3 secrets on how to stay afloat in business: for small business owners

Being an entrepreneur is no walk in the park. Especially if it’s a small business and you are doing it pretty much by yourself. It’s hard, plain hard. More so if you are in the creative business. You not only have to keep being creative and excel at your craft you also have to run the business which needs an entirely different qualification. You wear multiple hats: creative, business entrepreneur, marketer, networker, admin, designer, blogger, social media manager to name just a few.

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

Yes you can outsource. But outsourcing comes at a cost for small businesses and it may only be possible to outsource one or two things.

I never ever dreamed of being a business woman. Never. Growing up, I saw how tough self-employment was and I decided I would be an employee for the rest of my life….which I did become until a decade ago. I had a good regular income as a lecturer. The job gave me a good pension scheme, a great degree of security, sick pay, maternity pay, long paid holidays and no work hassles at outside the office bar the few times I had to take some marking home.

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

Running your own business could not be more different. It can be all-consuming. Boundaries are a challenge to create and follow. Enter children and running a business becomes twice the monster that it already is. It is exhausting.

I’ve never been fortunate enough to have a nanny for my kids or put my kids in daycare / nursery. It had always been a juggling act, with the support of my husband, to do everything: laundry, food, tidying, shopping, carting the kids everywhere. This was our choice under the circumstances we were in. The only outsourcing I allowed myself was a cleaner and that to this day is an enormous help.

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

Today’s post was spurred on by a friend who asked me how I started my business and the secret to maintaining it.

Here are my 3 secrets on how to stay afloat in business

1. Customer service is key

Always on the forefront on my mind despite all the juggling act is this: customer service. Making my clients happy. Under-promise and over-deliver. Always. If you promised to get back to them in 2 weeks, get back to them in a week. Be polite and respectful even at times when you are really cross or deeply hurt. Sleep on it before writing an email after a huge disappointment. Be professional in all your communication. Smile when you talk on the phone to a client – your smile can be heard!

If you have promised it, do it. If you’re not sure you can do it, then don’t promise it. Ever.
It may take some sacrifices but word of honour is paramount. It’s difficult to regain people’s trust once it’s broken, let alone precious clients your business is dependent on.

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

2. Value your time and worth

It took me a long time to learn this. I was ignorant of how to run a business; it had landed on my lap when I was paid for a session and so it had to be legit from then on. I started out doing packages for £80.

The shoot normally lasted 2 hours and the editing would take me several more hours. Include travel time and admin that took me easily up to 10 hours. I included high-res digitals on a CD and slideshow for free too! Add on postage and packaging and travel fares…I was earning the whopping figure of £5 per hour.

We haven’t even touched the issue of equipment costs and computers etc – that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hard costs. And as a self-employed entrepreneur there are no holiday pays and no pension schemes and you have to keep contributing to National Insurance. How about insurances for home office, equipment, location shoots, third party liabilities… the list goes on. And I am not even paying for a separate studio!

The absolute and worst thing that caused more pain than the lack of profit was the feeling of being devalued. Not by anyone but by myself. I felt worthless, burning out very quickly before I even got lift-off. Why did I leave a job that earned me 8 times over with no hassles and no equipment to maintain and upgrade?

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

No amount of praise on social media or clients telling me how happy they were with my photos {although that always cheered me up} repaired my already demolished self-worth.

I went on courses, both creative and business. It took a few courses before I was convinced of my worth {learning never stops, to this day I am still on courses}. It was a hard climb upwards starting from a very low price point and a non-existent self-worth. Eight years of higher education – getting a BA, MA and Postgraduate before embarking into business seemed like a complete other life, a total stranger.

Over time I slowly raised my prices to cover the hours I put in. I have got immensely better with the quality of my work and have grown in my confidence as a photographer. I have also added loads more value to my services. My clients remain happy.

But what was the most important lesson I learned? I felt my clients value me and my work. Why? Because I learned to value myself.

If you don’t value yourself properly, your clients never will.

secrets on how to stay afloat in business lily sawyer photo

3. Know your “why”

You may think this should be number one on the list. I agree; it should be. But in my experience it didn’t come first. I didn’t know “my why” because the business landed on my lap. I ran with it with one goal in mind – delighting my clients, and not much clarity on anything else.

This short TED talk by Simon Sinek explains the importance of knowing your “why”. He uses Apple as his example on this talk; you have to watch it. Continue reading below after you have watched the clip.

And so as a photographer, let me share with you my “why”.

Why: To inspire people to celebrate life meaningfully…
How: by capturing authentic memories
What: in creative photographs that tell their unique story beautifully.

If you are a small business owner reading this, or planning to start a business… take these 3 secrets to heart: know your why, keep your eye on your customers, and most of all value yourself.

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