Growing your Small Business
Growing your small business
I’ve been a resident of the Walton/Hersham area for ten years and a business owner for almost two years. As someone who started their own business here, and who sees new small businesses springing up all the time, I wanted to offer some practical and hopefully helpful tips for what people hoping to start a new business can do to get their business ideas off the ground.
When I had my first child back in 2007, I returned to my career as a PR specialist, and indeed after the birth of my second child in 2009. But by the time my eldest son started school, like many other working parents, I found myself in a virtual tug of war, as I juggled the intensive demands of office life with the equally intensive demands of school life. Something had to give. My initial thoughts went to giving up work and staying at home, but, like so many of my peers in the local area, I had many years of skills and experience which I didn’t want to waste. And so my business, Light Switch PR, was born.
As I worked through the early weeks and months of the business, wondering how I would adjust to this more solitary life outside the corporate world, I realised I was far from being alone. In fact, friends and acquaintances all around me were going through similar life changes, with many of them embarking on the new adventures of running their own businesses. And it’s a diverse collection – from people using existing skillsets to establish brand marketing consultancies, life coaching classes, psychotherapy practices and beauty services, to those retraining entirely in yoga, Pilates and interior design. The talent pool being created when women leave the workplace to start families is immense.
One thing that unites us all is our desire to operate professionally and our commitment to earnestly grow our businesses in a way in which complements our family lives.
So for anyone who is thinking of going it alone or has recently done so, how can you go about putting your business on the map?
Look for free webinars or local seminars about how to best utilise these channels and learn other helpful business skills. The Digital Work Hub in the centre of Walton-on-Thames offers a wide variety of workshops, seminars and training events to help small businesses starting up in the area. They also have a neat co-working space where freelancers, home workers and small/micro business owners bring their laptops and can work, chat and collaborate with other small business owners.
Spread the word free of charge
Setting your business up on social media is a no brainer. Before we had Facebook, Twitter and the like, businesses either had to rely on costly advertising to spread the word, or a smaller but still budget-reliant PR campaign. But today there are so many communication channels available (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram to name but a few), which will allow you to start talking to potential customers and build a strong following for your business. Of course, implementing strong sustained marketing and PR plans will be vital as you seek to further grow your business, but in the early days social media can be a great help in getting you started.
Networking in any business is vital, but for those starting up on their own, networking can be a really valuable way to connect with like-minded people in the local area, and find a cost-effective way to share resources.
When I first launched my business, I didn’t have the budget to invest in a comprehensive set of corporate photos. But thanks to a former colleague with a passion for amateur photography, I was able to put together a brilliant set of pictures for my website in exchange for a slap up meal cooked by my own fair hand.
Recently I needed legal advice and was able to call upon a fantastic local solicitor I’d met over 18 months earlier at a local networking event for women in business called Fabulous Women. As I’m not naming her, I hope she won’t mind me mentioning that because we’d met, she kindly offered her time for free, which was a huge help. Sending a gift box of Green & Black’s chocolate was a small price to pay for some really valuable advice.
A fellow PR I met poolside at my son’s swimming lessons provides a great sounding board when we run into each other from time to time at the gym.
I’ve also offered friends free PR and social media advice for their own businesses or helped to draft press releases or articles for them when they’ve needed it. What goes around comes around as they say and it never hurts to pay it forward.
Vary your ‘office’
When I set up my PR business, I did create a well kitted out home office to operate from, but the beauty of running your own business I realised (it took me a while, I was quite institutionalised after years of working in big companies), was that you didn’t need to sit at the same desk from 9-5. You can work wherever and whenever you want. When I’m not meeting with clients, I find it liberating and inspiring to change the view I have when I work. Locals will know that there is a plethora of coffee shops in the area, most of them with good coffee, free Wi-Fi and a fair scattering of plugs to power your laptop. One of the things I love most about working on the move in the local area is that you get to know a lot of people on your travels and you feel as though you’re part of a strong and friendly community, not unlike when you work as part of a bigger company.
Have faith and have fun
When I first launched Light Switch, the many things I didn’t know about running a business daunted me. But I soon realised that help could be found in many different ways and whilst it may not always be smooth sailing, the ship’s steering wheel is in your hands. It’s exciting to make plans for the business you have developed and grown so have faith in yourself and remember what brought you to this point.
Today I am lucky to be working with a broad spectrum of interesting clients, using my existing skills and developing new ones all the time. And when I have the opportunity to be around for my children and attend their school events without any added stress, I never forget to smell the roses.