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BLOG: The eight things you need to know when you’re starting your own company

Mike Holmes, Business Doctor for South Merseyside

1. Take that first step, be bold

I did not decide to step away from my corporate career of 25+ years lightly. I didn’t have a savings cushion, there was still my mortgage to pay off, and my family to support. Looking back, I guess it was quite a bold move. But something inside me was willing me to do it.  I couldn’t ignore it.  It was a case of ‘if I don’t do it now, I never will.’

2. Never lose sight of why you are doing it

There are strong emotions that motivate you to start your own business.  I wanted to spend more time with my family and buy back some of the years of missing school plays and birthdays after being away travelling internationally for the past 15 years. But I also wanted to find something more personal, rewarding and fulfilling. Something that matched my values, I had experienced decisions made by Venture Capitalists that affected my staff negatively that, although legal, did not reward the staff for their loyalty and hard work. This did not feel right. I always enjoyed the challenge with a business turnaround, acquiring a new business and assimilating it into my company, developing a new brand and its positioning, were all exciting and rewarding. Doing all this with lots of businesses within a two-year period has been awesome. The key is to never lose sight of these things.  It should remain your compass that guides you and your decisions.  Share your vision with close ones and together remember what drove you in the first place. 

3. Network, Network, Network

Running a business can be a lonely affair.  Sometimes you can feel quite isolated - with no one to bounce ideas off or share challenges with. We are social and emotional beings.  All through my career I have found it helpful to have a solid half dozen people who I know I can call upon for support, who share my values and who I can confide in. Although I work for myself now, I still have a team, it’s just a bit different. This has grown as I have got to know, networking friends that I can share the ups and downs with. Working with other business consultants and advisors with clients has been great and it enables me to play to my strengths and not look at them as competitors.

4. Be visible and credible

In my experience there is no substitute for getting out there and meeting people on a regular basis. It’s the best way to Stay at the front of people’s minds so that they will think of you when an opportunity arises.

Networking is an essential part of the job of running your own business.  We don’t have the big marketing bucks of the big companies, so we rely on a network of people to be our extended sales team. There are some great networking groups across Merseyside from BNI to Chambers of Commerce and lots in-between. I have experienced them all and always advise people to find something that suits you, location, time of day, which day, culture as a few. The key is to remember why you are networking, have a goal (two-to-three good connections to meet up for a coffee/tea at a later date) and monitor which network gives you the reward that you require.

5. Be authentic

Stay true to yourself. Looking back, I see that I was still in corporate mode and had to become more real to my clients. So I now focus on still being professional, but more friendly and not using corporate jargon. Be authentic and people will relate to you better. In turn, it will be easier to build rapport and develop long term lasting relationships.

6. Play to your strengths

Don’t pretend you can do everything and avoid the temptation to try. Recognise the work you struggle with or don’t like, then delegate it to someone who loves doing it and is great at it. It’s important to free yourself up to play to your own strengths. Then you can enjoy it more and be more effective. I use an excellent book which identifies our top five strengths and helps me to play to my strengths. I now manage my competitive streak and actively seek out my competitors to work with them.

7. Give and you shall receive

Once you start looking for ways to actively help people, you’ll be amazed at how interconnected everything seems to be. While networking, it is easy to focus on what you’re going to say, rather than listen to the other person.  Stop and listen.  Ask yourself “how can I help this person?” “Who can I introduce them to?” After all, that is what we are hoping they will be doing when we are speaking, right? Signposting clients and potential clients to assistance with funding has proved invaluable and working with the LEP New Markets funding has been beneficial to clients and me. It is well run and easy for clients to understand and operate, with a 35% saving for ambitious businesses.

8. Stay positive

“Smile and the whole world smiles with you." It’s so true.  Yes, some mornings you wake up not feeling great about stuff. Remember, every day brings a new opportunity.  Embrace it.  Dust yourself down, get out there and smile. It sure makes for a better day. The last two years have been some of the most rewarding of my life.  I have had the privilege of working with over 50 businesses, across all sorts of sectors, and on a wide range of challenges.  I have built some strong bonds with people and made some great friends. A wise networking colleague provided me with a memorable line that always makes me smile: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime, however enlighten him further and he will own a chain of successful seafood restaurants.”