I left Scotland on Monday. Not in a going-on-holiday sense, but in a moving-away-forever sense. After 34 years living in the central belt, I am now a resident of England for the first time in my adult life. G75 Media remains a Scottish company (headquartered in a gorgeous Georgian office in Glasgow), but I’m no longer there with it.
My extended family’s departure from Scotland has been caused by a combination of political, professional and personal factors. And while we’re all in a better place now, I really wish I’d known this would happen. I would have been a less anxious person over recent years if I’d spent more time savouring the present, and less time worrying about the future. Does that sound familiar?
Don’t look back in anger
Looking back, I wish I’d known a lot of things when I was younger – especially things about running a business, which was never something I intended to do until freelance work kept landing in my lap. For anyone thinking about making the frightening yet exhilarating step of becoming an entrepreneur (or for anyone who already has), here are ten pieces of advice the me of 2021 would pass onto the me of 2005 if he could. Feel free to add your own suggestions below…
- Setting up a limited company beats being a sole trader. It took me two years to register G75 Media in 2007, and I wish I’d done it sooner. A limited company is more professional, provides greater legal indemnity against prosecution, and simplifies mortgage applications.
- Choose your accountant with care. I picked a local guy who promptly retired and left the business to that’ll-do junior staff. I then switched to a remote accountancy service, who invented a director’s loan account to save me some tax one year. It took five years to repay.
- Pick a dependable web hosting firm. If you want to switch web hosting company, your email account could be offline for days as the server repropagates. No small business can survive that, so choose an established UK-based firm with a 99.9 per cent SLA and rapid servers.
- Build networks. I have diligently applied for thousands of jobs over the last 15 years. Yet most new work today comes from people I’ve worked with in the past, LinkedIn connections or word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s not what you know…
- …Except it is. I’ve met so many people trying to bluff their way through roles they didn’t really understand. They always got found out in the end. Your business should also be your hobby or specialist subject. If it’s not, learn it inside out before sending out any invoices.
- Say no occasionally. Constantly saying yes saw me working myself into the ground trying to meet deadlines, or doing work I didn’t enjoy. As a lifelong vegetarian, I still wish I’d turned down that 2011 assignment to write about an animal by-products processing factory…
- Hold back before being negative. I was impetuous in my twenties, but I learned to wait overnight before reacting. Reviewing something with fresh eyes gives you a chance to make a message more powerful and effective. Plus, you might change your mind the next day.
- Never descend into bickering on social media. Some people thrive on arguments, while the professionally outraged revel in self-righteous indignation. Plus, you never know who might read your responses later on, when topicality has passed and the context seems different.
- Keep detailed records. I worked from a drawerless desk for three years, losing paperwork I needed and tax receipts I should have kept for six years. Box files were my saviour, and they’ll be yours as well. File everything unless and until you’re sure it’s not relevant.
- Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. This one comes from the heart. I had a really poor 2013, but 2014 was lucrative. My income halved during the first lockdown, yet I ended 2020 with record turnover. Focus on the here and now, not what might be one day.
Finally, and I felt this was too important to include in a bullet-point list, give yourself some credit. I was quite harsh on myself in the early years of G75 Media, constantly feeling I could be more professional or working harder. I gradually abandoned the elusive pursuit of perfection, focusing instead on keeping detailed records and ensuring I didn’t send out anything bearing my name until I’d proofread it twice. Providing you act professionally at all times, maintaining a calendar or Trello board of deadlines and appointments, clients can’t ask more of you. And they won’t. They’re also struggling to remain professional in an age of home working and incessant multitasking. Being good at your job makes their lives easier, and they’ll be grateful for your competence and diligence.