5 Lessons I Have Learnt in my First Year of Business
Xandra Jane is 18months old, having been trading for one year come September. I have in no way 'made it' quite yet, but have certainly learnt a lot within a short space of time. A couple of pointers I haven't included are knowing when to ask for help and to admitting to any mistakes, reason being these are not necessarily lessons I have learnt within my first year. I have always been this way inclined and never too proud to know when I should seek advice or help. But if this is something you struggle with, then I can't express how important it is to accept support when it is available.
Cut the Crap with
This took a little longer for me to learn, especially within freelance work. I would often 'short-change' myself when I thought it would keep the client happy. I was scared to say anything that would jeopardise the project or my feedback and I would also sit on my haunches if payments were made late, which unfortunately is a very common circumstance. But who was it helping in the long run? Certainly not me. What it was doing was damaging my cashflow and postponing bill payments. The nature of pattern cutting is a process, often clients want a fixed quote from the start yet don't understand amendments are a normal stage to the design process and cost more time and money especially when cutting new cloth. So I took a ruthless business page out of my Dad's book and started cutting the niceties. Don't get me wrong, clients can still be magical at disappearing on the final invoice, but I make sure I let them know I'm waiting. Excuses come in thick as to why they haven't paid on time (a blog post coming soon on that one) but ultimately, however heartless I can feel, their sick pet does not affect my life, a late payment does.
I wrote a guest post over on Make Me A Success about the award winning importance of building a bridge to get over yourself and here it resonates further. Putting myself forward for an award against the belief that it lessens your credentials has been one of the best things I have done. As a small business start up, why would I sit around waiting for some random soul to think "She's working so hard, she deserves recognition!" - when ultimately I either work by myself or with a small team of student interns. I know I work 12+ hour days, I know how hard I graft and so dare I say, I should pat myself on the back. If I can't be confident in myself, why should I expect anyone else to be?
Don't Let Other People Cause Self Doubt
When I first started getting press coverage in local news around my debut collection, I had comments such as "I wouldn't be seen dead in that" or "Iconic?! More like fecking awful!" (shout out to those twitter trolls) - but I honestly can't stress enough how GOOD this is as a fashion designer. My entire career is based on creating something new and original, I am not in the business of churning out trend abiding design, I want to challenge the creative field in which I work and say "Hey, I've produced something different in a saturated market full of the same generic aesthetics."
I'm glad I divide opinion, I'm doing my job. Furthermore, the comments were from a more mature audience who certainly are not my target market and so why would heavy, chunky statement knitwear appeal to you? I'm not in the business of designing floral blouses, but I honestly value your criticism as it enables me to grow as a designer.
This includes pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. My risks beyond starting up a business with limited financial backing have also included putting money forward to stock at certain events, which haven't always paid off and certainly resulted in lessons learnt, testing new markets have developed my customer profiling and steered me down a clearer path. I've stepped far outside my comforts to deliver talks and presentations which have (so far) always paid off and been a valuable use of my time and I've also gone out on a limb to establish new connections and put myself forward for unpaid time to progress in different areas of business. It is true what they say in the bigger the risk, often the bigger the reward, but do try to keep your head screwed on.
Rely on You & You Alone
This, I apply to every area of my life, not just business because ultimately you really are the only person in charge of your life and destiny. I must admit I am guilty of micro-managing tasks at times, though unfortunately, the times I have consciously tried to relax in my approach have also been the times when mistakes are made. I have kicked myself several times for trusting interns a little too much, and I have been the one to pay the price and foot the bill. This is in no way my intern's fault, a little frustrating, yes; but ultimately it came down to me ensuring a job was done correctly. I am also a firm believer in carrying out your own accounting, even if you have an accountant. When running a business it is integral to know the in's-and-out's of your finances. Accountants are also capable of human error, so when two of you have eyes on filing that tax return, mistakes can be avoided.