Number 13 is unlucky for some.
Today LinkedIn is telling me and my network that it is my 13th birthday as a micropreneur. Many happy returns to me!
Running a micro business has been exceptionally rewarding, challenging, varied, frustrating, and liberating.
Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed much of my life in the corporate world. I worked on exciting projects, acquisitions, product launches and the freedom to travel as a global ‘trouble-shooter’ getting to understand different cultures and business models. I met many fascinating characters. All of this provided valuable insight for the different business ventures I subsequently built in the years that followed both for my clients and myself.
Being a micropreneur has afforded me a vast amount of flexibility and integrity in how I operate. Stepping out of that comfort zone of a regular monthly paycheck was the right decision for me and I have learnt so many things about business and about myself along the way!
Here are my top lucky thirteen insights. What are yours?
1. Know your value – price accordingly
In thirteen years, I have never discounted my fees and I have rarely been asked to. A very wise friend and client, handed me that nugget. My client interactions are generally at C-level or senior management and I have noticed that my work and opinion is valued much more as a result of the confidence I show through my premium positioning. The same has been true of my workshops, networking events and sponsorship pricing.
2. Relationships, relationships, relationships
When you build trustworthy, authentic relationships, your connections feel more invested in your success and vice versa. A network is just a collection of contacts. Quantity is meaningless. Nurture your network by giving support, ideas, introductions and a genuine listening ear, and over time your contacts turn into your advocates and the business opportunities follow.
3. Surround yourself with mentors
I am truly blessed to be supported by some amazing mentors and advisors. Ask successful people who you admire, who will be honest with you, who have your best interests at heart and who think laterally and strategically. I always value their input and perspectives – even if sometimes I ignore their advice! Even one or two touchpoints through the year can make a huge difference to your focus and to the ideas and strategy you may be exploring. I hope I have been able to repay the kindness of my circle of support in some way over the years. I am especially thankful for mentors past and present who despite their globe trotting and multi-million/billion pound deal brokering find time for little old me!
4. Stay true to your values, ethics and sense of honesty
I left my corporate role thirteen years ago because some of the values of this international organisation did not sit well with me. But it was the catalyst to ensure that all my future activities and work aligned with my values. I make a point of getting to know my clients first and what motivates and runs them before accepting an assignment. I occasionally turn away work because I feel a client can achieve their objectives or allocate their budget in a more effective way following a different route. Integrity is at the top of my value list.
5. Give back
Invest in your community at a local or national level. There are so many opportunities to support community and industry specific projects. Join boards, advisory panels or volunteer. I gain so much from delivering regular specialist workshops and mentoring sessions for young entrepreneurs via The Prince’s Trust. Seeing their businesses take shape and how they navigate the bumpy road to launching provides me with insights for my own journey. They also teach me so much about (ahem) the youth of today and millennial culture.
Toastmasters is an international organisation designed to help improve public speaking. Joining my local Toastmasters chapter, London Communicators has given me an opportunity to take on voluntary leadership roles and tighten up my public speaking skills.
All of these ways of engaging beyond the usual demands of running a business allow you to widen your network and deepen your knowledge and give something back.
6. Be patient and build incrementally
I am not the most patient person, especially when it comes to my own projects. Being a sole proprietor, I am constantly reminding myself to focus on the big picture and break the journey down into manageable stages. No business was born complete overnight!
Right now, I am building up my training and workshop facilitation business. I have the network. I have valuable content and experience. I have developed engaging interactive ways of sharing it. I have proof points and amazing feedback from clients who have experienced my trainings. I’m raring to do more but it’s the day-to-day slog of tiny things that only I can do in the early stages that require my patience. The mundane tasks that I keep pushing to the bottom of the list. Updating the website needs to rocket to the top of the list as I change direction!!! www.dinahmo.com
7. Be tenacious and resilient
On the back of my business card I have a quote by Abraham Lincoln “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle”.
It is a motto that has served me well. I launched The Card & Payments Awards back in 2005 (exited it in 2012) with just a blank sheet of paper, no industry knowledge or contacts and within a year had hustled my way to an awards ceremony with 700 guests, 75% of sponsorship slots secured and a foundation for growth to 1500 guests and full sponsorship within 3 years. I even held out for 5 years to secure a particular sponsor, cultivating the relationship slowly and surely! I know that sheer determination and resilience will eventually pay off. It can be hard when the buck stops with you to stay resilient, to bounce back and to keep asking for what you need.
Having a support network is once again very important.
Set micro goals. Review. Listen to feedback. Try a different approach.
You know the song “Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again”.
8. Inspiration strikes on the top of a mountain or in the garden!
It is important to take time out from the business to reflect, create space and breathe. Sitting at a desk, especially when you are by yourself, or standing in a training room day after day can sap at your energy levels and ultimately your creativity. You lose perspective on why you set up the business in the first place.
I have had my best business ideas and insights sitting and reflecting on a Keralan mountainside overlooking a paddy field, watching the birds. Or fasting and detoxing in Thailand. I even take mini-retirements in between ventures as suggested by Tim Ferriss. I’m hoping that the four months living in Barcelona learning Spanish, a while back, will come in useful one day, but it did allow me to take stock of what I really wanted to be doing.
One of the big benefits for me of working for myself and from home, is that when the sun is shining and the tomatoes need to be potted on in the garden, I can take a break and have that important mindful time outside, be it Monday morning or Wednesday lunchtime! This is often where I have my business breakthroughs.
9. You are (often) the best brand ambassador for your business
People buy people…. and more importantly people buy people they know, like and trust.
I remember when I was heading up marketing for a small company many moons ago. I inherited a PR agency relationship which I felt was not working well. My managing director (and Founder of the business), Simon Roncoroni was one of the most charismatic, idea-filled leaders I have ever met. Yet our PR agency seemed to dilute all his passion and perspectives into some neat, colourless message. I took the decision to end the relationship with the PR agency. Together, we went on to tell stories that grabbed headlines in every newspaper, TV news programme and industry journal.
Sometimes, delegating marketing messaging can reduce the impact and vibrancy of those behind it, especially when you are a small business. I am under no illusion that when people engage with Dinahmo, they are engaging with what I stand for – my values, my passion, my energy, my tenacity and my ideas. I am my best sales and marketing tool. In person, human to human!
10. Diversify – create a portfolio
This one is not for everyone, but it has worked for me.
Partly because I have a number of areas that really interest me and partly because having a few different revenue streams provides me with more flexibility and freedom. The utopia is to have at least one passive or minimal effort revenue stream – not always easy to find and if you are a people person, like me, it is not always the most desirable route as these businesses often involve more of a relationship with your computer than with a human!
I have set up and run networking initiatives alongside my marketing consultancy business. Each had their peaks and troughs in terms of workload. The networking initiatives had a higher and steadier return against the time and financial investment than client-led opportunities. This allowed me to be choosier about the consulting and training work I took on as I was not solely reliant on it.
I also find that this portfolio approach provides me with opportunities to cross-pollinate in terms of leads, ideas and relationships. Whilst I am currently focusing my energy on developing my training, facilitation and speaking work – around relationship building and storytelling – I am also plotting another initiative that is complementary, yet may give me an additional regular income. See point number 6!
11. Don’t get too attached to the business and know when to let go
There may come a time when selling your business, dissolving it or changing it fundamentally is the best course of action. Be strong enough to walk away when you have lost the passion and drive and done everything to try to rekindle it. Or if the effort versus the financial and emotional return is no longer working for you. You need to still be interested, interesting and relevant. You need to ensure you continue to maintain balance with the other parts of your life. Over the years, I have let go of my ‘babies’ and reinvented my business in other areas. Each time, I take something useful from the previous business to kickstart the next one.
12. Ask for what you need
Was it Stevie Wonder or Gandhi who said
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get”?
Whoever did say this, my tenacious self lives by this motto.
I was running a networking workshop recently for a group of C-level executives as part of a career planning programme. I was struck by the shocked looks when I asked how many of them had updated their network about what they were looking for and what they needed right now.
In fact 90% of us tend to hide our real needs from each other. It is uncomfortable to ask. However people are not mind readers. Be bold. Don’t dilute your ask or hint at it. Be specific about how someone can help and what you need. Give a timeframe for what you need.
So here is my ask for today – I am looking for a training venue for some Open Workshops I will be running this year in London on Networking and Storytelling themes. I also need introductions to Learning & Development teams to establish what their training needs are for their company. And if a little magic elf can redesign, rewrite and reposition my website, I’d be thrilled (but I know that the bulk of this task is down to me)!
13. Share what you’ve learnt with others
We often look to leaders and influencers to inspire us and give us ideas. Here is Huffington Post’s 10 Most Inspirational Business Leaders of 2017. Most take time to share what they have learned on their incredible business journeys. I try to share my insights with my young mentees at The Prince’s Trust.
I hope that maybe one of my thirteen insights above will resonate with some of you in the LinkedIn stratosphere. I am on a learning curve right now as I bring my stories, experience and strategy around networking and storytelling into training rooms and onto speaking platforms. So today I have taken advantage of the collective learning of over one hundred other trainers, facilitators and coaches and joined Trainer Talk Network.
And so the micropreneur journey continues….. here’s to the next 13 years (although I suspect I will be sitting on a mountain top by then enjoying a real retirement!)
Dinah Tobias designs and facilitates public and bespoke workshops and masterclasses. Her specialist areas are on building networks/influential circles of connections and on business and brand storytelling. She also provides consulting and coaching in these areas to organisations and leaders.