Lots of posts and books and blogs and courses and STUFF have been written about start-ups and about starting a new business. But what about when that phase is over? Some people, especially, it seems, in the technology sector, like to bounce from start-up to start-up, selling the business on or changing it in some way as soon as it has settled down. But what if you’re in the one business for the long run? How do you tell when you’ve moved from the start-up phase to running a mature business?
What is it like running a start-up business?
In my experience, the first few years of running your own business are characterised by
- Uncertainty – will I get customers, will I keep customers, where will my next customers come from
- Active marketing – trying different marketing methods, signing up for directory websites, trying some adverts
- Overwork – working all the hours there are for clients who need everything now! It’s also possible that you’re working at a day job while developing the business on the side
- Underpay – thinking “can I actually charge for this? That much? Really?
- Constant change – changing strategy, changing business model, changing clients, changing business cards
- A change in lifestyle and your social life – especially if this is your first start-up, you’ll disappear from your friendship groups, become invisible to your family, and probably start hanging out with new business chums as well
What is it like running a mature business?
I’m in Libro’s fifth year now, and things are markedly different from when I started. I know a few people who are just starting out, which helps me remember what it was like and see the differences. Here’s what it’s like once you’re up and running
- Certainty – much fewer worries about where customers are coming from; working with regulars who you know well, knowing their payment schedules and how they operate
- Less marketing – many more jobs will be coming from repeat clients and recommendations, so marketing is more about brand awareness and making sure that people know you’re there, rather than grasping for new clients all the time
- Steady work – you have reclaimed your evenings and weekends
- Steady pay – you have worked up your rates of pay to industry standards, and are confident that what you do is worth what you charge for it (however, you might be on tax payment on account if you’re in the UK, which can be a slightly tricky transition)
- Less change – while you still check for return on investment, buy the new technology you need to run your business and keep up with your personal development, things should be more stable, changing when you choose to change them
- You get your life back – you can go back to your friends and family, but you also have a peer group of people in your industry who you can use as a mutual support group
How do you get from start-up to mature business?
These are some things that I’ve done – what do you think are the key processes in this move?
- Outsource some functions of the business – design and accountancy are key ones that I’ve done, but you might go ahead and outsource all of your admin functions
- Optimise your customer base (I’ve written about this in more detail here) so you have good, reliable, regular customers who bring in a good rate of return
- Organise your work so that most of it comes from regulars who book it in advance, and have a system to record what you’ve got booked in so you can fit new work around it (I use a simple Gantt chart)
- Turn away work and recommend it on rather than taking on anything and everything
- Build a good network of peers who you can pass work to and from whom you can get advice and support or just a laugh or a rant occasionally (especially important if you work on your own)
Giving something back
When I was talking about this article on social media, someone pointed out that another feature of a mature business is that you find yourself advising people on how to do it! True indeed – from my experience …
- I wrote a post on how to become a proofreader which ended up as a whole careers section on my website, because so many people were asking me how to do it
- I wrote a book on my first year as a full-time self-employed business person
- I share the knowledge I’ve gained of social media by volunteering at the Social Media Surgeries
- I am informally mentoring a few colleagues through their first years as self-employed editors
And that’s one of the main benefits of running a mature business for me.
Who are you calling mature?
I’m starting to plan my new book at the moment. Working title: “Who are you calling mature? Running a successful business after the start-up stage”. What do you think of the title? Do you think this would be a useful addition to the millions of business books that are out there?
Do pop a comment on this post if you have anything to say about that or any of the points I’ve raised above – I always love hearing from my readers!
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