Freelancing

Why running a business is like renovating a house

This May I’m celebrating 4 years in business – woohoo!

And during these Covid-sponsored times while we’ve been at home more than usual, I’ve been reflecting on the similarities between building a business and property renovation.

Why? Because in our spare time, my husband and I enjoy a spot of DIY. And I thought it would be fun to compile a list of how the two are related and share lessons learned along the way.

Here goes…

1. You need to know your strengths and value you bring to the (kitchen) table

House: My hubby gets his hands dirty doing the heavy lifting, the electrics and the plumbing. I take care of the household, the painting and do the occasional spot of tiling.

He knows his strengths and I know mine. Sure, I could learn about plumbing, but why bother when there’s an expert in the house – and vice versa.

Business: My clients tend to be creative thinkers who are incredibly skilled at what they do but are short on time. I bring my skills to the strategic marketing, communications and PR consultants I work with.

In business it’s incredibly helpful to know your strengths and the value you bring to your clients – why they should work with you.

2. Teamwork makes the dream work (a cliché, I know, but it’s true!)

House: Working together on a project is so fulfilling.

Due to what needs to be done and when, we work on separate tasks in different parts of the house. E.g. when H is plastering the hallway, I’m in the lounge painting.

Even if we’re not working on the same thing, we’re working together to get the project finished.

Business: I love working collaboratively with clients on a project. And while I’m an introvert and largely process my thoughts by writing rather than speaking (more on that here), I know two heads are better than one.

I’m often amazed at the unexpected ideas that come from chatting through a project by having a conversation rather than going back and forth over email.

It really is good to talk.

How about you – do you enjoy collaboratively working on projects?

3. Don’t forget that it all starts with a vision – the plan comes next 

House: Having finished the house, we moved onto the garden. Our vision was to create a fairly low maintenance space (neither of us has particularly green fingers), so we’re knocking down the asbestos-laden shed and building a home office in its place.

Our vision isn’t unique.

We want to create a space where we can work but also welcome friends and family.

We’ve gone back and forth numerous times on the layout – looking at where the sun shines into our small space and adapting the plan to incorporate external factors that can’t be changed – in this case, the sun.

Additional seating for a morning coffee in the limited spring sunshine has now been planned, so we can get our small dose of vitamin D before the seasons change.

Business: My original vision for the business was to build something on my own terms – to enjoy every day.

Why?

Because life is too short.

I wanted to enjoy what I spent most of my waking hours doing, working with good people on exciting and varied marketing and comms projects. To have financial security and remove the daily commute and office politics.

Running a business is a journey. And for solo companies, the vision is often intertwined with the personal: how work and lifestyle co-habit.

A plan is crucial, but to have one, first, you need a solid vision.

4. The plan often changes through no fault of your own

House: When we bought our current house, we knew there were issues with the roof, so it had to be removed.

Then Storm Emma blew in unexpectedly and brought snow… in March!

Had we erected a tin top (scaffold ‘hat’) providing shelter against the turbulent skies, this would’ve been a much smaller problem. Instead, we had a leaky tarpaulin, which wasn’t a problem until the snow melted and started to drip down inside.

The saving grace: thank goodness we weren’t living there!

Business: Just as we hadn’t planned for snow, none of us were ready for the pandemic and how it has turned everything upside down. For me, work has been unpredictable along the way; some opportunities had expected didn’t pan out due to the pandemic. Four years into running my business, my plans have changed to adapt to external factors, like Covid.

As mentioned in point three, a plan is crucial, but plans usually change along the way, so it’s good to be open to new opportunities that pop up.

5. You need the right tools

House: To rebuild our Leaning Tower of Pisa garden walls, we didn’t mix the cement, sand and water by hand. We ordered a cement mixer – the right tool for the job.

Tools are important.

Over the years, we’ve expanded our toolbox to include new items and upgraded equipment to make tasks easier and save time in the long-run.

Business: Income is often limited in the first few months of starting a business, so it makes sense to keep an eye on expenditure and take some time when it comes to investing in kit.

A couple of years ago, I found myself experiencing repetitive strain injury in my wrist. Upgrading to an ergonomic mouse and ‘bendy’ keyboard have been worth every penny.

Some of my other favourite business tools include:

  • Canva: The Pro version saves so much time when it comes to resizing files into different formats. You can use it for all manner of comms formats, like onboarding materials for your business and clients, as well as animated social media graphics and images for news stories.
  • Loom video: This is a great tool for your comms toolkit to mix things up and throw in a bit of personality. To find out more, read my article: Liven up your client communications using Loom video.
  • Notebook and pen: While I use an electronic calendar to block book work and Asana for my to-do lists, you can’t beat pen and paper when it comes to scribbling meeting notes and journaling.

What business tools have you come to rely on? What might be your next investment?

6. Small amounts of time pay off – keep going

House: The hubby and I are both self-employed, each running our separate businesses, so DIY is strictly for evenings and weekends. This means it takes 2+ years to transform a derelict house into a home. Chipping away contributes to something big.

Business: Sometimes progress is quick in business and other times, it takes a bit longer to see the results of your efforts.

But remember: the tortoise always wins the race.

And if you’re anything like me, remember to be kind to yourself: turn up the volume on your inner wise cheerleader and tell your ‘shitty committee’ to do one.

7. Know when you need to take a break

House: All of a sudden, there are a LOAD MORE freshly plastered walls to paint. And this after I’ve spent the weekend painting our bedroom.

Do I want to paint?

Hell, no!

I know it’s time for a break.

Our energy levels naturally rise and fall according to the seasons and what is going on in our lives, so I’m aware of what affects me and when to step back. There are periods for ‘being’ and periods for ‘doing’.

Business: The same is true of running a business too.

Hands up, I was guilty of not taking many holidays last year due to Covid. It seemed a bit pointless to stop working when we couldn’t go away for a proper break. So, earlier this year, I committed to taking one day off a month to do something fun and rest. Then, over Easter, I took a longer period off to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, change things up and most importantly, ignore my to-do list.

It’s good to take regular breaks to rest. Doing something different or having a change of scenery can reinvigorate your business.

Furthermore, understanding how the seasons and other external factors affect you can help you maintain your energy levels and health, so you can do your best work. To read more on this topic, check out Karen Skidmore’s article, Wintering in a heatwave.

8. Celebrate milestones and consider what’s next

House: It’s a tremendous amount of fun to look back at the photos you took of your home before you moved in and remember how much of a mess it used to be. And how much of a delight it is NOW.

Business: Look at the progress you’ve made and celebrate it!

I’m eating cake today, need I say more?

In all seriousness, though, I’m so grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve worked with and the exciting projects I’ve supported over the last few years. It’s been varied and I’m extremely lucky.

So, do the same.

What are you excited about that’s heading your way over the coming months?

Look forward to them and celebrate them.

Final note

I’ve learnt lots as a business owner over the last four years (as well as renovating my home).

But like everything in life, running a business is a journey.

So while I don’t have all the answers, I’ve certainly found it helps to know your strengths, the value you bring and the vision for your business. Making a plan for that vision is key but remain agile and open to opportunities, as the plan will likely change along the way.

Collaborative working, especially when teaming up with other people who have complementary skills, can be rewarding. Plus investing in the right tools will help you do your best work and save you time overall.

If you’re in it for the long-term, keep chipping away. But know when you need to take a break. And don’t forget to celebrate along the way!