Today we’re saying hello again to Carl Nixon, my very first interviewee when I started this series back in summer 2011! In our last update, Carl had plans for some new services: ’”I’m moving the business from providing bespoke services to providing off the shelf solutions such as accounts packages. This will mean a totally different business model, but we have already struck partnership deals to bring in outside expertise”. What happened next?
Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
In a word, no. I was hoping to have a range of off the shelf products ready to sell by now, however the bespoke side of the business has been so busy, there have not been enough hours in the day to develop the “off the shelf” products. The project is far from shelved and work continues on the products.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I’m no longer a part of the face-to-face networking scene and I have withdrawn from a couple of business forums I was a member of. Networking stopped working for me a fair time ago and I realised I was in it more for the social and support side rather than the getting and sharing of business. I’m not anti-networking and I still recommend that start-ups should at least try it, it’s just no longer a good fit for my business. All of my effort is now focused in and around LinkedIn, which is producing some great results for us.
Our core services have remained constant, which appears to be great news to our clients as we are getting a higher percentage of referrals. Although the bespoke side of the business is up this year, I do it see it as bit of a risk, as it is something that can dry up quickly, so that is something I need to sort out ASAP.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
So much this year, but here are the main three.
Check out the experience of the people giving you advice – several times this year I have been given advice on how to run and market my business from people who have full-time jobs and part-time businesses. Although the advice is given with the best intention, it is obvious that they have not walked the walk.
Hang out with the big boys – One of the problems I found with the networking scene was that I found myself hanging out with people with small businesses and even part-time businesses. There is nothing wrong with that, as there is some great support to be had in that environment. On LinkedIn I specifically picked groups frequented by larger companies and I joined the local Chamber of Commerce. These venues are stuffed full of people who have loads of experience and have really walked the walk before. Surrounding yourself with people like this really changes the way you think and can be very uplifting and encouraging.
Oranges are not the only fruit – We’ve all been told at some point that we must be mad not to do X, Y & Z in our businesses: well, after quitting networking, I got this by the bucketful. People who I had never met were messaging me to tell me how mad I was. I can understand that if a particular marketing channel works for someone they will want to shout about it, however there are plenty of people who will claim their preferred method is the ONLY method. The truth is that it is not, it is just one of many marketing channels available out there. I tend to shut these people out now; however I still try to understand why something works well or doesn’t work for other people. Knowledge is always good.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Keep learning – if you’re not learning anything new, you are standing still. If you are standing still, you will be overtaken.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time.
I think it is going to be a year of change for us for a couple of reasons.
First of all we have the business need to move away from our reliance on our bespoke work. Secondly we have the move away from desktop PCs and laptops towards tablets – this means less and less reliance on Excel and a divergence into things like Google Docs. While we have no problems programming Google Docs, it is not a platform on which we can copy protect our work.
At the moment, my partner and I are looking at a number of revenue streams not directly related to spreadsheets, so this year is very much an open book.
This was very interesting for me to read, because without really realising it, I, too, have moved away from specific business networking and especially forums. I’m just too busy with work and blogging and networking with peers and colleagues to interface with the forums much any more. Like Carl’s, my business is now fairly mature (we set up at about the same time), and I’m relying on referrals and repeat custom rather than scrabbling around establishing myself and finding out how to do things. I never stop learning, of course, but the sources of your knowledge and learning do change as business progresses. I’ll look forward to hearing about Carl’s next year with great interest!
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.