So, on Saturday 6th June 2020 I completed my first year in business. So since then, amongst other things (full roast beef dinner with my parents!) I have been writing a blog on my first year in business. I think this is version number 6.
My journey started in March 2019 when my employer and I parted ways. I had been working 80-hour weeks. I had two team members, systems that I had been improving since I joined and managers that did disagree with me, but we all learnt to compromise. Now with only 3 of us in HR, I was responsible for the team, the systems we used, the budget, the apprenticeship levy and just about anything that could be fitted into an HR box along with circa 400 staff. It is safe to say, I was exhausted from almost two years of dealing with all of this. And so, my journey had a beginning.
The first step was to support my mental health. I took a week to relax, I caught up on my reading, I spent time with my horse and slept. As the week progressed, I realised just how exhausted I was. If I was going to work those hours, then it would be for myself.
Pretty much since 2009, my career in HR had been that of an interim contractor. A firefighter if you like. I took on contracts to resolve issues. At the start a lot of that was redundancy work, then followed maternity cover contracts and yet more redundancy work. Those contracts helped me see the best and the worst that HR has to operate with. I worked in a variety of sectors, I learnt to start delivering quite quickly – literally hitting the ground running. Yet I wanted to help businesses really understand what benefit they could get from their HR team. I decided that I would set up my own business and so began my first year in business.
My second step, which was harder, was to make a claim for Universal Credit and the New Enterprise Allowance scheme. It took a few meetings to get the local jobcentre to realise I was serious about setting up and getting them to refer me for the support that was available.
The New Enterprise Allowance Scheme
I attended an initial presentation and was then on the fast track to writing my business plan, cash flow forecasts and to attend some seminars. I also found and attended some funded start-up courses from my local Chamber of Commerce. My business mentor supported me in writing my business plan and the cash flow forecast that needed to accompany it. It is one thing to make a decision, it is quite another to write a cash flow and a business plan that cover the first year in business.
Starting to Trade
Once I had everything in place and the company that were supporting me had signed off on my business plan and cash flow forecast for the first year, I began to trade. That was 6th June 2019. I was fortunate that through my connections I had already gained my first client and a large piece of work. They are still my client to this day.
I arranged for a website to be built, created a page on Facebook, a business page on LinkedIn and a Twitter account. I then started posting about the business. In the beginning, I’ll admit it wasn’t great. But I was trying. My first couple of months came and went. I went to various networking events thinking I would get sales. But in reality, sales come from building relationships and I hadn’t realised this. I eventually found some networking groups that work for me (I went so far as to buy the franchise for my local city I liked one that much!).
Becoming a Limited Company
In September 2019 I made the leap to go from sole trader to a limited company. Being a limited company comes with some more requirements than a sole trader, but my personal and business finances are kept separate. From there, I seemed to treat the business as a business – I had been “playing” at being in business before then. I went to more networking, chased the website to be built (it arrived in November) and started building relationships. With those relationships came work.
I started partnering with other businesses that could help me. First, it was Breathe HR, a cloud-based HR system designed for the SME market. Then shortly after came Hireful (then trading as EasyWeb). I use their applicant tracking system with my clients and it links into Breathe HR so a streamlined process for the successful applicant. Much later, I joined up with Improve Online. A training platform for the SME market. With all three businesses, my business is a partner of their programmes. Their offerings become part of my business offering and so I can add much more value to my clients.
Using my partner’s software, I gained a few more clients and have been looking after them ever since.
My First Year…
My first year in business has been hard. I’ve had no guaranteed income, worked those same 80-hour weeks, learnt how to (and how not to) market the business on social media. I have built relationships with suppliers. I am building a network of businesses that I know and trust. If someone comes to me asking if I know someone then chances are that I do. Where I can, I refer people to others in my network. This is even more powerful when I have worked with another business as it comes with me, the owner of my business, saying I recommend this business.
I now work with several clients, with a range of employee numbers and the thing that has helped me most, after building those relationships is that I take the time to understand their business. I don’t offer out of the box advice, I consider what is the right avenue for the business. The business owners I work with are glad of this. Some of my competitors are large corporate businesses. They come with larger fees than I come with and a large notice period to stop using their services. Yet their advice is not always tailored to the business.
I pride myself that in my business I want to learn the business that is my client, the people within that business and offer advice that is practical for them.
My first year in business has been hard. But it has also had some amazing rewards.
As for what is next, I shall find the business plan and cashflow forecast I wrote for my first year in business, take a look at how I did then plan for my second year.