When starting a business, oftentimes you get swept away in the midst of being proactive and getting things done, and relishing in doing something you so love (I know I did). But I must admit there are a few things I wish I’d known at the beginning, eight of them in fact, and here they are:

1) Think Beyond the First Year

If you’re a spirited entrepreneur (like me!) setting up a new business is easy. I could start a new business every week and would love the process, the excitement and the anticipation. Setting up a successful, long term business with a clever exit strategy though, is an entirely different matter.

Of course, most of us create Business Plans but I think the danger is that the exciting first year journey takes over all our thinking, activity and time – and on reflection, I wish I’d spent longer figuring out years 2-5 than just conquering the dragons that arose in year one!

2) Become a Team Player

If you’re a solo-preneur, you’re limited by your energy, health and abilities. Forming a team, even if it includes family members, part-timers, outsourced talent or those kept on a small retainer – it all helps. Definitely figure out early on how your business can operate without you – for your holidays, business trips and times you’re not on good form.

Play the ‘Make Yourself Redundant’ mind game and see if you can get your business to work without you being present.  My small company has a team of 13 but only a handful are salaried! Be creative to fill in the gaps in your business. Also, if there’s anything you don’t know – ask, ask, ask. Often other people will assist generously with contacts, advice and solutions (even asking on Facebook can get an amazing response).

3) Just Say No!

It’s easy to get swayed from your goals if enquiries come in offering ££ but they’re not in the right direction for your company. Sometimes for cash flow you must take them – but if you’ve ever heard the talk by Ben Hunt-Davis’ (he won Olympic Gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as part of the Men’s Rowing Eight) on ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster’, you’ll know the importance of that mantra.

If the offer coming in to your company really won’t make your boat go faster (or whatever analogy you like), saying no could keep you on track. We’ve had to turn down two licensing deals from major retailers because they wanted to use our brand on inferior products. It was SO painful saying no to much-needed lucrative deals (I felt sick!) but we really felt the harm to our brand could be irreparable so ‘no’ it was.  Big sigh!

4) Systemise

By the time you’re busy enough and big enough to need systems, it’s too late and too hard to see the wood for the trees.  Customer lists and CRM requirements will be complex and time consuming to organise and upload to any automated system you employ.  I wish we’d foreseen that stage sooner and integrated systems that could grow with us instead of retro-fitting them!!  Just saying!

5) The Small Print Is There For A Reason – Ugh

Sometimes entrepreneurial, creative brains are not the same type that relish handling small print and micro details. However those are the very aspects that can pull you down and cost big money – whether it’s over staff contracts or your trading Ts and Cs. I’d add protective Trademarks into this list too.

It’s so tempting to spend your budget (especially if it’s limited) on new developments and marketing – but do ensure you’ve also dotted your i’s first. The grandfather of a friend of mine invented a delicious yeast extract spread…and the one year he didn’t get round to sorting out his legal patent/trademark aspects, was the year his recipe got er, borrowed. Love it or hate it, we all know it as a spreadable treat for our toast, but that Grandpa got no pennies for this household favourite.

6) Social Media – Lights, Camera, Action 

Creating the human side of your business for Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In, Twitter etc is important. Having a camera or phone that can take decent images for uploading, is a must these days, as well as remembering to snap moments that can be uploaded. Luckily my company, The English Cream Tea Company, has a great many photographic opportunities as cakes, scones, baking, tea parties are all photogenic! However, most (all?) businesses can be supported by visual images for slides, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, press releases and so on.

Also, invest in having a really good self portrait taken but go to an expert for that bit. I’m being asked for a photo to support blogs, competitions entries, press releases and more all the time. A home-made naff photo won’t do (just look at some of the inappropriate ones on Linked In – ones from weddings, people on holiday with drinks in their hands, grainy/dark photos etc). Nope – it’s a must, get yourself to a portrait photographer now!

7) Stay On Brand

We have a fab branding designer who protects the brand from people like me tweaking and adapting the logo, the pantone colours, the dimensions and any other aspects that would affect the visual appearance of the brand. Even some large companies have different departments each making small changes to the stationery or creating their own leaflets/adverts with altered logo sizes and fonts.

Go for uniformity throughout including any packaging, stationery, adverts, Twitter backgrounds and more. However, your corporate ethos and tone are vital too…plus uniform (if appropriate) and any aspect that comes into contact with customers.

8) And The Winner is!

Enter competitions often…even if you don’t think you have the slightest chance. It’s a great discipline to fill in the application form to start! It hones your thoughts, helps you to recognise some of your progress and achievements – and the process almost always brings publicity whether or not you win. Plus, you’ll never win anything you don’t enter, will you?!

We’ve been lucky enough to win a host of awards such as a Small Business of the Year one. Now, who knows if we really are the most outstanding small business – BUT perhaps, just perhaps, no other companies entered our category! Give it a go, you literally have nothing to lose!