How do you know that you’re running a mature business?

21 Oct

invoiceLots 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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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Business, New skills, Organisation


Tags: , ,

16 responses to “How do you know that you’re running a mature business?

  1. Kate Millin

    October 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

    This is really helpful – especially as I am in the start up phase. It is great to know that others go through the same issues and that, with perseverance, things will be better in the long run.


    • Liz at Libro

      October 21, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Thanks for your comment, Kate. I don’t think people talk so much about the mature stage, do they, but it is there, and can be reached!


  2. Liz at Libro

    October 21, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Coment from Eva at “A lovely article, Liz. You’re right, most articles focus on the start-up component, so you’ve filled a void with this perspective. I love the way you paralleled the start-up business with the mature business, and went on to provide tips on how to get to a mature business stage.”


    • Liz at Libro

      October 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      Thank you very much for your comment, Eva, and I’m glad I have found a niche to explore here!


  3. Laura Ripper

    October 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Looking forward to your book! Like Kate, it’s good to know that some of the niggly and perhaps time-consuming things will get better with time and effort. It’s good to know that my family and friends might see me again one day!


    • Liz at Libro

      October 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Laura – yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and watch out for more posts on streamlining admin and emails soon!


  4. Diane Will

    October 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Good luck with your new book Liz.


    • Liz at Libro

      October 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Thank you, Diane – there’s a fair way to go but it should be out in the New Year …


  5. Carolyn

    October 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Great blog and I’m sure many small businesses can relate to this. As we sell wedding rings our customers tend to be one-off customers unless they come back for an eternity ring so or marketing has to be fairly continuous. Love the title for your next book.


    • Liz at Libro

      October 21, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      Ah – thanks for the interesting alternative viewpoint from someone with a very different business model. I’m guessing that you do get a lot of referrals and recommendations from previous happy customers, however?


      • Carolyn

        October 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm

        We do indeed.


        • Liz Broomfield

          October 22, 2013 at 5:49 am

          Excellent – so that part of the list still comes into play, then!


  6. tobintouch

    October 23, 2013 at 5:05 am

    Great post – and I would love to read your book on running a mature editorial business. I’m particularly interested in how to find a good balance between my billable hours and the time I spend on admin tasks and those “giving back” type of activities. I’m at the stage where I want to be more involved in my professional community but can’t seem to make time…


    • Liz Broomfield

      October 23, 2013 at 5:14 am

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad to see my planned book is proving interesting – it will be more general than just looking at editing work, but of course will be applicable. The balance thing is tricky – it’s useful to record time spent doing non-billable work and looking at my resources on outsourcing to see whether it’s worth having someone else do some of those tasks …


  7. Michele DeFilippo

    October 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Interesting post. It seems to me that editorial and design businesses focused on book publishing would be in perpetual start-up mode. Deciding whether that is what you want becomes a useful exercise.


    • Liz at Libro

      October 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure that I agree (although it’s hard to know without knowing the specific concept) – for example, I am always working on new publications, articles, theses, books, etc., but have a set of regular clients and a full roster which means that I consider myself to be in the start-up phase. You can be regularly designing new books and editing them, innovating and inventing, but you’re not starting your business from scratch constantly or rebuilding your administrative systems each time, if that makes sense? Also, you’re always going to be adding new clients to the stable, of course, but you are typically going to get them through word of mouth or repeat business, rather than reinventing your customer base every time.



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