8 lessons learnt after my first two years in business - Part 1

It is now almost two years since I was made redundant. My visa to work in Australia hung in the balance, all the work that I had done for the past three years was going down the drain, and I was panicking about how the heck I was going to make a living. 

The health charity that I was working for was closing and all staff were being let go as the cycle of government funding came to an end. This was the third time I’d been through funding cuts, and the aftermath, and I decided that this was the last time around hamster wheel for me. 

I had recently taken a coaching course with Athletics Australia to learn about coaching recreational runners and had really loved it. I had never considered being a coach, but I loved running, people were beginning to look to me for advice and I had coaches in other areas of my life, so I knew the value that they could bring. The idea first began simmering in my mind in May and, by the time we closed the doors to the organisation in October, I knew that I wanted to set up my own business, and I wanted to coach recreational runners.

I was petrified but excited about committing to this new path. Like many new business owners, I’d never set up a business before and had heard all of the stats about most businesses failing in their first three years. At the same time, I’d been burned too many times by my ‘secure’ day job to go back. I knew exactly what I didn’t want, and just enough about what I did want to get started…

As a business amateur, I launched GoRun Australia. I found myself trying to attract and keep clients, to market my coaching services, to figure out which accounting software to use, to create a website, to choose between all the different social media options, to write a business plan and to do the 17,000 other things that you think you should be doing when you get started.

Almost two years later, my business is still alive and kicking, I have paid back my initial $10,000 investment and have a steady stream of clients who are achieving awesome results with their running. The business is making a profit each month and I’m now in a position to pay myself a small salary. While it’s still the early days, and I still have 16,999 things that I think I should be doing, things are moving in the right direction and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot along the way. 

Here are the top eight lessons I’ve learnt in the last two years, which you can use to avoid many of my mistakes!

1. Say ‘yes’… and then learn to say ‘no’

When I got started, I said ‘yes’ to everything – every opportunity, every sniff of a new client, every recommendation and more.

This wasn’t a conscious strategy – I was just trying to get my business off the ground. I was desperate. Fortunately, it led to some of the best partnerships, best opportunities and best clients I have ever had.

However, it was also a great lesson in how to become overwhelmed and distracted very quickly. As an example, I regularly said yes to co-writing blogs with other coaches or people in the industry. Not only did writing with two people take far longer than if I’d done it alone, but the blogs had little impact on my business.

It was frustrating at first, but it did teach me when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. Those initial ‘yeses’ then led to my initial client base and income, and gave me just enough confidence to start to choose how I spent my time and energy, rather than being at the whim of the next shiny opportunity.

2. Take consistent action

Almost every day, I tell the runners I coach, ‘Train consistently and the results will come.’

The same thing applies in business. If you are consistent about doing little things often, you will generate the momentum needed to carry you through the tough times. These ‘little things’ include regularly meeting new businesses and people in your field, emailing potential customers, reaching out to influencers in your industry to see how you can cross-promote, getting coaching and professional development, and writing new blogs on interesting topics.

While these actions may not have led to concrete results at the time, over time they’ve paid off through referred clients, increased trust with those partners and also joint events, campaigns and further support for my own campaigns. 

Not everything will be perfect all the time, but these small, consistent actions and decisions become habit and generate momentum for your business. 

3. Think ‘partnership’

Earlier this year, I forged a partnership with running shoe manufacturer, Mizuno. Through this partnership:

  • We’ve collaborated on a range of video and social media content that we’ve been able to share with both of our audiences;
  • I’ve been able to do a running shoe 'wear test' with my running group;
  • I've gotten entries into races and running gear as a brand ambassador;
  • My runners get discounts on Mizuno products and occasionally get gifts like T-shirts, water bottles and more (which is a great bit of added value for them); and
  • Mizuno has also contributed to competitions prizes for campaigns, such as a challenge I set myself to run 17 marathons in 2017.

For me, this has led to a big boost in credibility along with allowing me to reach a much larger audience than I could have reached on my own. Mizuno, on the other hand, gets the benefit of being associated with a local coach, runner and influencer, and they also get exposure to my running clients.

And this is just one example – the biggest results I have experienced in my business have been from partnering with complementary businesses. In my world as a running coach, that means working with podiatrists, physios, running shoe manufacturers, other coaches and groups, the end result of which has been better products, services and experiences for my own customers.

While it might seem counterintuitive, and it’s easy to worry that partnering with other businesses could cost you customers and opportunities, the truth is that the reverse is true – a good partnership is a win-win for both parties, and can help you achieve far more than you would have been able to on your own.

4. Real clients come from real relationships

For some reason, I thought that most of my clients would come from advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Wrong!  I have spent many hours attempting to design the perfect Instagram post, only to find that when you put it out to the world, nothing comes back.

These platforms work for certain areas of my business, such as generating interest in my weekly run group and building a brand identity, but in terms of attracting reliable, high-quality clients, I have personally had a much better return on investment from individual emails, phone calls and meetings, than from social media.

The real clients who pay me real money have come almost entirely from referrals from real people or real businesses. These referrals come almost daily from the partnerships I’ve built, as these real people and businesses trust me enough to recommend me to their clients.

The customer also wins in this scenario – they get a better experience and feel more confident in the businesses that they are working with.

Ready for more? Stay tuned for my next four lessons next month!

About the author

Chris White is the founder of GoRun Australia, which coaches beginner and intermediate level runners who want to enjoy their running, learn more and like to laugh! Whether your goal is a personal best at parkrun, a sub-2-hour half-marathon or finishing your first marathon, runners at GoRun have achieved these goals with the help of run coaching, and you can too. 

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