As an entrepreneur and a business owner you have to learn fast if you want to succeed- you make mistakes, you learn from them, and then you use them as lessons for improving your business tactics. I launched my own business this year –a digital marketing consultancy based in the UAE- and it’s been an experience that taught me a lot. It’s a small, strategic, digital agency focused on helping small and medium-sized businesses and startups with their digital strategy, content, and social media needs, and in the course of running my own show, I’ve learned quite a bit that applies to any industry. Five things in particular have stood out for me this year:
1. When it comes to business development, relationships matter
No matter how impressive you might think your resume is (your experience, your knowledge, your skills), it all comes down to the relationships you have built up when you go solo and launch your own business. This is especially true in the Middle East. I’ve noticed that cold calling emails just don’t work for the lead generation- regardless of how formidable my LinkedIn profile might be. Instead, I’ve learnt to build relationships with brands that I genuinely believe in, to attend quality networking events and conferences, and to put myself out of my comfort zone by speaking on topic of digital strategy as a freelance lecturer.
2. Over-deliver, and then over-deliver some more
I’ve seen this the hard way: Doing only what you’ve quoted/agreed upon/promised is just not enough to keep clients happy. You need to go the extra mile if you want to convert those clients into return clients, and if you want to build your business by positive word of mouth. Once I started exceeding client expectations, I noticed immediate results- from being asked to quote on extra services to being recommended to their connections. In the first year of running your own business, make sure your focus is on putting in the extra time and effort to deliver phenomenal work and offering terrific service to your clients.
3. While a healthy a cash flow is vital, retaining clients is even more important
As a small business owner, you’re continuously focused on making sure there is a healthy cash flow and that invoices are being paid in a timely manner. While this is vital for both the survival and for the growth of your business, I’ve become much more lenient when it comes to clients paying late. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that if a client was three days late with a payment, I would be sending a follow-up email demanding to know when I could expect compensation from them. Not only does this promote a negative impression of your business, but you also risk alienating and damaging the relationship with your clients.
4. Be graceful when losing a pitch.
You win some, you lose some. Make sure to be a graceful about not landing a client. Not only does it make you look more professional, but it also helps to leave a positive impression. When I ran MB Consultancy in Cape Town, two of my long term retainer clients chose a different agency after our first initial pitch meeting. Six months later, they got in touch asking for my help. Make every single meeting and interaction count.
5. Show passion for your work.
While specialized knowledge and skills are essential, never discount the power of showing your passion for the work that you do and the services that you offer. My clients have told me over and over again how much they value the passion, energy and enthusiasm I bring to the work that I do for them. This has paid for itself in spades, and I expect it to continue to do so.