Thinking of starting a business? Here's the honest truth about getting started.
What are you really letting yourself in for?
And what steps can you take to positively create the life you dream of?
It has been said that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers. Perhaps that used to be the case.
I feel that we need to update that expression. Particularly in light of recent events. If shopkeepers are, for the majority, owners of small businesses and masters of their own destiny then I would say that this still holds true but we’ve evolved into a nation of entrepreneurs. Would you agree?
Why do people start their own businesses? The desire to ‘be your own boss’ is extremely strong within our psyche. Some people admit that there’s a rebel within that doesn’t like ‘taking orders’ from others.
However, society tends to condition us from a young age to knuckle down. Keep calm and carry on. There’s so many phrases in praise of and encouraging stoicism which we bandy around, as and when it suits. But perhaps that’s more because large businesses need the ‘followers’ (employees!) to just get on with it and deliver their dream.
Of course, the clever employers encourage the employees to align their dreams with those of the owners. But many employers are not so enlightened and the main incentive to stay employed is the regular pay cheque which for many, is worth the sacrifice.
All Change. When circumstances in your life change, perhaps you’ve had a baby who you are loathe to leave, or your job is under threat because it’s in a sector which has been massively impacted by external events outside your or their control, perhaps you no longer have dependents and want to revisit an earlier vision for your life or indeed, you now have no job, you are likely to think about what you can do for yourself to earn a living.
In the UK, we are positively encouraged to set up our own enterprises and there is a lot of support available for free to encourage us to go for it.
The fantasy. ‘Follow your dream’, ‘be your own boss’, ‘turn your passion into profit’, run a ‘lifestyle’ business’... phrases that may cross our radar from time to time. The prospect of working for ourselves, on our terms, for our future can seem idyllic.
And most articles you’ll read about starting your own business will focus on a number of those elements, feeding the fantasy. Perhaps their authors will also say, ‘it’s been so hard but it’s been worth it’. And the little voice inside you responds ‘well of course, nothing worthwhile comes to you on a plate’. They say, ‘if I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have started’, nah we think, you’re just being modest, you got through it didn’t you?
Yes, but at what cost?
And it’s this cost which I am here to help you determine.
What do you want to gain and what are you prepared to compromise on to get your business idea off the ground?
The thought and planning you put into something at the outset is critical.
Of course, we’re all familiar with the concept of business plans and cash flow forecasts but in my experience, many small businesses do not have either. Indeed, research by Barclays in 2015 revealed that only 47% of the UK’s small businesses have a formal business plan and 1 in 4 businesses rely on an informal verbal plan. I don’t suppose much has changed in the last few years.
Why do many businesses start without a plan? Why do so few small businesses have plans in place if it’s so helpful? From asking around, over the last thirty years being self employed myself, and having been guilty of the same crime more than once, it’s a combination of factors.
· Sometimes the business grows unexpectedly out of an idea you had or a skill you possess
· Perhaps you started doing the thing as a hobby and didn’t expect it to take off?
· Perhaps you thought you’d have a go and before you knew it, you got overwhelmed with the demand and expanded quicker than you expected?
Of course, this list is not exhaustive but it gives an indication of some common root issues.
Juggling. Sometimes we start businesses with a mindset that is not helpful, perhaps we’re not quite sure if it’s going to work out?
We might continue with our ‘day job’ and do the ‘side hustle’ in the evenings. Until we are confident the ‘side hustle’ can support us and replace the regular income.
Not a bad plan and I can understand the reasoning behind it, but be prepared to discover that it’s exhausting and try to build in time for yourself if at all possible to avoid burning out before you’ve even properly got going!
Be careful who you listen to. Confidence in the business idea or plan is sometimes understandably low at the outset. Family and friends can be quite disparaging, they would say they are preparing you for reality but it can be quite deflating, so be careful whose opinion you listen to.
Often the best person to bounce things off is yourself, most everyone else you know will have an agenda, which might not have your needs at the top of the list! However, advice on the 'business side' and professional knowledge is provided all over the UK, just google it to find your local free business support agency.
Listening to your inner voice is vital and ‘gut instinct’ is often overlooked at our peril. Perhaps we’ve no experience going solo and we’re not sure if it’s for us.
We wonder whether anyone will buy what we are selling?
Whether anyone will want to use our service?
Whether anyone will believe in us enough to give us money?
When the demand from buyers appears to be there and we’re run off our feet, it’s such a compliment, we’re almost grateful, it’s such an adrenaline rush, there’s such a buzz!
We may find ourselves working all hours to feed the machine! In fact, anyone who’s been here will know that you are WAY busier and under more pressure running your own business than if you were doing a regular 9-5 with a regular pay cheque, effectively able to forget about work when you get home, ‘til 9am the next day.
Being employed can appear like the easy option when you’re doing your emails at midnight. So it’s vital we address a couple of questions before we take the plunge, so that when the ‘horrors’ of employment fade in the mists of time, you have something to hang onto, something you can remember, to anchor yourself and to recharge your motivation levels.
Two essential questions to address, if you do nothing else on the planning front:
1) You need to know your WHY.
2) And your WHAT.
Essentially, why are you wanting to do this and what are you aiming for?
What is enough!? The answers might appear shockingly obvious on the surface.
However, it’s something you really need to delve into or ‘deep dive’, because there will be many layers involved in your answer.
Your answers will be unique to you, and so they should be. That’s because your personal values will come into play and perhaps an earlier vision for your life will re surface.
What are your values? Your values might have changed lately or your priorities may have shifted. This happens throughout out life so don’t be surprised if you find things have changed for you, almost without you noticing. As someone in her mid fifties, I can confirm that this is the case.
What you need and value in your early twenties is different to what you are needing as a parent perhaps, and again different to what you need and cherish when you are either living on your own, or living without offspring or dependents to consider.
Planning needs some time out. We’re not generally very good at ‘taking time out’ to reassess things. We’re quite resilient I would say, from my experience of entrepreneurs in general. If you’ve got that spark to innovate, push your boundaries, feel the fear and do it anyway, then you are likely to be capable of self motivation and enjoy ‘little wins’ along the way.
FOMO. Some people fear that these opportunities and ‘little wins’ night suddenly stop if we ‘take time out’. I know, I’ve been there. FOMO is a real issue for many. And I’ve got various tendon issues in my hands to show for it, from being wedded to my laptop and knee joint and muscle susceptibilities from under use (sitting here typing this for example!). But I can assure you when you return to your business refreshed, other opportunities will keep popping up. It’s as if there’s an infinite supply and all we need to do is be alert and notice them when they present themselves to us!
I realise that you’ll probably consider ignoring me regarding the business planning and perhaps, once you’ve started your business, won’t feel you have time to ‘take time out’ to address the issues, ironically. But I can assure you that before you start, if you do yourself a favour right now and have a go at answering the ‘what is your why and what is your what?’ and perhaps even creating a simple, workable business plan, you will save yourself a lot of time and money attracting the wrong customers and hopefully, it will help you find the satisfaction and personal reward from your venture that you are hoping for.
Plan for your definition of success, not someone else’s. The business world is surrounded by euphemisms. I’ve used a few already. For example, I used the expression ‘off the ground’ a few hundred words ago. What does ‘off the ground’ mean to you? It’s ‘understood’ in general parlance to be getting something established but there are so many points on this scale.
So what are your ambitions for your business? World domination or enough to pay for a couple of holidays a year?
Neither is right or wrong, and there are many points in between these two extremes but both have implications on your time and energy and the other elements of your life which will need to compromise or be compromised.
Planning along the lines of making a business plan and a cash flow is often used by mentors to help a business which is struggling, to get it back on track. Certainly many do find planning at this stage particularly helpful for moving them forward. But it’s not the only time it’s helpful.
You might reasonably wonder, how many businesses actually refer to these documents once crafted? Aren’t they another tick box exercise? Perhaps that is true of some business plans and cash flows, but that’s because they are not dynamic ‘working’ documents, living and breathing and being adjusted as reality kicks in.
It might be helpful to regard the planning as the back bone of your enterprise, with the cash flow as the life blood. Without them, you may have a business, but it’s lolling all over the place in an unstructured manner, responding to crisis and lurching from one problem to another, constantly at breaking point with exhaustion. And from time to time having a complete breakdown and needing a transfusion.
Have I made my point!!? Ask any entrepreneur. Don’t let that put you off. You can be ahead of the game. You don’t need to make the same mistakes that thousands have made before you.
So I hope you are reassured that time taken on the planning before you start trading in earnest is well worth it. Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve from the outset can emerge when you discipline yourself to put your thoughts and ideas into a logical format.
Be focused and confident about your vision.
Don’t let a nagging self doubt get the better of you.
Caution against ‘false modesty’ stopping you taking yourself seriously.
Be aware that bravado and bulls**t can get intertwined – they don’t say ‘turnover is vanity and profit is sanity’ for nothing!
And please don’t subscribe to the belief that a plan will jinx your chances of success. As if tip-toeing around your ambitions will somehow make them less likely to fail, hoping that if no one really knows what you are up to, it will certainly decrease your chances of falling from a great height!
I would counter that not having a plan in place and not promoting your business properly (which will entail telling your story and putting your head above the parapet) will almost certainly decrease your chance of success.
But I digress.
In summary, putting something in writing is a very good discipline which helps you focus. And in creating the plan you are likely to talk to others (perhaps business advisors) about it and get their input.
This will ‘put it out there’ and reinforce the actions you need to make your plans a reality. Planning and talking about it can also help mobilise offers of help from others and opportunities which will leave you reeling in delight.
I’ve got a simple template for you to have a look at here if you’re interested.
However, there’s one point we’ve not mentioned yet, and this is very important. What are you going to call your business? You could argue it’s all in the name! And what’s more, it needs to be a unique name, which is harder than it sounds. And when you have a unique name, you need to be able to create social media handles and a website which are all the same (if possible) to help streamline your whole marketing process and make it easy for customers to find you. If this is of interest, I’ve a ‘how to’ article right here.
I will end with sending you my very best wishes for turning your idea into a reality and I urge you to take planning seriously if you want to be able to have some quality of life as well as a thriving business.
As ever, please email me if you’ve got any questions. I look forward to hearing from you