I’ve just ticked over 6 years of running my own naturopathy clinic, LaVida Health, in the Melbourne CBD. So recently I have been reflecting on what I have learned over that time. Not so much what I’ve learned about the workings of the amazing human body – which is an ongoing and inspiring journey – but more about the practicalities of running a small business. So, this is something of a letter to the 2008 version of me… the unexpected discoveries, joys and challenges. That is, the things I wasn’t really prepared for. Financial management In my former life, I was a chartered accountant and had spent many years consulting and advising to all types of businesses, big and small. So, managing the financial aspects of running a business such as cash flow, stock management, budgets and financial statements has (thankfully) been a relatively straightforward task and one which I don’t shy away from. For me, it has been easy to do but even so, keeping an eye on expenditure on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis requires discipline and a willingness to understand what, for many, are the boring nuts and bolts of business management. My advice:
- Commit to knowing your financials. If it’s not your forte, make it your priority to understand them even if you have a bookkeeper or accountant to help you.
- Do courses and spend time getting to know what each figure represents, the effect it has on your bottom line and how you can control it.
- Remember, even seemingly small numbers can add up over time.
Marketing and promotion
“Build it and they will come” sounds good in theory but is not guaranteed to work in practice. Developing and implementing a marketing and promotion strategy has been by far the biggest learning curve for me. Starting with a business name, logo, brochure, website, social media pages, newsletters, systems, developing networks and then monitoring and refining as necessary. There has been a lot to get my head around and being a member of the ABN has certainly been incredibly valuable in that regard. I have done many webinars and workshops and I have made good contacts along the way to provide me with one-on-one advice and support. As a passionate believer in my “product” (the power of naturopathy and integrative medicine to optimise your health), I couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t have a naturopath on their “team” however some people still need their eyes opened to the possibilities and some encouragement to take the first and subsequent steps. (Lesson: not everyone will instantly see the value of your offer in the same way you do). It took me a while to really focus on my ideal client and how to help them. It’s also been a challenge to find my “voice” and be confident in putting myself out there on the internet for all to see. It can also be confusing to know where to devote your energy, time and money when it comes to marketing and promotion. It could easily be a bottomless pit if you aren’t careful. So my advice is:
- Spend as much time as you need, up front, being crystal clear about your desired clientele or customer. Test and retest as necessary.
- Focus on your website and one (maybe two) social media platforms and do them well. Don’t fall into the trap of spreading yourself too thin or just spending time on the things you enjoy.
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just hanging out on social media is marketing. It can make you feel busy but it is so easy to waste time and not actually be moving towards your business objectives.
And a couple of final notes:
- When you are first starting out (especially if you are anything like me and want to be in control of your business baby) you need to be prepared to learn how to do it all. Don’t put jobs off just because they are not your favourite thing to do.
- You don’t have to be an expert but it is important to understand the basics of all aspects of your business. But then, the trick is to know the when, how and to whom of outsourcing and delegating so you can stick to your core strengths. Get help from trustworthy sources.
- Don’t judge yourself by your competition or some unrealistic expectation you have of yourself. Observe and learn but stick to your unique path.
- Don’t let mistakes and setbacks get you down. Learn from them and move on.
- Your passion most likely lives in your core strengths. Focus on that and it will sustain and motivate you each and every day!
Hmmm… I wonder what I will have to say to my 2014 self in another 5 years time…