“It’s a bit of a cliché”, says Tracey Jefferies, “but turning 40 back in 2004 really is what prompted me to start my own business. However, my first problem was in deciding what I could sell that customers would want to buy.” In business, there are only two things that you can sell: a product or a service. And as Jefferies had no product to sell it became a matter of deciding what would be her service and who would be her customers. But this could be no “lifestyle” or “hobby” business – the mortgage had to be paid every month which meant that income had to be regular from the outset.
Since Jefferies had spent 15 years in retail management with John Lewis she believed that her marketing and communication skills could be of real help to small business owners. The main idea was to help small businesses to build a brand that communicated the right business messages and to ensure that people were listening. Some early market research with sole traders gave her the confidence to go for it. “I started with euphoria and excitement”, says Jefferies, “but three months after leaving full time employment I struggled with motivation and focus – partly as a consequence of being on my own.”
One common aspect of running a business as a sole trader is the lack of feedback from peers – something that Jefferies had taken for granted with performance appraisals when working for John Lewis. She tackled this need head on by challenging herself to study for a professional business qualification. “Learning in business should be continual”, says Jefferies, “but the professional qualification was a good way of getting external validation about my abilities.” Jefferies also sought out mentors – experienced business people that she respected – and requested meetings with them. “You need to be pro-active with business education”, she says, “and make sure that you fill any obvious gaps in your own abilities.”
Few people in business have all of the skills that they need to be successful when they start out. And, unlike Jefferies, new business owners often fail to give enough attention to learning about enterprise – the process of running a business. Recognising the need for education and devoting enough time to do something about it can be the difference between success and business failure. It’s certainly been helpful for Jefferies – she is about to launch her second business.
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