I want to quit my job and have my own company. I’ll just google ‘how to start a business’ and follow the steps, right? Um, no. Not exactly.
Type ‘steps to start a business’ into a search engine and you’ll get countless dry lists on how to write a business plan and set up your tax structure. But very few articles actually get into:
- The reason for starting your business in the first place
- Why you need to get your finances in order
- How to recover from corporate burn out before you start
- Whether you really need a business plan and financing
- The importance of being realistic
When I left my corporate role to start a business, no one prepared me for the mental and emotional rollercoaster that followed.
I’m not saying it was all bad, parts of it were amazing. But I hadn’t factored in the mindset shifts I had to make as I set up this site.
Here are the 5 pieces of advice I would give to anyone planning to start a business.
1. Know your ‘why’?
“Adadadadada”. Wow! What do you think he is saying?! I asked my sister as my 10-month-old nephew chatted cheerfully to us.
“No idea!” She beamed as we weaved our way through Columbia Road Flower Market.
I’d love to say the perfumed blend of a thousand flowers wafted on the balmy breeze, but this is London in April people. It was raining. And cold.
But still, I felt happy. ‘This is it’, I thought, ‘this is what I wanted’.
It was a Thursday at 2pm and I was chilling out with two of my favourite people in the world. I could never have done this while in my corporate job.
I would have been drinking tepid tea, bashing the crap out of my keyboard trying to get an excel formula to calculate properly.
I had a really strong ‘why’ when I quit my corporate job. I wanted my life back. I wanted time to spend with family, to be less stressed, to do what I wanted, when I wanted.
I get it. You’re exhausted. You’ve built your career for over a decade or more and now you’re questioning if you still want to do it.
You think that starting a business will solve all your problems.
‘If I could just live life on my own terms, work when I want, have autonomy and ban pointless meetings, I would be happy’.
Before you launch headlong into baking Eiffel Tower shaped cakes or designing offensive greeting cards (www.bantercards.com), ask yourself what you really want.
If you don’t have a burning reason to drive yourself forward, when the poo hits the spokes, you’ll give up.
Is leaving your career the only answer?
Do you just need some time out instead?
Could you take a sabbatical, or do you have unused holiday days you can take? FYI, if you take your holiday allowance, the company you work for will not collapse. Take your allowance. Do it.
If you still believe in what you do, could you ask to go part-time? That would free up the time to do what you love outside of the office.
What about becoming a consultant? (I do actually do this now and again to boost the cash cushion). Does your field of work allow you to take on short projects for other companies instead of just working for one?
“Nope, I definitely want to start a business”
Ok then, what is your ‘why’?
- You want to do something you believe in
- Your interests have changed over the years
- You want to spend more time with your kids or family
- You want to be location independent
Make sure you are really clear on what this is as it will affect the type of business you set up.
2, Sort out your finances
Get your financial house in order before you start your business. It is THE most important point I can make. I am so passionate about this.
Having money saved up gives you so many options.
Get yourself an emergency fund to cover your expenses for 6-12 months and you have a clear run at making your business work.
Or, maybe you decide you want to spend 5 months traveling South-East Asia instead. You’ve got the money so do it!
Never, ever, ever just pack in your job if you are in debt or you don’t have the money to support yourself.
If you want to start a business, you want to be using all of your mental capacity for building it. You do not want to be wasting precious time worrying about paying the bills.
Why you should start reviewing your finances before you start your business.
Business ideas can take a while to form, it could take months of brainstorming, googling and researching to decide on your business.
But saving? That can be done NOW. Seriously, do not wait.
The quicker you build an escape fund, the sooner you can leave your job
3. Get over burn out before you start
If you’ve reached a senior level in your corporate career, chances are you work every waking hour and then some. You are probably maxed out, stressed out, sleep deprived and anxious.
You shouldn’t start a business if you are burnt out and exhausted. You wouldn’t build a house on crumbling sand, so why would you start a business with rubble for a brain?
If you have the cash to take a couple of months out before you really start gunning for your business, I recommend taking the time to de-stress and recharge.
I realise this may be a luxury for some but it does make the world of difference if you can.
There is no secret sequence for getting over burnout, you just need to try different things to do what works.
Most important is setting the intention to do whatever your body needs. if you need to sleep, sleep (unless you have small children jumping on your head).
Other de-stress methods could be:
- Healthy eating
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Cutting back on alcohol (I’m sorry, you want me to do what?)
- Reading self help books
- Getting your 10,000 steps in
- Catching up with friends
- Spending time with family
- Starting or continuing a hobby that’s just for fun
If you can’t afford to take this time before you start a business, try to weave some of the above methods into your daily life.
4. Don’t write a business plan or get financing
I attended the Pop Up Business School in February, and it completely changed my life.
Okay, that is a bit dramatic. But it fundamentally shifted my preconceptions on how you should start a business.
Pop Up Business School ethos is:
- Don’t write a business plan, you don’t need one
- Start your business for free instead of getting a loan
- Sell before you create. Don’t make your product before you know your customer wants it.
You don’t need a business plan
Pop Up Business School are probably the only people I have ever heard say ‘don’t write a business plan’.
Business plans are for securing finance, which means getting a loan, otherwise known as, going into debt.
Starting a business in the red is a very risky way to launch.
As you’ll see in the next section, there are many ways to avoid taking a loan to start your business.
Businesses also evolve or completely change direction over time.
This blog originally started out as a personal finance site.
After a couple of months, I realised that I wanted to change the focus of the site with personal finance as a category rather than the overall theme.
Had I written a detailed business it would be recycled toilet paper by now. And I would have wasted hours when I could have been working on more important things.
Point to note: a business plan is different from a business strategy.
A strategy tells you what your goal is, who your customers are and how you are going to target them.
This is important but doesn’t need 10 pages of explanation or headed paper. Mine is in the notes section of my iPhone.
Start your business for free
Pop Up Business School are firm believers that you can start a business for free or with very little money.
If you start your business without taking a loan or using your life savings, you have a lot less to lose.
There are many ways to set your business up with little or no cash. Such as:
- Bartering (have a read of Free Stuff Everyday for some ideas)
- Using free resources (such Weebly or Wix for setting up a free website)
If you want to find something for your business, ask around, or google ‘business item + free’, or swap something with someone else.
If that all sounds a bit ‘yeah, right’, here is a real life example.
When I was at the Pop Up Business school in Hounslow, there was a woman there who wanted to set up first aid courses for parents. Problem was she didn’t have the rescusitation dolls.
These were really expensive and the one stumbling block in setting up her business for free.
After chatting with a few people on the course, it turned out one of the guys used to work as a paramedic and had these exact dolls sat in his garage.
He only lived 10 minutes down the road and offered them to her free.
You honestly could not make that up!
You can read my full review of the Pop Up Business School below:
Sell before you create
This one took a little while to get my head around, it sounds difficult to get people to pay for things before you actually make them.
But if you think about it, it happens all the time.
- If you were paying to attend a workshop, the host could have written the outline, but only created the entire workshop once enough people had signed up.
- If you bought a cake to be delivered to be delivered to a friend, the bakery will only make it once the order is placed and paid for.
The beauty of this, is that your customer is paying for the supplies or your time, not you.
5. Be realistic
It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement. To stare out of the window dreaming of the wonderful, happy life your business is going to give you.
But make sure you are being realistic with what you want to achieve.
Does your business idea fit your ‘why’.
What do you ultimately want? Some people want enough money to cover their expenses, some want time to spend with their kids, other’s dream of superyachts and 20 bedroom mansions.
Make sure that your business idea will satisfy your ‘why’.
If you want to leave your job as you want a healthier life, starting a pop up shop selling deep fried confectionary isn’t going to work.
Will your customer pay for what you are offering?
Who is your customer, how can you serve them, what problem do they have and how can you solve it?
And most importantly, do they have money? (or someone else to pay for it who does?)
If you can solve a problem for someone with money, you’re onto a winner.
Be ready for the emotional side
It’s quite a shock going back to knowing nothing.
If you haven’t been the junior person in a company for many years, you’ve forgotten what is like to not know what the f*ck you’re doing.
You are back in the dreaded ‘conscious incompetence‘ box again.
The only way to build you confidence is to ‘do’. Pick a task and keep going. The more you do it, the easier it will get, the more confident you will become.
Just keep going!
Don’t burn out again
I don’t subscribe to the much trotted out mantra of ‘get up at 5am and work until midnight!’ that the ‘gurus’ love to spout.
If I’m tired, the work I produce is crap. When my work is crap, I lose confidence. If I lose confidence, I lose motivation. You get the picture.
I would much rather work as much as I can, but stop when I start to lose momentum (at the moment I start at 7am and work until about 5pm).
That way I am refreshed by the next day and ready to start again.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to starting a business but using the above points has helped me much more than the ‘traditional’ advice.
Just to recap, here they are again for you.
- Make sure you are crystal clear on your ‘why’
- Get your finances in order, starting now!
- Recover from burn out before you start (if you can)
- Don’t write a business plan and definitely don’t take a loan
- Be realistic and just keep going!
Have you started your business yet? What was your ‘why’?