In two years, I have founded two Public Relations (PR) firms in London, and it was a difficult journey. Recently my second PR firm, 11K Consulting, has been shortlisted for the New Consultancy of the Year by a prestigious industry award in the UK shortly after one year of operation.
Here are my thoughts on five mistakes to avoid when building your own firm, regardless of the industry you are in.
1) Don’t be too “me too”
Very often, companies fail because they are too general in their positioning or offering, and do not have a clear stance in the marketplace. Before starting a business, it is critical to know exactly why, what and how you are offering to your target customers.
Take my current company, 11K Consulting, as an example. There are already over 5,000 PR companies in the UK, but why would clients still need another PR company like us? At the outset, we set ourselves apart from other global or British PR players in the UK. We primarily focus on what we are great at, i.e. helping British companies reach their target customers in China and Asia and assisting Chinese companies to work effectively in the UK – which is unique in the UK market.
When starting up a new business, have a well-considered business plan. Do your market research. Be clear about what your business is all about from vision to offering.
2) Don’t be too humble
Because your firm is new, no one knows about it (yet). Don’t be too humble. Every entrepreneur needs to be his or her own brand ambassador. You need to shout about all the good things about your company and yourself. You need to tell people explicitly and continuously why you are great, not just good. You need to actively hunt for the right opportunities to establish your company’s and your own brand reputation.
When I first founded 11K Consulting in February 2015, we had zero clients to begin with, but quickly we won six lovely clients in the first six months. On reflection, I attributed this success to our trusted brand reputation among peers and prospects, despite the fact that we were brand new and small. We did that by being a regular speaker at relevant PR and business events, contributing quality articles about UK and China/Asia PR to relevant media, writing regular blogs on our website, and actively attending networking events every week.
Be your own advocate.
3) Don’t be too hardworking
Because it is your own business, there is always a tendency to work extremely or too hard to make it successful or profitable as quickly as possible. It is utterly true that hard work is a must to succeed in anything, whether you are working for a company or yourself.However, running a business is a long-term game, not a short-term splint. When I ran my first business, I gave 200% of my time into the business and dropped many other things in my life. But then I became tired too quickly. It was neither healthy nor sustainable.
When I started my second business, I changed my attitude. I still worked very hard, but at the same time I ensured to make time to continue my other interests in life, for example, going to my favourite Toastmasters (public speaking) meetings twice a month, go swimming, and writing my personal journals to keep in touch with my family and friends.
What I’ve learnt is that if we exhaust ourselves too fast right at the beginning, we won’t have the energy, space and focus we need for running a business in a long term. And so often, creativity and inspiration happen during out-of-office hours or outside of our usual office space.
Like anything else in life, running a sustainable, successful business is all about balance. Don’t work too hard.
4) Don’t be too selfish
Every business is about win-win partnership. If you want other people to help you succeed, you need to give first before expecting returns. Don’t be too selfish, pay forward.
When I first started my first business, I received lots of favours from my unofficial mentors, ex-colleagues and friends. They were generous in giving their advice and time without expecting anything in return.
From them, I learnt that I must not be selfish about my knowledge, expertise and time and must help others succeed too. By helping others succeed, I also built my personal reputation and showed my expertise. They then wanted to help me become successful too.
Be helpful. Be nice to people.
5) Don’t lose yourself
It is very tempting to accept every business, every customer who comes to you when you start a new firm. You want to get cash in as fast as possible, to prove things are working well. However, it is even more important that you don’t lose yourself and your values along the way.
When I started 11K Consulting, a private membership club who targeted investors asked me to be their PR advisor. On paper, it was a perfect client. However, soon I found out that the founders were a bit dishonest and I disagreed with how they found and treated their clients. After a few sleepless nights, I decided to end our contract immediately. It was a tough decision for me to turn money away, but I found that it was even tougher to ignore or even violate my own values, which were integrity and professionalism in this instance.
What I have learnt is that in business (and in life), likes attract likes. We tend to attract people who like us, including clients and business partners. So don’t lose yourself. Be yourself and you will naturally attract the right people you need to grow and sustain your business.
All in all, there are no secrets to running a successful start-up. The key is knowing what you want and go for it. Things won’t happen until you try, fail and rise from it.
Enjoy the entrepreneurial journey!