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Managing your expectations when first starting out...

Diane Hall


Man and woman having a drink waiting to open an ice cream shop

In a year that has seen a mass number of new businesses launched (many because people have been made redundant due to the pandemic and are looking at alternative ways to earn an income) I thought back to my first days of working for myself.

What’s weird is that I’ve always freelanced as an editor (with a focus on books) since I was in my teens, but never thought of this as my ‘business’. It was just something I did; I didn’t advertise, work just found me through word of mouth. I didn’t even have a business name for my editing services for many years—it was like it was just an extension of me. Ingrained, not a separate entity. I eventually gave my editing services a name, ‘The Writing Hall (TWH)’, in 2007, however.

Where it all began…sort of

I actually can’t remember the year I began what I think of as my ‘official’ entrepreneurial journey—it was sometime between 2002 and 2007 (I had two young kids at home, my brain was—and still is sometimes—mush). Though I was an editor, I started a business that offered virtual assistant services (which wasn’t as recognised a service back then as it is today); my business was called ‘Admin By The Hour’. I gained a couple of regular clients, but things didn’t really progress any further.

I’d written a couple of books by this time (as well as editing books for others) and thought about spending more time on the writers’ side of the fence. I launched a second brand, offering blogging and content creation whilst still keeping my VA services. This brand was ‘Clerical and Content’.

Because my VA services weren’t in demand, after a year or so, I decided to rebrand again, to concentrate solely on creating blogs for businesses. This was under the brand name ‘Beeline Blogging’.

I then decided to open up my content creation skills to cover social media posts and other marketing techniques. I enjoyed talking to small business owners like me and found I could spot where they could place their marketing efforts for a much better return. I therefore rebranded again to become ‘The Marketing Troubleshooter’.

By this time, I’d given up work and become fully self-employed. I began networking and found more clients, though I wouldn’t say I was overrun with them. The problem was, sole traders like me needed my help but they couldn’t afford to pay for it. I’d failed to carry out one of the first basic principles of marketing in my own business: market research. I’d followed my gut and built all these brands on what I could do, as opposed to what was needed and affordable within the market I was promoting my offering to. So, that brand went the way of the dodo, too.

In 2015 I gave up all the other brands for the only one that had ever aligned with my skills and values. The brand that genuinely filled a need for clients in a niche market (book editing), and which I rarely promoted, as the effect of my work and clients’ satisfaction did for this for me. I still edit books through TWH today and have moved into publishing a few titles each year, too, which are available for purchase on my online book shop ‘Hall Good Books (HGB)’.

In 2017 I returned to part-time work, for many reasons, but mainly because I was fed up of relying on very irregular self-employed income. Maybe I could have done more to make these brands bigger and more successful…in my heart, I know I did what I could with the finances, energy and other resources I had at the time. Today, I still run both TWH and HGB—on my terms, in my own way, part-time. It provides an extra layer of income, but not one I rely on.

So, what’s the moral of this (long) story?

Holding up a glass ball and looking clear on a blurry distance.

Holding up a glass ball and looking clear on a blurry distance.

If you’ve launched a business, be prepared to follow a road that will be anything but straight as you go from A to B. Many businesses fail, but that doesn’t mean the entrepreneurs behind these brands have failed—it may be they just haven’t found the right business for them yet. And just because you could make money from doing something you’re good at, it doesn’t mean that you have to follow this as a rule—maybe you fancy trying something else? For instance, if I ever landed a lottery win, my dream is to open a plush coffee shop in a beautiful location. It will hardly set the world alight, but it’s my dream all the same.

Managing expectations is crucial when you’re starting out. Even if someone had told me how hard it would be it make a business work (they probably did, but I’m a stubborn if not naïve soul) I’m the sort of person that has to find things out the hard way.

Nothing went as I thought it would. Early on in my ‘official entrepreneurial journey’ I paid for an office to work from (even though it was a role I could effortlessly and comfortably complete from home), because I thought that would give me greater credibility and it was just ‘what you did’. All it brought me was a hefty bill each month. I soon worked out what was a necessary and a not-so-necessary cost for the business and set up an office at home.

Over the last 15 years I’ve changed directions more times than a city bus. I’ve adapted, diversified and evolved. I’ve had good months and a lot of bad months, but I’m still here. I still work for myself, as well as being employed by other business owners on their own journeys. Failure is subjective. I’ve successfully found a balance between employment and self-employment that not only fulfils my bank balance, but which also fulfils me. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a success?

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner? Tweet is at @intheknowemag

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