Five years ago today ASM Media & PR formally started business. No kidding!

Exactly a year before, I’d left behind a 23-year career in journalism to see if I could successfully jump to the other side of the media business into PR. 12 months later I’d found I could do it, but I wanted to work for myself and use all my skills and knowledge.

Although I had by that time gained two Masters degrees (one an MBA) and a postgraduate diploma, starting and running my own company was a whole new learning curve.

Five years on, I’d like to share with you and anyone you know who’s also starting out on their entrepreneurial journey the top lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Becoming self-employed is a major adjustment in your personal identity. Work out who you are now and ‘own’ your new identity – no-one wants to know what you used to be, they want to know what/who you are now and what you can do for them now – thanks Robin Hills for that sage advice.
  2. Believe in yourself – yes, you may not have done this before, but look to the things you’ve achieved before for proof that you can accomplish all sorts of things you’ve not done before.
  3. Make a plan – old but true: get advice and data from independent people like Business Gateway and make a plan, including cashflow forecasts for your business and personal finances.
  4. Present yourself professionally from Day 1 – first impressions are important and it takes time to replace a bad one with a good one.
  5. Plan routine things in detail to fit them into your new life – book time for EVERYTHING, including meals – it’s easy to forget to eat when you have a client deadline. Really. And take those meal breaks unless you REALLY can’t stop. You can’t run on empty, your concentration will benefit and if you don’t you’ll get into diminishing returns on what you’re doing. And your family need your help just as much as your customers.
  6. Get quality tuition on key skills including networking – from people like Colin McKeand and go to friendly quality events like St Andrews Business Club, Let’s Network, Cupar Business Network, St Andrews CoffeeNet, Coffee Connections
  7. Take advantage of anything useful and free – Business Gateway and groups like and your local Chamber have lots of events, many free. Don’t be afraid to ‘liberate’ the free pens and pads at events. Imagine what you’d pay for them and that’s what they’re there for.
  8. Network further than you think you need to – if I hadn’t needed to go further than I planned for myself when I started to work with Mr Droogle I wouldn’t have made some ultimately crucial connections and relationships. Also, random connections build useful reach most as discussed in this BBC podcast on ‘6 Degrees of Separation’ –
  9. Focus on being YOU and making a personal connection – people want to work with those they Know, Like & Trust. ‘Selling’ to someone is switching them off. Chat and you’ll be on the road to a useful relationship.
  10. Think win-win. Always! – yes The 7 Habits isn’t new, but it’s as true today as when it came out – thanks Suzanne Smith.
  11. Make every project a WOW! Project even if it’s pro bono – you’ll be judged by all your work, so put the same level of energy into it all. Pro bono work deserves the same respect and good work on that should bring in paid work – thanks Tom Peters & Alison Dwyer.
  12. Be so good they can’t ignore you – thanks Chris Marr.
  13. Always put the relationship first for long-term organic growth – because if there are problems you’ll get past them. If not, it’ll be a deal-breaker – thanks Alison Dwyer.
  14. Watch your work-life balance – The people at home (the ones who matter most) need you too. You also need time off to have a life and subconsciously process problems – which will lead to insights and innovative solutions – thanks to my wife and John McIntosh.
  15. Only work with people you Know, Like & Trust – meet face-to-face (maybe via Skype) before you connect on LinkedIn with anyone and trust your instinct. Non-Verbal Communication is more of what we say than the words and should be trusted more than the words you hear.
  16. Don’t be scared to say ‘no’ if you’re not comfortable with something – you’ll be thankful in the long-run because if you’re not happy with a person or deal it won’t be a a good experience.
  17. Be generous if you can – if the recipient is worthy of your generosity it will build the relationship, be mutually beneficial and they will reciprocate. If not, you know who not to prioritise in future.
  18. Differentiate yourself from rivals – IMHO it’s the strongest of the three basic strategies and will help you become the ‘go-to’ person in your field.
  19. Volunteer for things – yes, it’s against the ‘1st Rule of the Army’ but it will open doors and create goodwill around you and your brand.
  20. Every day is a school day – that thing which didn’t go as well as possible is your opportunity to learn how to avoid a repeat and improve. Take the positives and move on.
  21. Buy the best quality kit you can afford – it’ll last longer and that’ll save you time (business disruption) and money – factoring in downtime for repairs, replacement.
  22. Ask happy clients for LinkedIn Recommendations and referrals – your success for them should also be success and growth for your business and a virtuous circle.
  23. Bang your own drum – it’s very un-British, but frankly no-one else will. Get over yourself and tell everyone about your offer and successes!

What tips would you pass on? Please share them in the Comments – so others can benefit from them too.

P. S. I’m not having a party, but you’d be most welcome to join me for a celebratory drink at the St Andrews Business Club AGM evening (open to all after 6.30pm) next Wednesday, which includes a guest talk and networking. Book your place here by 12:00 this Monday.

This article also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.