I love what I do. Granted some days are tough. But overall, I love it. I love coming up with big ideas, working with my amazing team, creating success. Every achievement can be celebrated. We share the risk and reward as a focused, close team.
I am often asked to help people when they are ready to set up their own business. Whether that’s talking with a group of Enterprise graduates from the Prince’s Trust Enterprise and Entrepreneurship programe, or simply responding to someone that has reached out directly. I will take time for a coffee or glass of wine and share some of my own stories and secrets of what’s helped me along the way so far.
If you’re full of great ideas and want to start your own business, here are a few personal thoughts from me that might be helpful.
1.Have a clear vision and think BIG
Preparation, preparation, preparation! Planning is vital and having a clear vision and a business plan is where you need to start. Be clear on what you want to achieve, what you are offering, why it’s different and how you will deliver it. Planning also means assessing and understanding your risks, what could possibly go wrong and how do you either mitigate it or manage it.
Think BIG and be brave. Focus on the solution you’re providing, not the product or service. Why are you passionate about it? Why should customers come to you, what’s in it for them? Doing all this also helps you get really excited about your business, it’s motivating and it inspires those around you. Google ‘Simon Sinek Why’ and watch his 5 minute speech, amazing!
It’s not just a logo. Your brand will tell people a lot about your organisation. Being clear about your brand doesn’t mean expensive agencies or graphic designers, it’s simply about you connecting the dots and making sure you present your business in a consistent way that reflects who you are and what your business offers. That clarity will help you in many ways, product choices, marketing, understanding your target customers and even helping you decide which suppliers or partners to work with.
If you can’t talk passionately about it – is it the brand for you?
Cash flow is the biggest challenge for most small businesses. In addition to being well prepared, understanding what your upfront and ongoing costs look like and ensuring the necessary funding is in place, you need to consistently be on top of the detail of your financial position and spending.
Be creative in terms of keeping your overheads low and question every penny you spend, what’s your return on investment?
Get clarity on your pricing structure and make sure you know your margins. That gives you the ability to know how much you can flex your pricing to offer discounts to attract new customers or to attract early payment.
Debt is a real challenge that can kill small businesses, equally it can be incredibly helpful and critical to assist you to make a success if your new business, so consider any credit very carefully and make sure you’re clear on what it will take to repay and in what timeframe.
When was the last time someone said to you “excuse me, I wonder if you would mind helping me?”. What was your immediate response? Yes, right? We all want to help others and it’s nice to be asked. So think of this next time you want to ask someone for their help!
Networking is not easy for everyone, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will introduce you to many sources of support and new ideas. Make time to make connections, attend events, make friends with your bank, Facebook communities and use LinkedIn.
Don’t hesitate about asking for help or advice. Make use of connections with more business experience, or knowledge of other sectors. Using tried and tested techniques or models is sensible and efficient.
I have gained so much from networking and seeking advice from my network over the years. I’ve been lucky to meet some incredibly smart, savvy and kind people who’ve shared their wisdom and been very reliable sounding boards when I’ve needed them. Success is rarely achieved alone.
A wise person once told me “David son, buy professional advice you can’t afford”. Twenty years later I completely understand what he meant. Get yourself excellent advisors and build a relationship with them. Their advice can be game changing.
I’ve had many mentors and I’ve been a mentor for many. It’s not always about seniority or level of experience, it’s about offering objectivity and truly listening without judgement, offering advice when needed and mainly being a trustworthy guide.
Mentors can help push you past perceived obstacles or fears, nurture your ideas and help you turn them into tangible plans.
I also have a coach to ask me difficult questions and help me focus on the right things.
Again, as much as I have pride in my own personal achievements, I always acknowledge that success is rarely the result of one person. So even if you are working alone, be aware of the support you get from those around your business. If you’re building a team, it’s the most important thing you will do as a business leader, so invest time and focus in the process. Don’t recruit ‘yes’ people, find people who are excellent in their field and not afraid to push back at you!
If you want an outstanding company, you need outstanding people. You need people who share your values, buy completely into your vision. Then you need to support them and help them thrive. You also need to learn to delegate and let them get on with it, otherwise you’re just increasing your own workload.
If you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers.
You’re not a salesperson? Ok. A lot of business owners don’t know how to ‘do sales’ and are terrified by the thought of proactively promoting the business themselves. But if you have a small business the reality is every employee must, to some extent, be a salesperson. Especially you.
Worried what people will think of your business? Get over it. Shy? Get over it. It’s your business, your brand, your vision. If you can’t sell it and convince people to buy from you, no one can. There’s a bit of ‘fake it until you make it’ here – it might be way outside your comfort zone, but you need to push yourself. Act as if you are the most confident sales professional, I promise you, you will get better with every pitch.
You need to be ready to speak confidently about your business, and that takes preparation and practice. Whether it’s networking at an event, negotiating with suppliers or securing funding from the bank, you must be able to communicate well to give people confidence in your business. If you need it, get some help. Use your network, your mentor, or go on a course. Do whatever it takes, it’s essential.
Be creative if you have no marketing budget. Research all your options, use social media, make sure you’re listed on all the search engines and free listings sites. Use Facebook community sites to promote, try cross-promotion with non-competitors in your network, take opportunities for free PR by keeping a close eye on relevant media.
Most importantly – talk about your business. Very few businesses will draw customers without any effort.
You should never stop learning. Passion might drive you, but knowledge will guide you.
Keep on top of industry trends, develop your skills, listen to experts, go on courses.
Question: What business book are you reading just now? If the answer is none, buy one today! How to be Brilliant by Michael Heppell is one of my favourites. Michael is a wonderful person as well as legendary speaker and author. I’ve used a lot of his teaching in my everyday life.
The things you learn become part of your story. I’m always recounting stories I’ve heard about business achievements or failures, from networking events, meetings or conferences. I use them to inform my own ideas and decision making. Story telling is a fantastic way to engage people. Give credit to your source too.
Having a business brings with it risk. The trick is learning to identify it and manage/mitigate it. If you are looking for a life with zero risk, being in business probably isn’t a wise choice.
Protect yourself and your business with appropriate insurance and look after your livelihood. Make sure that premises or stock are covered for emergencies.
Have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place. What would you do if you had no money? I mean NO MONEY. It happens. Having a plan not only helps in the event, but also is likely to help prevent it happening in the first place, because you’ve considered the variables carefully.
It’s not a 9-5 job being an entrepreneur. It can be extremely tough and stressful. So you must look after yourself. If you’re not sleeping, or eating well, or getting any personal time, you’re unlikely to be at your best. No good for you, no good for your business ultimately. Be ready to sacrifice a lot, but don’t sacrifice yourself.
The other very important thing you must be prepared for is failure. Don’t focus on it or distract yourself with the thought, don’t attract it to happen. But innovation doesn’t always result in success and part of being an entrepreneur is about trying things and turning ideas into reality.
Businesses can fail for many reasons, the economy will fluctuate, technology continues to change the world, things can go wrong. So many incredibly successful people across the world can list their previous failures. You might need to be resilient, you might need to pick yourself up and start again. Maintain your integrity, believe in what you’re doing and keep going. Our realities come from our thoughts. Choose your thoughts carefully!
Always remember what is most important in life, family, friends, health and happiness.
Good luck with your endeavours! If my advice ultimately helps your business, then that makes me really happy. I believe the secret in life lies in the giving!