27th July, 2020
Taking a career-worth of experience in business development and starting a new operation with it was to be an exciting new challenge. Then COVID-19 hit, Ben Paul writes.
Starting a new business in any climate is going to be daunting. But nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without clearing a few hurdles and a new business starter must aim to clear them all.
Now, the starting a business journey is complicated by the events of 2020 and related shifts in the economic and social outlook. What it has led to is an increase in businesses and sole traders emerging from the various different stages of lockdown, seeking to find prosperity in the much-talked-about gig economy.
With this backdrop in mind, I’d like to share my own warts-and-all story, tracing the path of The BD Ladder, which I founded to offer practical business development, sales and marketing consultancy services to B2B service providers.
One thing is for sure. Like any new business owner, I’m bound to make some mistakes along the way, and I plan to share these with you, so you can try to avoid them. I’ll also share what’s worked well for me along each step of the way.
In this article, I’ll cover the event leading up to founding The BD Ladder, as well as the early stages of getting the ball rolling. I’m sure it will echo the experiences of anyone who has recently struck out on their own in any kind of freelance or consulting capacity.
To be completely transparent, starting a business had been in my mind before I resigned from what was a very secure and well-paid role back at the start of the year. So, while I wasn’t a COVID-19 workforce casualty, circumstances meant that, by the time I left previous my role, it was the end of the first week in May.
I was starting out well and truly in lockdown– Level 1, here in New Zealand — something I hadn’t even thought to plan for.
I knew that I wanted to follow my passion and provide practical business development, sales and marketing consultancy services to B2B service providers. I wanted to run an operation that could have a direct impact on increasing client revenue and profits. That’s my ‘why’, and my mission for The BD Ladder.
Whatever your business, defining your mission is a sensible early (if not first) step to take. It will help you focus when you sit at your home office and try to figure out what to do next.
Starting a business can be difficult in the first few days, especially as if you have no clients and no clear daily schedule to follow. Everything rests on just one person’s shoulders, and yes, that’s you. Which leads me to one of the strange quirks of having started in lockdown
My background is predominantly in sales. So my first instinct when starting a business is to get out there and make some meetings. Of course, you can’t do that with a lockdown in place. Instead, I really thought not just about my basic business plan, but other tasks that needed to be done.
I think, and hope, when starting up as a sole trader or new business, most people would begin with a simple business plan. If you’re reading this now and don’t have one, it’s certainly not too late. You can download this template and get cracking.
But, there’s a lot more that needs to be done. I thought about my marketing plan and how that would need to be ready to go from day one, and how it would need to work online. Social networking and social selling was clearly going to be the starting point for the new business.
Despite working in marketing for many years and holding qualifications in this field, I’ve never built a website from scratch. The joys of the corporate environment meant that I could employ agencies to do that. Yes, I’ve helped ideate, create and post content for many websites, but I’ve never built one from the ground up.
With time on my hands (you can only go for a run or walk the dog so many times a day), I decided to give simple web design and development a go. This was a cost saving, but I also acquired and improved a lot of skills. I watched endless YouTube videos trying to solve some issue or other, but overall, I loved doing it and I’m proud of the result.
Building a DIY website saved me some much-needed cash and allowed me to give my clients some high-level advice on their own website strategies. (No, I’m not offering to build websites for them for them, I’ll leave that to the professionals.)
Quick tip: If you’re also looking to save money and build your own website, I recommend considering a WordPress option. They’re relatively easy to set up and will work well with blogs and most content marketing strategies you might embark on. Downloading the Yoast plug-in is free and, if correctly configured, will get your pages ranked on Google.
The next part of my plan was to decide which tasks I was best spending my time on and which ones sat more naturally with my co-owner, who also happens to be my wife, Hayley. Hayley decided to take on all the administration and running of the accounts for the business.
It seems quite daunting to do your own accounts but it’s relatively simple as we build the business and use the cash-accounting method. We use MYOB Essentials and have already completed and filed our first GST return using the software. The online learning made this easy enough to do.
This ability to delegate a core business function in such a way is a godsend for me. As the main work winner and service deliverer in the business, it means I don’t have to spend time doing accounts — a task I would no doubt put off until the last minute. That’s human nature — we all delay the things we don’t want to do. If this is you, then look at getting the right person to outsource to.
What I would recommend is write a list of the tasks you excel at, and those you don’t. As your revenue grows, have a plan of who you can offload those tasks to externally. It may cost you some money, but it will save you time to do what you do best.
As expected, starting a new business venture in lockdown had some positives and some negatives. But overall, I couldn’t be happier and I’m cautiously optimistic about the future, I hope you are too.
In the next article Ben Paul will share his basic plans and startup strategies for sole traders and SMEs to get started with, and win those first important clients. In the meantime, you can sign up to our handy email course on designing a business plan today.