August 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of Mind Your Own Business. It’s not every day that your “baby” turns ten, so I am super excited about it. My team and I are not only celebrating the fact that we have been in business for a decade, but we are also thriving!
Initially, my business model was for a Virtual Assistant. As a sole proprietor, I was responsible for a wide range of office administration services. Before I knew it, I was receiving an increasing number of requests for bookkeeping and website design, prompting me to hire my first employee. The requests kept coming in, so I hired my second employee and continued to grow. As of today, we total nine!
As the years passed, the services my customers need have also evolved and changed. Mind Your Own Business Inc. now offers bookkeeping, social media, and website design. So, how did we get here? I believe there are some lessons worth sharing about my ten-year journey. Prepare yourself for the good, the bad… and the ugly!
Getting started, I feel truly fortunate to have connected with Anderson & Associates whose business connected service providers with companies looking for the services I offered. Inquiries were also brought to my door by word-of-mouth recommendations from friendly, supportive colleagues. My circle began to expand after joining various networking groups, which brought together like-minded entrepreneurs at various stages of their businesses. Being a member of the London Chamber of Commerce also offered opportunities to meet and network with other local business leaders, as well as making possible a fantastic group benefits plan for our employees. Additionally, it was invaluable to work with the Small Business Centre to develop my business plan, which eventually qualified me for government funding to start my company. Next, I commissioned a brilliant graphic artist who helped me develop my logo and branding, which was money well spent.
As a team player, I love having and being part of a team. I absolutely love being a part of the dreams of other entrepreneurs and business leaders as we collaborate and work together to deliver excellent service. Through these past ten years, I have met and worked with so many people who have not only inspired me, but also became friends. Through my volunteer work on fundraising committees, I had the opportunity to meet and work with seasoned executives who mentored me as I progressed along my path.
And I certainly could not have done all of it without the support of my family. I can’t thank my husband enough for his encouragement and assistance along the way. When I needed extra hands on deck ten years ago, my daughter and her (then) boyfriend worked on contract. Today, that boyfriend is my son-in-law and my General Manager, and my daughter is the Social Media Manager.
Along with the good times, there are, unfortunately, a lot of tough times. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Every business owner has at least one horror story to tell. Here is one I will never forget.
I can’t tell you how shocked I was the first time a new client demanded “emergency” service for a 20-hour job. I dropped everything to finish it, but she refused to pay. This lady had been referred by a trusted friend, but after the refusal to pay, I learned that this was a common tactic for this lady, who refused to pay for everything from hair styling to spa services to business services. She was my first client to go to a collection agency, and I was eventually forced to accept only a percentage of the total amount owed. Despite upfront quotes and new client agreements, I have unfortunately had to use the services of this collection agency several more times over the years since some people simply do not pay their bills.
One thing I have learned the hard way over time is that there will always be arrogant and condescending people who have decided that my services are of lower status in comparison to their lofty height of financial success. I keep in mind, however, that being talked down to says more about their character than it does about my services! Great business leaders always recognize, respect, and value their support staff, whether they are in-house or outsourced.
Another tough lesson I have learned is to be wary of the people who call and start a conversation with, “I don’t want to pay you for this call, but as a friend, I thought you could help me brainstorm my marketing ideas because you’re so good at it.” Promises of lunch or some minor reward for my contribution were frequently broken, but one favour turned into expecting another and another and so on. Master manipulators are adept at their games, and sadly they walk among us.
And finally, there’s the ugly. I consider myself an optimist, and always look for the best in people. As such, I strongly wish to keep the “ugly” to a minimum. But when reviewing this first decade of my business, I must acknowledge its presence as well. So here we go.
At the top of my ugly list is firing clients. Sleepless nights are preceded by several drafts of the break-up letter because the original cathartic script cannot be used! However, when a ‘bad client’ exhausts my tolerance and brings toxic negativity into my business or personal life, it becomes necessary – albeit difficult – to break up. It has happened a few times over the past ten years, and in each case, it was the best possible outcome. When doors closed, windows opened, and along with the fresh air, my entire teams’ attitudes were refreshed and renewed in preparation for new clients.
Wrapping It Up (With a Bow!)
So, there you have it – the good, the bad and the ugly! Overall, the decade has brought me more joy than I could have imagined, and I am looking forward to the future.
As I wrap up this part of my celebration, I wish to share my best advice with you. These tips have served me well, and I hope they will be helpful for you, too — whether you are just starting out as a new business owner, or you’ve been in business for over ten years!
- Get signed contracts — even though you have integrity, your word is golden, and you think you don’t need them, you do. Handshakes and agreements are lost in the wind when the client won’t pay.
- Make sure you have enough – and even extra – cash on hand to get started. Limited cashflow can create a nightmare.
- Check references thoroughly before hiring someone.
- Keep expenses under control – don’t waste your money on cool “toys”, shiny objects, or coloured paper clips. Don’t be cheap, just mindful.
- Build and expand slowly and with a plan so you can stay away from high interest debt as you build your company.
- Keep your bookkeeping up-to-date and government filings on time.
- Have an excellent accountant to do your taxes and who will properly advise you.
- Be consistent with your branding and messaging.
- Have a business coach and/or mentor.
- Answer your phone, respond to emails, and be available to your customers.
- If you have a big ego – park it at the door. It’s a repellent.