The 19 Things You Should Know Before You Start
Updated on 9/2/2022
When I started my first business, I knew I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! If I could go back in time and teach myself, there’s so much I would want to say. Before you start your business, just realize that you won’t be perfect in the beginning. There is always something to upgrade, change,
Here are 19 of the most important things that I would try to explain to myself as a newbie entrepreneur.
1. The more organized you are, the less you’ll have to work
When I’m disorganized, time flies too fast. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I don’t know where to find the thing. I don’t know who I’m supposed to connect with. I don’t even know why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Spend more time keeping things simple, and you’ll spend less time spinning your wheels. (You’ll also enjoy your work a whole lot more!)
2. For the sake of your sanity, CONNECT with others
The #1 thing that makes the biggest difference in my happiness, optimism, and progress is connecting with peers. Find those people who do the same sort of thing as you and have positive attitudes about the challenges along the way. Talk to them regularly. Motivate them and let them motivate you. Support them and let them support you. Community is everything.
3. Taking action solves everything
You can have the best plan in the world, but if you don’t act on it, then nothing is going to happen. Don’t wait until your plan is “perfect” (it never will be). Consider your options, do a reasonable amount of research, and then GO! You can correct your course along the way.
4. Plan, but then RELAX
As an entrepreneur, things won’t always go as you expect or hope. Embrace the flow, and learn to be flexible. Better to be relaxed and enjoy the journey than be so stressed out about not being in control of every little detail.
5. Systems save your sanity
Trying to do all the things and be all the people will make balance impossible! Focus on creating systems that enable you to delegate and get more done in less time. Give your work focused, regular attention so that when you AREN’T working, you can be fully present with your family and friends.
6. There will be seasons of less sleep
When you own a business, there are busy seasons, and then there are busier seasons. During the former, you might have it “all figured out” and feel very balanced. During the latter, you WILL get less sleep. You’ll stay up late working on your launch, or wake up early to write your blog post in time — or both. Embrace the season of busyness, but create plans for rest and recuperation as well.
7. The more prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be
This goes for launching products, and services, giving speeches, teaching classes, going to the gym… anything really. The more time you take to be fully ready, the more you’ll get out of the experience. (That being said, don’t overthink it. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, put in the work, then call that good and GO.)
8. “Everything is figuroutable” — Marie Forleo
She said it, and it’s true. You can figure out ANYTHING that you need to figure out to make your business successful. If someone has done it before you, you can learn from them. If not, you can figure it out on your own (which might take a little more time, but it will be more worth it).
9. Focus on ONE thing at a time
The more focused your attention is, the more progress you’ll be able to make in that one area. That success can then make other things much easier! For example, on social media platforms: you can try to grow a following on five different platforms at once, and gain 1000 followers on each, or you can focus your attention on just one, and gain 5000 followers there (or perhaps a lot more, since you’re more focused). Those 5000 followers can then be directed to your other platforms, and many of them will easily go.
10. Consistency is the key to gaining momentum
Want your business to GROW? Be consistent. Show up consistently as the same person and brand. Publish content consistently. Stay consistently in your niche. Preach your message consistently.
Dripping water all over the place won’t accomplish anything. Dripping water into the same bucket continuously will fill your bucket to overflowing.
11. Solve real problems
Nice things are nice, pretty things are pretty, but problems take precedence. Problems have to be solved. People pay money to have their problems solved. Focus on helping your customers and solving their problems, and they will cling to you.
12. Outsource; it’s so worth it
The other day, I was delegating my time: deciding how much time I wanted to spend on each activity of my business and how much time I really wanted to be working at all. I realized that I could spend 8 hours/month posting to social media, or 8 hours/month putting out a podcast (or both, or neither). I didn’t really want to spend the full 16 hours, so I chose to outsource the social media posting because anyone could do that for me. Only I can host my podcast show.
Spend your time doing those things that only you can do. Outsource all the things that anyone can do. You’ll get so much more done, make so much more money, and provide employment for someone else in the process!
13. Take the time to keep records
Keeping records is no fun. It’s my least favorite part of running my business. Well, almost. Really, my least favorite part is when I don’t keep records, and then I need something and can’t where I put the information I need. Create systems that make keeping the essential records simple, and then make those systems into habits.
14. Take a break BEFORE you are burnt out
Don’t kill yourself working for 17 days straight and then never want to look at your website again. Take at least one day each week completely off. Take some time every single day to slow down and really separate from your work. Paint your nails, walk the dog, watch your favorite show, or make a beautiful dinner. ENJOY life while you are growing your business, or else you will come to hate your business.
15. Know your focus
What is that one thing that you specialize in? Get extremely clear on exactly what your “offer” is, who it’s for, and why people need it.
16. Practice pays off
Practice your speech a dozen times before you give it. Practice writing the copy for your website. Practice connecting with people.
If you aren’t good at something, either decide to outsource it or practice. Being bad at something sucks, but you don’t have to stay bad at it. Keep doing it (in fact, do it way more than you have to), and do it intentionally. It will get easier.
17. Appearance matters
Whether you like it or not, people DO judge books by their covers. That’s just the way the world works.
People will judge you on whatever they perceive. They will judge you on how you look and sound. They will judge you on what you create and how you create it.
Does that mean you have to be perfect? No. Does that mean you have to cater to everyone? Definitely not. But, what it does mean is that you need to show up how you WANT people to perceive you, and you need to care about the details. What you wear matters. Your grammar matters. Consistent branding matters.
Keep things simple, high quality, consistent, and focused on what your customers actually want. Then, ask some of your trusted peers how you could improve.
18. The money is in the list
To make money, you have to sell. To sell, you have to have an audience and a way to be able to connect with them. Focus on building that audience and creating a relationship with them. Your audience must trust and appreciate you. Your audience is your most valuable asset.
19. You can be happy TODAY!
Happiness doesn’t come as a byproduct of success. Happiness is a choice you make every day. Happiness is gratitude for everything you HAVE and curiosity about what you will be able to create next. Don’t deprive yourself of the enjoyment of the journey.
So, before you start your business, get excited, get motivated, physic yourself out, whatever you have to do, and go do it. Just remember, that we are here for you if you get stuck on anything.
Book a call to get started right here.
For some of us, the idea of asking for a referral conjures up the same feelings as networking. Feelings like “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole” or “Please let there be another way to find clients.” Asking for a referral is scary as heck for an introvert like me. Sometimes you just have to put your big girl panties on and just do it!
But never fear. Just as there are many different types of personalities and business niches, there are many different ways to ask for a referral. You can tailor your referral system to match you and your unique business.
In the Referral Marketing Success Course, co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings discusses two types of referrals. Indirect and Direct. Indirect referrals include Facebook Page & LinkedIn Recommendations, Website Testimonials, and Video Case Studies. Direct referrals involve someone directly passing your name on to another relevant contact either in person or through an email, phone call, or social media message.
THE VALUE OF A REFERRAL
Now, the question is, what is the reason? When broken down, the referral happens because of several things:
- The desire for a flexible lifestyle
- A strong work ethic
That sounds like a lot for someone to know about! But in the course of time, our existing clients can learn similar things about us. And our inner circle of friends and family (and even our acquaintances and colleagues) can learn enough about us to recommend our services to wonderful clients.
In his article, “How to get more freelance clients by becoming ‘referable,’” Benek Lisefski says that the deeper reason to encourage referrals is that “referral clients trust you more.”
He describes the value of referrals this way:
“When that referral client comes to you, they come pre-loaded with trust. They already know you’re the person they want for the job before you’ve even tried to sell your virtues. Half of your trust-building has been done for you. Now all you have to do is meet or exceed that expectation.”
And when the referral client respects the person who referred you, even more of that trust will come pre-loaded. The quality of your referrals begins with the quality of the people you associate with. The clients you work with should be a reflection of the referrals you want to work with. The boundaries or lack of boundaries you have with them are likely the same sorts of boundaries or lack of boundaries their referrals will expect.
WHEN TO START ASKING FOR A REFERRAL
Now comes the part that makes some of us break into a cold sweat. When do we start asking for a referral, and how do we do it?
- DON’T ASK. JUST BE.
You may like the first answer. In the article above, Benek Lisefski says he takes a more indirect approach by making himself as “referable as possible” so his clients use their own initiative to refer him when it best suits them, rather than him having to ask for a referral.
So, one method is to begin by making yourself someone people want to refer to! In a FreeU blog post, “How to Find Ideal Clients (in Your Own Backyard),” they describe their local network as a series of circles. The inner circle is the people you know best (family and friends). The middle circles are colleagues and acquaintances. Whether or not these people need your services, they can refer you to potential clients if they think favorably of you. You can boost their opinion of you by maintaining healthy relationships with past and present colleagues and lovingly supporting your family and friends in their own endeavors.
In the same way, you can encourage referrals from existing clients by doing the best work you can and maintaining a healthy client relationship with them. Remember the quality of the referral will reflect on them too.
- CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME TO ASK.
Sometimes you need to take a deep breath, swallow your pride if necessary, and simply ask for a referral. Even if you’re delivering stellar work to your clients, they may not know you’d like to be referred until you ask them.
Megan Taylor’s article “5 tips to asking for referrals (and a sample referral email),” provides some helpful guidelines for timing your request. This depends on whether you’re doing one-off projects or long-term projects and retainer agreements. She advises waiting to ask for a referral until after the client has given their final sign-off if you’re doing a one-off project like a brand redesign or content for an eBook.
And if you’re doing ongoing work as part of a retainer agreement or long-term project, she suggests using your gut feeling and checking in with your client for feedback. Then “ask once you know you’ve provided unparalleled value.” At the same time, she warns against asking for a referral in your freelance invoice.
HOW TO ASK FOR A REFERRAL
As mentioned above, you can choose the referral request method that works best for you, your clients, and your local network.
Here are some options:
- CONTACT PAST OR PRESENT CLIENTS DIRECTLY
Here’s where we could use the Nike slogan “Just do it.” Once you’ve decided on the correct time to ask, contact your existing or former clients in a way that most resonates with them:
- Personalized email
- Phone call
- Zoom or Skype video call
- Social media message
- Whatever is most appropriate for your relationship
Susan Ward recommends asking face to face in her article, “How to Ask for Referrals and Get More Clients.” She says, “People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them.” But she adds, “It is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are uncommon or very difficult.” In this case, a Zoom or Skype video call could serve as an in-person meeting.
- ASK FOR A TESTIMONIAL OR VIDEO CASE STUDY
An indirect way of asking for a referral is to ask for testimonials or video case studies that you can post on your website and share on social media. This article has some wise advice if you don’t want to directly ask for a referral:
“Ask for a testimonial instead. That way you still have something you can use on your website or in your marketing materials… plus you’ll get your client thinking about what a great job you did.”
They might even offer a referral on their own!”
How To Guide People
- OFFER INCENTIVES.
In the Referral Marketing Success Course, Craig Cannings suggests five types of incentives you can offer in exchange for referrals:
- Referral fee (e.g. $50 – $100 value)
- Service credit (e.g. a specific number of hours or monetary value credited toward future services)
- Service discount (e.g. 5-10% discount off existing or future services)
- E-Gift card or other Gifts (e.g. $50 – $100 online Amazon gift card)
- Free training or resources (e.g. courses, training, or eBooks provided at no charge)
At the same time, he outlines the pros and cons. On one hand, incentives offer both clients and non-clients a tangible motivator and make it easier to ask for referrals. On the other hand, they can make the referral seem less natural and authentic. They can also devalue the referral if the potential client finds out that the referrer received an incentive. So, be sure that incentives are right for your business before using them.
- ASK FOR LINKEDIN RECOMMENDATIONS
LinkedIn provides an option to ask connections whether they’re willing to write a recommendation of your work. Simply navigate to the profile of a 1st-degree connection, click the “More” button, and select “Request a recommendation.” Once the connection has been written, you can display this recommendation on your LinkedIn profile.
In an article titled “How to Ask For The All Important LinkedIn Recommendation,” JoAnne Funch suggests requesting a recommendation immediately after you complete a service for your client.
She also advises personalizing the request:
“It is important that you NEVER send the default request for a recommendation. This doesn’t help you and you are not helping the person you are asking to take their time to recommend you. Your goal is to make it easy for the person you are asking to respond in a timely manner. In your request write a sentence or two about the service they purchased, the results they gained from your service and the benefits of working with you.”
Robin Ryan suggests another strategy in her article “How To Get Valuable LinkedIn Recommendations And Endorsements.” Instead of requesting the recommendation, she suggests first writing a recommendation for your connection. The LinkedIn system will notify them and ask if they’d like to write a recommendation for you in return. She then suggests writing your connection a personalized email and letting them know what you’d like them to discuss in their recommendation for you.
- ACTIVATE FACEBOOK RECOMMENDATIONS (FORMERLY FACEBOOK REVIEWS)
Another effective way of indirectly asking for a referral is to turn Recommendations on for your Facebook Page. By doing so, anyone who’s logged into Facebook can see your Page’s rating, see other Recommendations that were shared with a Public privacy setting, and publish their own Recommendations to your Page.
According to the Facebook for Business site, these Recommendations are also discoverable across the Facebook platform when people are searching for your business or talking about it. It’s easy for people to leave a recommendation by answering “Yes” or “No” and choosing text, photos, or tags to explain why they’re recommending it.
In her article, “Creating an online review management strategy,” Jenn Chen stresses the need to identify which social networks you’re going to focus on and then respond to both negative and positive reviews.
“To find the most opportune networks for your reviews, it may be best to set up a social media listening strategy that will bring up online chatter about your business. If you start seeing more reviews from one network, maybe it’ll be time to join it. Plus, with listening, you’ll be able to find other sources of valuable feedback about your business across social networks.”
WHAT IF YOU RECEIVE A REFERRAL THAT DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT?
Referrals are like blind dates. Sometimes you meet the person and know that despite everyone’s good intentions, this client relationship is not going to work. Although you don’t want to miss valuable opportunities, it’s important to steer away from accepting referrals that are not good for your business. Focus on developing your intuition to determine whether a certain referral is a good fit and have a clear picture of your ideal client.
Here are some ways you can accept the best referrals for you and your business:
- DEFINE YOURSELF AND YOUR SERVICES CLEARLY
Word-of-mouth referrals for business owners are sometimes like the game of telephone. This is where the information gets confused and changed along the way. People can become frustrated if they find out you don’t do what the referrer said you did. And if you change your niche, be clear about what your new niche is so you don’t disappoint people. They might think you still do the previous work.
- LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Learn how to say no gracefully, and don’t say yes to something that doesn’t feel right. Keep a list of other quality business owners you can refer to if the task is too far outside your niche. If I receive a referral that isn’t right for me, I often recommend one of my colleagues, LinkedIn connections, or freelancers listed in the Freelance University professional directory.
I’m forever grateful for the referral I received that launched my small business journey. Although it can be nerve-wracking to ask for them, referrals are a crucial part of building a business with high-quality clients. Choose the method that works best for you, and wholeheartedly thank your referrers.
As Leah Kalamakis says in her article “10 Ways To Get More Referrals,”
“Tell them how much you enjoyed the client they sent your way and how much you appreciate them for making it happen. When they feel appreciated, they will likely want to continue sending more.”
And now we’d love to hear from you! Have you received business as a result of referrals? Which method of asking for referrals works best for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
You may have a difficult time trusting yourself. Don’t despair. You are not alone. It is something that many people experience, and find it difficult to overcome. When you lose trust in others, you start to lose trust in yourself. Below are some tips to increase trust in yourself.
To help you overcome this problem, you need to focus on key aspects of trust. The first is to have faith in your accomplishments. If you pass off your accomplishments as not being that important, when you need to rely on them, they won’t be there for you. That is sure to interrupt the process of trusting yourself.
You also need to trust your instincts. You won’t always be right, but you will be more often than not. An instinct is something you feel strongly about and does not come only from experiences.
They come from something internal that no one can truly explain. It’s part of that inner voice that is telling you what to do. You need only to listen. How many times have you said to yourself that you should have listened to your instincts?
You should rely on other people. If you open yourself up to letting others into your life, you will find that you become more trusting of yourself. Whether you like it or not, you need other people.
You can’t know everything there is to know about every subject. Use the strengths of others to supplement what you know. It will take the burden away from you to do everything. That will help open the possibilities to put trust in yourself.
Try to filter out negative information. You get bombarded with this throughout your life. It occurs every day in the news, at work, and in many cases, your home.
The more you learn to focus on positivity in your life, the easier it will be to trust yourself. A good first step towards this goal is to avoid negative people. They work hard to try to bring you down.
Trusting yourself sometimes requires a leap of faith. Take some chances. While you want to be smart regarding the risks of your choices, you don’t want to overanalyze every decision you make. If you do, you will never make any decisions, and you will stagnate. I always tell myself to have faith.
It’s true that not everything will work out the way you plan. But, you will never know unless you try.
The good news is when you are ready to try, many of your decisions will work for you. Trust yourself and have faith.
The Welcome Packet
You’ve decided you wanted to work from home as a virtual assistant. Now what? Today’s discussion is about what to include in a welcome packet. What is it, and do you need it.
Ever since that big decision, you’ve been networking like a fool for your first client: hanging out in Facebook groups, going to networking events, telling your friends and fam to the point you’re starting to feel like you’re bugging people with your pitch.
But a virtual assistant without clients is – well, not busy and you really don’t have a business.
You need a client, and fast!
And then one day, you get that email – someone wants to chat about how you can help their business.
So, you have that discovery call and you’re feeling like you knocked it out the park. You said all the right things and shoot, you even sent a thank you email afterward.
Now, you wait.
You refresh your email countless times, waiting for a response.
And then it happens — you get an email. You’ve got a client!
But don’t celebrate too much because you’re not done.
There’s something you need to put together for your new client – and that’s a welcome packet.
What is a welcome packet?
The welcome packet is a PDF that contains important information about your business that may or may not already be in your contract.
Is a welcome packet required?
Well, no not really. I’ve just found that having all the necessary information in a separate PDF file is handy not only for you but the client as well. And we’re aiming for simplicity here, folks!
What’s in a welcome packet?
Glad you asked!
Here’s what your Welcome Packet can include:
- A personal note from you, welcoming them on board. Start off on the right foot but including a note from you: how excited you are to work with them and how you plan to make a difference in their business, something along those lines. Keep in mind that some clients may be working with a virtual assistant for the first time so you may have to a bit of hand-holding to ease them into the water. It’s okay – a kick-butt virtual assistant doesn’t just do the work: they also educate their clients.
- Work expectations. Spell out when you will return phone calls and emails. Do you have a 24-hour turnaround during business hours? Will you make recommendations and offer solutions? Tell your client what they can expect from working with you.
- Your office hours. If you don’t spell out your office hours, I can bet my bottom dollar that at some point you’re going to have to talk to a client about working outside of your hours. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. This is where educating a client GENTLY about what a virtual assistant is (a business owner in partnership with the client) and what a virtual assistant isn’t (an administrative worker solely who is on-call and dedicated to their needs only). Make it clear what your hours are and stick to them. For example, my business hours are Monday – Friday, 6 pm-9 pm, Saturdays from 10 am-5 pm. I’m closed on Sundays and the last Saturday of each month. Period. This brings us to the next matter:
- How will you handle “rush” jobs? OK, life happens sometimes and things pop up that need immediate attention. No problem. But if it’s happening over and over, then it’s time to put some processes in place to keep that from happening. Planning ahead will save you lots of time and headaches. Discuss and note how you will handle rush jobs. Let’s say the client gives you less than 24-hour notice to complete a project. It’s totally okay to charge a 25% surcharge. Again, make sure it’s clearly indicated in your welcome packet, as well as your contract, to avoid problems later.
- How you will handle referrals and if you provide a referral incentive. In the virtual world, referrals are golden. Do a great job, your client will tell someone else and BOOM! You’ve got a new client. But you want to thank them, right? Maybe a gift card or a couple of complimentary hours.
- Your business processes: how you will protect passwords and confidential information, etc. The online world can be a scary place with all this hacking foolishness. And your client is trusting you with the back-end of their business. That’s huge! You want to reassure them you’ve got systems in place to protect their confidential information – may be shredding confidential data, keeping passwords private, that kind of thing. Give your client some peace of mind.
- Your subcontracting process, if applicable. You may get to the point where you become so busy with work that you’ll need to bring on a subcontractor. Or, maybe you don’t have the skill set to complete a project. Let your client know how you will handle this type of situation (the subcontractor will do the work, but you will check it over thoroughly to ensure it meets your approval). Remember, this is YOUR business on the line.
- Invoicing process. This little nugget of information is probably in the contract you sent to the client, but it doesn’t hurt to share it in the welcome packet. Reiterate your hourly rate/retainer amount, when you will send an invoice and when payment is due.
- Your contact information and how you prefer to be contacted. I’m cool with getting texts from my client so they have my cell phone number as well as my email. Maybe that won’t work for you so tell your client your preference.
Add in a get-to-know-you sheet: the client’s address (so you can surprise them a gift from time to time), birthday, spouse/children info, if applicable.
Isn’t some of this information already in my contract?
It’s highly possible. But let’s think about this for a second: most people don’t thoroughly read contracts. We should but we don’t. We read the most important part – how much we’re making/paying and kinda skim over the rest. The welcome packet outlines IN A SEPARATE DOCUMENT a lot of what’s in your contract. The difference is that your client will probably read your welcome packet.
You don’t want any excuses (“I didn’t know that was in there because it’s so buried in the contract!”) Nope, we don’t want that!
What else do you need to bring on a new client? Well, I’ve got that all outlined in a Trello board. If you don’t know I compare Trello to Post-Its on steroids! Seriously, I can’t get enough of Trello because it will keep you super organized. If you don’t have a Trello account, you can get a free account here.
Here’s one of my Trello boards and you can see that it’s all about tracking everything for your client. Just go ahead and purchase this board when you’ve got a minute because it will save you so much time in the future. You just copy the board for each client and you’re set to get busy!
This Trello board is dedicated to onboarding or bringing on your first client. It outlines, step-by-step, what you need to do for your client. Just remember to copy the board for each client using their name.
Using this Trello board will make all the difference to you once you get started.
So, I hope this information helps you. Let me know if you need anything else.
Here’s to your success!
Marketing your Business
How to market your business is critical to your business success. That’s our topic for today’s post. I’ve added some steps for you to work on that are pretty easy.
Here’s what you should be doing to stay top of mind and current with your network:
- Send two emails a day to people you know to stay in touch. You’re not selling to them, just checking in to say hello.
- Try to get together every week with either one new person that you’ve been introduced to, or one close business friend you haven’t seen in a while.
- Offer free, 15-minute discovery calls, by phone or Zoom, to anyone who’s interested in working with you.
- Once a month, write an email newsletter with relevant content and send it out to everyone you know.
- Regularly post excerpts of your newsletters to social media.
- Once a month, you should attend a networking event to meet new people.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile current, including adding every new person you meet.
You may think this is a lot of work, and way too time-consuming to fit into your day. But, it’s not really!
Once you have the system set up, it takes far less time to run than the time you spend worrying about generating business! Getting clients is always on top of your mind, but you need to do these steps to create a steady flow of clients.
Another Way to Market
Try using Facebook and Instagram to post content on a regular basis. You need to get noticed on social media, but you don’t have to be on every platform to get noticed. Also, don’t consider this selling, it’s just marketing to do the work for you.
Just make sure that you are consistent with what you create and post valuable content, not just fluff. Anyone can do that and it might get you followers but not clients. Also remember that even when you have a steady flow of clients, you’re always going to need to market yourself.