No one taught me how to run a business.
In fact, twenty odd years ago, when I left my last ‘real job’, I guarantee you I wasn’t thinking about being an entrepreneur. I was really just trying to figure out how to be home with my kids, and still pay the bills.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I’m a licensed clinical social worker. There were no business classes in graduate school, and I didn’t know anyone in my field who ran their own business. There were no mentors, no guides. There were no coaches or mastermind groups back then.
In fact, if anything, “private practice”, as a concept, was that vaguely elite (and therefore, to be snubbed) thing that, you know, psychologists did. Heaven forbid that a social worker would have that as her goal.
No. We were here to make the world a better place, after all. And somehow, that translated into an unspoken but widely held limiting belief that we were therefore not supposed to make any money.
So, if you made the leap to the world of private practice, girlfriend, you were on your own. You had to figure this thing out for yourself.
Not knowing what else to do, I rented a space. Read a few books. Hung out a shingle. Added my name to a few insurance panels. Bought a line in the Yellow Pages. Did a little networking, painful as that was for an introvert like me. And waited.
It was p-r-e-t-t-y slow going at first.
Eventually, I did get a referral – one client – and that was it for the entire first year. After that, things began to pick up, and I started to feel like I might actually make it. With messy imprecision I moved forward in fits and starts, gaining and losing clients, making and losing money.
Slowly but surely I moved through the fog, a little at a time.
And oh my goodness the mistakes I made.
When I look back, I’m astonished that I made any money at all. But I did. And over time, I got better at it. I picked up a saying somewhere along the way that says “When your confidence goes up, your competence goes up too.” There’s truth in that.
As I became a better therapist,
I became a better business owner as well.
And vice versa.
Many of my coaching clients are right at that same place. They work too much for too little. Income is all over the map. They’re not clear at all about who they are and what they bring to the table. Marketing is sporadic at best and non-existent at worst.
But they, too, are learning.
There’s a lot to becoming CEO of our little corner of the world. I teach those lessons to my private clients and through the Success Circle coaching club.
But I want you to know this now, so you won’t make the mistakes I made just starting out.
Because I want you to make it. And enjoy the journey.
1. Be the best at what you do.
No one ever says this.
But if you want to be successful in your business in an authentic and powerful way that serves your clients as well as your soul, you first – more than anything – must be good at what you do.
So get the training and experience that you need first before setting up your own shop.
2. Get clear about who you want to serve.
At first, I’d work with anyone who’d work with me. That meant I agreed to see folks whether or not we were a good fit and whether or not my skill set truly matched their needs.
That wasn’t really good for me, or them.
Get clear on who you serve best, and who you want to work with, even if it changes over time.
Years ago, I was well known for my work with teens. As I’ve gotten clearer, that’s evolved into my work as an advocate for women, because that’s where my experience, and my passions, have led.
Who is your ideal – and I mean ideal – client?
3. Decide what services (or products) you will — and won’t — provide.
You know what you’re good at, and what you love to do. Deciding up front what services you will, and won’t, provide, enables you to create space to do only what you love.
That creates energy. And energy leads to income. :))
One of the first things I have my clients do is make a list of other resources they can refer to when they need to say no to a potential customer.
Most of you feel guilty saying no to someone who may not be a good fit for you, no matter the reason. But you can still help by having other options in mind that you know are right for them.
They’ll appreciate you for looking out for their best interests. Isn’t that a win/win?
4. Set firm boundaries around your time.
I’ll never forget the day I walked to my office to meet a fellow who was determined to make it in for his appointment – in an ice storm. He tried, bless his heart.
I made it in. He didn’t.
Then there was the time I agreed to meet someone who ‘really needed to come in’ on Memorial Day.
I went to the office. She went to the lake.
In the early days, I twisted myself to be as accommodating as I could.
On the other hand, a colleague of mine ended her day at 2:00 p.m. so she could be home in time to greet her kids after school.
We both had plenty of clients – but I’ll bet she wasn’t nearly as tired as I was.
Decide what your hours are. Set your boundaries. Your clients will adapt.
And you’ll get to go to the lake, too. :))
5. Learn how to handle numbers.
At first, I had no idea how to file an insurance claim, and no one told me that it took four months to get paid when I did. I didn’t know how to manage an irregular income, or how to be ready for quarterly taxes.
I had a pitiful system for tracking accounts and was inconsistent at sending out statements. There were more times than I want to admit when clients owed me thousands of dollars, but didn’t know it.
And even when they did, I felt so guilty for letting them reach that point that I didn’t press them for payment.
Get a system in place early on for tracking income and expenses. Same thing goes for managing your invoices.
If this isn’t your strength, hire someone to do it. (And if you need help, I can teach you how to do that, too.)
Treat your money (that is, your business) with respect.
And in so doing, you are treating your clients, and your Self, with respect, as well. And that is how a Courageous Woman sets up her business for success.
Now – what do you think?
Do you have a good story about a lesson you’ve learned along the way? Talk to me in the comments below.
Photo Credit: by Ebelien on Flickr