesses, big and small (statistics taken from Flint, 2018).
It’s so simple to set up (and maintain) a social media account for your business – and they are rather easy to maintain. They're really effective ways of showcasing photos of what your business offers and all the lovely reviews people are leaving for you.
Honey & Co. Creative on contracts...
‘Definitely have a solid contract!’
This is something that's vital for all business owners, no matter how big or small they are. And it's something Farillio can help with!
If you need a contract for freelance services as a sole trader, an editable template is included in your membership. Or if you're running your freelance work through your own limited company, we have a limited company freelance contract you can use in that situation too!
Or maybe you're not a freelancer at all – but we've got you sorted too, with template contracts for selling goods to other businesses, selling goods to consumers, selling services to other businesses... we could go on, but take a look for yourself over in our business resource library.
Ed from Dinghy on marketing...
‘Our number one thing we wish we'd been smarter about from the beginning is marketing. We had underestimated a bit, just quite how much work and smarts go in to effectively getting the word out about a business; so seriously, kudos and much respect to all those marketing freelancers out there!
In hindsight, we would have announced ourselves earlier and also started our content strategy *well* before we actually launched our product, rather than alongside launch-time. We would recommend this to anybody starting a business, from freelancers to startups - get marketing as soon as you possibly can; it's a long-game and the sooner you start, the less hill you'll have to climb once you need to be at the summit.’
Wise words here. There are so many quick-fix marketing schemes out there...but, with the odd exception, they're not the way to get the best, sustainable results.
Good, strong marketing results come from a good, strong marketing strategy. If you need some help in getting started, take a look at this Farillio guide, where Kim Arnold shares 5 of her best marketing tips for a successful marketing plan.
Loving By Nature on inventory...
‘I wish I’d been smarter about ordering stock. I probably way over ordered at the start.
Also I’d have built my website before opening my shop - trying to add products now from the start is a very slow process - I thought I’d be sat in a quiet shop and be able to work on my website but being at the shop is busy enough so anything like that has to happen outside of hours!’
Both of these answers highlight at times how daunting the prospect of setting up a business for the first time can be.
It's sometimes hard to work your way through little challenges, such as ordering too much fabric. One way to help you figure things out is to get in contact with similar business through social media and ask them for advice.
Reach out to them, strike up a conversation about how they started out, and ask them to share their smartest tips! Most likely they've been in the same position as you and it's comforting to know your not alone!
A huge thanks, once again, to everyone for taking the time out of their incredibly hectic days to share how they could have been smarter in their own businesses – they’ve all given such amazing insights and tips for us all to learn from!
Inspired to be smarter in your business adventure? Take a look at 7 smart business tools we love for doing just that – from managing your time to navigating your SEO on a budget!