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What I wish I knew: Three entrepreneurs tell all

'There are some universal truths I wish I'd known before I'd taken the leap. It would have saved me time and money, and possibly my sanity.'
Janelle Carrigan, Royall Media

Top tips

  • Be prepared for the slow times 
  • Don't go cheap with branding
  • Have a marketing plan
  • Have an elevator pitch for your business
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses

Janelle Carrigan of Royall Media offers her top five universal truths she wishes she'd known before starting her business.

I started my own media business about a year ago after more than 17 years working as a journalist, I wanted to write and edit across a broader spectrum of topics and publications, and to work around my young son. Granted, while I didn't need much to start up my business, Royall Media, like any business there are some universal truths I wish I'd known before I'd taken the leap. It would have saved me time and money, and possibly my sanity.

Be prepared for the slow times

Not every week will bring in mountains of cash. Erin Jameson was in demanding staff positions for years, including national publicity manager at Roadshow Films, before launching her own PR business about seven years ago. Jameson PR is doing well, consulting and doing publicity for actors, films and events. Erin is often juggling more than a dozen clients at a time but there are still periods when business slows down, such as post-Christmas and the end of the financial year. 'Half the battle is knowing that and knowing when that will be,' she says. This helps determine when a more proactive approach to pitching for new business is needed.

For me, I try to lower my risk by working with clients in different countries so that I'm taking advantage of different seasons and peak spending times. I also keep my overheads to a minimum, within reason.

Don't go cheap with branding

'Perception is everything,' says Nicole Heales. About three years ago Nicole founded her own financial advisory business, Nicole Heales Financial. She immediately engaged Graeme Webb Design to create a consistent brand by designing a logo, business cards and website. It cost several thousand dollars, but it was a wise investment. 'If I give my business card out people can have a look at me and my credentials,' says Nicole. 'It's a virtual office.'

While I initially used LinkedIn and my work portfolio to show potential clients my experience, I'm now investing into upgrading my brand to ensure long-term growth.

Strategically market your business

In an era where social media dominates, you need to interact in strategic ways. Nicole takes part in free financial planning seminars and sends out a few timely newsletters every year to subscribers on relevant market and financial issues. 'When you're marketing yourself, you've got to give before you receive,' says Nicole. 'You need to give out good information for free that's helpful but not annoying.'

Similarly, Erin sends out updates on Facebook about clients, but she's careful about their frequency. 'You have to know when enough is enough.'

Know how to sell yourself in two minutes

As a staff journalist at major newspapers, it was easy to explain my role when someone asked what I did. It became surprisingly hard to keep it as simple after starting my own business. Without a corporate name to help frame my experience—a quick pitch becomes much more loaded.

Keep it brief and relevant. Nicole focuses on the potential client, rather than herself. 'You need to put yourself in the shoes of your client,' she says. 'You need to know what you're providing your client.'

Don't be too hard on yourself

It's common to have periods of self-doubt or self-criticism. But you need to give yourself a break, rather than wallow in the negative thoughts before they grind down your output. 'You're not going to be working at 100% all of the time, you've got to be aware of that,' says Nicole. 'If you don't have that sense of flow, take some downtime; give yourself a bit of space.'

This is when I most appreciate running my own business. Rather than worrying that the boss won't see me at my desk, I can grab the dog and head down to the beach for an hour. Thankfully, that's not called procrastination, that's called clearing my head.

The result

You learn some simple facts very quickly when you step out into self-employment. For example, procrastinating in your own business means lost income.

I'm still learning about other less obvious business realities through trial and error though.