Back in October last year while casually scrolling through Twitter, I spotted a tweet from someone about free business support in Liverpool through Natwest. As someone constantly searching to expand my client base, I was interested in both the support and the opportunity to expand my network. To me it sounded like a goldmine of sales opportunities, but little did I know it would change my mindset and the direction of my business entirely.
At the time I didn’t really want to grow my business, I just wanted to land a few more jobs as a freelancer. Knowing this, I nervously submitted my information, not really focusing on the growth part and naively thinking of all the great contacts I’d make instead.
The Pre-Accelerator is designed for businesses which haven’t made any sales yet, or people have a great idea but need to develop it a bit more before they’re ready for help. The programme involved three events, with online training which was really just multiple choice questionnaires and some videos.
There was a huge drop-off in attendees over the three months, with only 25% of people showing up for the final event. It didn’t surprise me though as I didn’t know what I was signing up for really, but free is free and I wasn’t going to look that gift horse in the mouth. There were a few disgruntled people on the first day though who seemed like they were only there to have a go at Natwest for not accepting their funding applications.
The programme introduced me to the basics of a lot of things I wasn’t aware I needed to know. I’ve always treated my freelance work as a business, but had no clue about customer personas, finance, forecasting, business model canvases, and mindset, to name a few. They also focused heavily on pitching, which is something that terrified me.
You wouldn’t believe the panic I felt when they told us we’d need to deliver a 60 second pitch to the other entrepreneurs in our final session as part of a pitching competition. I honestly considered skipping it just so I wouldn’t have to pitch, which is something I stupidly did back in university, sacrificing 15% of my mark so that I didn’t have to present my work to my peers.
Over the three months I started to think less about winning new business through the course and instead started focusing on the information I was being given. For the first time I started thinking about who my customers are, what their problems or needs are and the solution I provide for them.
I went from assuming that people just needing websites was enough to keep me going, when really I’m not the right developer for everyone and if I can’t provide value to my clients then it’s a waste of time and money for both of us.
As the final event approached, I dived head first into practicing my pitch. I was so nervous about having to get up there that I was repeating it over and over and over, making sure I wouldn’t even have to think about the next sentence when the fear of public speaking took over. If my cat had the right vocal chords, I’m pretty sure he’d be able to recite it back to me given the amount of times he had to listen to it.
My hard work practicing my pitch paid off and I was actually chosen as the winner of the pitch competition. It may have only been out of 10 people, but it was a serious confidence boost for me and hopefully the beginning of me breaking down the wall of fear I put in front of speaking in public.
Although there are ways the programme could have been improved, I’m really pleased I took the time to apply and attend every event. It’s still early days when it comes to getting my head around business as a whole, without this boost I may have been blindly continuing on in the dark.
I’m also excited to tell you that I applied for the full Accelerator programme in Manchester and I got the news yesterday that I’ve been accepted as one of the 80 businesses at their hub. I can’t wait for this opportunity which I’m fully intending to make the most of.
Who knows where I’ll be in six months time, but hopefully wherever it is I’ll have a much better understanding of running a business.