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SO YOU WANT TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?







I can still remember the day way back in 1998 when I decided that there must be more to life than seemingly endless monthly appraisals, unachievable monthly targets, vacuum-packed sandwiches, foul-tasting coffee, uncooperative lifts, difficult people, and management I truly detested. Like so many others before me, and countless since, I decided to cash in my career with all its perks, including paid holidays, sick leave, generous pension benefits and a relatively decent salary, and go it alone starting my own business. I’d like to open this book by saying that nothing beats the feeling that came when I told my bosses where to stick it and the liberating feeling of swapping days in fluorescent hell for the altogether more preferable experiences of running my own successful business, and enjoying more free time while earning truck loads of cash and being the envy of friends and ex-colleagues.





But it wasn’t like that.


The joy of telling an employer where to stick their lousy job is, sadly, short-lived. Indeed any emotional feel-good factor quickly wears off as soon as the next round of bills starts to fall through the front door.


Why am I telling you this? Because starting your own business is going to be, with the exception of coping with a life-threatening illness, one of the most challenging and difficult things you’re ever likely to embark on.


And for those who stay the course, it’s also going to be one of the most rewarding experiences ever. But I don’t want to start you off under the impression that it’s all plain sailing. It’s not. Neither is starting a business, for those who crave security, and want assurances that everything will work out well in the end. With this business, there are no guarantees of success. So if you’re the type of person who avoids risk at all costs, then my advice would be to stay employed, or unemployed, as the case might be.


The route to self-employment is a difficult and often seemingly impossible journey where only a few will actually achieve any real success. Notice how I haven’t used the words ‘lucky few’. Because in reality your future success will not depend on luck. Indeed luck has nothing to do with it. If I’ve learnt one difficult lesson through the





last few years it is that those who start and go on to run their own successful businesses do not rely on luck. If there is such a thing, then I believe that you make your own luck. Certainly if you’re sitting somewhere reading this book right now and wishing for a lucky break in your life, stop reading now, find the nearest shop that sells lottery tickets, and buy yourself one. Then you can sit back and wait for Lady Luck to come knocking on your door.


An alternative is for you to decide as I did that life is too short to worry, and regardless of how hard you work for someone else you’ll never really be in control of your own life. If you’re prepared to go for it, then commit to the hard work ahead, be prepared for the failures, disappointments, let-downs, bureaucracy and fear, and start to enjoy the massive benefits that will come when your start your own business.




Prepare yourself for some difficult times ahead


After leaving paid employment, I was euphoric. Sadly, it wasn’t to last. Six months after starting my first business it failed spectacularly, and I was left with no way to pay the mortgage and household bills. Despondent, I was forced to return to the ranks of the employed. At the time, it was a bitter blow to have to find another job which paid a fraction of the salary I had been previously earning and with none of the benefits.


Even vacuum-packed sandwiches, fluorescent lighting and uncooperative lifts all seemed like a dream compared to my new job where my circumstances were far worse than before.


At the time, I made myself a promise – to get back on my feet, overcome my fear of failure and as soon as I could to dive back into the depths of self-employment, but this time more prepared than before. I passed the time working for others as best I could. I worked hard and committed myself to my new job: after all, it wasn’t my employer’s fault that my business had failed. But then one day I realised that I was once again stuck in that nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday routine and, despite three promotions and the fact that I was now earning more than I had been in my previous job, I remembered why it was that I had had to return to employment. It was to pay my way until I could leave again.


On the day I left this job, I made a promise to myself that I would never again work for someone else. Regardless of my circumstances, regardless of how low my life could sink, and even if I was to lose my house, furniture, etc., I would never again return to being an employee.


To date, I have kept this promise.





Today, my businesses are successful and I enjoy every minute of my working life. Since leaving employment my health has improved, I am happier, and I get to steer the course of my own life and those of the people I love without being at the mercy of others.


Self-employment is not for everyone. As I said earlier, not everyone is are suited to this life, which is probably just as well as you’ll soon discover this when your business grows and you need to employ talented people to move it on to the next level.


Undoubtedly there are those folk who will pick up this book and, once they recognise how tough the road ahead can be, will decide they’re better off where they are now. Good for them, I say. Far better they realise, after the relatively small investment of buying and reading this book, that self-employment isn’t for them than to discover later when they have lost everything that they weren’t really cut out for it after all.


Not everyone has the stomach for self-employment. As I’ve said, it can be a difficult road, often long and seemingly unending. But for those who persevere and, more importantly, for those who travel light and carry a map, that road can be made all the easier.


Let’s start by looking at some of the attributes that make successful entrepreneurs different from those who fail.



The five secrets of being a successful entrepreneur



1. Develop self-reliance.


2. Work with written goals.


3. Develop a ‘can-do’ attitude.


4. Maintain a sense of humour.


5. Keep your ‘own counsel’.






DEVELOP SELF-RELIANCE


Through starting and running my own businesses I’ve met lots of successful entrepreneurs, who have overcome all sorts of challenges to start their own successful businesses. Without exception, what they all have is an acute sense of self-reliance. They believe entirely that whatever life or business can throw at them, they have the power to overcome, whatever this may be.


They also accept fully that they alone are responsible for their own future. This is crucial to their success – that unshakeable belief that they, and they alone, are in charge of their lives. Yes, their businesses are led by events that are often outside of their control. But by accepting that success isn’t dependent on what happens to you,





but how you react to these events, you will start to realise that your success ultimately depends on no one else but you.





WORK WITH WRITTEN GOALS



I wish I had discovered this secret earlier. If I had, I would have undoubtedly spared myself much heartache and false starts. For when you set a written goal you commit to achieving whatever it is you want, which could be anything from simply spending a half an hour a day researching your new business to setting a start date for your new business.


Just think for a moment how motivating it is to write down the date you intend to start your first business. Imagine for a moment the forces that begin working on a conscious and unconscious level, moving you towards this goal.


For example, once you set your date you can:


o Write a list of all the things you’re going to have to do before you can get started.


o Break this list down into smaller achievable goals. For example, set dates to meet with bankers, suppliers and anyone who you’re going to need to be involved to be in your business.


o Create a written timetable for these things. There’s no point in saying you’ll get them done by such and such a date. You need to work to a timetable so you can achieve your goals.


o Where necessary, revise your initial date. It may be that you haven’t given yourself a realistic timescale to work within. This is a common mistake made by novice entrepreneurs who will underestimate how long it takes to get funding, supplier agreements, and so on, in place.


As you can see, when you set written goals you will go from simply thinking or dreaming about doing something to actually working to a set, written goal. And by doing so, your future chances of success will be greatly improved.





DEVELOP A ’CAN-DO’ ATTITUDE



Similar to developing a real sense of reliance, successful entrepreneurs also have a real ‘can-do’ attitude. You know the type of person I mean. You’ll find them heading up local community campaigns, tackling problems head-on, and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer from anyone. You’ll have met these people when you’ve been on holidays. They are the ones that when there’s a problem get it sorted quickly without fuss or insult.





Unlike others, can-doers live their life with an unshakeable belief in their abilities. They refuse (whatever the circumstance) to be told that whatever it is they’re about to do is impossible. Imagine for a moment how it must have been for the Wright brothers, the first people to fly an aeroplane across the Atlantic. Picture if you will all those from the ‘it-cannot-be-done’ camp, arguing and forecasting impending danger. Lesser men wouldn’t have bothered with such a challenge and some would say they were stupid and reckless. But their achievement brought world-wide admiration, and at the time ushered in the reality that soon ordinary people could be travelling from America to Europe by aeroplane.


A ‘can-do’ attitude is vital to your future success as a self-employed business person. If you can only achieve results where the odds are stacked in your favour and success is guaranteed, you might as well stay doing whatever it is you’re doing now. Because at times on the journey ahead, the only thing between you and failure will be your attitude. It’s not so much what happens to you in this life, but how you react to it.


Start working on becoming a ‘can-do’ right away. Guard against listening to the floods of people who’ll tell you whatever it is you’re about to do won’t work. Believe in yourself and work towards eliminating personal doubt and fear.





MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOUR



I’d love to tell you that I’ve laughed at each and every one of my many shortcomings and numerous failures, but I won’t lie to you. Most of my life I’ve taken things far too seriously, and it’s only as my businesses have begun to see the faint, flickering light of success in the far-off distance that I can finally begin to understand the importance of being able to laugh at myself. Today I’m getting better at it, but I firmly believe that if I had realised earlier on in my self-employed career that being able to laugh at yourself is as important as paying your rent or mortgage, I believe I would have achieved more and far quicker.


Let me take you through one episode that happened to me.






The boating lake


Some time ago I ran a boating lake in our town. As you can imagine, given our current climate in the UK it was pretty much a seasonal business. We’d open the lake at Easter and it would close again in early September when the children returned to school. Our busiest times were bank holidays, and it was on these days (weather permitting) that we would actually finally see a financial return on all our hard work.


One August bank holiday, I woke up early on Saturday morning to visit the lake and ensure that everything was clean and ready to go for later in the morning. I should tell





you here that the lake had been built by the Victorians employing the most remarkable engineering that allowed it to be filled by the sea through a series of underground chambers. As I walked the short distance from the house along the sandy beach to the lake on what was a beautiful morning, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was. After all, how many people could undertake their daily commute to work along a beach with two happy dogs playing at their feet?

However, that morning I was in for a shock.



When I caught a glimpse of the lake in the distance, I knew right away something was wrong. Our boats which were usually tied up in the centre of the lake were not yet visible. I panicked. My first thought was that someone must have stolen them. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time that one of our boats had been stolen. But as I walked towards the lake, the boats came into view. Relieved, I continued towards the lake. But there was still something wrong. Indeed something seriously wrong, but I couldn’t yet put my finger on it. Only when I finally stood at the edge of the lake did I realise what the problem was.


All of the water had drained away!


The lake was completely empty save for a few small puddles of water, totally drained. I couldn’t believe it. Here we were on the busiest bank holiday of the year. Beautiful sunny weather – and our lake had utterly disappeared.


Ask yourself, what would you do? Well, I got angry. Very angry. And even angrier when some people began to come up to me with all sorts of petty worries. Questions like ‘Do you think the crabs will be okay?’ or, ’What time will you be opening today?’


Can you imagine going up to the owner of a boating lake, which for some unknown reason has lost all its water, and asking them what time they’ll be opening?


Of course, I took it badly. Replying sarcastically that we would obviously be opening in a few minutes. ‘A few minutes?’ one man said indignantly, ‘but the lake’s dry.’


‘Don’t worry, we’ll let you have a boat half price’, I told him, which as you can imagine didn’t help the situation.


Today, some years on, I can look back at this incident and laugh. It was a truly hilarious situation, as was pointed out to me at the time by one of the local business owners who advised me to see the funny side of it. ‘What’s the point in getting stressed about it?’ He said. ‘After all, you getting angry isn’t going to fill the lake up, is it?’





He was right and I was wrong. Laughing at what the world throws at you is something I’ve only learnt recently, and I must say it’s definitely the best kept secret of successful entrepreneurs. You really do need to be willing to see the funny side in every calamity. I’m not recommending you adopt a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. Far from it. There’s nothing funny about losing your takings for what was potentially the busiest weekend of the year. But it’s far worse, wouldn’t you agree, to lose your takings and be entirely miserable and angry?





KEEP YOUR OWN COUNSEL



I cannot stress this one enough.


If you’re the type of person who has to tell all and sundry your forthcoming business plans, then save yourself from future agonies and decide now not to start your own business. Sharing your plans with everyone else really is disastrous.


Let me give you an example of this via something that happened to me a while ago.


When I decided that I’d had enough of working for someone else for a living, I had already given a lot of thought as to what sort of business I was going to start and run. I’d worked through the figures, carried out lots of research, and had actually found a business that was easy to set up and run, and more importantly, was already making money for someone else. I believed entirely in this business idea. In fact, it was more than a business idea as other people were obviously already doing well with this same business. All I had to do was replicate their idea. Nothing wrong with that. As their business was not even in our area, I wouldn’t be competing with them. And so I believed I was on to a winning idea.


Then one night I was out for dinner with some friends and relatives, none of whom were their own boss. At the time all of them had successful careers and were happy working for someone else. During dinner I shared my ideas with the gathering who, it has to be said, were mostly horrified at my plan. Later on, after the meal, when we were sitting in the hotel foyer polishing off a bottle of wine, I then made the further (fatal) mistake of trying to justify my business idea to the group.


I was overrun with ‘What ifs’ and all sorts of well-meaning advice. Thus in the weeks that followed I changed my business plans to take on board all the well-meaning advice I’d been given.


When I discussed my plans sometime later with an already successful person who’d started a similar business they advised me against my new plan and told me I should stick with my original idea. This caused me a great deal of more confusion and heartbreak.





Eventually I made the decision to go with my revised business idea, thereby turning my back on this successful entrepreneur’s advice. Six months later, my new business collapsed (and looking back, I’m actually surprised it lasted as long as it did).


So here’s the lesson, dear reader – keep your own counsel. As soon as you choose to tell someone that you’re thinking about starting your own business, you’ll get bombarded with free, well-meaning, and entirely useless advice. So with the best will, keep your ideas to yourself.


The only people you should ever discuss or take advice from when you are starting your own business are those who are already running successful businesses of their own. No one else. If you still have a problem with this concept, let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to a party where you’ve met a professional such as a doctor, architect, engineer, dentist, or similar who asked you for your advice on how they should treat their patients, design their buildings, or make their machines?


Of course not. And the same is true for entrepreneurs. No one but you is really qualified to understand what’s involved in starting your business, let alone qualified enough to offer advice.


So remember, keep your own counsel!



Before we go any further, have you got what it takes?



So far, I’ve talked about myself and shared with you what I believe to be the five strongest attributes that all successful business starters have in common.


It would be silly in the extreme if I was to assume that every person who picked up this book, or indeed any other on the subject of starting your own business, was already well-endowed in the ‘skills’ department. Certainly if my own initial experiences were anything to go by, few of us actually know clearly what it takes to start a business, or once up and running how to keep it going.


But don’t despair. What you don’t know, you can find out. Simple as that. However, this can only happen if you first recognise exactly what it is you are lacking. So before we go any further, I want you to take a few minutes to undertake a stocktake of your lifestyle. All you need is a paper and pen, or if you haven’t got any paper, simply write the answers alongside the questions below.




Lifestyle questionnaire


1. Are you the type of person who constantly craves someone telling you how well you are doing?





2. Are you motivated enough to be able to work alone, at home, solidly, without resorting to phoning friends, watching day-time telly, or spending hours surfing the Internet?


3. When you take on a new task do you always need encouragement from your friends and family?


4. If you’re living with a partner, husband, or wife, have you discussed your proposals and the implications of what you’re planning and how these will affect both your lifestyles?


5. Are you giving up a career to start your own business? If so, how are you going to cope without your colleagues, salary, pension entitlements, and so on?


6. If your business venture fails (and lots of first ones do), would you be able to cope and get back on track again?


7. Are you really serious about starting your own business, or is it just the romantic notion that attracts you?


8. Can you keep going under the kinds of circumstances where others would pack up and clear out?


By reading through these questions you should be able to start to see the sort of personality that’s more suited to being an entrepreneur. For example, if you’re someone who loves being part of a team, sharing anecdotes and gossip over the water or coffee machine on a Monday morning, then the loneliness that invariably comes when you work for yourself will not be for you.


Don’t work under the false assumption that everything will be alright on the night. This is never the case. In fact, usually what can go wrong will go wrong, as well as a host of other unforeseen problems. However, in my experience, if you plan for things to go wrong they usually don’t. Why? I believe that once again when things go wrong it’s not down to bad luck. Remember, I don’t believe there is any such thing as good or bad luck, only poor planning. Indeed, if such a thing as luck does exist, I am certain you make your own luck.




So ^ have you got what it takes?


Allow me to be brutally honest here for a moment and ask you a few personal questions. Just between you and me. For example, have you got the get-up-and-go needed to start your own business, and accept responsibility for your own future?





What I’m talking about here is you getting up each and every day, regardless of how well or unwell you feel, and going to work in your own business. Remember, when you work for yourself you’re not going to have those others in the office, or factory, or on the shopfloor that you can have a good old chinwag or moan with. Initially, it will most likely be you and you alone who you undertakes every task imaginable, from answering the phone, to meeting with high-powered executives, to negotiating with suppliers and landlords for better rates.


In my experience, none of these people will be really interested in how you feel about things. Your customers generally will only be interested in what your business can do for them. And why not? After all, your job is simply to satisfy their needs. Your suppliers, landlord, bank, local council, and anyone else who’ll be taking a slice of your profits isn’t really interested in your wellbeing. All they will be concerned about is whether you have any debts with them (be this loans or commitments like rent) and whether you will be able to honour them.


Sorry to be blunt here, but that is how it is.


The sooner you understand that you will be on your own here, the better. That way you won’t be in for any unpleasant surprises and you can plan accordingly.


Here’s an interesting experience that happened to me when I was doing a radio interview promoting the first edition of this book.


First of all, I must say that I really enjoy doing promotional radio interviews. I get to go all around the country chatting to interesting, would-be entrepreneurs. Usually it’s all fairly light-hearted and good fun. However, on one show, I took a call from an extremely irate lady who berated me for suggesting through my book that anyone could turn a hobby into a successful business. She told me that her daughter had lost everything when she decided to pack in her career and open a teashop.


Once she’d calmed down, I asked her what did she believe was the biggest factor in her daughter’s business failing. Without hesitation, she blamed greedy bankers and a landlord who charged her ‘over the odds for a piddling little shop that no one else, but her daughter would rent’.


Note, the two parties she blamed:


l. Greedy bankers who had charged too much in interest and fees.


2. A landlord who had charged too much in rent.


What’s telling about this lady’s daughter is that her business hadn’t had a hope to begin with. Let’s face it, both the costs of her bank/loan charges and shop rent would





have been known to her from the outset. I’ll take you through what’s involved in negotiating for a shop premises later, but suffice it to say it’s a bit like renting a flat or house. You will know in advance the monthly rent and will have agreed to that figure when you sign the lease.


Similarly you will know in advance your bank charges, loan repayments, and so on. So there is absolutely no reason why your business should close down owing to foreseen costs, provided of course that you have created a realistic business plan. Later on, I’ll take you through the research you’ll need to do before signing anything or indeed deciding to start your business. An all too common mistake and one of the main reasons for business failures is that an entrepreneur, similar to this lady’s daughter, has failed to consider the costs. Instead they have rushed into a half-baked idea without any real idea of how they were going to make it a success. And then when it fails, they blame others for their own basic mistakes.


So ask yourself now – are you willing to take responsibility for your future? If you are, and I hope you are, great. If not, fine. At least you can walk away now without losing any money, your home, your relationship, and so on.


Starting and running your own business isn’t for everyone, but everyone can do it provided they’re prepared for what lies ahead. Ultimately, the rewards will change your life for the better. So be prepared for a life-changing journey and all the fun and excitement that goes with it.




To do list


1. Grab a notebook and start working on planning some initial written goals. This could be anything, from setting a deadline by which you will have finished reading this book to choosing a date for starting your business.


2. From now on start working on developing your self-reliance. Work out as many ways as you possibly can of ending your dependence on other people. If you’re the type of person who loves to be praised at work, then make a conscious effort to stop seeking others’ approval. Remember, one of the greatest attributes of successful people is that they really don’t give a damn what others think of them. They live their lives on their own terms.

Learn to laugh more and not get worked up about things. Start shrugging off the inevitable problems you encounter every day. Whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously.
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