As freelancers, one of the things we often miss out on compared to employees is work-based training and formal learning opportunities. That’s why I was so delighted to see that the Festival of Enterprise expo was being held in my hometown of Birmingham—and what’s more, tickets were free (we won’t talk about the ludicrous parking charges at the NEC). Amazingly, there were free seminars held all day by business experts. If you couldn’t attend, here’s a summary of the top tips from three of the seminars…
Piers Linney (Dragon’s Den): Starting and Scaling a Business
Linney talked about the entrepreneurial journey, stating that 95% of the 5.7 million businesses in the UK have only one employee: the entrepreneur. At the heart of Linney’s seminar was purpose—continuing to ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”
His five growth factors:
- Planning: You need a plan, on paper, of A (where I am now) to B (where do I want to be?). With growth comes risk and a plan minimises that.
- Operations: i.e. systems, processes, contracts. This stuff is boring, but you have to get it right. Put this in place before you start growing, because it makes the cogs move easier.
- People: Start recruiting from day 1 as if you’re really hiring—get the best people possible. At the start, be creative in how you pay people. When you’re scaling up, ask yourself “Am I the best person to run this company?” Avoid unconscious bias by choosing people not like you, giving yourself a wider, more varied talent pool.
- Finance: Finance has concentric rings. Start with your own finances, and ask friends and family—they will invest in you. The next level is angel funds, who invest not just in you, but in your business plan and operations. The next level is crowdfunding and P2P lending, which focuses more on your business than you.
- Technology: Automate everything. Use technology to hire staff globally. Use technology to bring your customers in, and connect directly with them via social media. Social media takes time and persistence, but it creates loyal customers.
Good things to know:
- There’s no such thing as straight-line growth.
- Five steps forward and two back is a good day for an entrepreneur.
- If it doesn’t work, it’s not a failure; it’s just the entrepreneurial process. Work out what went wrong and fix it. Move on and try something else.
- There’s no point selling the average product at the average price to the average customer—move up the value pyramid and create real value.
- When you have product/market fit, then think about scaling.
- Grow and take on risk—that’s an entrepreneur, not just a business owner.
Barry Leahy (MBE): 8 Small Changes to Boost Your Business for Free
Barry had lots of top tips for small business owners. Although his talk was named “8 small changes”, his tips outnumbered eight. These were the key eight points I picked up:
- Get unofficial mentors: Look for people who know more than you do and learn from them.
- Don’t feel you need to reinvent the wheel: Everything has been done before, so don’t think you need to come up with something original. Swap ideas with other businesses. Pinch people’s ideas with pride.
- Don’t try to think of ideas: Instead of sitting down and trying to come up with something, get out there and get talking to people. Step outside your four walls.
- Talk to everyone: You never know where inspiration might come from or who people might know.
- Empower your staff: Give them room for responsibility, but also make them accountable. Ask them to input, and reward their good ideas.
- Look in the mirror: Honestly evaluate your business. Ask people what they didn’t like about your business.
- Keep learning and getting ideas: No business or individual is perfect, and everyone can improve.
- Don’t ask for permission. Just do it.
Louise McCabe (Facebook): Tell Your Business Story Using Instagram
Louise talked about the importance of getting your business online, and how even the most “boring” of businesses (such as chiropractors) can offer an interesting take if they think outside the box.
To tell your business story through Instagram, ask:
- What’s unique about your business?
- What do you want people to think and feel about your brand?
- What is your business’s personality like?
- What keywords describe your brand?
To make your Instagram profile stand out:
- Create a memorable handle: One that reflects your business and is easy to remember.
- Have a consistent look and feel: Similar shots, filters, colours, or types of story.
- Be authentic: Create content that your audience wants, but remember what you stand for as a brand.
- Keep it fresh: Change your background, use contrasting colours or funky patterns to showcase products.
To get followers:
- Ask your current clients to follow you.
- Think about your customer: who, what, why, and how?
- Build a worksheet content plan to post consistently.
- Use the insights tab to determine your future focus.
- Test and iterate.
Although many of the tips were aimed at small business owners, they can help freelancers at all levels too. Think about how you can implement these ideas in your freelance life, whether it’s a side hustle, a full-time job, or a small business.
Did you attend the expo, and if so, what did you learn?
Stay tuned for more tips and insights every week on A Freelance Life!