It’s scary, I know, quitting your job when you’ve got a family depending on you. You’ve built a life around an income – a mortgage, young kids, bills to pay, a standard of living you’d like to keep and a retirement that’s approaching all too fast (well, kind of).
But how long have you been thinking about it; telling your boss to shove it (rather, you respectfully resign)? How long will you hate your job, will you smile through gritted teeth, will you burn your time and experience for money? How long will you allow the misery your job is causing to seep into your family life, no matter how hard you try to leave work at work? How many more Monday’s can you hate and Sunday’s can you lose to the Sunday Blues?
It’s all too easy to just romanticise the idea of starting your own business. To do it your way, have more time to spend with the family, more flexibility, and make more money. But those things will stay as ideas forever unless you do something about it. Make a plan and act.
Now might not be the best time for you to do it for a number of reasons; home life, money, economy, but if the idea is strong enough there will be a time that is the right time. If you’re serious about it, you’ll plan it out. When is the right time? What factors need to be in what place for you to do it? How do you make them happen? This is what will separate you from everyone else. The talkers from the walkers. The “if only I had [insert excuse]” from the “I made it happen” crowds.
But starting a business is hard. Don’t underestimate how much work, stress and uncertainty you’ll have to go through, let alone the financial risk and risk to your ego if it all goes pear shaped. So for those that are serious about it, here are the four things I’ve found that you’ll need (alongside a fair bit of “she’ll be right, mate”) in spades if you don’t want to be another failed business statistic:
The count down. It’s great. It’s everything you imagined it would be. It’s liberating to have made the decision and tell people you’re off to start your own business. They’ll be equal parts sceptical, misbelieving, happy and jealous. Most likely thinking you won’t succeed or at best it will be a hobby business at best.
So you hand in your notice, and work out the days required, and it’s good, really good – work stress will fall away and you’ll feel a smile spread across your face and you’ll wish that time would just hurry up so you can get on with it. But right before you leave that regular salary you’ll get nervous. You’ll doubt yourself and your ability, you’ll question why you’re risking a relatively safe pay cheque to chase a dream. You won’t sleep and you won’t think it’s real until it’s there. The last day of ‘work’. And it’s over and you can’t believe it.
You are so happy.
Happier than you have been in a long time, but still it hasn’t set in. Just what are going to do on your first day? First week? First month? Where will you get clients? How will you pay the bills? You celebrate and enjoy the moment, but in the quiet times it grips you.
A constant companion for years to come. Fear you’re not good enough, fear you won’t make any money, that you’ll let down your family, that the naysayers were right.
Fear will make you feel like you’re a fraud, an imposter, and the world is going to find out. It can cripple you and make you quake in your boots. Bring tears to your eyes when you look at your loved ones and think about losing it all. Fear. It can drive you or define you.
Fear, is what brought you here.
You’ll feel selfish, that you’re risking it all and jeopardising not only your future, but the futures of those you love the most.
Why can’t you just stay in your job and be like everyone else? Not happy, just plodding along, moaning, but not willing to take a chance? Comfortable in your misery. Better the devil you know, right?
But that’s not for you. You’re wired differently. You’ve got music in you and the fear that you’ll die with it in you, that this itch you’ve got will never be scratched, that if you keep doing your job your head will explode. Fear, that you will be miserable for the rest of your life and on your death bed regret never having the guts to give it a go.
Fear. Your motivator, and your inhibitor. Your constant companion.
Get comfortable with it, because in the dark of night it will be the one who talks back. It will be the one to say “You can’t.” Do you have the courage to say “I can”?
Your idea (vision), needs to be top shelf. You need to know what your aiming for and understand what you truly want/desire out of running your own show. You must know precisely who your customers are, and what value you are providing to them in your product/service. If you can’t tell me in 30 seconds, then you don’t know. It’s that simple. When you tell me who your customers are, I should be able to visualise them.
You need to understand your distribution method; how are you going to deliver what you’re selling? Who is going to deliver it? What is your price point? What financial return will you achieve by doing this? What marketing strategies are you going to use? What culture do you want to incubate? What image do you want to portray to the market? Who are your competitors? Why are customers going to leave them and come to you? Have you written all this down in a coherent “strategy”? Because that is exactly what all this is. Vision is one thing, but to execute it, you’re going to need a strategy. Your vision is vital because it provides the guidepost for all decision making in the future. Is the website a reflection of the brand you want? Is the quality of the business cards? Is this person the right one to help us achieve the vision? Is that client?
Vision is more than a statement on a website or a paragraph in the business plan you’ll never look at. Your Vision is where you are taking the business, every day, with every interaction with a customer or a supplier. You are either getting closer to your vision or not. If your vision isn’t clear, you can’t possibly see where you are going, so don’t be surprised when you reach a destination you didn’t want.
This is obviously one of the biggest hurdles. Whether you are buying a business or starting your own, you need cash. A fair bit of it. You’ll need cash to live off at home and keep the house running; food on the table and clothes on backs, but also cash to invest in the business. Computer equipment, software, rent, it all adds up. But having said that the democratisation of software and computing equipment means you can get commercial grade applications for a few dollars a month. You probably spend more on coffees and lunches.
If you need an office, look for a serviced office or Co-work space. Get the smallest space you can, for a short-term lease. You can scale up easily in places like this without being locked into long term expensive leases plus you don’t have to worry about the internet, or hiring a receptionist or running the front of house. You have enough to do than to have to worry about hiring someone to greet clients and answer the phone (it may not ring for a while anyway… the silence of which you’ll soon realise is deafening).
Finance is the elephant in the room, and I know that it’s stopping a lot of people, but what I don’t get is that these same people aren’t doing anything about it. So you can’t afford it now. What if you saved for 3 years, or 5 years or 10 years? What if you sold your house? Finance I find, is the litmus test of how good your idea is, and how well you think you can execute. It’s easy to blame a lack of funds for not starting a business, but that just says you’re not ready, you haven’t got the business plan worked out or your conviction is too weak. That your business is not the best financial decision you can make, speaks volumes for the quality of the business you are thinking about.
So you’re ready to put your money where your mouth is? But how much cash do you need? My answer would be more than you think. If you’re working on “paying yourself back” in 12 months, work off 2 years. Always work from the worst case scenario when starting a business. Assume you get no customers; how long can you fund this? When will you throw in the towel and admit defeat? Don’t keep throwing good money after bad. If you’ve honestly invested properly in marketing and building the business and no-one is buying. It’s you, not them. Give it up and move on. Take it on the chin and learn from it, so you can do it better next time. Do not take this lightly. Do not be under capitalised. Most businesses I see fail early, or those that struggle along for years and years are under capitalised. They simply didn’t have enough funds to start with and could never catch up.
You need to find a great advisor to work with, someone who has experience in and intimately understands cash flow forecasting, someone you can trust to crunch the numbers, like umm, me…
You know those favours you did 10 years ago for that guy from high school? Yeah, you’re going to have to call that in. You’re going to need every bit of support you can get, financially, mentally, and spiritually. Going solo is hard, and lonely. You’re going to need people to lean on. Your family and friends, need to be in your corner. You can’t be fighting the world without a good corner. They need to patch up cuts and bruises, slap you when you’re talking negative and be the ones who believe that you can beat the champ!
You might have awesome ideas, but the reason you’re having them is because you are different to everyone else. The risk is you are too different? Do you see and like things that others don’t? Will what you think is awesome, be enough customers think it is awesome or are you blinded by your conviction? You’ll need to take advice and lean on people, but be sure to tread your own path. Use the collective wisdom to refine your ideas, to hone your pitch, to challenge your assumptions and sometimes throw that idea in the bin and start again.
You’ll find out who really wants you to succeed and those who pay lip service to it. You’ll find out which ones who want you to succeed more than anything else, and those who want you to do well, but not better than them.
So talk with lots of people, from marketing to accounting, legal and operations to discuss every aspect of your vision and strategy. Pick their brains, hone your idea and then pick the team of experts you are going to lean on. Get them in your corner, make sure they understand what you’re trying to achieve then hold on tight, you are in for a wild ride.