Starting a business with $20

Sounds too good to be true?

I did it. 

$20 was all I invested in opening my company. I paid for the Adobe subscription. That was it. 

All I needed, I already had: a desk, pen and paper, a laptop, WI-FI and a phone. You probably have these already.

I went on freelancer sites and most of them offer free credits when signing up. Using those free credits, I got my first clients within days. I viewed it as a challenge. If it was meant for me to open a business, I would find clients within a week. Otherwise, I'd just get another job. But I found my first 3 clients within 4 days. Granted, they were far from ideal, but I had my proof of concept. 

Within 2 months, I was earning double than my salary at my previous (well paid) job. Of course, it's easy to look back and say how fast it was. But back then, those 2 months felt like an eternity. Every discovery call sent me through a roller coaster. "Will they sign with me or not?", "How long will they stay as a client?", "What if I'm not doing enough?", "Am I charging too much?". All these were the questions that were tormenting me every single day for a while. But as time passes and you gain more experience, you learn not to take anything as a done deal until your contract is signed and the first invoice is paid.

I was lucky. First of all, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, which made it easier to handle by taking it step by step. I was lucky I already had so much knowledge from my previous job that I had no issue convincing prospective clients that I knew my craft. I was lucky I was already used to working 70 hour weeks, so it wasn't hard for me to do all the work necessary. The only struggle was getting them to pay my ideal prices. But eventually, I honed those sales skills too. 

3 months into doing this, I didn't need to make sales calls anymore. Most of my clients, to this day, come from recommendations. I'm still surprised when I get a referral from an old client that I forgot about (oops) and they still talk so highly of my services. 

Fun fact? For the first year in business, we didn't even have a website or social media accounts. We didn't need them, we were already fully booked. Our portfolio was more than enough. 

 

If I did it, you can too. There are a few traits and habits you will need: 

1. Develop a thick skin. Don't compromise too much. 

I once sent out a blast about an amazing offer. I was offering social media marketing for 3 platforms for just $500. I got a response back, from a guy that was actually serious, that he'll offer $100. I didn't think that deserved any response, so I didn't reply. He then proceeded to inquire further a few times, thinking his counter offer was acceptable. 

Moral of the story? Some people ARE going to try and get a bargain. In this example, it was extreme. But say, what if you offered something for $600 and somebody offered you $400? Would you take it? You could argue that "it's still extra money". I wouldn't take it. It establishes a precedent and all it says about you is that you are not confident in your skills and knowledge, which in turn will come off as you being a "noob". And in the end, I highly doubt those are your ideal clients. If they can't appreciate the value of your product, they are going to be a nightmare throughout your interaction. 

Another point to be made here is, don't be discouraged if out of 10 people, 9 say "no" to you. It's normal. It doesn't mean that what you have to offer is not good. The competition is fierce, and most likely there are thousands of other companies doing the exact thing as you. It's a number's game. Keep reaching out and you will find those clients!

2. You need to be a workaholic. Sort of.

I've seen so many people invest all they had in a new business, only for it to fail tragically during the first year. 

Why? Because they thought that by just opening the business, purchasing whatever they needed and hiring help is going to be enough. 

Trust me, it's not. If you don't have the discipline to take charge, put in the hours and work hard at it, you are going to fail. Nobody can take care of your business better than you. Nobody knows your ideas and your craft better than you do. And nobody cares about it as much as you do. 

When I was first looking to hire people and had some misfortunes with the people I chose, something hit me hard. You won't find employees who are going to care as much as you do. They won't be as passionate as you are about the craft. For them, it's just a 9-5 job. For most, it's just a means to an end (the salary at the end of the month). I was so caught up in the fact that I love what I do and that it doesn't feel like a job at all, that I forgot not everybody will view it the same. 

Think back about when you were employed. How were you? At my first job, I couldn't wait for Bank Holidays, to take time off and I spent a few good hours everyday just browsing Facebook and talking to friends. That's probably because I hated it, but nevertheless, many people are doing the same thing. Many will hate doing overtime, many will only stick to their initial duties and nothing more. And that's when you will need to jump in and do the work, because you are the owner of the company.

3. Don't push yourself more than you can handle. 

Depending on your line of work, if you provide services, it can be easy to go overboard and accept new clients. 

At first it's cool, you look at your bank account and you'll smile like an idiot. But trust me, coming from someone who's been through it, it will only last for 4-5 months tops until burnout sets in. And you don't want to be burnt out, you'll just lose those clients. If you can't concentrate, you won't do anything well. I used to wake up tired. After I slept my 8 hours a night. My mind was all over the place, I couldn't seem to concentrate. I lost 3 clients that month and I am very aware that is my own fault. 

You may think you can cure the burnout by sleeping well for a few days and that's it. If you can do that, good for you! It took me about 2 months to be completely restored. And another 2 months to fix the damage.

4. Don't hire too soon. Don't wait too long either.

Haha, what's too soon, what's too long?

It depends on every business. 

Too soon is hiring when you can barely afford to live yourself, thinking that the employee will do miracles with your company. That is simply not true. And you are going to be continually stressed about making ends meet. 

"But I need someone, I have no idea how to do X or Y". Then learn how to do it! You are an entrepreneur now. You should be able to wear every hat of the trade and that's available for further down the road too.  

Too long is when you are basically maxed out. You don't have time to take any more clients and you are starting to feel overwhelmed. By this point, it's already too late and it will be a struggle. 

Think about it: you need time to teach this person. You need to give them time to get used to the way you operate. So make sure to hire when you can afford to and still have a bit more time to spend with your employee/s. If you have 75% of occupancy filled in your calendar but still can't afford hiring a new person, you are doing something wrong. Your pricing model should be higher or you are not accounting for your time as efficiently as you thought. 

 

 

This is it for now. If you are careful about these 4 things, you are going to do well in your business. 

 

Until next time, 

Carmen