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At one time or another, we’ve all thought about becoming self-employed. The unfortunate reality, however, is that not everyone possesses the attributes that this lifestyle requires – not immediately, anyway.
At Crunch, we firmly believe that anyone can start their own business and make it a success, but as with everything in life, it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of growth – both personal and professional.
We’ve already looked at how to identify your gap in the market, and how to stress-test your business idea, and we’ve also got a more general article on how to start a business that goes over more of the things you’ll need to do to actually get started. But it’s time we talked about the most important part of the puzzle: you. How do you know if you’re cut out for the life of an entrepreneur? What qualities do you need to possess, what attributes should all business owners have, and what parts of your game need a little more refinement before you register your new company with HMRC?
Well, in no particular order, here are 15 attributes that we believe every business owner should have, or at least, have as many of them as possible!
Self-employment comes with a tonne of rewarding benefits: setting your own schedule, making your own decisions, picking and choosing who you work with and what you work on. The extra freedom is liberating, and it’s important not to get lost in it.
Self-motivation is the key. No-one else is going to get your work done for you if you decide to have a lie-in. No-one else is going to chase your client if/when they fail to pay on time, or drum up new leads. No-one else is going to make your business a success. If you’re not capable of summoning up the motivation to take the bull by the horns and face the challenges of self-employment, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one more responsive to change.”
Those were the words of the father of evolution, Charles Darwin, and they should serve as a reminder for all small business owners that what you’re doing today might not be enough tomorrow.
You need to remain open-minded and receptive to change, no matter how successful your business becomes or how comfortable your standard operating practises are. Your rivals will be innovating and progressing all the time, and if you don’t embrace whatever changes are shaping the future of your industry, you’re going to be left behind.
All the better if you can set the trends yourself, of course – even when things are going well, you should have one eye on the future. Forward-thinking is what’s going to keep you ahead of the competition in the long-run. It’s also important to plan out that future so you can see how you’ll get to where you want to be
We’d love to tell you that every decision you’ll make as a small business owner is going to be the correct one, or that your business is definitely going to be a success, but unfortunately, we simply can’t. That’s why confidence is such a valuable asset to every sole trader or limited company.
Every business faces rough patches – especially in the early weeks when word of your quality hasn’t quite spread yet – and you may encounter moments of self-doubt, but that’s when you need to summon up your confidence. Fortune favours the brave, and as with many aspects of life, a touch of confidence can go a long way. Just be sure your confidence doesn’t stray into arrogance – no-one wants to do business with someone with a holier-than-thou attitude.
This one ties back into both confidence and self-motivation. There will be times where things go wrong, and some of your decisions will, unfortunately, not pay off as you wanted them to. But in those moments where your confidence has taken a knock, you’ve lost a client, and you’re wondering if all of this hassle was worth it, you need to remember to believe in yourself.
You started your business with an ambition – you had an idea in your head of where your business could go, how much better the world of work could become, and you did what so many others spend their lives wishing they’d done. You took a chance. You bet on yourself. You went for it. And why? Because you believed in yourself. Never lose that self-belief.
Now let’s make one thing clear: you don’t always have to work within your passions to become a successful small business owner. If you love cars, tennis, or cross-stitching, but work as a plumber, IT contractor, or freelance photographer, that certainty isn’t a problem!
In this instance, passion is less about working with your favourite hobbies and pastimes, and more about taking pride in your work. After all, no-one wants to think their builder is just working for a paycheck – that kind of lethargy makes you doubt the quality of their work. Showing your clients that there’s love and energy in every job you perform builds trust and confidence in your services, and if you’re excited and energised, your clients will be too.
There are a lot of things to organise when you work for yourself: prioritising your workload, managing your time, keeping top of your bookkeeping and recording your expenses. There’ll be a lot of things happening at once, and your organisational skills will be sternly tested.
Of course, you can always get some help with some of these tasks. An accountant will be to help you keep on top of your bookkeeping, and online accounting software will help make managing your expenses and invoices a breeze – so long as you’re making sure to update your records regularly, anyway.
Thankfully, we’ve got you covered on that front – our free bookkeeping software, Crunch Free, can help you organise your expenses and invoices, and our paid accountancy packages give you access to an entire team of expert accountants and client managers.
On the topic of organisation, you should have established some kind of business plan by the time your company is up and running. With a business plan, you’ll know where your company is heading and what targets you need to hit to get there, which is where a goal-oriented mindset comes into play.
If developing a plan, sticking to it, and chasing a target is your idea of fun, you’ve got an immediate advantage over those who are flying by the seat of their pants. Goals keep you focused, motivate you to get better, to try new things to meet those targets, and ultimately help you understand how well your business is growing.
Trust is the cornerstone of every relationship, whether personal or professional. The simple fact of the matter is that people just won’t want to do business with anyone they perceive to be unreliable or untrustworthy – they want to have confidence in you, and you need to establish that trust as quickly as possible with your client base.
Be honest with your clients at every stage of the process. Whether you’re discussing pricing, deadlines, details of the work, or any difficult and unreasonable clients or complaints or issues that may arise, be honest with your expectations and stick to whatever agreements you make. Of course, in spite of the old saying, customers aren’t always right! Nevertheless, trust goes a long way in the world of the self-employed, and clients are far more likely to come back to you in the future when they know you’re reliable.
Humility is one of the most important qualities you’re going to need when it comes to running a business. As we discussed earlier when we spoke about the importance of confidence, you won’t get everything right. Things will go and mistakes will be made. But humility won’t only help you learn and grow from those experiences, but also endear you to your clients. People are a lot more forgiving when you own your mistakes.
Let’s also remember, of course, that you’d have to be pretty close to the perfect human being to have all of the qualities listed in this article right out of the starting gate. Another aspect of humility is accepting your current limitations and recognising your flaws: where else can you develop? What aspects of your personality, your business, or your skillset, can you afford to get better at?
If there’s a quality in this list you don’t yet possess, have the humility to recognise it and take steps to better yourself. (If it’s humility you’re lacking, of course, that might be a little tricky.)
Becoming self-employed without knowing how to budget, save, and manage your money is like leaving your house without an umbrella when the forecast is rain. You might stay dry for a little while, but eventually, the downpour arrives. If you’re not good with money, you need to learn to be, and quickly!
his is another instance where an accountant will come in handy. They can help you understand how much you should be setting aside to pay your taxes, and how to pay yourself in the most tax-efficient manner possible.
If you have an office to furnish or a toolbox to fill, remember to start out with the economic choices, rather the designer models. We all want the latest gadgets, tech, and equipment, but if the PC you really want is going to make tax season feel a little touch-and-go, consider sticking with what you’ve got or picking up something cheaper to tide you over. Your taxes, rent, and/or bills should always come first.
There’s a saying in marketing circles: “people buy people”, which is to say that although someone will hire a plumber to fix the pipes and install a new shower, they’ll pick that particular plumber because they like the cut of their jib. With that in mind, the importance of people skills become self-evident.
Being a personable, charming, charismatic, and pleasant person to be around will go a long way in not only securing you work, but also attracting those clients back when they next need a job, or when their friends ask them for a recommendation.
Now, of course, as a distinguished reader of Crunch Knowledge articles, we already know you’re a polite and likeable person, but we can all always do better. Learning how to make small talk, talk more about your client and less about yourself, and wear a warm and friendly smile will all go a very long way in leaving the right impression on your clients.
To follow on from general likeability, let’s discuss people skills. Learning to listen authentically and communicate effectively is incredibly important when it comes to networking and maintaining healthy business relationships.
Dryly passing around your business cards to anyone and everyone at a party, conference, or networking event is hardly endearing. Show an interest in other people’s work, ask them questions, and be the kind of person that you’d want to hire if the shoe were on the other foot.
Remember to listen authentically and focus on the moment – don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the phone call you need to make once this conversation is over, or on the meeting you had beforehand. Put your phone away and focus on the person in front of you and make sure they’re the focus of your attention.
Last but not least, make sure you have an elevator pitch prepared when it’s time to start promoting yourself. Effective, direct, and jargon-free communication could be the difference between landing and missing out on a client.
Street smarts are usually a product of experience, but it’s important to start learning them as soon as you can. Life as a small business owner can be incredibly rewarding, but there will be times where you’ll get knocked down and have to pull yourself back up again.
It’s also important to beware the pitfalls of naivety. Depending on your experience, you may not have had a lot of practice being at the top-end of a business, making the decisions and finding the work that keeps the company afloat. You may run into competitors or potential clients that are willing to take advantage of that lack of experience, and in those moments, you need to trust your gut.
No-one’s expecting you to know everything right out of the box, but you will need to have a basic understanding of some of your new responsibilities – or at least methods of managing those areas in which you’re not quite as clued up as you might want to be.
Some of these technical skills may be IT literacy and an understanding of computers. You’ll need a website, for example, and possibly a social media account or two, so how are you going to set them up and manage them? What about GDPR legislation and data protection laws? And let’s not forget about financial management, which as we’ve already discussed, could be your company’s undoing if you’re not careful.
Of course, support may be needed in some of these instances, and there are always options. If you don’t know your Self Assessment from your year-end accounts, you might want to consider getting an accountant (like us!). If you’re looking to build a website for your new business, you might want to look online for a professional that can help you. In fact, if you were to become a Crunch client or a member of our free self-employed community, we can put you in touch with one of our trusted partners who create high-quality websites for free!
Last but not least, your sales and marketing techniques will need touching up if you’re looking to make a long-term success of your new business. Every business needs a sales process, after all, but you won’t be selling anything if you can’t market your services effectively.
You’ll need to have an understanding of who your audience is and how to reach them, what problems they may be facing, what solutions you can offer, and how to convince them that you’re the right person for the job.
This is also where your elevator pitch will come in handy, as we discussed earlier when we spoke about the importance of clear and concise communication. Clients don’t want to get lost in a wave of jargon and technical hoo-ha. They want things broken down into simple and understandable terms: who are you, what do you do, how can you help?
At Crunch, we have a range of free and paid services to help you on your self-employed journey. Our award-winning Knowledge section is choc-full of insightful articles that can help you reach a decision, and lay the early foundations for your new business. Here are just a few:
We also have dozens of free business guides available to download and keep, covering a range of important topics, including:
If you’re ready to get started, our expert advisors, client managers, and Chartered Certified Accountants are on hand to help you create the small business of your dreams. We offer a complete accountancy service with unlimited support for limited companies and sole traders.
We also offer a completely free, entry-level accountancy solution for new businesses and those who handle their own accounts. It’s a super-helpful tool for limited companies and sole traders, and you can get Crunch Free right now!