For many people, starting their own business is a pipe dream, more of an unattainable fantasy than a realistic career option, but it’s also an option that could see you reap the dividends if you can make it work for you. So says Ryan Mansfield and, as someone who’s ‘been there, done that’, he should know – and he has plenty of advice to offer …
Recent statistics suggest that since the Covid pandemic first struck, self-employment in the UK has risen to around 15% of the working population. Read into that what you will, as the reasons for this increase could come from many sources since we have seen the working world as we know it turned on its head.
I went self-employed when I simply couldn’t stand my ‘normal’ job any more. In early 2017, I handed in my notice as a teacher and opened a sandwich shop in Warwickshire at a family-owned building that became available.
Over the ensuing four years, I have experienced both satisfying highs and desperate lows before reaching the stable position I find myself in today. Perhaps most vital of all, there have been many crucial lessons learned – lessons that you, dear reader, stand to benefit from if you heed my advice …
So whether you’re feeling a sense of pressure to pave your own career path due to less than promising employment opportunities, or simply have a need to be your own boss, I have five imperative tips to consider that I wish I’d known about before I went it alone.
1. Build funds
Business isn’t hard. In fact the concept is painfully simple. The income you generate needs to exceed your expenditure by an amount you’re happy to call an acceptable wage. The difficult part is creating a sustainable business that regularly executes this seemingly simple formula.
That said, it is both unlikely and naive to assume that your business idea will corner the market and propel you to dizzy financial heights in the early stages. Instead a ‘worst-case scenario’ mind-set will serve you much better – one that errs on the side of caution and covers all bases.
So it’s worth bearing in mind that building healthy funds before you set up will allow you some breathing space. This will prove essential not just to minimise how much money you have to borrow – and consequently repay each month – but also to act as a wage top-up in lieu of the pay cheques you will lack in the early months.
Statistics report that 50% of all new businesses fold in the first two years. At a glance it might seem easy to blame this on mismanagement or a business that wasn’t really needed in the first place. However, my guess would actually be they simply ran out of money and weren’t able to give the venture the time it needed to fulfil its full potential. Not many business ideas are bad, it’s the planning that proves to be their undoing.
2. Work with people you can trust
This may seem obvious. If you decide to go into business with a partner, it is essential there is no doubt in your mind you can place your trust in this person. But it extends much further than your potential business partners. As you delve deeper into self-employment you will realise that you’re still heavily reliant on a whole network of people. In order to build your business you need to be able to quickly sift out any unreliable services that will hamper your progress. For example, suppliers might fall short of the mark and deliveries fail to turn up as scheduled. Do not fall victim to constantly bad services that you rely on to push your business in the right direction when your time could be better spent elsewhere. If you get let down, or something doesn’t sit right with you, you need to change it.
Even customers can be included to a degree. Although most are effortless and easy to work for, some will push you for unrealistic targets, deadlines and prices. Remember, though, just as with suppliers there are plenty more customers out there who will value your work. Focus on those who pay their bills promptly and don’t waste your valuable time.
3. Don’t lose your identity
As your reputation grows, word will spread and calls for your services will gain momentum. This is a great feeling, and a good position to be in – one where you can start to plan your work schedule weeks in advance rather than days. Therefore you need to keep your business on the right track. There will be certain demands placed on you that you would rather avoid. Maybe days you don’t usually care to work or a particular job you normally try to steer clear of. Whatever the reason, your plan should be to stick to what you know best and this will reflect your finest work. The bulk of your daily chores should be centred around the problem you first set out to fix. If you want to become the best at what you do, your time needs to be dedicated to making that happen. Don’t feel the need to say yes to every job that comes your way, but focus on those that will best build your desired profile.
4. Combine excitement with logic
One of the key elements of a business idea is excitement. Without it, you won’t have the drive to continually push both yourself and your business towards the success you envisage. That said, don’t let excitement get the better of you in your decision-making. You have to enjoy what you do, that’s a given, but it has to be set up in a way that proves both profitable and progressive.
So where some businesses fail because they don’t save enough money to get through the early months, others fail because they simply invest too much – all caution is thrown to the wind and blind faith overpowers calculated rationale. Therefore it’s vital you rule with your head and not your heart. You need both of these attributes in your arsenal, but equally you need to know what card to play and when to play it. Your heart comes up with your ideas, but your head must decide which ones are kept and which are not.
5. Balance work with play
Although this may seem to suggest you shouldn’t work too hard or overdo it, in the long run it will prove sound advice. You are likely to want to pour your very existence into your business, especially in the beginning. That’s the sort of passion you simply have to possess when it comes to turning your great idea into a solid business.
But remember you need time away from work too. Once you settle into something of a working routine, don’t leave all your passions behind in the process. No matter how driven you are, don’t let go of the other interests in your life. Still be home in time to tuck your kids in, still participate in your hobbies and still make time to socialise. The aim of creating your own business is to improve your life, not to dictate it.
If you are entrepreneurial by nature don’t stifle your instincts. As long as you do your sums and put the effort in to get set up, you may create a new way of life for yourself. Always keep a lid on your emotions and you’ll never be far away from your next smart decision.
Potential entrepreneur? Click here to read our full-length feature about starting up and running your own business.