You did it.

You satisfied your first few clients. They love your work. You’ve added value to their businesses by helping them sell products and gain exposure.

What’s next?

Sometimes it’s easier to help others meet those kinds of goals than it is to do it for yourself. But don’t worry – we’ve got you. If you’ve started your own marketing business, and have had that exciting realization of how important your skills are to those who don’t have them, but aren’t really sure where to go, we can help you get through the next few hurdles. If you have the time and money, you can get a Master of Human Resources Management online, but if that’s not in the cards, keep reading.

Pen to Paper

There are a few key administrative skills that are vital to business owners. You should own these skills as much as you own the rest of your work because they are the foundation of your business. Some of them might seem small or unimportant compared to the big contracts you’re landing, but they are all things you’ll thank yourself for doing as time goes on.

Writing a business plan can be exciting and terrifying all at once, but if you’re in a growth phase, it’s vital to take a full inventory of your assets, opportunities, values, the industry you work in, and how you want your business to run. A business plan is a great way to start taking yourself and your work a bit more seriously. It’s an important psychological step and will serve as a reference for navigating the changes your business will undoubtedly go through.

Once you know what kind of business you are going to be running, it’s important to incorporate it properly. You are probably a sole proprietor right now, and that’s fine, but if your business is growing, you should ensure that it’s structured such that it can support the level of growth you are anticipating. Are you working with a partner? Will you be hiring employees? Do you anticipate receiving outside investment? Where will your capital come from? Do you need to protect your private assets from potential business debts? These are all crucial questions you need to ask yourself. I can’t give you legal advice, and your local laws and regulations are going to set the framework for what is possible, but if your business is growing rapidly, it’s important to understand what kind of company you will be running and to organize it properly before it gets away from you. This is one basic legal hurdle that can save you from many hard-learned lessons.

Learn some basic accounting and legal skills. Get a balance sheet going; you’re going to need to understand how money moves inside your business. Engage a good lawyer who has worked in your industry, and let them help you with your first few work and employment contracts. Go over the details with them whenever you’re unsure. These things might feel like overkill if you’re just getting started, but they’re also things you’re going to wish you’d done sooner if you put them off until necessity dictates.

Heavy Lies the Crown

Industry knowledge and basic management skills aren’t all you’ll need to brush up on! If you’re going to run a real business, there are some key soft skills that you will need just to keep the gears turning. Experience is the best teacher here.

It might sound obvious, but you should work on your elevator pitch. You should have it down cold – it should become a reflex. As the owner of a business, you’re going to be engaging potential clients, employees, and hopefully someday even investors. These will mostly be people who don’t currently work directly in your industry, and they need to know what your business does without all of the frills and technical details. Even your peers and people inside your industry are going to be more interested in working together if you can convey your greatest strengths and the scope of your wheelhouse without talking their ear off.

Brevity is generally something you should try to master. Communicating as much as possible in as few words as possible is the best way to be – and be seen as – professional, intelligent, and efficient. Write short emails. Make your proposals and contracts neat. When you need to have meetings, keep them short. Avoid repetition unless it’s really vital to get your point across; repetition is often taken as condescending, and saying the same thing over and over in different ways makes you seem less intelligent to anyone who actually understands what you’re talking about, which will include most of your peers and coworkers. There is a limit to this rule – excessive brusqueness can come off as dismissive or even intimidating, so maybe don’t take this one to the limit. With that in mind, when in doubt, less is more.

The moment you start hiring is the moment you start learning an entirely new perspective. If you’ve never been in management before, it’s going to be a doozy. Being in a position of power comes with a whole set of responsibilities that you’ve probably never considered.

Know Thyself

You have to know your brand. It’s easier said than done, especially when you’re the client. You could probably type in a company’s URL and immediately pick out a handful of things you could improve about their brand, but when you look at your own site, you draw a blank. That’s normal. It’s always easier to be objective about someone else’s brand than it is your own – that’s why companies with marketing departments still hire you!

…but you still have to do it. You probably don’t have a huge marketing budget, and, as a small business and an expert in the field, it would be a bad use of your resources even if you did. You can do this.

The first and most important thing is to know your niche. What do you know best? What do you love? Who can you help? As much as we’d like our brand to be about ourselves, in reality, it’s first and foremost about our clients: it’s great to be as authentic as possible, whenever possible, but at the end of the day, you have to know what your potential clients are looking for. Who have you helped so far? What industry are they in? What niche did they fill in their industry? Were they small, medium-sized, or large companies? Collectively, these questions have the same answer as the question you’re already asking yourself: who is my next client?

Trust is vital for a small business, and you need to build on what you’ve done. Once you’ve identified the direction you want to take your brand in, talk to former or current clients who fit the bill. Ask them why they chose you, and what they were most satisfied with about your work. Get some nice quotables and get their permission to display your work for their company on your site. Sometimes it feels awkward to ask, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always no, and the yesses will be much-needed fuel for your brand.

Get Out There

It’s an adage as old as the market itself, but there’s no substitute for word of mouth. As someone who knows advertising, it might be tempting to get right out there and start throwing out signals on Google and Facebook, but you may find your time better spent networking when you’re just getting on your feet.

Let your current and former clients know that you’re actively seeking new business. If you’ve done good work for them, they will probably be happy to put in a good word for you to their peers, friends and family, or other businesses they work with; it’s probably a bit too optimistic to expect them to turn into commission-free salespeople for your company, but they might mention your work if someone they know needs a similar service. But only if you ask!

In business, the enemies of your friends will sometimes become your friends. Odds are you will work for a competitor of a former client at some point, and if you’ve worked with a business, you probably already know their competition. Unless your ex-clients are also friends, potential return clients, or otherwise connected beyond a single contract, you have nothing to lose by reaching out to other businesses in their industry. This might be more taboo in some cultures than others, but in general, business is business!

Look for trade shows in the industries you work well with. These are great opportunities to get out and network with other people who are trying to network. There’s nothing worse than being the person who’s handing out their business card when it’s unwanted, and not many things are better than being in a hall full of potential clients, partners, suppliers, and investors who are all looking to connect. Trade shows are the real way to get to know your industry inside and out and start making fresh contacts – there’s no replacement for making a good first impression in the flesh when it comes to attracting new clients.


It’s vital to play to your strengths, and you should never take work so far outside your wheelhouse that you can’t get the job done. But pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and expanding your core skill set is going to be vital to running a successful business. This might sound counterintuitive after some of the things you’ve just read, but the reality is that, as a business owner, you need to do it all! Knowing your strengths is a good way to establish a baseline income, but if you want your business to grow, then you need to be ready to grow.

What are your biggest opportunities? Do you currently focus more on hard skills or soft skills? Are you a good graphic designer who could use some brushing up on SEO? Maybe you’re a technical wiz who needs to. Whatever your greatest strength is, odds are, it goes hand in hand with a corresponding weakness, and if you’re going to run a business, then the buck will always stop with you. That means you need to be ready to do it all when the chips are down – especially if you want your business to grow beyond your current niche.

At the end of the day, if you’re willing to keep learning, you – and your business – will continue to grow.

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