Going Solo: Common Mistakes, and How to Overcome Them

We’ll all make mistakes when starting out in business. The important thing is overcoming them, learning from them and not repeating them. Today we hear from Andrew Daniels, founder of mobile app and web developers Degree 53, on the challenges and successes he experienced when starting his own business.


Becoming your own boss is a dream for many people. But I hadn’t ever imagined myself as an entrepreneur or a business owner. So when the opportunity arose for me to establish Degree 53, a Manchester-based mobile app and web development agency, I encountered plenty of challenges that I simply hadn’t foreseen.

Fortunately, in the three years since I launched Degree 53, I’ve become better at dealing with those challenges. That’s partially down to the fact that I’m more experienced, but largely because I’ve been able to identify plenty of tools and techniques to help me work more effectively. Whether you’re working as a freelancer, running your own business, or simply looking to manage your time better, these same tips could help you too.

Find tools to help you manage the chaos

When I was starting out, I kept various pieces of information dotted around in different spreadsheets and Word documents. This system required constant updating. Unsurprisingly, it soon became totally unmanageable. It was frustrating – and sometimes even impossible – to track down a specific piece of information in a hurry.

Sound familiar? It’s only natural to rely on the methods you’ve used in the past, but storing all your information in a collection of docs will only get you so far.

Soon, I realised the importance of finding good software solutions to handle this for me. There are plenty of options available, but I found the most helpful to be:

  • Zoho CRM – offers a complete view of your sales cycle and pipeline, which is really useful for spotting trends and increasing efficiency
  • Xero – an easy-to-use online accounting tool for SMEs
  • HR Online – managing employees’ holidays became really time-consuming the more we grew, but HR Online took all the hassle out of it

Put some thought into prioritising your time

Of course, prioritising your time is important in pretty much every role, but it’s doubly vital if you’ve gone solo. With so many wide-ranging demands on your time, how do you decide what to focus on at any given moment?

A couple of solutions have proven really useful for me. One is Todoist, a to-do list and task manager, which I use to store all my tasks and keep me notified about any deadlines. Similarly, I use Trello for keeping track of my own activities and what I need to do during the day or week.

However, that’s only part of the battle. It’s easy to create a list of important tasks, only to spend the bulk of your day fire-fighting emergencies.

The four quadrant principle is a massive help in this respect. I now recognise that freeing up time for non-urgent, but nonetheless important, tasks will dramatically cut down on the number of crises that occur.

For example, by taking the time to speak to my team outside of meetings and one-to-one reviews, there’s a much better chance of me picking up on personal issues and frictions that could, if left unresolved, boil over into a much bigger problem.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Starting up a business involved responsibilities that I’d simply never dealt with before. This meant overcoming new challenges and, inevitably, making a few mistakes along the way.

I found legal and contract work to be the most difficult. Reading very long documents and dealing with solicitors was outside of my comfort zone. I tried to do most of it myself, but it actually took more time and cost more than paying someone else to do it for me. Don’t make the same mistake I did – if it’s a complex, time-consuming task that you lack the expertise to complete, bring in a professional.

Likewise, take the opportunity to meet people who’ve been there and done it before. As soon as I started Degree 53, I went to find networking opportunities that would help me expand my contacts list and put me in touch with relevant people that could help me in the future. I also set out to surround myself with reliable people that would help me run the business and take away some of the workload, such as sales and operations.

Finding a mentor has also been one of the most beneficial things for me as a business owner. It’s great to have someone to share my concerns or thoughts with on running a business when someone else has already gone through the same process and can offer advice to support me.

Andrew Daniels is the founder and Managing Director of Degree 53, an independent digital design and build agency based 53 degrees north of the equator (or in other words… Manchester). Degree 53 specialise in the online gambling sector, as well as working with clients from finance, sports, retail and education.