Starting a business is a fascinating, challenging and exciting process. There are so many unknowns, so much at stake, and yet also so much potential. Grand dreams and ideas on the one hand, comfort zone-breaking wobbles on the other: do we have what it takes to launch, market and deliver something tangible and valuable?
At times it feels like wading through gloopy, sticky mud (will we ever get this thing launched, and even then, will it succeed?) and other times exhilarating – like feeling a kite pull up and soar into the sky or a boat heel up to the wind, lift and rush forwards and onwards.
Nearly every weekday at the moment we chat with someone new who could help deliver the service or otherwise help us get off the ground. The positive energy of these meetings is uplifting. There is so much support and encouragement within the small business community for others making the leap. Just as useful and important are the words of caution and realism, mainly resulting from our contacts’ own experiences. And then there are the many ideas, suggested resources or pointers to similar services and business models of which we need to be aware if we are to position ourselves as best we can in our market.
It is difficult to balance staying focused on our core proposition with ensuring we keep our ears open to any serious alarm bells or game-changing perspectives that should change our approach. It feels like we are constantly going back to our core ideas to double check we still believe they are the way we need to go. That’s the bit that can feel like sticky, gloopy mud.
As a result of that process, the core proposition has flexed. We’ve shifted our business model and brought forward services to test at launch rather than later. What’s interesting, and hopeful, is that the fundamentals haven’t changed – who we are targeting, the need we fulfil, the way we want to grow. That helps me feel confident we have something worth trying, however tough or crowded the market might be.
Take our brand name. I won’t reveal it now, as we aren’t at the right point to do that, but it’s been a bit Marmite with those we’ve tested it on – you either love it or hate it. We wanted something that stands out, that reflects the brand identity we want to have and is relevant to the target market. But getting mixed feedback forced us to decide if its ‘Marmite-ness’ was a risk we were willing to take. We said it was.
Then last week a wonderfully positive introductory meeting opened my eyes to another section of our target market to whom our name may not resonate at all. My heart sank – firstly had I lost all the credibility I’d built up through the conversation by demonstrating we hadn’t thought through this part of our market and brand, and secondly, did this mean we needed to start again?
Back to the core once more. Back to feeling relieved to have a fabulous business partner with whom to share the highs and lows – the difficult decisions, the workload, the potential and the fun of the process.
As for our brand, we are sticking with it. Most of our strategic conversations end in the same place: if we don’t try, we will never know. It is our own, tiny-scale version of one of Richard Branson’s nuggets of wisdom in his book of advice for entrepreneurs, ‘Business Stripped Bare’:
“Failure is not giving things a go in the first place. People who fail are those who don’t have a go and don’t make an effort.”
I haven’t written this blog for quite some time, mostly because the effort of finishing our house extension has taken my time, and setting up the business my energy. I lost the habit of writing, but not the desire. Today is my first attempt to get back on the horse. Hopefully I’ll be on for a good long gallop through the rest of 2013.
PS. For anyone else interested in learning from the secrets of Mr Branson’s success, here are some other nuggets he imparts in his book ‘Business Stripped Bare’, illustrated through his stories from his own and Virgin Group’s journey. It’s a good read, and inspiring stuff for any budding entrepreneur, even if Virgin’s story feels somewhat in another league!
- Always protect against the downside
- [As a business], remember who you are and what you’re there for
- Trust your instincts. Have the courage of your convictions. The world is full of people who want to put you right, who want to play the realist to your wide-eyed innocent. Gather people you trust and get them to play devil’s advocate.
- Protect your reputation but don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
- Remember to communicate.
- Attention to detail defines great business delivery. Delivery is never rocket science. However complex a business is, you should be able to boil it down to a proposition ordinary people can understand.
- Brand is key. A brand always means something, and ultimately you can only control the meaning of your brand through what you deliver to the customer. Whatever your brand stands for, you have to deliver on the promise. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver and deliver everything you promise.
- Keep a cool head. You’re in business to deliver change, and if you succeed, the chances that no one will get hurt are virtually zero. Be sportsmanlike, play to win and stay friends wherever possible. Befriend your enemies.
- Innovate your way out of trouble. When your very existence is threatened, you have to change. The best way out of a crisis in a changing market is through experiment and adaptation.
- People who fail are those who don’t have a go and don’t make an effort. If you’re hurt, lick your wounds and get back up. If you’ve given it your absolute best, it’s time to move forward.
- Innovation is what you get when you capitalise on luck, when you get up from behind your desk and go and see where ideas and people lead you.