10 big business tips for second life entrepreneurs

Network like mad, help others without expecting anything in return, and never go to work in your pyjamas! Colin Spiller helps fledgling enterprises spread their wings, as well as running his own sales and marketing consultancy. Here are his top tips for second life startups…

Working for myself means being in control of my own destiny. I started Zenis, my sales and marketing consultancy, after being made redundant in my mid 40s. I couldn’t find the right position in the jobs market but I was in the fortunate position of being on the receiving end of a nice ‘goodbye’ cheque.

It’s a sad reality that whether you work in the public or private sector, nowadays there’s little loyalty towards staff. But the good news for second life entrepreneurs is that running your own business gives you freedoms that won’t find in the average workplace. You’re in complete control of the hours you put in and how successful you are. Oh, and did I mention that you’ll no longer have to suffer fools or office politics either?!

For the past 20 years, I’ve been helping new entrepreneurs grow their ventures. I co-founded the 3Cs Community as a self-help group for entrepreneurs. I’m also a founder freeman member of the Guild of Entrepreneurs, which now has more than 100 members and is on its way to becoming a fully fledged livery company.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here are my top 10 tips for second life entrepreneurs:

1. Don’t be afraid to change direction

I started my working life in sales and had run major projects but didn’t know precisely what I was going to do to earn money after redundancy. I started out by talking to my contacts and this helped me come up with ideas for taking products and services to market.

It’s great to have an idea in mind but do be open to ‘pivoting.’ Working on something that’s outside your usual remit will only broaden your experience. It’s certainly worked for me, as I’ve been involved with longer term projects of between three and six years for some of my clients.

2. Network like your life depends on it

You are ten times more likely to sell to people you know or have met, so my advice is to make sure you network like mad! Sit down in the park or garden with a drink, a pen and a notebook. List all your contacts from your school, career, job training or courses, community, clients and revisit it three or four times over a week or so.

The information doesn’t have to be perfect, it just provides a snapshot of who you know and can give you ideas on how you can help them. It really doesn’t matter where you met your contacts – they could be on the school’s PTA, neighbours or former colleagues.

LinkedIn is your friend: look people up or invite people to connect and keep in touch. Don’t forget traditional greetings too – I still send Christmas cards every year. Try Eventbrite for listings of local business meetings. If you need to develop your public speaking skills, Toastmasters UK is a great place to start and another good network.

3. Dress for success – even at home

Self-employment means making sure you can get yourself out of bed in the morning. Even if you’re working from home, what you wear will help you project a professional attitude.

When I first started in my business, I made sure I was suited, booted and ready for work every morning. Even now, dressing down for me just means skipping the tie.

4. Use your time wisely

Here are four common traps that people who work from home can fall into during working hours. Each is guaranteed not to make you any money:

  • constantly nipping into the kitchen for coffee
  • cleaning your fridge, bathroom, kitchen…
  • unless you’re a pro, don’t bunk off work to play golf
  • organising your personal life or hanging out on social media

Don’t prevaricate – pick up the phone and start making calls.

5. Don’t go it alone

When you’re setting out on your own, it’s important to get together with other business owners. Setting up your own ‘mastermind’ group will mean that you get the benefits of extra brains to solve the challenges you may be facing.

Knowing that you’re all in this together will help motivate you. You can learn from each other, schedule regular calls and perhaps catch up once a month for coffee. It’s also great to have someone to celebrate your successes with!

6. Time and space will help you solve your own problems

We’re always told never to put things off, but putting things aside for a while means you get to put the wisdom of your subconscious mind to work.

If you want to solve a problem or thorny issue, first write down five or six initial ideas. Come back to it a few hours later and write down another five or six ideas. Keep repeating this, over a few days if possible, and you’ll probably end up with more than 100 ideas. Look back through your notes and it’s likely that the outline, steps and actions needed to solve your problem will be written right there.

Never rush a difficult email. Write it, but don’t send it. Walk away. Have a coffee or read a newspaper, even sleep on it. Then reread and send it.

7. Be Scrooge-like with cash…

In the initial stages, try to run your business as cheaply as possible. When I was starting out, it took me nine months before I saw any return. Always be aware that things will take longer than you think, for example, the time it takes for a prospect to sign up.

Always add at least another 50 per cent onto the cost in a proposal – you can always discount back for a bigger order or quick payment.

8. …but be generous with helping others

Try to help people when you can, even if it may first appear that there’s no commercial reason to do so. I once ran some workshops, free of charge, as a favour for a friend. That favour turned into a business generator when attendees started booking me up for my services and workshops. I was very pleased that I’d said ‘yes’ when he’d asked for help.

9. Have a long term plan and work on your balance

My plan is to live to 100. I follow Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones which focus on communities where elders live to a ripe old age and enjoy good health.

Contributing to society is one of the ways in which people can enjoy a longer life.  Through 3Cs and the Guild, I try to give back 10 per cent of my working time to help others.

Helping entrepreneurs is a real passion of mine. Sometimes my suggestions lead to small changes. But small changes can have a big impact on young businesses.

I also use the Grid of Life from psychologist Susan Jeffers’ classic “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” to try to ensure my life is balanced. At the moment, I am working on spending more time with friends and family, more exercise and going on a few more holidays!

10. Get up and dance!

To switch off from business, I dance. Everything from Modern Jive to Lindy Hop, Balboa, Blues and my current favourite, rock’n’roll. Live music of any type is a passion. Whenever I hear a live band I’ll get up and dance. And I’ll mix up all those styles – the musicians love it! I forget all my troubles and woes, even after just an hour, so find your Dance Switch!

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Katherine Elton

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