Rob and Yvonne Cullen
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What I’ve learned from 15 years in business

15 years in business

Fifteen years ago this month I leapt from the corporate career ladder and set up my own coaching and training business. I jokingly say that I ‘retired’ at thirty, but I do think Confucius was on to something when he said ‘find a job you love and you will never have to work another day in your life.’ Reflecting on the last fifteen years in business here are 10 insights I wish I’d known at the outset.

Relationships are key, 15 years in business

1 It’s all about relationships

Like life, business is all about relationships. The basics need to be in place – keeping promises, being impeccable with your word, managing expectations. People are buying my integrity, credibility and attention to detail as well of course as the value I’m adding to their lives or businesses. Eighty per cent of my business comes from existing clients and word of mouth, a testament to the power of positive working relationships.


2 There is a difference between being busy and being income generating busy

It is easy to fill my day with work-related activities, but I have to keep asking myself how many of those activities are directly or indirectly generating business. In the early days I found that visibility is even more important than ability because unless people are aware of me and what I do, I won’t have an opportunity to demonstrate my expertise.

Stay sane. 15 years in business

3 Have strategies for staying sane!

Without the ‘buzz’ of an office, I needed a strategy for staying motivated, or at a minimum, a strategy for ensuring I didn’t go mad. In addition, I cannot give to my clients what I don’t have, so my reserves of energy, enthusiasm, motivation and inspiration need to be high.

I make sure I stay in regular contact with friends who are supportive, who can listen to me rant, act as a sounding board and give me advice or a new perspective when needed. I also read inspirational blogs, magazines and books which not only enhance my skills (because I’m my own product) but they also inject me with energy to continue doing what I’m doing.

4 A different perspective on Work Life Balance

Work life balance takes on a different meaning when you work for yourself, particularly when you love what you do.

Being at the desk, putting in the hours is far from a chore. But as someone said to me a few years ago, I’m always more than what I do. Without putting some effort into non-work pursuits, work will always fill the vacuum.

Drop the employee mindset. 15 years in business

5 Drop the employee mindset

For many solopreneurs, if someone else managed you the way you manage yourself, you would probably say you had the boss from hell. Now being your own business, means that if you don’t do something it doesn’t get done, having reserves of discipline is an advantage, but the flip side can be feeling guilty when you don’t put in a full eight hour day whether you are busy or not.

It took me a few years to drop the employee mindset. Only last summer during the good weather, I purposely decided to only work mornings and to enjoy the sun in the garden in the afternoon.

It finally dawned on me that I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to take a day off.

6 Innovation has to be a competency

My business has grown organically over the last ten years. For example, most of my early work was pure life coaching. Soft skills training workshops followed and in recent times interview skills coaching has grown to be the largest segment of my business.

Fifteen years ago social media didn’t exist, now Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now additional distribution channels. What started as a hardcopy bi-monthly newsletter for my clients, became an ezine and is now a blog.

Skype means I can work with clients who are based anywhere is the world. Monthly ‘Live’ events on Facebook and content production for YouTube and my Podcast are now integral parts of my ‘job.’ Being comfortable with change is a required competency and unless I’m pushing my comfort zone, complacency is the trap.

Know your ideal client. 15 years in business

7 I know who I want to work with

The concept of knowing your ideal clients is referenced in many coaching and marketing books. In the early years, I’d be happy to work with anyone who wanted to work with me. But experience has thought me that you cannot be all things to all people.

I have a very clear idea of the type of individual and corporate clients I want to work with. Coincidentally or energetically (Law of Attraction) I rarely even get enquiries now from potential clients who are far removed from my ideal client definition.

Of course knowing your ideal clients is central when it comes to marketing, website design, and social media strategy because you want your clients to feel ‘at home’ when they interact with you. Knowing my ideal clients means I can devote my time and energy where it will have the most impact.

8 Be proud of what you do and know how to sell it

I’ve had to learn to fully own and to be proud of what I do. Having an ‘elevator speech’ is something that never sat right with me. The best advice I got many years ago was to write out a list of the benefits people get from working with me, then inserting in front of each one the phrase ‘I work with people who want to.’ For example-

I work with people who want to feel more fulfilled in life

I work with people who want to feel confident during an interview

I work with people who want to deliver impactful presentations and banish those nerves

I work with organisations who want to lead from the heart, not just the head.

I work with organisations who want to engage and motivate their staff.

I’ve found that particularly in the area of coaching people will have their own definitions of what life coach, executive coach or trainer means, so I focus on the benefits, after all, it’s the benefits people are interested in, not the process of what I do.

Don't lose sight of your brand, 15 years in business

9 Create win/wins but never lose sight of your own brand

It makes sense to partner with others when there is mutual benefit. For example, are there other businesses going after the same people, do you provide a service that is complimentary and will create a win/win. The classic one for me is that I work a lot assisting people to prepare for an interview, there is an obvious tie in with recruitment agencies who want to see their candidates succeed at interviews.

At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of your own brand and what you stand for. For example, I made the decision some years back that I only deliver my own training content. I want to be building my own business, not someone else’s.

10 What I’ve learned the hard way

Or as Oprah would say – what I know for sure-

  • I’m never paid just to work – I’m remunerated commensurate with the value I add
  • I ask myself regularly what am I doing well, what could I be doing differently
  • Getting visible and being comfortable being visible is a core competency
  • Paid advertising doesn’t generate business for me, editorial content does.
  • I know what I will say no to, (when far removed from my ideal client definition) where I won’t compromise, what I won’t tolerate and what I will ignore.
  • I know where I want my business to be in ten years time. As short term goals and daily urgencies tend to fill daily to do lists, I ask myself regularly what can I do today to progress towards that vision.
  • I know what I want my business/ career to do for me? It is always more than just paying the bills!
  • I schedule time to think, time to work on my business, not just in my business.
  • I value my accountant
  • I know that I will have my down days, my unproductive days, those days where I question the value of what I’m doing and my ability to deliver. I’m only human and as long as these days are the exception rather than the rule, it is okay to take my foot off the pedal and have a duvet day (after all I’m the boss.)

I cannot not do what I do – which for me is the definition of a calling.

If I won the lottery tomorrow after doing some extensive travel and sharing my abundance with family and friends (and buying a few toys,) I would continue to do what I do and that is perhaps the greatest gift I’ve received from the last fifteen years. And I’m so excited about what’s next.

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Thank you.