I’m an accidental entrepreneur. Thirty years I was a project manager in the marketing department of a North American specialty retailer, managing the production and distribution of signage and seasonal displays, and writing and overseeing merchandising guides, direct mail pieces, special event and other promotional materials for our 700-plus stores. After seven years of the retail marketing drill, coming up on another high-pressure Christmas shopping season, I was burned out. I told my boss that I just couldn’t do it anymore. She said, “Why don’t you go into business for yourself, and we’ll be your first client?”
I didn’t set out to be business owner; in my mid-20s I had no burning desire to be master of my own professional destiny. And, I certainly didn’t look down the road 30 years and expect to be considered a senior-level hired gun writing strategic content and crafting promotional communications. Or a professional who would be sought out by other solopreneurs as a mentor or sounding board. But that’s what happened.
Developing a memorable brand and professional image
When I founded my freelance copywriting business, the principal of one of our creative agencies was amazingly generous in designing an impressive logo and brand identity package for me, which helped create an immediate professional brand that would appeal to fellow creatives, ad agencies and corporate clients.
Over the years, what clients have always asked me to do for them is “punch up” their communications. Naturally a little “punchy” by nature, I turned that idea into a tagline and enduring theme and personal branding that continues to serve me well.
What I’ve learned is terminology and technologies emerge and evolve at warp speed. Yet, many of the essential principles and qualities needed to survive – and thrive – as a business owner stay the same. Here are some key takeaways from my own experience – things I’ve done well, and a few things I wish I’d done better (not saying which!):
15 tips to keep your business hip for the long haul:
- The Golden Rule endures – treat others the way you want to be treated.
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Be open – to new ideas, new people, new experiences, new ways of doing things, new projects.
- Keep learning – by reading, by attending educational programs and conferences, by taking classes, by listening to others.
- What you learn in one industry or situation can be applied to another.
- Get it right the first time.
- Be flexible and agile – willing to stretch and able to adapt to changing conditions and a fast-moving world.
- Make sure your communications are polished –Don’t let spelling, grammar or punctuation errors undermine your professionalism or credibility by conveying sloppiness or lack of attention to detail.
- Be conscientious and consistent to earn people’s trust. Your reputation and income are at stake.
- Get up to speed quickly.
- Play well with others.
- Participate in and contribute to industry organizations – They provide abundant opportunities to learn about your business and industry, gain new skills, meet prospective clients or colleagues who can help or refer you, and make wonderful friends. Similarly, volunteering with nonprofit organizations is indispensable for gaining visibility, and demonstrating skills and competence.
- You never know who can help you, and you can meet future clients or valuable contacts anywhere – at the gym, playing sports, walking your dog, taking an art class, etc.
- Bring in the pros to take care of legal, financial, technical, marketing or other professional skills you don’t possess.
- And even though it’s work, have fun in the process!