When I started Essential Print Services in 2011, I knew I had a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I’m one of those strange people that enjoy working hard.
If I need to get up mega early or ‘pull an all-nighter’ to get the job done – I will do. It feels like an adventure, rather than a chore.
From reading business books and blogs, apparently, these are traits of an entrepreneur – although, I still do not consider myself to be one.
There are some things, however, that have taken me by surprise. So, here are some pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me when I began my journey 5 years ago.
1. There’s no ‘off’ button
Some people have said to me, ‘you’re all about business – do you ever stop?’ My response; ‘the brand never sleeps’. I have no co-directors, no shareholders, no angel investors. If I’m not keeping an eye on potential threats and opportunities, then who is?
For me, my business is a way of life. Wherever I go, I spot opportunities for myself and for others. If something catches my eye and I think it will benefit a business buddy, I’ll take a copy and send it to them.
I can’t look at a flyer, brochure, or poster without thinking of ways that the advertiser could have improved it or even giving praise on a good job, even if it had been printed by a competitor.
If I meet someone who I believe will be a good contact for a client, I’ll make that introduction without hesitation. Many people spot connections for others and have every good intention in taking action, but they procrastinate – why? The moment passes and that connection never takes place – it’s such a waste. Use your mobile devices to make it easy to connect people and do it right away.
2. Bright ideas in dull places
Lightbulb moments will arrive in the strangest of places and times; in the shower, car, waiting for a coffee. So, I always have a notebook to hand.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one experiencing this so I created a ‘DoodleBook’ – it has been specifically designed to contain all your lightbulb moments in a structured way.
To request a free, limited edition DoodleBook from Essential Print Services, simply drop us a line; firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Customer service comes from within
I believe you’re either good at customer service…or you’re not. You’ve got to have a genuine desire to help people in order to provide exceptional service. It really must come from your core. You need to be the sort of person who likes carrying out random acts of kindness and expect nothing in return.
Now I have my own company – customer service is extremely personal. If, on the rare occasion, something doesn’t quite go according to plan, it’s no one else’s fault but my own.
I try to put myself in the shoes of my clients and treat them how I would want to be treated. I try to surprise them and exceed their expectations at every opportunity.
4. The Happiness Zapper
I work long hours and any time I set aside to relax and have fun is so precious. When I do get some downtime, I spend it celebrating my little victories and doing things that makes me happy.
The more that time goes on, the easier I can spot a ‘Happiness Zapper’ a mile off. I’ve also heard people refer to them as ‘mood hoovers’ or ‘time bandits’. You know the ones; the people who gossip, people who are generally negative and can suck the life out of you. The sorts of people who will moan about their situation and will do nothing about it. The people who, after any time with them, you feel drained.
I can’t comprehend settling for anything less than a happy state of mind. If you can’t remove these negative people completely from your life, at least set a limit to how long you spend with them and take control of your precious time and energy.
5. Step out of your comfort zone – it’s where the magic happens
It may come as a surprise to some people but I’m actually quite a shy person. I have to really psych myself up to make difficult phone calls or to go to networking events. But some of my most rewarding and exciting experiences have been when I’ve trembled with nerves and the outcome has been amazing.
In January 2014, after visiting Downing Street as a Small Business Saturday top 100 business, I was asked to be a panelist on stage at Derby Theatre for the Marketing Derby Annual Business Event. Even though the ‘shy Von’ was screaming ‘no way – I’m not doing that’ the ‘business Von’ said yes and went about working on how on earth I was going to cope. When I walked up the stairs onto the stage, I remember my knees trembling. But true to form, with the help of my colourful jacket, I took the ‘swan’ approach – controlled on the outside but going crazy on the inside. It was a really fab experience and people still speak about how memorable it was.
An equally gut-wrenching time was when I was invited to the ITV Studios in Birmingham to be a panelist for their West Midlands news, hosted by the legendary Bob Warman. Again, with the help of my ‘techni-colour print coat’ I got through it. It was awesome and great exposure for my company.
6. A contra deal is the real deal
Another way I like to help, particularly start-up and young businesses, is by agreeing to contra-deals. I learned very early on to put in writing, exactly what both parties will do for each other and to set expectations.
I had a scenario whereby, I agreed to exchange services with someone and when the project ended, I thought, ‘that wasn’t quite what I had expected’. After keeping my end of the bargain and even exceeding their expectation, the product I received wasn’t quite good enough and I felt a little short changed. So I quizzed the other party about it and their reply was, “I didn’t give you the proper service because you weren’t paying for it” – WHAT?!
A contra-deal, an exchange of services, pro bono – whatever you want to call it, it’s still a business deal so treat it as though you were both getting paid for the services. At the end of the day, they’re a real client so don’t cut corners and give the participants exactly the same service as though they were a paying customer. They may end up being a client and if they are thrilled with your products or services, they’re bound to refer you.
7. Stay focused & flourish
There has been no end of times when I have focused on something like, “I’d like more business card orders this week” and hey presto! More orders arrive. Or, “I’ve not heard from Mr Widget for a while” and guess who is next to call the office? Mr Widget!
Some of you who are reading this will know what I mean. Some of you will think I’ve gone completely off my rocker. Either way, I’ve experienced it and it happens a lot, so stay focused and be patient, it will happen.
8. There is greatness in every day
If you’re running your own company and you have days where you feel like giving up – this is normal. But whatever you do, DO NOT give up.
At the time of writing this article, I have been running my company for five years (1825 days) and I’m pleased to report that I’ve ONLY had three wobbly days.
What’s my secret?
At the end of a fantastic day in the office, I write down a few positive experiences in my ‘DoodleBook’.
Here’s an example of some of the things I write:
• Today felt like it had a good balance
• I had lots of fun in the office today
• We received a record number of testimonials
• A client jumped up & down with happiness when they received their flyers
• My company was in the newspaper today
• My team did a great job on a brochure project
When I feel down, or I question my abilities, or someone has knocked my confidence, I refer to my book and remind myself why I get up in the morning and continue to be a Print Evangelist. Tar dah!
If you’d like to discuss any of the above points further, feel free to give me a call on 01332 418377. I’d love to hear about your positive experiences or to try and help you with any challenges you may be facing.