In August of 2017, I set out to do something I’d never done before – start my own business. Even though I had dreamed about starting a business for a while, it happened pretty organically. I had connections reaching out to me asking for my help with events and marketing, areas of expertise I had already built in my career.
But admittedly, I didn’t know what I was building, just that I wanted to build something. I knew from my experience that I wanted it to be more than freelance work., I wanted to build a company, but I also knew that I wanted it to be different from an agency, something more personal.
It has taken 5 years to feel like I have something under my feet, as well as numerous moments of wanting to quit, falling on my face, and feeling like I was flying blind. My company has also brought me the most joy I’ve ever experienced in my career, including the connections I’ve made with some of the most interesting people and the excitement that comes with watching a client’s business grow.
August 2022 marks 5 years of running Pericus Ventures, here is a reflection of what the journey has taught me so far. If you are thinking about starting off on your own or in the beginning stages, I hope this will provide some consolation or help you avoid the mistakes I made.
Phase 1: It Takes About a Year
During the first year of running my business, I was still figuring things out. I didn’t have a business plan. Even with entrepreneurs, I know who have a plan, so much can change within the first year of running your business. You start to test your target market, get your hands dirty and realize, “hey, I actually think this would work better,” or “there’s actually a real need for this.” Looking back, I wish I had known that it really takes a year to start to build something… including making money. If you’re starting a business, I would account for not making money in the first year. You have to find clients and work out so many logistics – what you’re going to charge, what your products or services are, and how to build your offering.
When I set out, I told myself starting a business was going to be like going to business school, and therefore, I was going to see the first few years as an investment in my own learning, especially since I’d never done it before. I was happy I had this mindset because it made the learning curve easier and the downs burn a bit less.
Another thing that I hadn’t expected was that it was going to take some time to learn how to work for myself and be off on my own. I had to learn to self-motivate, set my schedule, and even unlearn some things from working in an office or a more corporate environment. For example, I learned how to structure my day – that I do my best creative work in the mornings and have a lull in the afternoon, so that time is better spent in meetings.
Once I had been in business for about a year, I finally started to get into the groove of working for myself.
Phase 2: Figuring Out What You’re Building (Year 1-2)
However, even looking back at where my business was, and where I was after that first year… so much has changed. I was still figuring out what I was building, and what I wanted to do.
I was lucky when I started that I had people reach out to me with opportunities, but it took time to figure out what work to say yes and no to. In the beginning, I couldn’t afford to say no, so I said yes to everything. But I’m glad I did this, because it helped me figure out what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing, and also learn some new skills that I could add to my offerings.
Once I was able to work on a variety of projects for different types of clients spanning various industries, the experience helped me better understand what I wanted my business to be. I also could better understand the time it took to perform services, and therefore, what a fair cost would be.
Phase 3: Getting The Right Customers (Year 3)
The next phase was getting customers. After word of mouth brought me business, I had to continue to grow. I also decided from all the work I had been doing, that I really loved working with early-stage startups. Living in San Francisco, it’s not hard to meet startups, but early-stage startups are more volatile, so there’s also more turnover.
A big lesson with getting new business was making myself introduce-able. In the beginning, when I was doing everything for everyone, I realized it made it hard for people to explain exactly what I did. When I was able to be more clear about what I do, “I act as an outsourced marketing team for early-stage startups,” it was easy to think of me as a resource.
I reached out to my network to ask for referrals, clients referred me to other clients, and I mentored at startup accelerators. I also tried different lead generation businesses that could help promote me on Linkedin or via email, but they had little success (and more learnings to come of which vendors to work with – which was a whole other lesson!).
Then COVID hit and so too my business took a hit. This was year 3 and to be honest, I was getting sick of the ups and downs. I vowed to myself – no more! Then I got lucky. A lead generation company reached out with a clever email that included a personalized picture. I decided to use their services and started to get about 20 meetings with potential startup clients a month. This helped revive my business and bring me a healthy stream of clients. I went from working with 5 startups at a time to 15. Growing my customer base also helped grow word-of-mouth referrals and bring in more clients.
Finally, I felt confident I knew how to get new clients.
Phase 4: Growing The Business (Year 3-4)
Once I had unlocked how to get customers, I had a healthy stream of revenue that allowed me to do more things. The financial side of the business was a new area for me, so I hired outsourced financial support with a financial planner, bookkeeper, and CPA, which helped me structure my business. I also had the ability now to say no to certain projects and more clearly choose the right clients and projects. During this phase, I also named my business, set up an LLC, a better website, and got more clear on my brand.
At this time, I also engaged a business coach to help me navigate what the next phases of growth would look like. Having driven the majority of my business by myself, I found it really helpful to have an outside source with fresh eyes and more experience come in and help me get to the next level.
Phase 5: Getting (More) Outside Help (Year 5+)
When I first set out, I thought I would be building my business as a solopreneur. I had engaged some interns and part-time support, but it was often more work than it was helpful. However, in the height of COVID, a 2020 graduate from my university reached out to ask for recommendations on her job search. I was happy to help and also offered that I could use some support on the side while she was looking. Everything I sent Ally came back above and beyond, and she was making my life so much easier! I took the bet that if I hired her, I could focus on getting more new business and use her to help me grow the business. The bet paid off. Working with Ally has helped me so much, and also convinced me that it’s worth bringing in help.
Even with a full-time employee, I’ve learned to outsource certain areas of the business. For example, outsourcing blog writing has allowed me to take on more clients, offer more services, and deliver better blogs written by people who are experts in a certain subject. Of course, it can be hard to find great people to work with, but when you do, it makes all the difference.
As I move onto the next phase of the business a few things are top of mind. The main one is I have realized that the kind of business I set up depends a lot on me running it. Hiring helped me see that I can take myself more out of the business in order to work more on it, not in it. I’m looking forward to growing a team, so I can finally work more on building our brand and helping more startups access marketing resources. I know that will come with its own lessons in interviewing, management, and team dynamics, but I’m excited about the challenges it will bring. At this point, I’ve built the muscles to navigate it!
Growing a business has not been easy, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else more rewarding. I’m curious, if you’ve built your own business, what did the first years look like for you? What are lessons you wish you knew? Drop it in the comments below.