Starting your first business is like learning a new language

Starting your first business is like learning a new language. You progress quickly and only then do you realise you know very little. But that doesn’t mean you should stop learning, stop progressing, because when you get to a point when you can converse with clients and business partners, nothing feels better.

Attending holiday-language lessons gets you only so far, but it’s not until you get into a tricky situation do you realise you don’t have any of the required vocabulary to converse properly. You have a choice at this point: ask someone around you who can translate for you or lose out on what you really want to say.

Running a business is very similar. You progress so quickly, registering your company, getting your first client, a whole world of possibilities seem open to you. Then, suddenly, you are faced with accounting, bureaucracy and legal issues and you hit a brick wall. If you don’t ask for help, you’re likely to get it wrong.

When I first started my business, I was shy to ask for help. I wanted to learn and understand everything for myself to maintain ultimate control. After all, a business is like your baby, you want to help it grow, nurture it, but you always want to protect it too. I quickly realised that in order to protect my company, I sometimes needed to ask for help.

Making mistakes can sometimes cost you dearly, but you will always learn from them. Surround yourself with people who know what they’re talking about and never be afraid of embarrassing yourself. (S)he who dares, wins.

My top tips for learning to run your business fluently

– Let people (including clients) know you are just a learner. This might sound totally against everything you think you should do, but believe it or not I got my first client by saying, “Hey, never done this before. New company, want to give us a go?” and landed a contract 15 times the capital I started the company with…

– Find a mentor. Search Google for local mentor groups. Your local authority will probably have a few links too. Otherwise search further afield via the internet. Even a Skype or Email pen-friend is better than nothing. Someone you can bounce ideas off and someone who has done it before.

 Join a business community. There are startup communities popping up everywhere. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from chatting to a stranger over a beer in a local pub. I’ve pivoted entire sections of my business just from a single conversation that opened my eyes.

Look for free workshops. HMRC run them. Your bank will offer them too. Your local authority may also run events. They’ll help you in the beginning with tax returns and legal advice. You’ll quickly outgrow them, but they make a great starting point.

– Choose the right tools. No matter your business, some tools just make work so much easier. Try Trello for project management or reminder lists and Evernote or Google Drive for storing and scanning important documents. It really depends on your business, but there’s lots out there that can make your life a whole lot easier.

– Cheat. Some tools are just too good to be true. My favourite cheat is business accounting software FreeAgent, which makes all your invoicing and accounting a right doddle. Highly recommended.

– Practice makes perfect. Just like learning a real language, the more opportunity you get to practice, the better you will be. Also just like learning a language, make mistakes and you’ll never make them again. It’s absolutely fine to get things wrong once in a while and, so long as you’re honest, most, including the tax man, will forgive you.

In bocca al lupo!

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