12 THINGS I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME....BEFORE I STARTED MY BUSINESS(ES)

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I started my first business by accident. I was 20 years old, in the middle of a four year design degree at Victoria University. It was August 2000, and I got a call one Saturday morning when I was sick in bed and all clogged up, from ONE NEWS (<<<YES. This actually happened) 

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"Hi Christall, this is Andi Brutherston from TVNZ here. We've heard you're getting an award tonight from Creative NZ for this amazing new material you've invented from New Zealand flax, and you've patented, and we'd like to come and interview you for a segment on One News tonight. Could we meet with you this morning?"

Me: "Sorry, who is this? Oh I'm so sick in bed with a terrible flu. I have to manage to get myself together for the awards tonight, do you think you could come later in the week?"

Andi: "This is Andi Brutherston from TVNZ. Well I don't think you realise how much we'd like to have you on the news tonight, we really need to interview you today so that it coincides with the awards. It will just be me and my camera man. You'll be fine!" Me: "Camera man? What, so you're filming me? I'm sorry, I just woke up. Did you say the news? Like, as in, ON TV" Andi: "Yes One News tonight, we would really love to feature you." And that was the launch of Hapene Flax NZ Limited.I went to the awards dinner that night, received a scholarship (I was so excited about having a chunk of money as a poor student!), my phone rang in the middle of the evening with friends leaving messages saying they'd just seen me on the news (and not that little feel good segment at the end, noooooo, before the first ad, big time you know), and for the next few days my phone rang off the hook with enquiries from other media, people wanting my product, and even from investors.

I had a charming story, of a young girl (ahem, 20) fiddling around in her Grandparents backyard, and stumbling upon a new method of processing flax into a unique, net-like textile. No-one had ever seen anything like it (although people now claim to have done it years ago, of course), and I was able to get it patented. As I pushed through my design degree, I tinkered on the side with my new product, and the possibilities seemed endless. I had a dream, but no plan. I didn't have time. I just loved creating. All the media attention that suddenly exposed me and my product to the world literally forced me into business. Oh my gosh. I had NO idea what I was doing. All I had back in the day when the internet was still a baby, and my cellphone (a rarity) was a big red brick, was my Dad's book called 'Business Planning for Small NZ Businesses'. I devoured it in a week and the rest is history.

I've learnt from SO. MANY. MISTAKES. I've had extreme highs, and major lows. I've had loads of money, and then not even enough to buy rice. I've had struggles, triumphs, wins and losses. I've had life changing experiences. I've grown, I've toiled, I've sprinted and I've fallen flat. In 16 years I've built up and sold three businesses, and currently have a property development company, which will be winding up after I sell this villa we've been renovating. Here's what I wish I knew, before all this even happened.... 

1. There IS such a thing as a visual business plan.

Business plans. SWOT analysis (ick!). These words make me squirm, and my creative juices totally dry right up. But what if I told you that a business plan can be visual? That it doesn't have to be a 30 page, times new roman, boring document, that you never ever finish because your plans keep changing and you can't even keep up with yourself? I will show you how. And do you know what? Business plans are meant to be fluid. Changing with the seasons of life and with new opportunities. Actually, a business plan is never really finished. 

2. Sales do not equal profit.

Oh honey. You didn't think that just because there's money in the bank you can go and buy the latest greatest iMac?! I discovered, time and time again, these things called bills. Major bills. Random bills! Bills for things you couldn't even imagine. Three years later. And tax. And GST. And overheads. And packaging. And and and....so on. Budgeting is super important. And so is working out how much your product/service ACTUALLY costs. Thankfully I have wicked pricing templates. I think I might give them to you.

3. Some people won't like you.

As with anything in life, there are gonna be haters. Especially if you are AWESOME. I was so sensitive! So offended! And now in this age of keyboard ninjas, trolls, and general freedom of speech 'say what you like online but not to your face' kind of culture, haters are everywhere. Don't be offended. Block if necessary. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate. The end.

4. But, even more people will LOVE you.

True story! They will! And wrap that love around you, acknowledge it, eat it up, thrive on it, and love back! There are so many people out there willing to offer help, amping to support you, and who pretty much become your virtual cheerleaders. I feel so humbled, blown away, and to be honest - ecstatic, when somebody emails me just to tell me how much they love my product, service, packaging, branding, painting....It's like taking 10 happy pills. And don't forget to copy and paste that amazing feedback to your testimonials. Lap it up! And say thanks so much to that cool person.

5. Running your own business with one, then two, then three kids is actually damn hard.

Wow. Did I just say 'kids' and 'damn' in the same sentence? Far out, it really is hard. It's RIDICULOUSLY HARD. Before I had my first child, I'd been in the flax business for seven years. When I fell pregnant I had these visions....baby in front pack while I attended shows, held demonstrations, chatted to lovely customers on the phone. Baby would sleep while I created, and 'kept house'. Mate. Reality? I don't even want to go here. Sickness is a big one. Times that by three, sometimes four (when I catch it all too), sometimes five (when husband does omgggg)....sometimes your days can be a write off. For days on end. No sleep. Work to get done. And when they're all well? Realistically, work can only get done when the older ones are at school, and Miss 2 is at kindy, or very occupied exploring and doing her fun stuff. Or when everyone is in bed. And that's if you're not just hanging out to lay on the couch and watch something with a glass of something! I'll stop right there. It's FLIPPING HARDCORE HARD. I do however have strategies for 'managing' this kind of dynamic....   

6. Use the services of a chartered accountant. Period.

What you will save yourself in tax, will more than compensate what you pay for a chartered accountant. I used cheap book keepers for years, and only in the past five years a chartered accountant. I will not look back.

7. Don't undervalue yourself, or your product/service, even when you're starting out.

Ohhhh this is a biggie. There's a whole new post needed for how to charge out and price your product or service. It's so easy to undercharge and undervalue our worth. But do you know what? If you know your true worth and respect your value, others will too. Super low prices, constant discounts, and being too 'affordable', can sometimes backfire. Okay a lot of the time, if you are one who values your worth. When you constantly reduce your prices (or have very low prices to start with), you attract price sensitive customers, a culture of people who will never want to buy at full price. They will always expect it to be cheap, and will scoff at prices that are higher. Is this the kind of customer for you? Is this your 'target market'? Maybe, but probably not. 'Cheap' can also give the impression that you don't really care about making a profit, or that your products aren't of much value. Offer discounts and incentives, for sure, but there are ways to attract your 'right' customer. Can I just say, that from experience (and others experiences), my most difficult, high maintenance customers (ones that actually made me cry), were ones that got my product/service VERY cheap, or FREE. You can't believe this. I can hear you now. Well it's true. They did not value my work, time, expertise or worth. They over demanded, I over delivered, and I even had a couple of people drag my name through cyber space mud. Waaaaaaa! That REALLY hurt. Don't undervalue yourself. Just don't! PS - this does not mean that all people who purchase things cheaply are awful people. No way. These are just my real life examples, and thankfully rare cases. I had attracted the 'wrong' kind of customer for me, but I learnt from it, and I worked out how to attract the 'right'. 

8. You cannot do everything, and you WILL get a bucket load of emails.

Truth. People will email you about everything. You will think you can do everything. You can't. 

9. Censor yourself. Don't moan on your business' social media pages. 

Just don't do it. Even if your little hands are itching to! If you really have to, moan on your personal page instead, and gather your supporters. However, do make sure your personal page is private. Also, did you know that if you express some alternative opinion on a public post, or have a whinge about something, or create a bit of a stir, lots of people will go and click on your profile to see what you're all about....okay, stalk you. I know this because I do it. Admit it, you do too!

10. You will spend more time on admin, rather than your passion.

Yes. Another true story. But this is okay....if your passion is admin.

11. Take time out.

I really mean this. When you live, breathe, eat, sleep and dream your business, sometimes you need to get right out of that headspace to realign yourself again. Sometimes, getting right away can help to recalibrate your business, your family life, your commitments, your personal goals, your dreams, your vision. Having a holiday is good for the soul, can help you move from a tough spot to a better place, and can give you that much needed 'step away' from your business in order to see things from a different perspective and in a new light. It also gives your brain a chance to switch off for a bit. Breathe. Be. You may not think you need it, and you may not even want to do it, but believe me when I say you'll be thanking yourself afterwards. 

12. Most importantly....don't deviate from what your heart truly wants, be authentic, and know that change can be a good thing.

Be authentically YOU. Don't try to be what you're not, or try to be a copy of someone else. Look deep into your heart and soul, and let it reveal what and who you are. A good rule of thumb....ONLY DO, WHAT ONLY YOU, CAN DO. That's your uniqueness, your point of difference, your wow. Just because you have a business plan (or not) doesn't mean you can't deviate from the plan. A business plan is meant to be always evolving, growing with your dreams, changing with life's circumstances. Don't be afraid of change. Embrace it. Get excited about it. Let it be a catalyst for awesomeness! There you go. I had a list of 30, and I managed to narrow it down to my top 12. Would I have changed anything if I'd known any of this 16 years ago? I have no idea! I've always been one to learn from mistakes. I hope others can learn from mine too. 

Go well, go hard, and be awesome.

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Christall x