It’s not rocket science
‘With the 50th anniversary of the moon landings this year, and my love of anything space related, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to look at what we can learn from the amazing achievement of getting a human walking on the moon,’ says regular Quest contributor, Steve Bulleyment, director of specialist auto locksmith company Car Key Man. So here he is, with some of his customary down-to-earth advice …
Whether or not you’re into space, the act of getting a man from Earth safely on to the moon, then getting him back again in one piece is surely one of the most impressive science and engineering successes ever.
So can we compare starting and running a business with landing a rocket on the moon? I mean, starting a business is hardly ‘rocket science’ – but, having said that, I believe there are many similarities.
When the Americans landed on the moon, it was the culmination of eight years’ hard work. But more than the work, they did something they had no idea how to accomplish. They lacked all the hardware, much of the knowledge and skills needed to make it happen. However, Kennedy committed, the will power was strong, and somehow Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon before the end of the 1960s.
If you break down the problems you face in business, they’re the same as those faced by NASA back then.
- For a start, you probably haven’t run a business before.
- You don’t have the skills needed.
- It can be very expensive.
- People will be watching.
- There’s a good chance the endeavour will fail.
Let’s take a look at each of these points in more detail …
You haven’t run a business before
There’s no way around the fact that, when you start out in business, you’re making it up as you go along! Unless you have very deep pockets and can buy a franchise with the knowledge that comes with it, then from the minute you start trading you will need to answer questions that you don’t have the answers to. This is the same as it was for NASA. The team didn’t know how to do what they were expected to do.
You don’t have the skills needed
Don’t get me wrong, being in the Armed Forces gives you many skills. You’re much more skilled than many of your equivalents on civilian street. In particular, Forces leavers are normally excellent at tasks such as problem solving, disaster management and so on. However, the skills needed to run a business are less exciting, and include marketing, accounting, sales, copywriting, customer service and many more. A course can’t prepare you for all this, so a lack of business skill is a serious problem.
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It can be expensive
This all depends on the business you choose. However, starting any business is going to burn money. This is also the problem that NASA had. It was under financial pressure from the government to achieve the ‘impossible’ on a limited budget. Each test, each prototype and all of the 400,000 individuals that made the moon landing possible, were incredibly expensive.
When you start up, you’re going to need money for several reasons – for equipment, premises, vehicles, marketing, stock and training … It’s the most intense moment of cash burn, in the same way that the launch used most of the fuel inside the massive Saturn rocket that was used in the Apollo programme.
On top of that, you’ll never get that initial money back. If you stop trading at any point – a week, a month or a year later, even 15 years later – you’ll not see that money again. OK, you may be able to sell your second-hand van, equipment and stock, but you’ll get peanuts for them. So, effectively, you need to be prepared to write this off. Can you afford to lose that money?
Next you’ll need cash to keep the business moving while it builds up momentum. This will be a combination of covering your fixed costs, such as mobile phone, vehicle hire, advertising and staff costs, to name but a few. These all need paying, even if you don’t sell anything or don’t get paid for the services you offer.
Lastly there’s the cash you’ll need to live. This completely caught me out. Stupidly I just didn’t think about how much I still needed to bring in every month to fund my lifestyle.
In the same way, it wasn’t enough for NASA just to get the rocket into orbit around the Earth – it needed more fuel to get it to the moon and back – you’ll need more, and access to more.
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People will be watching
The people of America were expecting great things, however there were critics both within the country and all around the world that believed it was all a total waste of money. Whenever there was a setback, such as Apollo 1 and the cockpit fire, the programme was openly criticized. In addition, in the early days the team were lagging well behind the Russians, who beat them hands down with every early space achievement.
It’s the same these days in business. Social media has put every business or individual under the microscope. Bad reviews travel fast, and it’s a fact of life that people will always take the time to leave a bad review rather than a good one.
And it’s not just customers. Your friends and family will also have an opinion on what you’re trying to do, so expect to feel under pressure.
It may fail
Course and equipment providers don’t like to mention this, but the hard facts are that half of all businesses stop trading within five years. This may not be because the business failed financially – it could be that the owner had a better job offer or just didn’t enjoy running a business.
However, as we said before, when a business is launched, the cash needed to get it off the ground is spent and never seen again. This means that if you put your gratuity into starting a business and then decide it’s not for you after 18 months, the money is gone.
Throughout the history of NASA, although it achieved great things, they all came at a cost.
As well as the aforementioned Apollo 1, which caught fire on the launch pad, Apollo 11 was very close to running out of fuel after over-running the landing site, and we all know the story of Apollo 13 and how close it was to another disaster. Although the Apollo mission had an incredible success rate, later shuttle missions were lost, reminding us just how dangerous space is.
So when you sit and ponder whether to start a business, you probably have a great idea inside your head. It’s so exciting when you’re convinced that you have a business idea that can make you a life after leaving the Forces, but take time to ask people if they’d pay for what you’re offering. This thinking time costs you nothing.
You’ll be embarking on a trip that feels beyond your reach, travelling out of your comfort zone, just as the NASA team did, and you’ll need to strap in for a bumpy ride!
Good luck with your adventure.
THE CAR KEY MAN
Steve’s business, the Car Key Man, is a specialist auto locksmith company covering Lincolnshire. Launching in 2004, Steve spotted an opportunity to solve the problem of replacing lost and stolen car keys. The company now offers workshop facilities as well as a mobile service. Recognising the needs of concerned vehicle owners, it offers free consultations to find an affordable solution to the growing number of car key problems.
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Tel: 07832 147601 or 01522 514141