If your workload has piled up to the point you can’t handle it on your own, congratulations! It sounds like you’re ready to take it to the next level and start your own business. Naturally, you’re wondering how to build your own company. And how do you even get from being a fly-solo freelancer to running a business and managing staff? The thought probably gives you the jitters. We’re here to help by discussing the steps to becoming a business owner — and a successful one, for that matter.
Build your brand
Running a business is bigger than freelancing. The “how to start a business” manual is not the same for everyone. But creating your brand matters beyond words. So, aim high and strive for outstanding customer experience and client retention. Setting these two goals will get you in the right mindset and focused on scaling your business. One of the first steps to starting your own business and achieving these goals is to build your brand before building your client base.
Building your brand is a long process that requires consistent effort. Here is what it includes:
- Competitive research: Knowing what other service providers in your niche are offering will help you adjust your services and offerings to stay competitive. You might realize that you need to hire people with skills complementary to yours to offer integrated solutions. For example, if you provide writing services, you can enrich your team with SEO and social media specialists to attract clients that want to implement a digital marketing strategy.
- Market research: Although you already know a lot about your target market, it’s best to dig deeper and create buyer personas to optimize your marketing efforts. Competitive and market research will also help you figure out the demand in your niche so that you plan your expansion strategy accordingly.
- Find a unique company name and a distinctive logo for your business. You can either come up with the company name on your own or you can hire a brand naming expert if you can afford it. But, definitely hire a professional graphic designer to create an appealing logo unless you’re extremely talented in the field.
- Write a powerful motto: Write something catchy that will sum up the gist of your services or your core values.
- Choose your voice: You should never deviate from what has worked well so far. Now you want to emphasize it and use it consistently on a larger scale, namely in your marketing campaigns and on your website. For example, if approaching your clients in a casual manner worked when you were a freelancer, that means that a friendly tone appeals to your target market, so you should go with that.
Focus on marketing
Perhaps the most important part of building a company (and your brand) is how you showcase it to the world. Start with a polished website that includes a rich portfolio of your best work and testimonials both from current clients and clients you had as a freelancer. That said, avoid speaking about yourself and your company as if you’re doing it all on your own. Your company is the result of collaborative work, so don’t turn the attention to you.
The most powerful way to get the word out for your new company and increase your revenue is a solid digital marketing strategy. Email marketing is an effective, low-cost solution. Plus, it offers the option to opt-out, so you know that clients who choose to receive your newsletters are genuinely interested in your services.
Content marketing is the single most effective way to attract new clients in a non-salesy way. Create great content to give your audience relevant and actionable advice linking back to your services. Your content can be in the form of blog posts, eBooks, case studies, or even videos and podcasts. Greater content variety equals higher engagement and wider audience reach. Optimize for SEO to increase online visibility.
A solid content marketing strategy includes building a strong social media presence to ignite engagement and stay in tune with your clients. Stay active across all social media platforms by posting regular updates and new content. Seek client feedback and always respond to comments. Social media is also the best place to leverage social proof, so go ahead and post client testimonials and case studies. Lastly, don’t forget to use hashtags to reach audiences beyond your current following.
Hire the right people
Hiring the right people is one of the first steps to becoming a business owner. You need to expand your team not only to accommodate more clients and improve your offerings but also because you’ll need their expertise with certain aspects of your business. For your website alone, you’ll need at least a copywriter, a graphic designer, and a developer.
A new business can’t afford a lot of trial and error when it comes to its staff. Therefore, hiring a few freelancers is a flexible option. It gives you time to test the waters and see how your business goes before moving on to hiring in-house employees. What’s more, your employees are your most valuable asset, so you need to be sure about your choices. It might take a while to find the right fit, though. Be patient. Conduct several rounds of interviews and tests before settling on the perfect candidate.
Forget your old ways
Have you ever thought of what your typical workday will look like? On a day-to-day basis, you’ll be doing a little of everything: accounting, marketing, HR management, and administrative work. You’ll also be streamlining processes and building strategic plans to expand your business. But what will hit you harder is that you’ll be doing less of what you love the most: your actual job.
Also, get used to the fact that you’re no longer representing yourself, but a team, no matter how small that team might initially be. At this point, client expectations are higher, and your one-to-one interactions are pivotal. So, although this is a controversial issue, most will argue that clients expect you to show up in professional attire, not in your relaxed jeans and a ten-year-old T-shirt. Then again, that depends on the demographics of your target market.
The way you negotiate with clients should also reflect how your services have reached a new level. For example, your offers should be more detailed and presented in a professional way, like in PowerPoint slides.
No one intuitively knows how to start a business or how to run it successfully. You can always find an accountant, for instance, to help you out with tax regulations or a VA to carry out administrative work. The real challenge lies in managing people, whether you operate with in-house staff or remote workers. You’ll need to hone leadership skills like accountability, the ability to inspire and motivate, decision-making, and communication.
There are great online courses that can help you cultivate the personality traits you’re missing. Many new business owners also find inspiration and useful advice in books written by successful entrepreneurs. Likewise, others follow business gurus on social media. That could work for you too. But the best kind of support and spot-on advice will come from a mentor you know in person. Is there someone in your professional network that has already taken this step? Then don’t hesitate to reach out to them and seek their advice.
The steps to becoming a business owner should be slow and steady, but they must be taken with confidence. The only way to keep your head high is to change your attitude towards adversities and criticism. You will be trying new things and strategies, and some of them might not work the way you were hoping. Don’t let negative feedback or failures bring you down. Fix what needs to be fixed and move on. Mistakes will also be made, so better make your peace with them right now. Rather than beating yourself up (or worse, pointing fingers and placing the blame on your collaborators) accept them for what they are — valuable learning opportunities.
Measure customer profitability
One of the steps to starting your own business is to measure customer profitability. If you haven’t done so already as a freelancer, start looking closer into the revenue each client actually brings. You see, the time you spend on a client is often overlooked when you have a big paycheck coming in. But each client leaves less time available for other clients. In some cases, that translates into less profitability for your business.
Ask your team to use a time tracking platform to keep track of the time they spend on each client and tasks for each one of the services you provide. Is the time they spend on them proportionate to the amount your client is paying you? Do you make an actual profit from this client or are you just making ends meet? To increase your revenue, you can either upsell and offer them additional services or raise your rates.
If you’ve been able to come this far as a freelancer, there’s no reason why clients won’t keep coming in as you grow your business. This how-to start your business guide can come in quite handy to direct you in the right way. Just keep a level head, focus on continually improving your services, develop your skills as a team manager, and business success will follow.