26 Aug Want to start a business?
What you need to think about if you are planning to make the jump
It’s been nearly two years since I left my full time job and moved into the world of self-employment and a start-up business alongside my sister. So this weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the things that I have learned and the things that have really helped me which might help you if you are thinking about making a similar jump.
Prepare yourself really well…and some
I always had something nagging inside of me that one day I wanted to start my own business. It just never seemed to be the right time. I was a single mum, I had a good job, but I still had to think about paying the bills every month and putting food on the table, so for years I put the hankering to one side and focussed on doing my day job to the best of my ability.
When my son was old enough to start earning his own money I saw an opportunity and well, I thought if I don’t do it now, I never will, and I would always regret not making that leap. So, I took a deep breath and handed my notice in.
With hindsight, I wish I had planned a little bit more than I did. I took six months but I think I should have planned and saved for at least a year to have more of a financial cushion. But when you are living in that moment, when you are super-energised and excited and raring to go and absolutely convinced it’s the best thing you could ever do, it’s really difficult to hold back and keep a sensible head and delay your start date. Especially if you think the time is right and you could lose out to a competitor. And let’s face it, you do just want to get on with it once you’ve made your mind up.
You need to make sure that you really understand your financial projections before you make the transition and you need to know what your survival budget is. That is, what is the absolute minimum you have to make each month to pay your bills and feed your family. You need to make certain you can cover that amount for at least 6 months if things don’t go to plan. One of the other things that I did to prepare was to work on reducing my personal cost base not just looking at the business budget figures. So, I worked out where I could cut out fat in my personal spending and this meant that my survival budget could stretch further if I ever needed it to. I did things like reducing my housing costs, reducing my energy bills, menu planning and started car sharing.
Think what is the worst that could happen?
Apart from the financial side of things, one of the hardest parts of starting your own business is facing your own fear of failure; things going wrong; falling flat on your face; losing everything and having to start over. So, I went through a list of the worst things that could potentially happen and what would I do if I faced each of those circumstances. That might sound a bit negative but facing up to my biggest worries really helped me to feel a lot more prepared. It made me feel much more resourceful and it also gave me a sharp dose of reality which made me plan better.
But I absolutely did not want to go through life not being someone who went after their goals. I wanted to set a good example to my son. I realised I would far rather be someone who tried and potentially failed, than someone who never took that risk and maybe then have to look back with regret when I’m older.
Have a plan
Have a business plan but be prepared to switch it up when things don’t quite go to the plan, which they inevitably won’t – oh, and always have a plan B, and C and D! When you start out you have this perfect idea in your head, well I did, that this will happen then, and then this will happen there, but just as life never quite works out as you plan, then starting a business is pretty much the same. I call my business plan a framework now because I have found that especially when your business is a service industry, you have to be able to respond to the needs of your clients and this isn’t always in line with your lovely neat plan (singing “Que Sera Sera” by Doris Day totally springs to my mind at this point!).
It really helps to stay flexible minded and be prepared to shift your thinking and stay responsive to opportunities. When the rollercoaster ride happens to me, I always remember some sage advice I once had from a Chair of an organisation I used to work at which was “Every setback is an opportunity” , thank you for those very wise and useful words (TB Jones). Every setback is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, to reflect, to change your approach and make improvements or adjust your plan. I write a journal most days which I use to reflect and help with planning.
Ask for help
I wish I had talked to more people already in my line of business before I made the move. I think that would have helped me be a lot more prepared and given me the confidence to move forward.
When I first started out I was really scared of face to face networking. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t enjoy it. But I asked for help with this and some advice about maintaining your resilience from my LinkedIn network early on. I was amazed and really grateful for the feedback I received. People are so kind and will help with advice and guidance if you are prepared to ask for it.
Unless your business is really innovative, then someone will have done what you are planning before, you can read and research on the internet forever, but you will learn so much more by talking to someone who has been through the successes and failures of starting a business. I quite often look back through the advice I received when I was just starting out to help me stay motivated and on track.
Get a Coach and/or Mentor
Some of the best advice I received was to get a coach and a good accountant. I absolutely get this now and I think a good coach is vital. I didn’t always think like that, because I’ve always been overly self reliant as a person. A good business coach will help you to get very specific about your vision and your goals for your business.
I think there are two things that a coach does for me that I’ve found totally invaluable, well three actually. The first is to hold me to account, it’s really easy to break promises you make to yourself, but when you are meeting with a coach on a regular basis it really helps to keep you focussed on the important tasks and priorities for that week or month. The second thing is give you a space to think options through. This might sound like something you could do for yourself, and you probably could, but there is something about talking things through with a coach that helps you think better as you are prompted with great insightful questions. And the third thing is to bring new thinking and ideas. A good coach will have been there and done that before you have and so will be able to offer you their insights as well. I also work with a life coach now to help me in my personal life and that has been in lots of ways even more amazing in terms of personal growth and self-awareness and to help me to be a more rounded person not so focussed on work all the time.
As I was a Finance Director in my previous role then I can do a lot of the accountancy side of things myself, but I’ve still actually found it useful to talk things over with a good accountant because it’s really useful to have that impartial view and a second opinion. They also have access to a lot more expertise than I have. So that’s worth thinking about for whatever aspects of your business you feel that you are strong at, you still might benefit from a different perspective and more expert advice. I think it also helped me to look at focussing on where my individual strengths are and to make sure I cover off anything I’m not as confident at with external input.
Make sure you plan in holidays to rest
This is really important to make sure you don’t get burnt out in your first few years of building the business up. It’s very easy to justify working long hours if you work for yourself because you are the person who is ultimately going to benefit from your hard work. But this can only happen if you have the reserves of energy left to enjoy life out of work.
I make sure that I take at least one full day off a week to rest and unplug from emails and social media. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic so I do have to remind myself constantly that this is essential to make sure I have the energy to be at my best. I don’t mess with my health, if I have a health issue, I make sure I get it sorted out as soon as I can because being self-employed you can’t afford to ignore things and then for them to get worse. I’m also working on building a daily relaxation and meditation routine which I find really helps me in loads of ways, with more clarity, focus, calmness and patience. I’m just not quite there in terms of nailing it every day yet. It, like me and my business, is very much still a work in progress.
Finally, enjoy it!
Having fun running your own business is key for me. If I didn’t love what I do every day I would give it up and find something I did, no question. I put a lot of time and effort and passion into the business because it means a lot to me. It’s personal, it has my values and aspirations running through everything I do. It combines my love of business, figures, writing and helping others so perfectly that I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. I do acknowledge though that being passionate about what you do will only get you so far and running a business is so much more than just being an expert in something.
You have to wear lots of different hats and you have to fulfil a need in your market that your clients or customers will be willing to pay for and you’ve got to find the confidence to get out there and find your clients and customers. But it is so much fun and you’ll learn so much going through the process about different aspects of business and about yourself.
“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead” – Nelson Mandela
PHOTO BY DORAN ERICKSON ON UNSPLASH