When you start and grow a business, you’re involved each day in the detail of running the business; perfecting customer service, ensuring positive cashflow, making new products and so on. This is all good and right but to plan for business growth, it’s important to step away from day-to-day affairs and take a good look at the business from a distance.
Years ago someone told me the story of a successful business owner who, once a year, would pack his bags, leave the family home, and head off to spend a week alone with the business plan. I’ve emulated this ever since and every year I think it’s time well spent. Freshly back from this year’s break, here are my five tips on how you can reap rewards from taking a business break.
1 Head to a place that stimulates the senses
This place doesn’t have to be far from home but it’s important you travel to it as the journey itself gives a sense of separation. As the car drives away/train pulls out/plane takes off, you positively feel yourself moving farther from the detail of the business and heading towards a space and place that will help you focus on ‘the bigger picture.’ Ideally, choose a place with dramatic scenery; open seas, rolling hills, tall skyscrapers; essentially you’re looking for a landscape that’s different to the one you’re used to as this will stimulate the imagination and create the perfect setting for planning.
2 Get settled
You’re in the setting and a new place, get yourself accustomed to it; take a walk, have a drink, allow your mind to wander and people watch! Feel yourself starting to relax? Good. You’re in the right frame of mind to start planning!
3 Ask yourself two questions
How has the business performed over the past six months/year and where do you want to take the business in the next six to 12 months. Write down your thoughts... on napkins... in a notebook... on your phone... whatever is closest to hand. Be ambitious in your goals and make the most of being in a place that’s encouraging you to plan for your dream business.
4 Don’t rush it
It’s likely you will come up with a new idea for the business in a ‘eureka’ moment of "Ah! Why didn’t I think of that before!" – allow time for this moment to come. You’ve certainly created the right conditions for innovation as your brain is finely tuned on the business and not distracted by detail.
5 And now for action
Possibly the most important point of all. Take your notes, head home, and get started on turning plans into reality!
Business breaks don’t have to be a full week or far away. What’s important is to place yourself in conducive surroundings. I do this alone, as did the man I emulate, but you may choose to go with a business partner or friend so you can vocalise your thoughts. Go with what works for you and know that taking time out may seem like an extravagance, but it will pay dividends.
A recent feature in The Guardian ran with the headline: ‘Graduates warned of record 70 applicants for every job’ The next line went: ‘Class of 2010 told to consider flipping burgers or shelf stacking to build skills’ Was I the only one thinking flipping burgers and shelf stacking is a flippin’ great way to earn part time income whilst building a business? For all graduates considering self-employment, here are five tips along with stories of those who’ve been there and done it.
If you’re an undergraduate and looking at the job market with dread, start taking small steps now to earning an income. Is your degree in languages? Become a private tutor via sites like First Tutors or sell your skills to business through the likes of Lingo 24 and Language123.com. Are you good at making things? Make a few more and upload to sites such as Folksy.com and MyEhive.com so you can sell to a wider audience. Kane Towning started on the path to self-employment whilst at Leeds University and as soon as he graduated, became full time director of AIM Clubbing; an events company set up with two fellow students and friends.
There is plenty of help on offer whilst you’re studying – and still when you leave. Whilst studying, check to see if your College or Uni hosts an enterprise society; NACUE is a good source for this. Make the most of events, competitions and Awards hosted by National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship and Shell LiveWIRE and why not take on work experience with entrepreneurial upstarts so you can learn on the job via sites including Enternships and Gumtree.
Does starting a business seem a bit too daunting when you haven’t even left learning? Then pool your talent, join with friends and start that way. This is what the three amigos Oliver Sidwell, Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson did when they came up with the idea for RateMyPlacement whilst studying at Loughborough University. After graduating, they all secured jobs and worked collectively on the business at nights and weekends. That was three years ago and the company is now a startling success.
To be sure of a wide market for your products and services, go global from the start. Technology enables you to do this with sites such as Odesk and elance.com allowing you to be found by customers around the world if you’re selling time and knowledge and having your own website (with good search engine optimisation) increases your chances of picking up overseas trade. In business, the world truly is your oyster and think of all the places you’ll get to travel to meet clients, and taste local culture!
I hear from many students who are running a business and getting much-needed help from parents whether it be rent-free accommodation or having a bookkeeper/mentor/telephone receptionist on tap who won’t expect a salary in return! Arthur Guy started a star solutions when he was 17, after working at an electronics store. He’s now completing a PhD at Sussex University so his Mum takes care of the day to day running of the business. Thanks, Mum!
Even if you don’t turn your business into a full time venture, the experience of being your own boss and showing you have the attitude and skills to make a living will look good on your CV and set you apart from those other 69 applicants.
1 Base the business on something you enjoy – when your hobby/passion/skill becomes your full-time job, it never really feels like work.
2 Write a plan – prepare a basic business plan to set out your vision, describe your market and explain how you propose to reach out and sell to that market. Include sound financials and review the plan every six months or so.
3 Find dedicated space – create space in your house that is your workspace. When in that space, family and friends should know you’re in business mode, plus, you can walk away at the end of the working day. Invest in a good desk and chair, because you’ll be spending quite a bit of time at and in them.
4 Create a professional front door – when customers come calling, be sure they’re met with a professional welcome. This applies from the way you answer calls, to your website, company stationery and even the places in which you choose to meet clients.
5 Make the most of social media – tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have been warmly embraced by the home business community. They are free to use and act as business development channel and a virtual water cooler for the moments when you miss the banter of an out-of-home office.
6 Become an expert – set yourself up as an expert in your field by blogging/tweeting about the subject, writing a report, publishing a book or hosting an event. Being an expert gives credibility and with that, comes customers.
7 Never stop learning – part of becoming an expert is continually picking up intelligence from those around you. Keep an eye on what others in your industry are doing, read about successful entrepreneurs and tune in to trendspotters so you can prepare for new market opportunities.
8 Get out of the house – attend networking events, work from the local café, sign up to a personal development course. It’s good to get out of the home office, but be sure you can still be contacted and respond via your mobile/laptop/webmail, etc. This is your “road warrior kit”.
9 Do what you do best and outsource the rest – to grow the business, focus on the core product of the company and subcontract non-core tasks (eg admin, accounting, PR, fulfilment, etc) to others.
10 Follow the golden triangle – to keep the business in balance, spend roughly a third of your time on each of three key things: customer care, business development and admin. That way, you’ll have a smooth-running business with happy customers and new income streams on the way.
Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation the home business website and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’. Emma’s next book – ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ – will be published in May 2010.
Enterprise Nation, the home business website, has been on a roadtrip. Starting in Scotland, the touring team travelled south to meet and film home-based businesses in what will become a mini documentary charting the rise of this modern way of working. While out and about, a few trends became apparent.
Now is a great time to start
The mood throughout the week was incredibly upbeat. One moment that will stick in my mind is when Patrick Elliott, CEO of Business Link in London, opened an event with one key question to the audience: ‘Do you think this is a good time to start a business?’ A ripple from the 200 people gathered quickly turned into a resounding ‘Yes’.
Throughout the week, we met people who are starting up while holding down a day job, as well as others who have come out of redundancy to realise their business ambitions. We met a wide cross-section of businesses and there was nothing but positive chat from them all.
Technology means trade
All of the businesses we filmed are making the most of technology, whether it be Stuart Mills, who is applying the web to the pub world, or Malcolm Gallagher, who is communicating his business message through online videos, produced cost-effectively from a home studio.
Many of the craft businesses are using sites such as Etsy.com to sell their products to a national – and international – audience. Technology is clearly broadening the trade and partnering horizons of many a small business.
Freedom and control are key motivators
We stopped counting the number of times these words were used in interviews. Having started up, home-based business owners are finding greater freedom and flexibility in their working lives and they are relishing being in control of their creativity, working environment and earnings.
The importance of being ethical
Every business owner we interviewed is doing something ‘good’ by being in business, whether it be: Clare Nicolson, who believes in giving work to the people in her neighbourhood; Emma Henderson, who sources fair trade fabrics from India; or Emma Warren, who offers time and business experience to a charity. They would not refer to themselves as ‘ethical entrepreneurs’ as such, but these business owners are having a positive impact in many a varied way.
Growth through outsourcing
The old adage – ‘Do what you do best and outsource the rest’ – is being taken seriously by the home businesses we met. Companies are partnering up and work is being outsourced to professionals. In the case of BodieandFou, Karine Kong outsourced the design and build of her website to an expert she has yet to meet. Technology tools such as Skype, email and project-management software means there’s no need to be in the same place, but for others, physical networks are important places to meet business partners – as well as just to have a social chat.
It was a crammed and fascinating week that showed just how bright and vibrant the start up sector is. The documentary will be aired for the first time on Home Enterprise Day – Friday 20th November – when home business owners will be travelling to us.