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.

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: what your holiday swimming pool tells you about your next business move.

Clare is currently on holiday, sat at a Mediterranean hotel pool-side considering her next career steps. A long history of regular employment within the manufacturing industry has been a source of much stability and comfort; but increasingly as that industry gets leaner and meaner, she finds herself increasingly inside someone elses business, looking out at the possibility of setting up her own. A recent redundancy threat has focussed her attention substantially.

This move from long term employment to making something from nothing is a huge step for a fledgling entrepreneur who’s not spent the last 3 years at university on various boot camps, workshops or motivational seminars which are all geared up to the thrusting alpha (fe)male, hungry generation Y millenials who grew up in Thatcher’s Britain and know nothing other than cutting your opponents throat before wishing them to have a nice day. For Clare, and many others who are coming into business after a long time in employment, the thought of taking the next steps into self employment is riddled with uncertainty and doubt.

Today however she’s at the hotel pool-side, waiting for her kids to join her and as it’s still early, the pool has been undisturbed, it’s surface flat and as still as a mirror. She sits on the edge of the pool and slowly dips a toe in and out: and that small action sends out a series of ripples across the pool surface which travel undisturbed to the other side and from end to end. A ripple pattern shapes it’s way across the surface and before long she sees her small actions having a series of small but significant effects across the pool. She’s disturbed the status quo and nothing will be quite the same again.

Dipping her toe in and out of the pool is her first business move: the occasional phone call, the hesitant email, the chance meeting all combine to produce a series of actions which show the early business actions, reactions, causes, effects and consequences: all at a distance, someway removed from where she’s sat: but actions they are, and there’s no un-doing them.  Her business is beginning to make ripples back in the UK and when she gets home, her second steps will be to make some bigger waves and reap the consequences of those first tentative toes in the water.

Tips for Business Start Ups: 9 questions which will tell you whether to do it or not.

The recession in the UK is generating several bizarre phenomena, not least being the fashion to encourage many more people to start their own businesses irrespective of their abilities, wishes or state of mind.

Many reasons are wheeled out as justifications for this life changing activity: you can be your own boss, you can turn up to work any time you like, you can turn a hobby into an income generator, you can play a game of golf whenever it suits. The fact you may come off the unemployment register is also a bonus to statisticians and politicians, massaging as it does the figures on the unemployment register.

But the notion that setting up a business is a realistic and achievable option for everyone, especially if they have just completed 30 years service for the same employer is a mirage.

Setting up your business isn’t an easy option which you can blithely dive into, with keys to your new premises and golden clock in hand, which will provide you with an easy route out of employment or a bit of diversionary relief to a retirement which is becoming riddled with boredom and inertia.

There are several questions to ask yourself before taking that plunge:

1. Are you prepared to wake up every morning of every day of every week of the year, preoccupied with the challenges you will face that day – and for which you will take the ultimate rap?

2. Are you comfortable with scary levels of risk? The occasional feeling that you are standing on a precipice, not knowing where the next weeks income is going to come from or how you’re going to fend off your increasingly noisy creditors?

3. Do you have any knowledge of the stuff of the business you want to set up? If you want to set up a restaurant for example, do you know anything at all about the restaurant trade apart from knowing what your favourite pizza topping is?

4. Can you add up and / or write in coherent sentences?

5. Are you handling the transition to Internet shopping, e-commerce and social networking with aplomb?

6. If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’, are you bringing in other expertise and voices to your dream which will turn the ‘no’ into a ‘yes’?

7. Is your motivation for setting up a business explained in terms of days off, visits to golf clubs or any other type of diversionary activity?

8. Is this business opportunity you’re dreaming of a great way of getting out of the house and avoiding the imminent marriage disaster you’ve seen coming for years?

9. If the answer to questions 7 and 8 is ‘yes’; and if you answer question 6 with a ‘no’, then stop hallucinating, pack the business plan back in the attic and don’t give up the day job. You will save yourself and your nearest and dearest a whole load of heartbreak – and may even enjoy your retirement to boot.

Tips for Business Start Ups: sort out the marriage guidance issues pronto

Business start ups come in all shapes and sizes, and frequently not with one entrepreneur leading them but with two bright eyed and bushy tailed zealots expecting to change the business world over night.

Like their mono-counterparts, the entrepreneurial duo have their sights set high, their ambitions unbridled and their expectations off the scale. This is all great material to work with and has the added advantage of two forces working on the challenge that is the start up journey.

However, the problem that the entrepreneurial duo present is that as well as striving together to bring about catalytic economic transformation, they can also get in each others way.  They talk at odds with each other about what the business is actually about; they throw agonised looks at each other when one of them mentions a brand that the other one has never heard of; and they bicker and squabble and nit and pick with the best of all married couples.

For that is what they are fast becoming, these entrepreneurial duos: young marrieds who are storming over who takes out the rubbish, whose job it is to change TV channels and why one of them always seems to be worrying about the accounts. And when it comes to meeting their business mentor, the young marrieds haven’t yet learnt enough decorum to keep their underwear clean in public, their shirts tucked in and to speak with one voice: not as a monotone, but as a couple in harmony, working to each others strengths, supporting each others weaknesses and providing interesting contrapuntal harmonies to each others contributions.

If you are going into business together boys and girls, then please make sure your wedding vows are something you both agree with: articles signed up to as statements of pragmatic intent as well as of romantic delusion.

Tips for Business Start Ups: immortality ain’t what it’s cracked up to be

We’re regularly reminded in the popular press failure rates of new businesses: 40% of start ups fail in the first year of trading; 70% fail within 10 years; and no doubt there are some figures somewhere which show that an unacceptable 99% of businesses don’t make it to their 100 years anniversary. Shame on them: yet another searing indictment of modern day capitalism, the waywardness of youth and the irresponsibility of the public sector or any other modern ill you care to remember.

The language of failure is however one which needs some early retirement itself. Businesses – human beings even – don’t have a God given right to last forever and there is nothing pathologically or morally wrong with the notion that businesses last for as long as they’re needed – after which they are likely to come to an end. This is not failure but recognising that everything – including businesses – have their time and their space and their role is to inhabit their time-space node, contribute to those around them and when the time and space is right – to gracefully withdraw from action.

Immortality in business life – often referred to as sustainability or legacy – is a seductive concept and, in human affairs, is frequently the cause of great art and music. It is not however the cause of great business: the conceit that your business will last for ever leads to sleepless nights, increasing bar bills and bedroom floors strewn with empty pill bottles. If you can accept that your new start up may peak early, deliver beyond its promise and then burn out as quickly as it started, then you stand a chance of surviving notions of failure long enough to do it all over again with the next love of your life: your next new start up.

Tips for Business Start Ups: beware the evangelising business adviser

Georgio is the sullen ICT type. He shuffles half heartedly into the office but has not a lot to say other than ask where the funding is. He hasn’t done very much (any) thinking about his business idea, or the business plan, or indeed much else around the concept that he rather pathetically shoved across a table at you in his first meeting. No-one yet has told him that his business proposition sucks, his attitude sucks and that he has much chance of making a success of his sucky idea as I do of winning Wimbledon this year.

All your instincts are saying to you: tell him straight, show him the door. Don’t give up the day job or whatever it is that got you through my office door. Whatever you do, don’t set up in business. You’ll have a terrible time, you sullen young thing.

However, what you don’t recognise is that you have other instincts too that are saying; I’m going to get him through this; he’s going to become a top selling business man if it’s the last thing I get him to do. I’m gonna show him a really tough time and roughen him up in the best Duncan Ballantyne toughing tradition and at the end of it, he’ll look back, dressed up to the nines and thank me for it, he really will. This is gonna be a case of tough business love and he’s gonna take it like a man.

At this point either the business adviser or the sullen proto-business man should probably leave the room or someone should throw a bucket of cold water over the both of them.

It’s not in anyone’s interest to make that relationship between evangelical adviser and sullen prototype a happy one. It’s not going to be happy. Ever. Get over it Mr Adviser and take your evangelical fervour to those who will respond to it in the happy clappy way that sets your and their world alight. Sullen Georgio will remain in his kind of happy sullen way for many years to come and its not your right or responsibility to knock it out of him.

And a word to Sullen Georgio too: if you ever share a space with a business adviser who is trying his hardest to enthuse you about your idea, tell him to mind his own business – and you get on with developing yours, in your own, inimitable, sullen way.

Tips for Business Start Ups: the first sale and falling into business

There’s 1000 different cheeses to buy, 1000 types of ham to taste and 1000 glasses of wine to savour. But we only ever buy 3 or 4. From people who speak to us, are curious about us, and who look interesting to us. There’s no immediate strategy which closes one over the other; it might just be a single glance, a stumble, a misunderstanding that leads to that first transaction – but it’s not planned, strategised or considered consciously. The first trading moment may happen merely because we forget to tie up our shoelaces this morning, tripped and fell into the arms of an unsuspecting hotdog seller.