How do I start my own business when I’m a newbie?

Here is the dilemma: You can’t start a business without clients, but how can you get clients unless you start a business?

So what to do?

Starting your own business is not easy and can be a very expensive, especially if it doesn’t work out. When I left the comfort of a large advertising agency to go it alone as a freelancer, it was a big shock. There were many lessons I had to learn along the way that I wished I'd known beforehand.

They weren’t apparent at first but as I time went on they became all to significant. I had to learn about attracting jobs and then writing contracts so I didn’t get exploited. Invoicing clients, chasing overdue bills and making sure I had a good cash-flow while I waited the usual 30 days to get paid. 

 The joys of writing a contract.

The joys of writing a contract.

What do I wish I had known?

  • Invoicing - How to price for my services? How long should the credit period be? How to write an invoice? How to set up a business account.
  • Cash-flow - How to plan for the time period between finishing a job and getting paid? How to structure a payment plan? How much to charge up front?
  • Clients - Where to find clients? How to get repeat business? Client referrals and testimonials.
  • Working with others - How do I go about collaborating on projects? Which headhunters are best?
  • Networking - Where to go? How to make a connection? What’s my ‘elevator pitch’?
  • Contracts - How to write one? What do I need to be aware of? Residual fees? Who owns my own artwork after the project is finished?


So what should you do? What should I have done?


Work for someone else within your industry.

But why? There are several reasons and we are still in planning stage. You want to build your business up and in order to do that you need a strong foundation.

1) Your bills are paid. 

This is the most important thing. By having your bills paid, you eliminate the stress of finding money. You don’t have to take on bad clients or crap jobs because you have to get cash. You are free to work without stress and that frees up your mind to focus on other things.

2) You can develop your skills and practice your personal work in your spare time (also known as the Overlap technique). 

If you want to start your business, you will need a very strong work ethic. There will be plenty of long days that extend into the night. By doing a day job and then coming home to work on your own business, you are developing the stamina you will need to make your business a success. Also, by having limited time you get very good and prioritising 'important work' over 'not so important work' aka working smart instead of just working hard.

3) Your job is relevant to your career

Every day you have the opportunity to hone the skills you will need once you set up on your own. This can be anything from using the same software to addressing all of the points I mentioned previously (invoicing, clients, networking etc)

But what if you don’t like your job and end up working for a boss in an agency you don’t like? Change your point of view. You’re learning how NOT to do it. Watch, learn and retain the information so when it comes to your turn, you won’t make the same mistakes.

 if done properly, working for someone else is the first step to going it alone.

if done properly, working for someone else is the first step to going it alone.

Turn Shit into Sugar

This is the ultimate alchemy. Turn those long hours into something productive and valuable. Take time out to speak to all the people in the business and find out about how everything works.

Spend time getting to know Lisa in Accounts, ask her about invoicing, cash-flow and bookkeeping. 

Ask John the Creative Director for advice, software tips and contacts.

Maybe Steve the company M.D. can tell you about how the agency wins business and networking?

What else do you need to know? Just ask!

Whilst at your job you can learn all you need:

  • Software
  • Courses
  • Accounts
  • Getting Clients
  • Keeping Clients
  • Pitching
  • HR
  • Design
  • Typography

Turn WaTER into wine. 

Use your time to amass as much all the information that you will need for when you start your own company. If you get your work done and give 100% to the business, a good boss will be helpful and will encourage you.

But this is the most important thing to remember:

Be ethical, honest and NEVER steal clients. These people have helped you and you should repay them for that. Always help them in return if they need it and never steal their business.

If you steal a client, you will be blacklisted by the whole industry. You’ll have finally started up and then shot yourself in the foot. But if you give back, you will often find that the people you have learned from may even push business your way if they are too busy to take it on. 

It’s not about what you know, but WHO YOU KNOW. Keeping those connections positive and reciprocal is crucial to staying afloat in your first few years.

Although I have chosen design for this example, these principles can be applied to any business. After all 50 Cent learned to set up a record label by working for one.

If you enjoyed the article, please let me know. I love answering your questions and want to help and deliver value every week.

What are you struggling with? How can I help you?

Thad Cox1 Comment