5 Start-Up Lessons You May Learn The Hard Way

1. Your family and friends are not your clients

You’ve made the big announcement that you’re going to start a business and told everyone who is anyone about your intentions. Your brother’s-cousin’s-sister knows, your best friends know and wish you the best, your frenemies know and are secretly plotting to relish in your imminent failure. Your mum says it’s a great idea and you corral support from your friends, hoping that they’ll all shower you with cash in exchange for your shiny new products or services on offer. Sure, some of your friends may require your services but don’t depend on it. The best advice is to keep your friends and family as just that and seek out real clients (i.e. strangers who are willing to hand over cold hard cash for your expertise).

This part takes committed and sustained effort. As much as we’d like clients to suddenly materialise, desperately beating a path to your business threshold, the reality can sometimes resemble a scene of tumbleweed blowing across a relentless desert. When starting out in business, it’s less about opening your umbrella as shelter from the client deluge and more about taking out your shovel and preparing to dig – hard!

The keys to success in building a client base are persistence and patience. A gallows sense of humour may also help.

2. There is no such thing as a ‘big break’

It’s a commonplace perception that all a fledgling business needs is that one big client, breakthrough contract or ‘discovery’ by a famous influencer to hit the big time. I suspect that this perception has been fuelled by our love affair with the familiar entrepreneurial narrative of the ‘overnight success’, where a game-changing business suddenly springs from the obscurity of a spotty teenager’s bedroom to the world stage, propelling said spotty teenager to instant zillionaire status. Popular culture is littered with such stories but remember that behind each ‘overnight success’ is a great deal of striving, rejections, reflections and improvements which eventually grow into the visible business success.

Business success is more likely to take shape through a series of incremental breakthroughs. Building momentum through a strong portfolio, networks and contacts takes time. But keep at it – that’s the big secret.


3. Bills still need to be paid

It’s tempting to ditch the day job and pursue the business of your dreams. But doing so before your business is able to support you financially may quickly turn that dream into a waking nightmare. When starting out, the income does not come flowing in. Sometimes it will be feast or famine, even when work becomes more constant. I would advise in those early stages to keep the day job – even if it’s on a part-time basis, because there’s nothing worse than seeking new customers from a position of financial desperation.

There is absolutely no shame in recognising this necessity – in fact ignore it to your detriment! You need to be conducting your business with as much peace of mind as possible and it’s an issue of self-care to make sure that your finances are stable while your business is developing. Expecting your start up or early stage business to sustain you financially is a huge risk and an unnecessary source of stress.


4. Starting up is a journey

Every worthwhile journey consists of a progression of steps. On this journey, you will encounter ditches, dead ends, straight runs and home runs. Take them all in your stride. It’s essential not to miss any of the vital steps. Sometimes you will be hopping on the spot (perhaps in frustration), sometimes you will find yourself standing still for much longer than you care to.

At other times, the progress of your business will be racing ahead with you barely able to keep pace. Maybe you’ll even trip and fall spectacularly. It is important to recognise and accept each step of the way and don’t be impatient to skip any of these steps – it’s how you gauge learning opportunities and help your business grow. Awareness of where you are on your journey is the key to maintaining your balance.


5. Determining your worth is an inside job

How much are you worth? It’s easier as an employee to determine this, as in a job, your salary is set by your employer, so even if you think you deserve a pay rise, it will still be reasonably set within certain pre-determined parameters.

In the case of your own business, it’s up to you to set your own standards. It can be trickier than you think and requires you to pose and revisit certain questions. Do you set up your stall at the lower, middle or upper range of the market? How exactly are you meant to value your skills, experience and talents in a busy, jostling marketplace? Are you offering something standard or bespoke? Do you price yourself low to attract new customers and run the risk of being perceived as ‘cheap’ or do you charge premium prices and alienate potential customers?

It can be daunting when you realise that the answers to these questions are completely down to you, so take the reins – you’re the boss!





The Cult of the Lone Wolf Entrepreneur

The Cult of the Lone Wolf EntrepreneurThe entrepreneur is a modern day hero, capable of attaining celebrity status, inspiring aspirants to flock to the entrepreneurial path in their droves. The perception of the Lone Wolf entrepreneur is so embedded in the popular consciousness, that one only needs to mention the names – Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg and the reader will instantly know the name and nature of the business founded by each respective entrepreneur, as well as some knowledge of their life stories.

The narrative of this phenomenon suggests that successful entrepreneurship is a journey taken alone, with the fortunes of each venture resting purely on the broad shoulders of a charismatic figurehead. Granted – the entrepreneurial journey can often be an isolated and lonely experience, but it is certainly not one taken alone.

This cult of personality surrounding entrepreneurialism is appealing and great from a PR perspective, but misleading and disheartening to aspiring entrepreneurs who measure themselves against this unrealistic standard of achievement, wasting a lot of valuable energy in the process.

Often the most short-sighed and difficult entrepreneurs to work with, swear by the ‘lone wolf’ mentality. They confuse the quality of being a visionary with being a dictator. This approach stifles creativity and innovation from the people building the business alongside them, closing them off from genuinely creative ideas which could promote growth.

Successful entrepreneurs understand that:

  • They are visionaries who are able to lead, and have the ability to take others along with them.
  • It is important to trust their personal insights and to know when to ask for advice
  • An essential aspect of business success is the quality and qualities of their collaborators.

Innovative and creative businesses grow as a result of collaboration and sustainable entrepreneurial success is derived from leveraging the combined skills and experience of a varied support network. This network consists of the following key collaborators:



Finding someone who can offer accountability, advice and guidance from a perspective of knowledge and experience is an invaluable part of the entrepreneurial learning curve. Select your mentor on the basis that they have personal traits and achievements that you admire and wish to emulate. This will ensure a key relationship which will help you to deal with the inevitable setbacks, mistakes and challenges from someone who has been there, designed the T Shirt and sold it for a fortune.

Peer Network:

Your Peer Network consists of entrepreneurs at the same stage and therefore going through the same experiences as you are, making this group the perfect mastermind group. The collaborative potential from this group also extends to growing your business in a more direct way. Within your peer group lies complimentary goods and services which can help grow your business, meaning that your peers can add value to your business as Associates or through referrals.


Your advisors consist of specialists in the crucial functional areas of your business, such as finance, marketing and business development. Your advisors hold the important function of being your ‘Board’ in an official or unofficial capacity, in that you consult them for key strategic issues and decisions. They constitute your inner circle and for this reason it is essential to make your choices on the basis that they are champions in their field and are as passionate about what they do as you are.


Your colleagues consist of anyone in your team – ranging from your virtual assistant to your right-hand person. Effective entrepreneurial organisations enable ideas to thrive and flow, and people are given credit for their input. Create an environment where people can contribute and where their contributions are valued. Encouraging and being open to ideas from any ‘level’ of your business gives people more of a sense of ownership and empowerment.


Whatever goods or services you happen to provide, you are ultimately doing so in service of your customers. Without your customers, there really is no point to you doing what you are doing at all! Those who lose connection with the idea of serving their customers, do so at their detriment – resulting in a situation akin to delivering your well-rehearsed monologue on a large stage to an empty auditorium.

The Glamour of Business Planning

The Glamour of Business PlanningIn these bold times, where the entrepreneurial spirit is lionised, a glamorous and somewhat pernicious myth has developed. This myth has two aspects, the first depicts the entrepreneur as a freewheeling type, generating business success through random acts of spontaneity. The second casts the entrepreneur as the star of their own show with no room for others on the stage.

While going it alone in business requires generous measures of self-belief, bordering on egotistical tendencies, coupled with a dash of luck and undeterred optimism, the entrepreneurial path is rarely taken alone and not an advisable path to navigate unplanned.

The idea of preparing a business plan may seem completely at odds with the glamour of this myth, and yet, investing in the process of preparing and maintaining a business plan can benefit aspiring and established business owners in the following ways:


Clarifies your Vision

Your business plan is your statement of intention and if you don’t yet know it, here is your chance to figure it out. In his book ‘Start With Why’, Simon Sinek explains that the quality which sets innovative and creative businesses apart from the rest is the sustained connection to and clarity of their reason for being; their core vision.

Successful businesses consistently think, act and communicate with their customers in a way which demonstrates their core vision and which permeates every business activity, from product development through to strategies for growth. Whatever your product or service is, your customers ultimately respond to what your business stands for.


Reflects your Current Position

When setting out to prepare your business plan, make it your objective to create an accurate reflection of your current position. It’s always effective to start from a place of raw honesty. This can be an uncomfortable process, but is far more beneficial than a ‘head in the sand’ approach. An honest assessment of where you currently stand reveals the gaps in your plan and will initially raise more questions than answers – go with it and accept that this is part of the process.

Adapting a constructive mindset at this stage with reap dividends, as it enables you to appreciate your business plan – and your business, as a work in progress. From this position, you are then able to stand back and explore possibilities, opportunities and solutions.


Defines your Outcomes

To measure your success, you need to define what success looks like. Defining your goals and outcomes helps you to consciously plan for growth. In doing this, you are able to identify the resources and strategies you’ll need for your business to grow in the way and direction you’ve determined.

It is important to maintain the awareness that while your business plan presents a snapshot of your current position, it is also to be viewed as a living document, subject to revision and refinement as your business evolves with time and changing circumstances. Get into the habit of regularly reviewing and updating your business plan to reflect this awareness.


Creates a Roadmap

Writing your business plan determines where you are, in relation to where you want to be and is generally based on a three to five year projection. Plotting your strategy – your roadmap – is integral to this process, in which you identify the route and key milestones for your business to develop. This process reveals the resources you already have and those you will need to realise your entrepreneurial vision.

The more you’re able to identify resource gaps, in the form of people (yes – other people!), funding, skills, research and experience required to build your business, the clearer your business strategy will become. The key developmental stages in your business strategy should include the mode and direction of growth, how to expand your range of goods and services and defining when and how to exit.

In this way, using your business plan as your roadmap to success places you in a better position to respond proactively – and proactivity – as we all know, is such an admirable, even glamourous entrepreneurial trait.

Are your clients getting the message?

As I walked through Victoria Station this week, I couldn’t help but observe the rows of Union Jacks hanging forlornly and seeming irrelevant with the passing of this euphoric Summer.

The blaze of Olympic euphoria, quenched with that stunning flame seems like a distant memory and it is business of usual, with the news back on form with its predictable diet of economic gloom.

So now that the Olympics is no longer centre stage in the national conversation – the collective question may be, what next?

September is the time when the kids return to school – the holiday season has come to an end and it now time to refocus with renewed energy. This period of time, when one season blends into another is the perfect opportunity to harness the positivity of this spectacular summer, as a means of promoting productive change.

Whatever your line of business, utilise your goods and services to reflect this message to the benefit of your business and your customers.