Tips on starting and running a great firm

Running your own business can be challenging in the first few years. It takes more than courage and self-esteem to keep afloat and to generate income.

Running your own business can be challenging in the first few years. It takes more than courage and self-esteem to keep afloat and to generate income.

Here are a few tips from other entrepreneurs with years of experience to help you along the way.

l Don't work for less than you can afford to, but do offer a discount to customers or clients who sign contracts with you. Working for less than you can afford to is tantamount to taking jobs for the sake of keeping busy and the expenses for doing the job are usually higher than what you make.

You should also set terms for collections. Collect your money in a maximum of 30 days. Keep the terms short so that as soon as you do the work, you're paid for the work. Always make sure to get money from your clients quickly and effectively.

l Find people who will refer jobs to you and connect you to prospects for the future. If they send you nightmare jobs, make sure they're balanced out with rewarding or profitable ones. Networking has always been key to start-ups.

l Surround yourself with supportive people and don't be discouraged by anyone. If your idea is good and you're determined to stick with it through the first few difficult years, your chances of success are great.

l Be flexible in your thinking. Prepare to change the way you work, the products you use and the services you offer, in order to meet customers' demands. At first you might not have a clear niche of customers, so while establishing your niche, allow for flexibility.

l Admit your mistakes, correct them and carry on. For example, if you buy a piece of equipment that does not meet your expectations, send it back, sell it or exchange it. Too often, entrepreneurs get caught up in arguments like "the client requested this and now they are changing to that" and lose the chance to forget the client and move on to better-paying and service-appreciating clients.

In most cases, clients that bog you down with arguments normally neither pay on time nor appreciate you no matter how many times you accommodate them.

l Develop a good relationship with your bank manager and creditors. Show a genuine interest in solving problems. Pay as much as you can afford to everyone you owe money. When you need their help, they'll remember every time you did not pay them well or afford them a good service.

l Get trained. You'll be spending a lot of time doing things that have nothing to do with your area of expertise, like book-keeping, marketing, and IT support. But as boss of a starting business, you can't afford outsourced services or professional staff.

l Avoid isolation. Even if you work closely with your clients, you won't be part of a gang anymore. Develop your own network of entrepreneurs that you see regularly and bounce ideas off them.

l Separate your work and personal life. Set your working hours and stick to a strict timetable. When you're not available to clients, leave a message on your answer-machine. Let them know how to reach you in an emergency.

l Plan some "thinking time" every day. If you pack your diary with back-to-back meetings, it leaves less time to think things through and to strategise.

As the boss, the business depends on your wellbeing.