3 things no one tells you about starting a business

I always knew setting up a business on my own would be a steep learning curve, and it certainly has been a rollercoaster so far. But one of the things that has struck me most over the past few weeks is how much help there is available, and how ready people are to share their time and expertise. There is something about the entrepreneurial journey that really speaks to people (for which I’m extremely grateful - I definitely would not have got as far as I have without all of this support).

As well as the individuals I’ve been lucky enough to learn from, there are of course masses of resources all over the web (how did people ever start a business pre-Google?? Respect to those who did, seriously); some I have found especially useful include Startups, Enterprise Nation and Inspire2Enterprise amongst many others.

One thing that is common across these resources are the checklists and “Things you should know” lists, with some common themes about the importance of planning, the impact starting a business will have on your life, and so on. But of course every business and every entrepreneur is different, and there are one or two pitfalls I have fallen into which I didn’t see coming (as an aside, I really don’t like the word entrepreneur – it’s hard to say, hard to spell, it sounds a bit pretentious (is that just me?), and just doesn’t feel like how I would describe myself – so if anyone can come up with a better word, please let me know!).

ANYWAY, stop rambling, Roberts. Here, in the spirit of someone who knows very little but is learning fast, are my Top 3 Things I Wish I had Known Before Starting a Business. All views are mine, so feel free to ignore!

1)      Sending off your business plan is utterly and completely terrifying. Like, worse than watching the Blair Witch project all alone in a secluded cottage in the woods in the middle of the night… Every event and workshop I have been to have been clear that if you are to succeed, a business plan is critical. And I totally agree - just the process of writing mine has really helped me to clarify my thoughts, reject ideas, come up with new ones, and focus my energies. But, the thing is, after giving it all that love and honing it to perfection, you then have to – brace yourself - Show It To People. And this feels like… taking a new-born kitten and throwing it out into the world to fend for itself. I will long remember the feeling of dread I felt when the first email from a mentor came back with comments. Like most things in life, it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I had feared, so what the hell, feel the fear and do it anyway, but just be aware that it may well be the scariest thing you’ll ever do… (And if you are too young to remember the Blair Witch Project, please insert scary movie of your choice above, and politely refrain from commenting on my age. Thanks.)

2)      Actually starting a business is surprisingly easy. For some reason, I had kind of always thought that getting set up as a business would involve lengthy legal processes, lots of specialist knowledge, and even lots of cash. It turns out, not so much. In fact, read some documents on gov.uk (OK, they are long, and VERY dull, but nowhere near as indecipherable as I had thought), fill in some forms (get used to that feeling), and them off with a cheque for £35. And that’s it. It really is that simple.

3)      Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, test your pitch for the first time on your most important potential client/investor/supplier. No matter how much work you put in and how helpful friends, family and colleagues are in feeding back, you really can’t gauge how it’s going to come across until you present it to someone who really matters and from whom you need at the very least some emotional investment. In my case, I found myself in a very strange conversation with a potential supplier which wasn’t going at all how I had expected, and it was only halfway through that I realized they thought I was setting up in competition, rather than trying to position myself as a future customer. Of course, when this dawned on me, I went and re-read my initial email and could see I hadn’t been entirely clear, and in “selling myself” I had inadvertently given the impression I was going to do everything myself and steal their turf. Lesson learned. Thankfully I have time to fix this before I pitch to anyone else. So road test it on someone who is in the right field but who isn't your number one in that field, and learn from the reaction you get so that when you approach that Number One you have the tone just perfect.

So, maybe not searing insights, but hopefully something of interest for fellow startups here. I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on what you’ve learned and what I’ve missed.

Thanks for reading and speak soon

Nancy x