Not all that long ago I was the chief executive of a start up. It’s a big title: chief executive; much too big for some nitwit that has decided to start up a new, small business. But since starting a business is always a bit of a blag in the first place… why not use silly titles!
I have chosen my words carefully: was the chief executive of a start up. I use the past tense not because I have moved onto another company, or because the business failed; quite the opposite. The business has flourished (well, perhaps that is an over statement but it is certainly going well) and we are no longer in the start up bracket. We are a successful business with a wide range of clients that we try our hardest to get great results for.
So, how to we make the leap from absolute start up to established business? Well, it is simple actually, and can be encapsulated within on quick to grasp command:
Don’t be vain
If you take one piece of advice from anyone, please let this be it. Vanity kills start-ups. You need to be prepared to fight for your new business, to fight for its survival. If that sounds dramatic, it is. But it is also true. This means that you must be prepared to put in the grunt work yourself, and to spare any luxuries or lavishes. Does the office that you are looking to rent seem too swanky or expensive? It is. You brand is important, but no money left in the kitty and you have no brand. Finances comes first, brand second. Get an office that you can afford and then work your way up to a smart one. You also need to be prepared to pick up the phone yourself and sell your product.
There are very few people that like cold calling, but boy is it the make or break factor for the majority of start-ups. Your willingness to sell your product, and the enthusiasm that you bring to that task, will most probably be the deciding factor in your businesses survival in the initial stages and flourishing in the mid and latter stages. If you are too vain, lazy or apprehensive to pick up the phone and sell your product then you are in for a bit of a dilemma. If you can’t sell your own product… who can! Vanity, or a lack thereof, also stretches to every other area of your business.
You need to make sure that you are pragmatic with your finances in every area of your business. In the start up stage, stinginess is king. You must be prepared to run your operation on a shoestring. There is a fine line between affordability and outright service compromise. Go for the first; avoid the latter. If something is too cheap to be true it usually is. A lack of vanity does not mean that you should cut corners. It just means that you should avoid the Coutts of this world and go for Santander, until of course your business is flourishing, when you can afford the odd luxury here and there (but certainly not everywhere!) Find yourself a good accountant, one that you can trust, and ask for their advice on what it is that you can and cannot afford with the finances that you have.
Make sure that they have your best interests at heart, and are therefore willing to give you the odd piece of advice on comp. But, again, don’t be vain! If you are a small business start up, find some good contractor accountants or accountants that specialise in freelancers or SMEs. If you are a start up with millions of pounds in start up capital, still don’t go for one of the top three. Find a good top fifty and settle with them. You will receive, for the most part, exactly the same advice, but at a fraction of the cost. The only thing that you won’t get is the famous name. But you will also stay afloat… which, in my humble opinion, is much more important! Good luck and remember: don’t be vain!