Tips for Business Start Ups: the joy of early morning sales

Every now and then a business you work with goes quiet. It goes underground and its lack of visibility is worrying.  What’s happened to it?  Have the owners packed their bags and high tailed off home in a fit of embarrassment? Has there been some kind of confidence meltdown which means the owner has gone back to their day job to face up to their ‘told-you-so’ colleagues and critics?  Or did they just wake up from their dream?

But every now and then, that ‘oh-so-quiet’ moment passes and the business comes knocking at your door again and presents itself in all its opening and early trading glory.

It transpires that the business plan was written and then unceremoniously dumped; that the finances have been found wanting and given a good shaking; but that the solicitors are now busy beavering away on contracts and lo! There’s the early Spring whoosh of an invoice being paid.  All the signs of a start up finally shaking off their chrysalis, starting to stretch their tender limbs and beginning to do what they’ve been dreaming about doing for months, some times years.

This is a glorious Spring moment and never fails to amaze me. It doesn’t matter whether the business is about trading  coffee, constructing electrical sockets or intricately folding pieces of paper into peculiar shapes: the thrill is the same and the joy of the business owners a wonder to behold.

Tips for Business Start Ups, Lessons for Life: Yes You May.

Sharon is in the throes of starting up her new business idea of selling coals to Newcastle. On one level it looks a fairly dubious proposition; the coal industry in Newcastle is heaving (or so we are led to believe ); the last thing Newcastle needs is any more aspiring coal importers and in any case the railways aren’t what they were so trying to get the black stuff into the city is more difficult than ever before.

However, Sharon is blessed with a supply of high grade magical coal which does what no other coal has ever done before; she has access to the key Tyneside decision makers and she can guarantee that her first import will put a smile on her bank managers face (well, assuming those faceless automatons have faces any longer).

What Sharon is struggling with is permission. She’s looking for permission to set up the business and looking for an outside agency to say “yes, you may.” – as opposed to the more ambivalent, “yes, you can”.

“Can I really book that freight car?”
“Yes, you may.”
“Can I really contract a volunteer to work with me? Is that legal?’
“Yes it is and yes you may.”
“Can I really put my own logo on our website?”
“Yes you may, and yes you should and yes yes yes.”

Such is the conversation. Many business start ups, like students in their final year at uni; or kids at the edge of the swimming pool who are about to make their first dive into the deep end; or anyone who is about to make the biggest decision of their life; are looking for just one thing: permission. For some-one to say “Yes. It’s not illegal. Yes. It’s a good idea. Yes. It will be hard work. Yes. You might sink but on the other hand you might just swim. Yes. Your coals are just the sort of coals people in Newcastle are looking for. Do it. And do it now.”

“May I? Really?”
“Yes, you may.”

Tips for Business Start Ups: White Lines of Delusion (Don’t Do It)

Some time ago a colleague and I had what we thought would be an absolutely knock out business idea: we would rebuild air zeppelins, float them above Liverpool Cricket Club in South Liverpool and then organise day trips across Merseyside, carving out new flight paths in the sky to connect up our local towns in new and interesting ways. There would be special trips to Wales; one offs out to the Island of Mann and all sorts of zany and exciting possibilities. We would be reinventing the Zeppelin building industry; we would be reintroducing old skills that had died out over 100 years ago and before long, our Zeppelins would be in the top ten tourist destinations across Europe.

However, we overlooked the fact – for a short period of time – that we had no track record of designing Zeppelin Airships. We didn’t have a clue about flight paths or the behaviour of large gas filled balloons in high winds over the Irish Sea. We didn’t even have a bank account. We were – mercifully for a very short time, until the alcohol wore off – completely and utterly deluded.

Now, a level of delusion in business start ups is partially essential, partially an occupational hazard. No-one ever got anywhere without some degree of crazed, unconnected and completely irrational thinking. However, there is delusion and there are the White Lines of Delusion: thin white trails of hopes, aspirations and fantasy which the business start up would be well advised to keep clear of. Those white lines can lead you to wrecking your bank balance, your credibility and your place in history. The White Lines of Delusion spell trouble and the sooner you can wean yourself away from them and settle for plain old fashioned wishful thinking (coupled to a bank account), the sooner your start up will really start up and start walking the walk rather than crashing and burning in a blaze of white line fuelled glory. Remember the Hindenburg and save your hot air for a better investment.

Questions by Business Start Ups: tell me, am I only dreaming?

George, a late entrant to the business start up game came to me last week with a terrific idea for a new business. It was original; offered loads of connectivity to lots of different funding agendas; would make a constructive difference to lots of people’s lives and to all intents and purposes was a potentially golden ticket to a new life for him, after having burnt many bridges in previous lives, explored the whiskey bottle once too often and spent his hard borrowed cash up to and over his shaky credit limits many times over. George’s business idea is potentially his salvation or his final downfall.

“So” he asks, “tell me: am I just dreaming? Is this business just a slippery figment of my imagination?” To which, I have to say, of course you’re dreaming George! It’s your dreaming which is going to get you out of this mess that you’re currently in upto the last fold in your chubby neck.

But it’s not just dreaming: it’s dreaming justly that’s essential in the business start up process. It’s about seeing an apparition in front of you and having the courage to see that apparition as real as the flesh and blood nightmares of unpaid bills, empty spirit bottles and trampled ambitions which are strewn across your kitchen floor as you tear up one grand design after another. It’s not just dreaming George, it’s allowing your spirit to finally soar before the inertia and paralysis of the so called real world takes you by the neck and slowly throttles you into stillness.

So go ahead and dream with all your might: it might just save your life.

Tips for Business Start Ups: What IS the point of working for someone else?

You won’t make money although you might make a living. You won’t become famous although you might make someone else, something else. You won’t own your own thinking as someone else will claim their ownership over your thoughts. You won’t have your own time or run your own timetable, which is fine if you’re happy to be dictated to by someone else’s stop watch.

However, you will be able to contribute fixing someone else’s problems, fill a temporary gap and invite someone to lunch on the back of it. You may even be given an email address which you can use as your own, albeit with usual security provisos of not sending out inflammatory viruses or cod spam messages which are of no interest to man nor beast.

You will be able to wear a company badge that brings into their fold and counts you as one of them. Ultimately, the main pleasure of working for someone else is that you belong to something bigger than you, have joined a club and can happily stare out at those who are pressing their noses against the window of that club and say, ‘Yeh. I’m inside the tent. You’re outside it.”

But where’s it raining the heaviest?

Tips for Business Start Ups: Start Up? A Business? WTF would I want to do that right now?

Whatever they say, we’re still in recession. Whatever they say, the banks aren’t lending. Whatever they say, the climate is still atrocious and it won’t stop raining and it’s still very cold out there in the harsh economic world. For many, many people the tender green shoots of economic growth are just that: algal bloom in a stagnating river of economic effluent. 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 in the HR department. 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 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 coulda been, what woulda been, and what shoulda 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.  It won’t stop the rain, the banks won’t have a change of heart and the recession is likely to continue for a lot longer than we might like: but your business will make it a bit sunnier for some and will stick it to those mad-market-morons who are driving the economy ever deeper into the ground. That’s exactly why TF you would want to do that right now.

Tips for Business Start Ups: 5 things your MBA won’t teach you. And 1 it will.

If you’re about to set up a new business then you need to know that you’re not about to enter a Newtonian type universe where every cause has an effect or where every action has a reaction. You’re joining the slippy sloppy world of quantum mechanics where minor variations in inputs have surprising unplanned and unexpected consequences on your outputs. You’ll need to be reading up on chaos theory soon.

But if you don’t have the time to wade through complexity, strange attractors and topological mixing, then here are 6 essential tips to prepare you for those next strange journeys you are about to encounter.

1. Working hard doesn’t necessarily get rewarded. You can work your backside off over many years but it’s a guarantee of nothing. There’s no straight forward logic between effort and reward.

2. The market place is not a fair equitable system which is built upon civilising values of integrity, honesty and balance. Markets are not like super-bazaars where there’s a variety of stalls selling you 7 sorts of trinkets. They’re imagined, fluid and fickle apparitions which wander Second Life. You’ll be dealing with 2 dimensional avatars not 3 dimensional people in those virtual spaces. Avatars have questionable ethics, suspect memories and indefinable bank accounts. They’re not who they say they are, they don’t do what you think they’re doing.

3. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know either. No, it’s what you imagine that will get you through the days. What you know is probably outdated; who you know was another avatar from another second life. You can at least trust your own imagination as it resides in your mind and body, not anyone else’s.

4. Be clear what your targets are. Proper targets are things like what time you get up in the morning, how much sugar you put in your coffee and what time the bar’s open. These are knowable, quantifiable and achievable. Concepts such as wealth, love, happiness are not targets at all but mirages with a mind of their own. They will come (or not) to you when they’re ready, not when you decide you want them.

5. Will there always be trade? To paraphrase what Milo Mindbender in Catch 22 was fond of saying? No, there will always be a desire for selling and buying and pretending to buy and sell. Whether there is any actual buying and selling is another matter altogether. There will always be pretence, mirage and unexpected consequences.

6. Cash is king. This is true.