The past 12 months have seen many best-laid plans scuppered and refocused the attention of some onto pursuing jobs they want in industries they admire. Are you game for a change?
Entrepreneurship isn’t simply about earning a living; headlines about lucrative flips, floats and “disruptors” belie a more complicated picture. Instead, running your own business means that you decide what success looks like and ensure that your own values align with the job you do. Despite the snakes and ladders of working life and getting your career going, there are a few simple steps you can take – to look after your staff, step up to new challenges, start a company you can be proud of – and decisions that mean taking a few calculated risks, now and again. Will the future of business be run from bedrooms or boardrooms? In a tailored blazer and a button-down shirt or in pyjamas and sweatpants? We’ve got a few hunches about all that. Now, are you ready to roll the dice? Then let’s play.
Stick, why twist? Why not be grateful for your career as it stands and stay with what you’re doing? If it was working before, why can’t it again? After all, the pandemic was a one-off and surely nothing like this will ever happen again... While there’s some credit to continuity, isn’t there also a virtue to challenging the way things were?
Start something new. What about pets, plants, fitness or bicycle shops? Vinyl records, friendly deliveries, rural hotels or good retail? All experienced growth over the past year but remember to look beyond the pandemic. Select something that will deliver some happiness for years to come. Tweaking winning formulas and brand revivals might work well too.
Three ventures to ponder:
The pet market is expected to grow by 5 per cent a year until 2025 to a value of €172bn. China has the biggest market share but the rest of Asia is playing catch-up. Might a trend towards pampering pooches fetch a profit?
Older technology, such as records, can still turn a profit. In the UK, sales of vinyl overtook those of cds in 2020 for the first time since 1987. Global sales last year were to the tune of €17.9bn, the highest since 2002.
The pandemic has reignited an appreciation of nature and led to many investing in their outdoor spaces. The industry for cut flowers and potted plants is likely to blossom, growing by more than 6 per cent in the five years between 2019 and 2024 to a value of €47.5bn.
With so much uncertainty around, no one would blame you for being a little cautious with cashflow. Let’s just hope that the shifty new assistant with the grating laugh and those unscrupulous-seeming investors will change their tune once they see what a nice person you are – and that you might know what’s best for your own business. However unlikely this may seem.
You need sage advice – ask people you admire for some guidance. Look for mentors who have skills you might be missing out on. And who to have as a partner? This will be tough and can cost friendships. Do you all have the same vision? Will it fall apart when one person is working 24/7 and others are not able to commit. Cast your net wide for collaborators and surprise yourself.
Overalls or suit? T-shirt or tie? When raising capital and selling your vision, think about how you’re going to make this a success and what success looks and sounds like. How about some lessons on public speaking? Picking up a few phrases in a foreign tongue to show a willingness to talk to your suppliers in Spain? Get off on the right foot with some smart shoes from John Lobb and a Boglioli blazer.
Cross your fingers and pray that online video-conferencing technology improves to the point where you can stage a credible office from your spare bedroom. The danger? That the larger impression of your project to customers, staff and potential partners gets stuck on “mute” as well. Schlubbing around at home in leisurewear might have done for the pandemic but it won’t for the aftermath.
Online advertising can create “impressions” but not necessarily the sort that amount to presence or credibility. Don’t believe the hype about “guerrilla marketing” and word of click, or be the one writing your number on a beer mat when you meet an interesting contact but realise – too late – that you never invested in a smart business card.
So you’ve realised that “digital” is something but by no means everything. Great. Now you’ll need a deft logo and to take some time to decide what your brand is and what it represents – then stick to it. Too many companies rely on tired copywriting and 10 rebrands in the first five months. Do it right and these building blocks will add up to a firm foundation.
Stay at home. But be wary that what you save in rent might cost you in quality of life, not to mention the trouble you’ll have hosting meetings or recruiting talented staff who may not wish to share your conference-cum-laundry room. Remember to look beyond the lockdowns – is this how you’d like to live and work for the foreseeable future?
Whether you plump for a shared space or a proper office, our environments shape how we feel – and how people see you. Perhaps you should consider whether you’re being overambitious or if you’re in the right city or nation. How about a nice office in Porto or Athens? Now’s the time to cut a deal with the landlord and think big.
Make sure you have control of your finances and let’s hope that this pays you a decent income. But is that your motivation? Are you just as likely to be happy getting around on a bike as a super yacht? It’s a simple question but a surprisingly philosophical one too. How you answer it will affect many things throughout your journey.
Then cash in early. It’d be great if the opportunity presents itself. But what about seeing the company that you put everything into succeeding and rewarding the staff who have came along for the ride? Will you be happy to see your restaurant run by people who don’t take pride in it, or to stand by as your book business is underwritten badly?
It’s a mistake to believe that everyone is as proud and passionate about your business as you are. If you take it as a personal affront, then you’ll end up a gibbering mess. Plus, if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that situations can turn on a pin and sometimes a little creativity and humility can be the key to changing your fortunes for the better.
You won’t get everything right – it’s OK to apologise, reframe and regroup. The key is knowing when to step back – from a row with suppliers, an angry and unproductive email exchange or a deal – and to go for a walk. A morning routine can clear your head – play tennis, do a downward dog. There will be setbacks, and you must take care of yourself when they happen.
Underestimate your customers at your peril. People can see through the greenwashing and straight through to the corners you’re cutting by offshoring, underpaying or exploiting loopholes to do the minimum amount required. “Designed in Germany” really – and obviously – means “made on the cheap in China”. What’s more, everyone knows it.
If making shirts, flogging financial advice or landscaping, your business probably provides goods or a service. But is this venture also about something bigger? Maybe safeguarding family firms or filling an under-served niche? Can it help a community or nudge the world in the right direction? The best companies embed this idea of a greater good into their mission. You should too.
What’s your plan for how long you might last? Are you looking to leave things ticking over and take a back seat, or wind it in gracefully and get out before it’s too late? You’ll need to decide whether another venture beckons, whether you can do both or whether this business is something you’d like to see passed down the generations.
There’s value in growing and cultivating a company over time, especially for the love of what you do and the staff who help. But, if you don’t mind us asking, how did you end up doing all the dirty jobs and feeling like the one who wants to quit? If you’re too busy to enjoy what you’ve built, then it’s time for a bold shake-up. Business is good but not if it makes you sad.
Remember, you can always head back to Level 1 and try again. Good luck.