Tips for Business Start Ups: step up to the plate and don’t let us down.

It’s a funny old thing, hearing about the emergence of a new business. You don’t necessarily see any change on the landscape, there’s clearly no sound of new born babies squealing, and to all intents and purposes the world before the business existed is very much like the world after it started to trade.

Except it’s not. The presence of a new business – symbolically seen in the fact that it now has a ‘proper’ name with the letters ‘Ltd.’ after that name – demonstrates that rather than nothing at all happening, the start-of-trade moment is a declaration of optimism, hope and ambition.

The declaration sends out signals that good things will happen: people will be employed and paid for their work, other people will buy goods or services which should make their own lives just a little bit easier to cope with and the world at large might benefit – however microscopically – from the new kid on the block. The start up trading moment offers glimpses to a better future for everyone.

So to all you new start ups out there: well done, it’s fantastic that you made it this far. Now, go forth and multiply and don’t let us down. We’re investing our hope for a better future in your endeavours and will live your triumphs and defeats with you.

Tips for Business Start Ups, Lessons for Life: how to induce schizophrenia in your staff

It’s not lost on many people working in the public sector that we’re frequently asked to adopt two mutually opposing stances and attitudes at one and the same time. “Now run this way, now run that way – both at a very fast hard pace” is a commonly heard instruction albeit couched in terms which suggest the organisation knows what it’s doing and where it’s going.

Policy complexities of the poli-see and poli-do type (ie we say one thing vociferously and insist on doing the opposite equally vociferously) within a rabid target culture in which the targets are sometimes in front of you, sometimes behind you and sometimes imagined, contribute to a sense of working down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole in which nothing is as it seems, narrative logic is irrelevant and what counts is what doesn’t count.

This isn’t confined to the public sector of course; many organisations, of large, small or indeterminate size suffer from the syndrome of asking its staff to adopt mutually exclusive attitudes in the same body politic and organisational mind. It’s an occupational hazard of having an occupation and working in an organisation which may not be particularly well organised.

The trick for small business start ups is to maintain their vision and try to define their targets in ways which don’t induce schizophrenia in its staff. One way is to say what you mean and mean what you say, but as Alice found out saying and meaning, eating and seeing, and breathing and sleeping can commonly be confused with each other. Your job in setting up a start up is make sure you know the difference between all those bodily functions.

Want to start a business in Wirral? Why not start right here, right now?

We’re coming out of recession. The banks aren’t lending. Its nearly winter. There’s a million and one reasons why there’s never a right time to start up a business. And a million and one why it’s the right time.

You get to shape your own future, rather than have it shaped for you by distant beaurocrats. You get to develop your own ideas, unhindered by the pressures and politics of more noisier colleagues who are always putting you down. You get to shape the culture of your workplace rather than being the unwitting object of other peoples cultural outdated cultural habits. You get to employ people, create jobs and make a difference to others around you.

Sure, none of this easy, and none of this makes for sleepless nights and a stress-lite existence. For a sleep-full and stress-empty life, you might be better retiring to the hills, writing your memoirs and feel comforted in what could have been, what would have been, and what should have been.

But if you have an idea which is itching to get out, which will contribute to your community, your society and the people around you, then now is absolutely the right time to set up your new business.

Aspire Trust is now offering business start up services for all Wirral residents (or those who want to set up a business in Wirral). We offer:

Advice and guidance on income generation and funding
Structured 1:1 support and group based programmes
Cross trading opportunities with other new businesses
National and International trading links
Customised programmes for your own business requirements.

We work across all business sectors – creative, digital, retail, manufacturing, you name it – our advisors are there to help.

The service is not free – but its absence of public funding means that you don’t waste your valuable business time filling in pointless forms and ticking boxes for the sheer hell of it!  It also means that you won’t be working with advisors who’s interests are more on hitting their funding targets than on supporting your business interests.

Your time is the most precious asset you have – and our work with you recognises that.

Just drop me an email at nick@aspire-trust.org if you require further information.

Tips for Business Start Ups: dance your pitch out!

It’s great to see a new start up take the first tentative steps to promoting their business to a potential investor through the dance that is the pitch. Their moves are at first awkward, ungainly – something reminiscent of an  academic stepping out on the dance floor after five days locked up in the confines of a conference which has involved them sat stock still glued to powerpoint slides, whilst handing out dog eared abstracts of their work to earnestly interested postgrads who are still learning their own moves on the academic dance floor.

But as the urgency of the pitch increases, and they get through the first twenty seconds of introduction which, like all the best pop songs includes the hook, the heart of the song and the punch line in its opening bars, their movement becomes more fluid, more confident and more assured. They stop looking at the feet and wondering where to go next.

After two minutes they’re in full flow. The business’s moral compass has been elucidated, the social need for the business contextualised, the personal drive elaborated and they’re into the features and benefits of the business proposition. Their movements now steer into the realms of contact improvisation and the most elaborate of improvisational techniques, playing fast and loose with the cash projections, the legal niceties and the future growth aspirations.

By the time their three minutes is over, they are exhilarated, we are exhausted and with any luck they have £250k of cash or its equivalent in terms of contacts, advice or expert time in the bank. It may not be Strictly Come Dancing but the choreographic expertise of the business start up has moved mountains in that three minutes and is worthy of a 10, 10, 10 and 10 from the panel of Tonioli, Revel Horwood, Bussell and Goodman. Or as Brucie would no doubt add, Didn’t They Do Well?

More Tips for Business Start Ups here.

Tips for Business Start Ups, Lessons for Life: where’s the pulse of your business?

Alison is struggling with locating the pulse of her new business venture. She’s recently left the armed forces, having spent years on manoeuvres in Afghanistan, Iraq and all points west of insanity. She’s been decommissioned now and returned to Civvy Street harbouring memories of attacking pirates off the coast of Somalia, nursing early morning nightmares of civilians dying feet away in pools of late night blood and the camaraderie of mates she would put her own body and soul on the line for.

Civvy Street is not the same as it was before she signed up and the currency of what she’s gained from the armed forces is having precious little spending power in the bizarre bazaars of urban lite living. She’s perplexed, thwarted and struggling with bringing her business idea out into the open.

She’s looking at it, laying on the slab of the screen of her desktop and wondering what it’s all about. Should it be a commercial operation which makes her a fortune – or a charitable enterprise which speaks to and for the thousand of other Alisons and Alans who are currently wandering their Civvy Streets, armed with skills, knowledge and passion but with nowhere to apply them?

The pulse of a new start up is always hard to detect, swamped as it is by the noise of personal doubt, family expectation and social distraction. But she’ll find it as long as she can just sit alongside it for a while and just listen for it- quietly and intently. No amount of business planning, cash flow projections or social media strategies are going to help here. Only by listening and waiting will she detect the pulse of her business telling her what the next step is and why her business matters and who it’s important for. We’re all hoping she makes the right decision.

Tips for Business Start Ups: why skills and knowledge are hugely overrated attributes in your potential workforce.

Alfie confided in me that the beauty of running a taxi business was that you didn’t need to know many things at all to make it succeed.

You didn’t need to be able to speak – many customers preferred you not to speak in fact; you didn’t need to be able to listen as your customers could either write down or text you their destination; you didn’t need to be able to add up as the meter did all the calculations and you certainly didn’t need to know where you were or where you were going as the Satnav would do that for you.

His next business challenge was to find a way of employing drivers who didn’t know how to drive or indeed recognise a motor vehicle in the first place.

He will find a rich vein of potential employees from the job centres or universities who will only too happily join his business and apply their lack of skills of driving and knowledge about taxis to great effect. They will join the growing band of aspirant Robert de Niro brothers who are only missing the obligatory Glock which would entitle them to call themselves fully paid up members of the taxi driving profession.

The notion that a complete absence of skill and knowledge in your workforce can benefit your business is a useful one which many other start up businesses – or even longstanding corporates – would do well to learn from.

Alfie has in fact recently left a telecoms giant where the inability to communicate with human beings was a real asset. His taxi business is clearly set to go far (just make sure you don’t get in one of his cabs if you want to make it home safely).

Tips for Business Start Ups, Lessons for Life: grow your own 360 degree listening skills

A few years ago, Terry was in the lucky position of being able to employ 4 new people early on in the life of his dry cleaning business in Bristol. He got their job descriptions clear, worked on bonding the team, consulted on the vision and devised a plan for the following three years which was to drive the business into the land of milk and honey.

His efforts to develop a listening and consulting culture were so effective that everyone cheerfully added their thr’pence on every conceivable decision: the office biscuits, the colour of the reception furniture and whether or not the vision of the company was the right one at all.

A couple of staff were unimpressed with the dry cleaning business and thought the company should move into website design, as after all, they argued, the Internet was where everything was at those days – and dry cleaning was a bit of a specialist field that wasn’t that interesting to them and which they didn’t really get anyway.

Terry listened to their views which were persuasively put with some sympathy, trying as he did to listen to all view points at all times.

Trouble is though, that in listening to everyone around him, he turned down the volume on listening to his own multiple voices which were also looking at things from all angles – his 360 degree voices – but which were ultimately urging him to specialise further in the dry cleaning business as this would have given him a unique advantage in the market.

He reached a critical moment where the opportunity for a business development grant meant that the company had to decide whether it diversified into website design or continued to specialise in dry cleaning. The external voices all around him yelled ‘diversify’; his own 360 degree voices whispered ‘specialise’.

It was a hard decision to take as there were compelling arguments on both sides and he finally agreed to listen to those louder, external voices and invested the grant into an impressive suite of computer hard and software as opposed to the more specialised kit required to improve his core dry cleaning business.

Now of course, a couple of years later when the digital world became completely inundated, Terry has found himself with a pile of obsolete computer kit which he can’t use as the skills needed to implement the diversification didn’t come in the computer boxes. Lots of nice shiny aluminium boxes and glossy software downloads – but no skills.

The advantage he had in the dry cleaning has been lost as others have stepped into that market place and he now finds himself back at square one having to reinvent the business from scratch.

The staff who weren’t interested in dry cleaning have long since left the business taking their noisy opinions with them; and it’s only now, 3 years on has he realised that those 360 degree voices in his head were right all along. His core business should have been refined even further with that grant; not become confused by well meaning pragmatic attempts to respond to a foreign market place.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn – and hindsight is always everyone’s best friend – but it will at least mean that phase two of the business will be driven by the multiple voices in Terry’s head and not the competing caterwauling of well intentioned colleagues.

Tips for Business Start Ups: how working with the grain of the wood can combat institutional fungal infection.

Many start up business men and women start up precisely because their current employer has an innate ability to shut down the burgeoning entrepreneur’s energy, vision and appetite for the work in hand.

Ray has been working in the public sector on and off for over 20 years: more off than on in recent times as he sees his employer become increasingly wooden in its response to the economic challenges it faces. It obsesses about targets, forgets about quality, treats it staff with ever increasing forgetfulness and takes on the appearance of an ash tree suffering from the later stages of ash dieback.

Whilst Ray has loved his work, he realises increasingly that this is not shared by the battalion of administrators who have taken root in the work place and who are trying to save the stricken fraxinus excelsior. Where once his work was concerned with public service, it now is increasingly preoccupied with spin, counter spin and presenting itself for maximum impact in terms which aim to woo venture capitalists from sunnier shores rather than reassure its local citizens of how it will enable them navigate the social service storms which are on the horizon over the next five years.

Ray is faced with a conundrum. He has been seduced by the vision of plotting his own destiny as an independent trader through the economic squalls which batter his home city’s frontiers. But he knows too that a lowly carpenter in a large public sector organ is not going to find it easy to persuade the wider world to buy his skills and products which are increasingly being squandered by the infected tree at the bottom of the allotment.

Whilst he’s been adept at knocking out things from his shed in a remote part of the organ’s empire, he’s worried about his ability to sell anything and scale up his production line which would enable him to pay the bills. The organisational fear he’s been fending off for years is in danger of infiltrating the grain of his carpenter’s soul.

However, his skills on the lathe, plane and jigsaw; his knowledge of the many grades of sand paper and different types of lacquer means that he knows intuitively how to erase any obtuse pieces of bark, wear away any unsightly stains and polish a seemingly dull veneer into something resembling mahogany. He knows too that working with the grain of the wood, rather than against it, is likely to produce a much more satisfying working environment for himself – as well as higher quality finished artefacts.

Ray may have honed his carpentry skills in the workshop by applying them to unprepossessing lumps of 2 be 4 – but he’ll find that they can be transferred to dealing with customers, estate agents and bankers. All he needs to do is look hard inside his own woody workshop soul, make an inventory of his tools, skills, knowledge and experience and start to make his skills work for himself, rather than for the infected lump of organisational driftwood he is currently wasting his time in.

Ray may have worked in wood for years and worked with wood in the work place for even longer: but his future now depends on his carpentry skills being applied to his life outside his workshop. If he doesn’t get out now, the fungus infecting his current employer is likely to infect the young sapling of a business he is currently nurturing in the potting shed at the bottom of the allotment.

Tips for Business Start Ups: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Beatrice and Benedict are egg cooks par excellence. What they don’t know about how to cook an egg – scrambling, poaching, filleting – isn’t worth knowing about and over the last couple of years they have carved out a small but ongoing enterprise in Manchester fulfilling their customers every ab ovo need.

True, it’s quite a niche market and they don’t have a lot of customers – but it’s big enough to help them pay their cooping needs. They’ve reached the point though that the constant scratching around in the dirt for some more regular income has gotten tiring and they’re faced with an unpleasant truth: it’s time to either give up or grow up and turn their eggy activities into an egg-citing new business start up.

They’re approaching this choice with a degree of trepidation. They’ve both been comfortable so far and are still wrestling with why they should go down the business start up route. They’re particularly struggling with what running a business means – things like insurance, budgets and corporation tax. ‘Why do we have to get into all this nonsense?‘ muses Benedict.

It’s a good question. Why would anyone want to shift working on what they love into working on activities which fill them with dread? They’ve spent years avoiding the skill sets needed to run a business and have run miles from the drudgery they see that defines what running a business means.

But the fact is that if they want to grow, if they want to place their work on a wider public stage and share their love for eggs and their innumerable ways of being cooked, they will have to bring another skill set in to their cosy partnership.

This doesn’t mean that they have to involve someone just like them. Quite the contrary: they need to bring in someone who has no idea about how to coddle an egg – and even less desire to want to learn how to coddle one – but who does know how to communicate the benefits of the process, who can generate enthusiasm for eggs a la Beatrice and Benedict and who knows how to present the consequences of their activities to those distant authorities of the tax man and bank woman.

The first step for them is to find someone who loves them and their work as much as they love producing it; someone who can get enthused about the range of eggy product available and who can communicate that enthusiasm to customers who don’t yet know they’re customers.

This isn’t a straightforward process; in business as in life, finding someone who loves ya is never a straight forward process. But to misquote Kojak’s rhetorical question, ‘Who Loves Us, Baby?’ is a question new start ups would be well worth asking themselves in the search for not only new customers but new advocates, sellers and followers.

The trick is that you have to love them and what they bring to the business and not expect them to be just like you with your own preference for sunny side up.