7 pieces of advice for anyone starting their own business...from a guy who didn’t always follow them
Thinking of starting your own business? Looking to make yourself more productive? Or just want to get more done when working from home? Here are seven things that you need to know when getting started.
Some highlights of the last few years at Underdog Sports Marketing (pre-social distancing times of course)
Milestones are a funny thing. Many people take no notice of them, but I think it’s a good time to take stock. An opportunity to take a step back and see what you’ve achieved, what you’ve learnt and what might be ahead.
Three years ago, this week, I sat down with my wife and between us, we figured out that it was the right time to start my own business. It took lots of conversation, plenty of hypothesising and several bottles of wine but she gave me the courage to consider taking the plunge. It wasn’t until July of that year that Underdog came into existence.
But on the anniversary of the idea, I wanted to share seven bits of advice about starting your own business as someone who didn’t necessarily follow all of them. The things you wish people had told you beforehand, or perhaps the things you wish you’d have listened to.
Have a founding client, or rather, have the right founding client. I definitely did this the hard way. Not only did Underdog not have a client to start with, I also made the decision not to work with bookmakers, one of the biggest spenders in the sports marketing industry. But it is about having the right client on board. Someone who shares common values and knows the way you’ll work together. You won’t get everything right the first time round, so having a client that is understanding will put you in good stead. Since the early days, we’ve been fortunate to work with some great sports clubs and fantastic brands.
Networking really does pay dividends. The thought of being in a stuffy hotel exhibition room handing over business cards to photocopy salesmen didn’t really fill me with excitement. But the truth is that networking isn’t like that anymore. Find the right events, go with a listening mindset and talk to as many people as you can. The industry is full of talented people who are there to make connections just like you are. As a result of networking, we’ve not only generated leads and business but have also forged partnerships with agencies and freelancers from across the whole industry, meaning we can take on much bigger projects and still deliver great results.
Teach yourself things you didn’t think you could do. There will be times when you’ve got to learn how to do something because there’s no one else to do it. This could be an advanced area of marketing but it could be wrestling with email servers. Lean on those who can teach you, sign up for different courses and go into things with an open mind. I’ve been amazed at the difference having a positive mindset can achieve, something that my old colleagues will tell you I didn’t always have. Starting from a default position of ‘saying yes’ can get you into interesting conversations. Even if you end up dealing with a time-waster, you can nip it in the bud at that point. Whilst approaching with a cynical mentality blocks lots of opportunities, some of which you might well have benefited from.
Don't be afraid of setbacks. You’ll feel every bump in the road but it’s your car you’re driving. I’ve always taken criticism to heart. When you’re working for yourself, you take things even more personally. A straightforward ‘thanks but no thanks’ email can feel like a character assassination. Finding a way to deal with rejection in a positive way is essential. In the past I’d have spent too long pouting about a pitch we didn’t win. Having passion for what you do can help an awful lot, but knowing how to channel it is even more helpful.
Stop caring about what other people think. This one didn’t come easily either. I’d always been very conscious of looking stupid or weak in front of people. But there are some great articles and books out there that show how paralysing it can be when you’re over concerned with what others think. What's more there are ways of overcoming this and being more confident. Pick up the phone and make the cold call. Send that LinkedIn post. Ask the question you want to ask during a webinar. Write the opinion piece you’ve wanted to and really stick to your opinion. If you believe in something then stand by it.
Go for a walk every day. You don’t need to start your own business to feel the benefit of this. It’s so easy to spend time glued to our laptops and phones. A walk really does help to clear your mind. Release some of the negative thoughts. Spark some creative energy. I’ve started trying to schedule one call a day whilst on the move. There’s no distraction unlike on a Zoom or Teams call. You’re not tempted to check your emails or LinkedIn or Whatsapp. As a result, I’ve found myself much more focused on the call and more focussed when I get back to my desk.
Get a good chair. Just do it. You’ll thank yourself.
I’ve no idea why I stumbled into seven points but hopefully you found it helpful or interesting. You don’t need to work in sports marketing to find these tips useful. To be honest, you don’t even need to work for yourself for a lot of them. But I found that taking the plunge and starting my own sports sponsorship agency has made me learn lots about myself as well as lots about business.
If you’re thinking about doing the same thing, or you have done, then I’m always open to a coffee or beer to compare notes. As the world starts to open up, hopefully those things will become a bit easier to do. When they do, the coffee and beers are on me. Well, the first round anyway.
Ged Colleypriest, is the founder of Underdog Sports Marketing. An independent agency set up to help brands, clubs and rights holders create better sports partnerships. Get in touch here.