By Joe Binder, WOAW
I love running a business, but there’s no denying it has its highs and lows. I’ve grabbed every opportunity to be open about the realities of entrepreneurial life, even when it’s meant delving into my insecurities in a very public way. My first two years of business have been an incredible journey: so many supportive voices from the business world have given me solid and actionable advice that’s helped me get to where I am now, working with some of the most celebrated and successful founders and CEOs in the UK. I’m proud of how far I’ve come – but there’s still a long way to go.
I admire business owners who share their stories in a candid way. I’ve read enough James Clear to know that “every action that you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become”. So here’s my vote.
Lesson 1: Even the best advice needs context
One thing’s for sure – GaryVee has been a pioneer of the value of personal branding. I have been following his work for years with admiration. But on reflection, there have been times when taking on his thoughts without fully appreciating the context has made me a terrible boss.
I love GaryVee. He inspired me to start my YouTube channel and his advice about building an audience online is tangible and insightful. But I took nuggets of advice like “give ownership” and “love everything that you do” far too literally. In putting pressure on myself to ensure that my team only had tasks that they enjoyed, I became hesitant when delegating and made a mess of it. But second guessing my guidance and not sharing my knowledge properly with my team came at the price of losing authority. Being a better boss would have meant delegating with conviction, being honest about the specifics of roles I was recruiting for and setting a clear framework for my employees to work within.
Gary runs an agency of more than 800 people, and I didn’t stop to think that his advice shouldn’t just be copied and pasted onto a small startup. When people give you advice, it doesn’t help to apply it blindly. I should have taken it in, processed it and applied it in a way that was best for my business. I didn’t, which led to making some silly business moves.
Lesson 2: Valuing my time
POD Management founder David Goldberg helped me understand the value of my time. He introduced me to the exercise of breaking down tasks for each of my clients and attaching a value rating to them. There are only so many hours in the day, and my time had to be spent where it could be the most valuable – winning clients, working on strategy and setting long-term business goals.
At first, outsourcing work to others that I could do myself felt like a waste of money. Why pay someone else to edit a video when I could do it? But after this conversation, I realised I was underestimating my own value. So I imagined my own working rate to be £100/h. That helped me see that it was far more efficient (and cost effective) to hire freelancers to complete short tasks, even if I had the time to complete them. This free time meant I could focus more time working on the business rather than in it, and I’ve never looked back.
This was a huge turning point for me. Now, I attach a star rating to each task: a three-star task requires my skill set and my understanding of the client whereas a one-star task can be easily delegated. Doing this keeps me grounded and focussed.
Lesson 3: Personal branding yields real value
My business speaks for itself. Most of my clients know exactly what I do and how I can help them before we have an initial conversation. By developing a strong personal brand myself, many of the people who approach me for a campaign already know about my work from my regular social media updates, and remember my bright blue profile picture and my clear tagline.
Building the business off the back of my own personal brand gives me faith in our product – in other words, if I can do it for myself, I can do it for others. If I can gain tangible value from sharing content online, my clients can too. It means that most clients that come my way have already seen an example of the personal branding we do for founders: mine.
When I opened up about the lonely reality of being a young entrepreneur, it got the attention of a high-profile business person who is now a client. Once I showed them what I could do and had a testimonial from them, their brand helped us attract other high-profile CEOs.
Lesson 4: Wearing a turtleneck will always made me look silly, whatever the occasion
Lesson 5: Get friendly with numbers
I’ve always been terrible at maths. I’m working on it, but it’s still not my best skill. It took me quite a while before I had a fully functional profit and loss spreadsheet. There were so many costs I’d overlooked, from freelancers to accountancy costs billed annually to software that was being charged to my personal account. For months, I thought I was making more profit than I actually was.
It’s genuinely embarrassing to write this here as you, my reader, are probably shaking your head at the kid running a business without a clear financial breakdown month to month.
If I was on The Apprentice, Claude Littner would be chucking me out of the interview right about now. But I know there are lots of young business owners out there who might be having the same experience. Hopefully this will give you some reassurance: you can’t get everything right the first time and sometimes you need to learn the hard way. If sharing my mistakes can help someone else avoid it, it’s worth the embarrassment!
Lesson 6: Find your niche and wear it in
Personal branding makes sense given my experience in social media and my personal YouTube channel. But it took a while to align that with the branding of WOAW. Settling on this as my niche has helped me improve visibility to my target demographic. It’s reduced the friction in my pitches: people understand what I do and the second I send over our deck with case studies and testimonials, everything is succinct and on-brand. It becomes clear that we know what we’re talking about and have the results to back it up.
Lesson 7: Turn down clients that don’t fit your niche
I had to let go of a big ticket client a few months ago because it was too far away from the direction I wanted to take the business in. The work we produced wasn’t our best, it took up a lot of time and I knew that letting go of that revenue would help my company in the long run. I still occasionally get approached to run Facebook ads, build landing pages, create marketing funnels, but now I simply pass these onto other people in my network that I feel could do a good job. It’s only once I started having the confidence to stay true to our personal branding niche that I felt comfortable turning these down. Saying yes to the wrong type of work is not a good move in the long term.
Lesson 8: Self-doubt never leaves you
I don’t like to end on a sombre note, but self-doubt is part and parcel of running a business. You’ll always question the longevity of the business, how good the service is, whether the pricing’s right, if our clients will stay with us, if we could be doing more… the list goes on.
There are peaks and troughs. One day I could be on top of the world. And the next day, I feel like my business is going to implode. It’s a horrible feeling. When I do have those days, I think of it like a bad hangover. There’s nothing I can do, no one I can speak to, no number of fry-ups or cups of coffee that can cure that feeling. Only time will help – all I can do is wait it out. What I’ve learned to do is keep on going, one small step at a time. Zooming in to one achievable task keeps the feelings of self-doubt at bay. What I’m trying to say is: find a way to put things back in perspective and remind yourself that there’s lots you are absolutely capable of doing.
Running a business is full of challenges. Even when you’re running a simple business model, there are going to be moments of difficulty. But I try my best to see them as opportunities to learn and a reminder to be grateful for the help I’ve been given along the way. If you’re reading this and you think I could lend a hand – you’re starting a business and trying to get your first client, for example – drop me a message on LinkedIn and I’ll do what I can to help. Maybe my biggest learning from the last two years is the benefits of being part of a community that can support you through the challenges.