Ten things I’ve learnt about running a small business
In this blog, our owner, Lisa Kyriacou Faulks, reflects on some key lessons she’s learnt from four years in business.
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since I launched Social Elements.
In 2018, I moved from the corporate world to running my own business. For 20 years, ever since graduating, I had worked in either research or drug and diagnostic development. But, when I had a family, the long working hours were proving difficult to manage. After a lot of thought, I retrained as a social media marketing specialist and launched my own business, which focuses on social media marketing for the life science sector.
It’s been a steep learning curve at times and quite a rollercoaster. But the business has gone from strength to strength and, four years on, I’m very proud to be running a successful social media agency, with clients in the life sciences, pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors.
Along the way, I’ve learnt a lot about running a business, with the help of fellow business owners, friends and my own family. In this blog, I’ll be sharing a few thoughts and tips, which I hope will prove helpful to others just starting their journey.
Define your niche
Should you niche or not? There’s lots of debate about this in the business community. But for me, personally, niching has been crucial to the success of my business.
Niching has helped me build on my strengths – developing my reputation as the go-to social media expert for the scientific community. This means that I can be very targeted in my marketing, helping prospective clients to understand my offering and how I can help them.
Join a business mastermind
Being part of a business mastermind group was a huge help to me at the beginning of my business journey. If you’re not familiar with this, a mastermind is a peer-to-peer mentoring group where you can work through business challenges, with support from other members.
I was a member of Leigh Howes’ business mastermind group when I launched Social Elements. The support and input of this group, and Leigh, helped me to define my business direction, gave me some accountability and enabled me to focus on my goals.
I also met some great people and business contacts through the group – including graphic designer James Craker, from Crackerjac Design. I’ve since worked with James on several projects for Social Elements.
Don’t try to do everything yourself
It’s a real temptation to try and manage everything yourself to keep your business costs down. But you’re only one person. Be realistic about what you can fit into your day.
Play to your strengths and outsource tasks that are better managed by others. As an example, I’ve always employed the services of an accountant, Rachel Balchin from Bulldog Accounting, to manage my finances as this would be time consuming for me to do. Rachel specialises in financial management for small businesses. It makes sense for Rachel to handle my finances so I can focus on client work
Find a mentor/partner in crime
Having a ‘virtual office buddy’ is also important. Working on your own from home can be quite isolating at times. So, it’s great to have a fellow business owner to bounce ideas around with.
My virtual office buddy is Susie Smith, a fellow paid advertising consultant. I met Susie when I was completing my social media training and we’ve gone on to complete other training together. We’ve also worked together on lots of occasions. Susie is great – she always provides a good listening ear and helps keep me sane!
Find your tribe
It’s also important to build a network of trusted fellow professionals, who you can call on for help, guidance and additional support. In my case, I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic, supportive network. For example, I’ve worked with the amazing Andrea Boughton, from Beehive Green, who helped me with my branding and design. There’s also Anna Watson, who helps with my lead generation, and Sarah Forde, who is a VA extraordinaire.
Use social media to provide real value for your customers – don’t just sell
When you’re starting out, you’ll need to build your brand awareness and establish your online presence. Social media is one of the best ways to do this. But, whatever your business, don’t fall into the trap of just promoting your own business. Focus on your customers’ needs and interests.
I’m often contacted by business owners who are struggling with their social media. All too often, this is because their business posts are all very sales-focused and don’t connect with their audience. Think about the kinds of content your audience would be interested in – news or thought leadership articles you could share, tips you could offer, video tutorials, infographics etc.
By creating content that your audience will value, you’ll undoubtedly start to build your credibility and a strong, loyal following.
Set your personal boundaries
As a business owner, you’re likely to feel very personally invested in your business. That’s certainly how I’ve always felt. And, when you’re starting out, it’s easy to work all hours to make it a success. But there must be a benefit to working for yourself – and one of those benefits is flexibility.
I worked exceptionally hard, with long hours, to get my business off the ground in the early days. But then I took a step back and thought about the reasons for setting up my business, which were partly to spend more time with my family.
Since then, I’ve found a better balance – ensuring that I deliver for my clients while also making sure I’m around for my children when they need me.
So, set your work/life boundaries – and stick to them.
Always follow up on sales calls
You’ve invested time in putting together a proposal or chatting through a work project with a prospective client. But then you hear…nothing. What should you do?
Always follow up on your leads – a top tip recommended to me by business consultant Anna Watson. The sales side of running a business doesn’t come naturally to all of us (me included). But it’s vital. Obviously, you don’t want to be pushy but there’s nothing wrong with being proactive and reminding clients about what you can offer. In some cases, this could clinch the deal. It’s certainly worth a try. What have you got to lose?
There will be times when your contract with a client comes to an end. Perhaps your client has decided to bring the work ‘in-house’, change business direction or simply have a fresh approach. Whatever the reason, don’t take it personally. As your business develops, your clients will come and go – that’s a natural process. But always part on good terms and be professional.
Treat others how you would want to be treated
This is a golden rule for any business owner. Think about your core company values and how you want to be perceived. At Social Elements, integrity, knowledge and flexibility are key to the way we do business. As an example, I always respond to people who’ve taken the time to email asking if I can offer them any work. I think it’s common courtesy to respond. I know how frustrating it is when you’ve taken the time to write to someone or meet with them and you don’t hear back. Kindness counts in business. As Richard Branson once said, “Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress”.
I hope these reflections will prove useful if you’re setting up your own business. And, if you’re already on this journey, I hope you’re finding it just as rewarding as I have in the past four years.