I’m pleased to say I’ve made it to my one year anniversary as a Limited Company. Novo Swansea Ltd. Trading as Novo Consultancy, has made it through that ‘first difficult year’. Novo means to begin anew, or to refresh, and I was intending to reflect the work I do with clients (transformation) with the fact I was starting out as a small business after almost 30 years in big business.
And by big business I mean I’ve been running media business, newspapers, radio stations and web companies for the last 15 years or so. The biggest was around 150 people. I’ve travelled and worked all over the UK. I’ve employed lots of people and lost lots of people too. I’ve won I’ve lost, and won again. I thought I’d done it all. It’s been a great preparation for what was to come as I set out only own.
It seems that my ‘motivation’ to do this was the same as a lot of people. I found myself in a position where I didn’t have to jump into another job immediately, and so while I looked about, I thought I’d take advantage of the tax benefits (from and employed point of view) and set up my own company.
A year later, here I am still, and the benefits of running my own company still just about offsets the downsides. I think…
Lee Trevino, a famous American golfer one said ‘Pressure is when you play for five dollars a hole with only two in your pocket.’ And I always think of that quote when times have been tough over the last year. I’ve had plenty of pressure in my life, work pressure and personal pressure. And I can safely say, running your own small business, which then becomes your only source of income, is right up there.
There are aspects I’ve really enjoyed, and there’s stuff that I wish would go away. As I always like to finish on a high, let’s get the rough stuff out-of-the-way first!
1 There’s no one but you. I loved being a Managing Director – the boss! But even so I have been really lucky to work with some outstanding people as my boss, and they have become friends and confidants too. John Myers and Billy Anderson two who stand out for me, but there are a good few more who helped me get to the levels I attained at the top of the corporate tree. Running your own company means the buck stops with you. Its hard.
Lesson: Get yourself a mentor, or even just someone to talk too. I finally realise the value of these little networking groups. Surrounding yourself with a support network is vital. Professional AND Personal.
2. Related to the above, there’s no one to blame when stuff goes wrong. You can’t call out the Finance Director, or the HR Director, or complain to the Commercial Director because revenue is down. You’re on your own.
Lesson: A good accountant is worth their weight in gold. I use Morgan Hemp in Swansea and they are great! I’m lucky, as I’ve worked a long time taking advice from functional specialist like FD’s or whatever, and then making up my own mind. So talking to my accountant is second nature.
3. Being busy is great! But when its quiet, you really need to stay the course. I had an awful run in to Christmas. I lost a deal I was counting on, and was in between the next one starting. I spent the time learning new things, and building the pipeline for the new year, but it was still one of the most stressful periods of my professional life. Its the first Christmas I’ve had on the credit card for a long time.
Lesson: As ‘Giff Gifford’ would say. Regular business pays my bills, but new business makes me rich. No matter how busy you get, you cannot afford to neglect the next job or the next contract. Keep building the pipeline, talk to people, reach out to contacts, have as many conversations in your sector that you can.
4. I miss the PURPOSE of being in a big company. Daniel Pink says we are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In terms of Purpose, he means working for the greater good. Or working towards an aim or goal you are aligned too. I’ve always worked for businesses I’ve believed in, and I’ve always believed in the businesses I’ve worked for. That is, I’ve believe in what we were trying to achieve. To be the best radio business in the UK, or to transform newspapers into a digital business. As a small business I have to align with my client if I want to earn, and sometimes that’s not as easy. I must have my own purpose, and do you know what? Money sometimes is enough on its own.
Lesson: Do enough new business generation that you can be choosy about the people you work with. Having a purpose, sharing the goals or feeling aligned with the ‘movement’ is a unique and special feeling. It helps take you from just a drone on the shop floor to a high performer.
5. Administrators make the business work. I knew this already. But working for yourself brings it home. I’ve had the honour of working with some outstanding people as my PA over the years, and I can’t tell you what a distraction doing all the ‘small’ stuff is. Sending emails, telephone calls (non business related) ordering things, paying people, chasing money, chasing money, chasing money, It basically stops you doing the stuff you need to do in order to make the business work! I sit down at my home desk, and think I’ve got a day to get through a ton of sales calls for instance. Next stop its 7pm and I’ve done about half of what I wanted to do.
Lesson: Get familiar with the productivity software out there. It’s a life saver. I use Xero for accounts, Hubspot for CRM, Canva for design, Asana and Trello for project management, and Minddoodle for brainstorming and mind mapping. I’ve just discovered Office 365, and while there are still things I don’t like about it, the functionality and tools it provides you with are awe-inspiring. You can pretty much build your entire digital business on the SharePoint platform. There are loads more out there too Just be careful you don’t get to sucked into playing with all the new goodies (ahem!)
6. It’s not a sale until its paid for. An old saying of mine if you know me, but when you are totally depending on cashflow to pay the bills, a non-payment is a nightmare. Don’t extend credit you can’t afford. And get payment up front where you can! I’ve aways given my advice quite freely too. But now I realise there is a thin line between giving advice and giving away your service!
Lesson: Dont work for free, and be really clear with your clients as to when you need to be paid, and the consequences of non-payment.
7. On the other hand, running your own business give you one thing a corporate job never would. Freedom. Freedom to come and go, freedom to have a morning off and work in the evening if you need to (you don’t take days off as such!) freedom to go to the shops, have a coffee, meet a friend for a pick me up. And if you are doing it right, freedom to work with people you like, freedom to do the work you love, freedom to help the businesses you admire.
Lesson: I’m surprised how much freedom means to me. After years of suit wearing, meeting attending, motorway and air travelling (which I always enjoyed) this makes for a nice change of pace.
8. I’m building for the future. I honestly can’t say I will keep this up. Its tough, and it puts a strain on the family too. But I am starting to get the sense I am building something. Something that maybe I can run on until retirement. Corporate jobs always feel so transient. Whereas maybe in there is something I can finally find that purpose I’m looking for. And I am quite proud of myself. I’ve never seen myself as one of those entrepreneur types as I’ve always felt the organisation is my natural habitat. I have a lot of experience and a lot to give a big company, and that side of my game is massively under utilised as a small fish. But maybe, maybe it’ll be worth it.
Lesson: Work is a big deal. It shapes your whole life, and that of the family, and these days there are no easy answers.
What about you? What have you learned? Or maybe you recognise some of these lessons for yourself? Let me know!