October 1st 2016
It is twelve years since I left the corporate world to start my own business. About 12 years and 6 months since I made the decision to do so, for the simple reason that employers who shared my standards of customer service were becoming rare.
Looking back, so much has changed since 2004, especially with digital advances:
Email was not used widely in 2004 and people expected a landline phone number. If I wanted things to move quickly, it had to be done by phone. Now I just include my email address and Twitter on the business cards that rarely get used and just part with my mobile number if someone needs it.
While the internet had been in the mainstream for a few years, businesses didn’t automatically have a website. I had one created before I launched as I felt it would help me look more established. For the last few years of course, I’ve been creating my own and updating it frequently. It's a shop window to your business and therefor essential.
Vat threshold was around £60K. Now it’s £83,000. When I started, a credible business was expected to be registered to have the appearance of an established business. Happily I did reach the threshold in the first year so I reaped the tax advantages. Nowadays, freelances deliberately stay underneath the threshold to keep their prices minus VAT.
Similarly, a Limited Company and an office was required to be taken seriously and that worked as I found I needed to employ people within six weeks of starting in order to expand. Soon after I discovered virtual addresses and could ‘pretend’ to have offices around the country. It was some years though before I could outsource to Virtual Assistants and then freelancers, alleviating the need to employ people.
Which in turn, negates the need for offices which I would like to think I’ll never use again. I refuse to even have a desk at home; my tiny tablet-come-laptop takes up less room than the latest book I’m reading.
Around 2005/6 I want to a Chamber of Commerce event (they used to be relevant then) and saw a prototype tablet for the first time. It blew my mind. It was by Sony – everything was then. At that time, I imagined the future possibilities of being able to read from my tablet even when standing on a train rather than struggling to get my big HP laptop out.
Although the term social media was yet to be heard, we did have Ecademy - LinkedIn is the closest comparison today. I spent the first 30 minutes of my day making friends with 10 people via Ecademy, the maximum it allowed before charges. Ecademy didn’t follow me around with notifications on my phone like social media does today.
The starkest change to my life was the Blackberry. I had a Nokia smartphone first. I’d had Nokia phones since the early 1990s and for me, Blackberry smacked too much of US socialites messaging their hairdressers and dog walkers. After a year of hit and miss messaging, I made the switch and remained loyal to Blackberry until the apps I needed just didn’t come to the BB.
I always said I started a year too early. If Blackberry was in the mainstream in 2004, I may never have had to pay for telephone answering services, as many staff and offices.
I’d have a Blackberry today if they had everything I needed, only partly out of fondness of the little black gadget that released me from offices and enabled me to work from anywhere in the world. And that I did - still do.
Today, we can start our business from a phone, alert the tax man online and design our own brand on Canva followed by a website on Squarespace. We can keep all of our finances on Wave – even if we do have an accountant and do most of our marketing from our armchair or coffee shops.
When I was out for meetings in the early days (I used to have them in those days) I'd carry my big laptop around and find a hotel with internet access to plug into and work. They offered terrible little cups of expensive coffee that went cold in 1 minute. I don't think much has changed in hotels but Coffee Republic came along to every high street and changed everything. I am still loyal too to them - a a big fan of the founder - for helping to make my days better.
Now independently owned coffee shops are everywhere and welcome me and my little Surface laptop to work for as long as I please, for the price of a coffee or two.
It’s a good time to be in business.