April 2 marked 90 days since NFORM opened its doors. The process of starting a new business has involved a myriad of learning lessons, emotions and speedbumps. I’ve decided (perhaps in a grotesque lapse of judgment) to share 17 things I’ve learned in the first 90 days.
Starting a new Business taught me about Uncertainty
I never fully appreciated that uncertainty could be an intense physical response until I started this business. I’m referring to a real physical “jittery” feeling that overcomes the body. For me, it’s not often overwhelming or terribly upsetting. The feeling is just there, and I’m very aware of it. From the time I clicked go until we signed the first customer, this feeling was around often like an unwelcome friend.
My friend Alan often says “Uncertainty is Uncomfortable”. I couldn’t agree more. I also now believe you can use it to your advantage. Uncertainty for me has become a driving force to execute and to gain certainty.
Selecting a Business Name took way too long
With a last name like Hawryluk (which even I can’t pronounce) there was no way the company was going to be called Hawryluk Consulting or Hawryluk Anything.
I could write an entire article on this subject (and may do one day) but let me give you the short version.
First I created a bizarre list of criteria that would have eaten a 100,000 dollar marketing budget and still failed. Then I attempted to succeed on every element of this list, mostly on my own and failed. Friends were polled for input, my kids had their say (if Pokemon Enterprises wasn’t a trademark problem who knows?) and I kept running into roadblocks.
Freelance writer Anders Svensson brought me back to reality and created lists of potential names for a reasonable price. The one selected ultimately was (obviously) NFORM.
The main lesson was: All business names are taken, pick something that works and move on.
The Dark Swamp of Despair is real
I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about this, but I think the article is better for it. I did not expect to start a business without any issues. Throughout my career, I had queried many who had gone through the process, and their stories were consistent. Many had failed in their efforts.The process of starting a Business is as much about Mental Toughness as it is StrategyClick To Tweet
Somewhere around day 35, I hit the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced. The level of doubt I hit was way beyond anything I could have expected. This period lasted around ten days, and at times it was nearly paralysing. There were times I would be working and just have to stop.
Why didn’t you just take another GM job and get on with your life? Idiot! – Self
This process is every bit about mental toughness as it is about strategy and business.
I think everyone is different and I’m hardly a phycologist. It’s not my place to tell you how to deal with this. For me, a combination of mindfulness, family support and working even when it was painful to do so helped push through this period.
I should have hired a developer to help build the website framework
I fell into the “Build your own website ” trap. It took a lot of time that I could have spent on marketing, selling and ultimately invoicing business faster.
There were some advantages to this approach:
- I found out early that I wanted a WordPress.org Website despite conflicting advice. A week went into learning that SquareSpace, while beautiful and simple, was not going to work for the business.
- Through research, I found the Genesis Framework for WordPress which I love.
- I started attending the monthly WordPress Perth Meetup which is an excellent, eclectic, diverse group of individuals and a great place to learn and share. It’s also got some great WordPress developers like Jon Mather and Maeve Lander whom you can talk to and are (naturally) available for hire.
- Finally, I learned that Web hosting is not one size fits all. We now use WPHostingSpot and think that Costas and his team walk on water. They have the best customer service of any business I know.
The problem ultimately is that we also needed to produce content. Content production is also challenging and time-consuming. My theory now is, I should have had someone create the framework, and I should have focused solely on the content.
Someone will Screw you
For me, it was an accountant. She quoted me a fixed price to do a job and then billed me nearly double the quoted price. That was followed up by threats of collection agencies and withholding critical documents when I protested the variance.
In my corporate life, I would have fought back harder. This time I decided it was money spent on a lesson learned. I paid and moved on.
I could never have built this business while in my corporate job
This company existed in a daydream format for a long long, time. One friend, in particular, has been riding me for as long as I can remember. “Give up the warm corporate blankets and do what you are meant to do”, he would say.
I continue to be amazed by people who while working their stressful corporate jobs, build their businesses in the background. One of mention is Ray Maker of dcrainmaker.com who created the most influential sports device blog on the planet. He did this while working a full-time job at Microsoft.
In my case, I had to leave before I could start properly.
I lived in an Energy and Mining bubble
I can say it. I used to live in a bubble. The only two business sectors that existed in my world for a long time were Energy and Mining. I believe I’m not alone.
Let me now say this: There are some truly fascinating businesses in Perth (and clearly around the world) that are doing great things that have absolutely nothing to do with Energy or Raw materials.
It’s part of why I love what I do now. I’ve now spent time in Agribusiness, Heath Care and with high tech businesses. Some are having their greatest successes during a time when many Energy and Mining cities continue to speak of doom and gloom.
Customers will and did come
Fear and the uncertainty in a new business come from a primary source. The need for clients and ending a declining bank balance. It is easy to become trapped to believe that you have no customers, and so you will always have none.
I found myself here. Then we went back to basics.
- Create Sales funnel – It doesn’t matter how you do it. List your opportunities and give them a value and a status. There are some great CRM tools out there that are free or inexpensive and can help automate this. A notebook can work just as well.
- Look at your sales funnel every single day and adjust it as necessary. If an opportunity drops off, it needs replacing.
- Read my part about customers are found in strange locations.
All of that said, let me say signing the first contract was such a massive win. I can’t describe the feeling. It’s AWESOME! The next one was one of “Ok this isn’t a fluke”. The rhythm builds confidence.
Support from Family and Friends has been crucial
At no point in this process has a single individual questioned why I would do this (other than me of course). At times this has made all of the difference in the world. My wife Angela, in particular, has never wavered for a second.
Pricing is challenge, but quickly overcome
Unfortunately, we don’t build businesses to make friends. It’s a great side product at times, but ultimately success and stability come from profit. I realised quickly when my first opportunity presented itself that while I had put some values in my business plan, I hadn’t done a good job vetting my pricing strategy. I knew from my business background what many in the industry charged. Even with this knowledge, I felt insecure of where precisely to be positioned.
Here’s what I’ve found so far. The market will quickly tell you if you have this wrong. The researcher that I am, I spent lots of time figuring out a reasonably accurate pricing position. The rubber meets the road when you say to a customer, “My rate is:” and watch their reaction.
Ranking on Google is a slow process
The process all sounds so easy. Just like making pancakes:
- Build fantastic website
- Customers will search for your services on Google
- Your pages will all come up in the top 3 ranking spots
- After finding your contact detail, customers will call offering business
- Riches and beach houses for everyone!
The truth is much different. If you want to rank on Google on day one there is only one way to do it: Pay Google. They are ready and willing to take your $4+ per click the moment you say go.
When it comes to organic search (read: search results that you don’t pay for) my experience is that it has taken over two months as seen in the above chart. The chart shows impressions measured from the time the site went live until Google started showing a decent number of impressions to searchers. It is worth mention that this is with extensive work on content and search engine optimisation. The results even now remain modest. Friends, who have not put in the same effort, still do not rank for meaningful searches after over one year on the web.
I owe a lot to Cameron International
I worked for Cameron for nearly ten years. It was the best training ground I could have ever asked to have. Cameron pumped massive sums of money into training me over those ten years. I regularly notice as I’m working with customers that much of what I’ve learned was at a minimum shaped by my time at Cameron and the scores of amazing people that walk the halls there.
Customers have helped define the Business
I had a pretty good idea what I wanted this business to look like when I started. That said, I’m not sure you can ever really understand how it will take shape until you start talking with customers and learning their problems. Through my corporate life, I regularly saw underutilised software, lack of training, non-existent or incorrect analytics and other issues that I found myself influencing.
That said customers often help and say things like, “Yeah, that’s nice, BUT, we think you could do this for us.”
The struggle here will be to know when the request is too far from the direction of the organisation.
Strategy is actually spelt S – A – L – E – S
Let’s call a spade a spade. Businesses fail because of lack of sales. It’s common to see companies with great products and or services fade because they are unable to connect with customers.
I knew this, but it becomes “smack in your face evident” when you start with ZERO customers.
Sales pitches are not my thing
I know some great sales people. Men and Women who have turned the sales pitch into an artform and get great results from it. If there is one thing I know, it’s that my talents lie in a different place. This potential gap left me with some fear of how I would grow the business.
It turns out (so far), that gap is ok.
Instead, I listen, and I ask a lot of questions, and often we draw pictures, charts and diagrams to make sure we’re on the same page.
In the corporate world, my level of honesty often got me in trouble. In business, I’m finding the complete opposite. My customers have expressed appreciations for a willingness to be candid despite the fact that the message’s not precisely what they were hoping to hear.
Blog posts take WAY longer than I ever imagined
Somehow in my world of fantasy and psychosis, I believed that I would just whip out articles in a mere 2 hours. It’ll be easy I thought. I’ll find a spare moment, and I’ll quickly write a post. I recently read a post from the folks at Buffer who suggested they had the process down to under 4 hours. Given the quality of their content that is impressive.
I haven’t strictly timed myself, but let’s just say that it takes me far longer than 2 hours. It’s no wonder that many great blogs start with an aggressive schedule of producing content and end up reducing that dramatically as the underlying business gets busy.
I continue to work on my workflow to try to improve the times. That said, I am extremely determined to produce content that people want to read. For now, I feel ok if it takes a little longer.
Google Analytics can be a time suck if you let it
Google Analytics is fascinating. You can watch potential customers enter your website, move around, end up on the contact page and then hear the phone ring.
The detail is high level, but you can spend a tonne of time analysing how people use your website. As someone who loves analytics in general and does it for a living, this can be very addictive. I’ve now set myself a time for review once per week which allows me to see what works and what doesn’t.
Customers are found in the most bizarre places
GOYA Marketing is powerful. GOYA = Get off your ass. The places where I have expected to find business have often disappointed. Places I would never in a million years hope to meet a customer continue to surprise.
Always have business cards on hand and be open to talking to anyone about what you do.
I hope some have found this interesting and that my sharing some very personal things hasn’t doomed this blog/website to the scrap heap. If you’ve gone through the same process or are thinking of doing so, I’d love to hear from you.