Where to go next? The top
The challenge of proving people wrong? Yep, that’s me to a tee.
Perhaps I took it too far when I was willing to put off full-time employment so I could drag my photography side hustle turned semi-full-time job across the five-year line.
If for nothing, I’d have proven wrong the people who thought I’d be another business failure statistic, joining the 20% of new businesses that fail during the first two years of opening or the 45% that fail during the first five years.
While I haven’t retired off of the income from my side hustle or bought a retirement home in coastal Accra yet, I’ve learned an awful lot. Over those five and a half years, these are the biggest lessons I picked up that could help you too.
There will always be competitors that will crush smaller new businesses into irrelevance.
Sure, some of them won’t like you — aren’t we all complaining about the saturation of service providers in the markets? I understand why some people feel insecure about the many startups offering similar services to theirs.
But it’s wrong to let that mentality seep into your small business endeavor. Despite the inherent bias towards competing with every other business on the block, you can benefit immensely from them.
Look for what they’re doing right that you can learn
With online businesses, it’s easy to see how the completion is rolling and what you can learn from them — social media campaigns, content styles, etc.
Instead of seeing the competition as enemies, see them as teachers. You can subscribe to their email newsletters, or, at worse, inquire about their services like an interested client.
Find out where they’re missing it so you can improve
No one knows it all. And despite how well a business may be doing, you can still find flaws with their approach that you can improve to your advantage.
Sometimes you can spot these flaws from afar; other times, you can only see them when you’re close enough (back to my point of following them, joining their email list, etc.)
For example, I found that some of my photographer colleagues (aka competitors) bundled everything into a package — edited pictures, X no. of prints, X no. of photo frames, X dimension photo book. And that left clients little room for their preferences.
And some of them didn’t like all those extras the photographers were forcing down their throats.
I quickly changed tack and started with only edited pictures on a flash drive. I sought to give clients the freedom to decide whatever extras they wanted. And that drew some positive responses from some clients.
It also helped me during price fluctuations, as I could price these extra items based on prevailing market prices and the USD’s performance. What a valuable little tip I picked up from my competitors.
Figure out how you can get the competition to support you
Sometimes, the competition could easily pass some work down to you. They may be unqualified or have a tight schedule. And how would they get that business to you when you see them as competitors? Or worse, when you avoid them, when they don’t know you?
For example, in my country, weddings usually take place on Saturdays. And unless you’re a big photography team, you can only handle one per day.
Often, if these smaller teams got booked for more than one on the same day, they would likely refer the extra work to someone, someone they knew. Competition went out of the window. It became a collaboration.
Takeaway insight: Change the narrative of how you see the competition. Instead of seeing them as enemies, see them as allies from whom you can benefit and learn an awful lot.
Many side hustlers are always after some shiny tips to help elevate their small businesses to the next step. But most of the time, you already have what it takes to succeed. Or at least you have more than enough to take giant forward strides.
Whether it’s your effort, consistency, or professionalism, no one can take those out of your hands. That’s totally within your control. And if you can master those, the rest will take care of themselves.
You can sweat about paid social media campaigns and getting 1,000 followers all you want, but if you could look closely within, you have many contacts who probably don’t even know what you’re doing.
For starters, if you would embrace the hard work of telling them of your new endeavor, they could help spread the word for you. Or at least have you in mind.
If you have over 100 followers on Twitter or LinkedIn, how can you let them know and never forget you for what you do? And I’m not even talking about the industry experts and influencers you can interact with and seek to make a powerful impression upon.
What about showing up daily to do all the little things you need to do? We often look past these little crucial factors for the same old recycled advice from others when we don’t have to.
Takeaway insight: Most of the little things you can do to propel your business are already in your control. Go hard on them, and the rest will fall nicely in place.
These days, people’s words carry less and less weight. Folks are more interested in waxing lyrical and less interested in fulfilling their near-empty promises. I’ve faced that harsh reality too many times.
Yes, unforeseen circumstances pop up to ruin plans, but it’s also easy for prospective clients to ghost you even after the pleasant words. Also, we’ve seen old clients yank the rags from under people while friends and partners who once said they’d be there for you abandon you.
You can’t put too much faith in what people promise you. My policy has been I’ll see it when I believe it.
Thankfully, I’ve learned from my colleagues the need to press for a deposit to secure a booking. And until that payment comes through, we assume there’s no agreement.
I know you can arm yourself with contracts and all that, but would you rather fight a never-ending legal battle or take precautions to avoid the headache? I’ve learned to go with the latter.
Takeaway insight: People change their minds all the time. Take those nice promises and plans with a grain of salt. Don’t make big decisions based on the words of clients.