Five things I wish I knew when I started my business

The decision to start your own business can be one of the most intimidating yet exciting endeavours for a budding entrepreneur.

Fiona Fowley shares the lessons she learned from starting her business, Zen Lifestyle. Picture: Contributed
Fiona Fowley shares the lessons she learned from starting her business, Zen Lifestyle. Picture: Contributed

Today we have access to a plethora of advice about how to start and run a successful business – the internet is brimming with useful information, from registering your company to sorting out your taxes. More formal channels such as your local chamber of commerce, Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise or the Scottish Council for Development & Industry, are also always at hand to help.

Despite this seemingly limitless resource, there are a few pieces of advice that don’t always get passed on. For many entrepreneurs starting out, it’s time and people management that tend to fall to the wayside. Here are five tips I’ve learned over the years that I believe all entrepreneurs should be aware of.

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Ongoing staff training is crucial

Staff training should be available throughout a person’s career, not just at the very start. It’s also important to offer or encourage training in your employee’s areas of expertise – especially in an industry as fast moving and competitive as health and beauty. The same goes for yourself – always seek opportunities to learn something new.

When you bring someone new into the team, you are generally aware of their experience and what they can bring to the group. What is less clear, is how they go about their job and the standards they maintain. To ensure new staff members fit into your company culture and maintain the standards you set, you need to embed this into your training programme – too many business owners expect people to seamlessly fit in without any meaningful guidance.

Be aware of your workload and learn to delegate

It’s crucial to keep on top of what needs to be done on a daily basis – I’m a big fan of lists and diaries – and always remember to use the expertise of your staff to spread the workload. Anyone who runs their own business will have a clear idea of how they want something to be done – sharing your vision with the whole team galvanises the business and encourages everyone to work together towards a common goal. Learning to delegate is one of the most useful management tasks you’ll learn. It allows you to spend more time developing your staff and working on the business.

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Planning and communication

Setting clear timelines and deadlines for work will mean there is an end in sight and a result to work towards. Like most businesses starting out, deadlines can move frequently, but having a clear plan will keep things on the straight and narrow.

Keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging a sharing environment is also incredibly important – this allows any issues that may arise to be brought up and tackled early on, before a larger problem can develop.

Take a time-out

Taking a quick time out every once in a while will help you maintain your focus and keep the stress levels to a minimum. When you are buried in your work, it’s hard to see anything except the task at hand. If you don’t step back, take a break every once in a while, you can forget the bigger picture and that way you could miss important opportunities.

As a business owner, being too involved can also have a negative effect on your staff. If you’ve always got your head down, you may appear closed off or unapproachable, which can affect staff morale and will hamper your ability to maintain an “open” culture. Being an excellent communicator and keeping your staff involved in the grand scheme gives everyone a joint sense of pride in the business, which increases staff and client loyalty.

There is always room for improvement

Never stop challenging yourself. Even after 17 years, there’s always something new to learn. The health and beauty industry is constantly evolving – there is always a new treatment or technology to learn about. This goes for staff as well. Just because you’re successful, never rest on your laurels – change happens fast. Staying ahead of the curve means you’re never left behind, but that takes time and dedication and no shortage of late nights.

• Fiona Fowley is the founder and director of Edinburgh-based luxury beauty salon, spa and skin clinic, Zen Lifestyle.