March 15th, 2013
Often referred to as the Millionaire’s Mentor Bev James has 20 years experience in coaching, training recruitment and advice She is currently director of mentoring for Start-up Loans the Government initiative set upby David Cameron’s business team.
Here she explains how mentoring can help your business
When you are starting out in any new business venture, it is always reassuring to get as much advice as you can about the area you are moving into – after all, starting up from scratch can be a daunting prospect.
There have been 82,887 start-ups so far this year in Britain and while this is an inspiring figure, without proper guidance over a third of these will fail before the year is out. This is due to a combination of reasons but a common theme is that many of these businesses do not have a mentor to help guide them through the crucial first year.
If you were planning an expedition to the Arctic, where hidden dangers could jeopardise progress and the climate might change at a moment’s notice: would you travel without a map, without researching the terrain or consulting an experienced guide? It is very unlikely. The path to business success is no less threatening and changeable. So it always surprises me that hundreds of first-time business owners start up each year without sufficient planning or professional guidance.
Mentoring really matters when it comes to business; I know this because as well as mentoring people, I have mentors that help guide me too. Common sense tells us that business experience is useful and if you lack expertise in any areas, a business mentor can help you navigate your path to success. Essentially they will use their experience, perspective and contacts to help you to get to where you want to go faster and with greater focus.
No matter how much entrepreneurial spirit you have, entrepreneurs can suffer from poor follow through on good ideas, inability to maintain focus and fear of failure. Additionally an entrepreneurs’ strengths can sometimes become weaknesses since over enthusiasm, over confidence and over optimism can sometimes get in the way of practicalities. A mentor will be able to see when this is happening.
Before approaching a potential mentor you need to stop and ask yourself what you need a mentor for. Is it to help with restructuring decisions or the launch of a new product line? This will help you to decide what type of mentor is right for you, whether you need a troubleshooter for a short-term project or a long-term mentor to share their wisdom over a longer period of time.
There is no magic formula for choosing a mentor and the majority of start-up entrepreneurs would like to be mentored by the likes of James Caan, Sir Richard Branson or Deborah Meaden however this is unlikely. There will be plenty of business people who may be prepared to offer guidance and support either paid or unpaid, perhaps you can work out a way that you can exchange services.
March 13th, 2013
Mentoring is often viewed as a service for the young and inexperienced, especially when it comes to business. However, this is simply not the case. The concept of mentoring is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and more needs to be done to encourage businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to large multinational corporations, to get mentors and in turn give back through mentoring schemes.
Common sense tells us that business experience is useful and if you lack expertise in any areas, a business mentor can help you navigate your path to success. Essentially they will use their experience, perspective and contacts to help you to get to where you want to go faster and with greater focus.
For example, there have been 82,887 start-ups so far this year in Britain and while this is an inspiring figure, without proper guidance over a third of these will fail before the year is out. This is due to a combination of reasons but a common theme is that many of these entrepreneurs do not have a mentor to help guide them through the crucial first year.
No matter how much entrepreneurial spirit you have or how many businesses you have set up in the past, entrepreneurs can suffer from poor follow through on good ideas, inability to maintain focus and fear of failure. Additionally an entrepreneurs’ strengths can sometimes become weaknesses since over enthusiasm, over confidence and over optimism can sometimes get in the way of practicalities. A mentor will be able to see when this is happening.
I always explain mentoring in terms of a journey, so if you were planning an expedition to the Arctic, where hidden dangers could jeopardise progress and the climate might change at a moment’s notice: would you travel without a map, without researching the terrain or consulting an experienced guide? It is very unlikely. The path to business success is no less threatening and changeable. So it always surprises me that hundreds of first-time business owners start up each year without sufficient planning or professional guidance.
As Director of Mentoring at Start-up Loans, the government backed programme to encourage entrepreneurship, I know that mentoring can be just as important as capital when it comes to starting up a business and I have several mentors myself. There are plenty of mentoring schemes that you can get involved in, either as a mentor or mentee and a number of larger companies run mentoring schemes. If you are not aware of a mentoring scheme in your workplace, speak to your HR department as it may be that the scheme is just not well publicised. Alternately, you can find a mentor independently and a good place to start is http://www.mentorsme.co.uk
Before approaching a potential mentor you need to stop and ask yourself what you need a mentor for. Is it to help with restructuring decisions or the launch of a new product line? This will help you to decide what type of mentor is right for you, whether you need a troubleshooter for a short-term project or a long-term mentor to share their wisdom over a longer period of time.
When it comes to choosing a mentor, there really is no magic formula for finding the right person and the majority of start-up entrepreneurs would like to be mentored by the likes of James Caan, Sir Richard Branson or Deborah Meaden however this is unlikely. There are plenty of business people who are prepared to offer you guidance and support, either paid or unpaid, and these people are likely to be in your local community.
March 1st, 2013
Do you have a goal that you want to achieve? Can you see yourself achieving it – in one month, in three months, in six months, one year? If not, what could the possible reasons be? Are they physical things or are they behaviours? Would your goal be ‘nice to have’? Or are you really hungry for it? What action could you take right now to begin to bring about the result you truly want?
There are many reasons that people don’t keep to their plans or realise their dreams; the first is a lack of belief that they can truly succeed. Another is that the goal may be someone else’s dream rather than our own; but the third, most common reason, is The Fear Factor.
Many people quit before they have really started because they are not ready to face their fears and push themselves outside their ‘comfort zone’.
DO IT! – How hungry are you?
Why do some people show more courage than others? Why do some have the will and the grit to succeed while others fall at the first hurdle? Courage depends on having a clear vision of what you are aiming for and the motivation to achieve your goal. The difference between those who endure fear and act anyway, and those who don’t, lies in the intensity of the desire and the strength of their personal resilience.
Hunger is a great motivator. In the wild it strengthens instinct and gives animals to will to thrive. In humans, the hunger to win and to achieve can help us to overcome anxiety and fear; it increases our focus; and propels us to move more quickly and effectively with laser-like efficiency towards achieving our goals.
Olympic athlete, Ben Hunt-Davis, won a Gold medal as part of the men’s eight rowing team in the Sydney games in 2000. The team had mantra, which Ben now uses in his coaching and it is the title of his book. When deciding on a course of action, they would ask themselves, “Will it make the boat go faster?” In other words, will the decision I am taking now, take me closer to my goal? It forces pacey, no nonsense decision-making. It’s not always an easy approach; for example, Ben’s team chose not to go to the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics because they knew that having a late night would definitely not make the boat go faster.
The biggest lesson in this approach is the warning not to get into conversation with yourself. For example, if you have joined a gym, don’t waste time deliberating over whether or not you want to go: just Do It!
Each of us has the ability to look back and look ahead at the same time – we can learn from the past, while also creating a vision of the future that motivates us.
My first tip is to begin today to first create a picture in your mind of a future that you really do want – so you strengthen your motivation to move towards it; as every coach knows, the most powerful resolution of all may simply be to keep telling yourself, “I will achieve my goals.”
DO IT! – LEAP THE BARRIERS TO SUCCESS
- Fear of feeling uncomfortable. One of the enemies of courage is being too comfortable. The safer you need to feel, the fewer calculated risks you are likely to take. Very few of the millionaires I know had a privileged upbringing; most had to develop personal resilience from an early age. They built their businesses and learned their trade through trial and error, training and hard graft. They are comfortable feeling uncomfortable – and have become used to coping with feelings of unease or fear.
- Fear of criticism and fear of failure. If no one ever criticises you, there are two likely reasons: either you are perfect (perhaps unlikely), or else you never take a risk, which means you may be falling short of your true potential. We never know what we are capable of until we try.
Combating fear means learning to develop a tough hide. If you are more focused upon what other people think than on achieving your goal, you may be knocked off course. Even Mother Theresa couldn’t please everyone 100 per cent of the time. If she couldn’t who can?
DO IT! – LEARN TO USE THE WEAPONS OF COURAGE
- Resilience. The strongest weapon of courage is resilience, because to overcome your fear you have to know you will be able to bounce back from any outcome – even when you are at your lowest ebb. Courageous people try, and try again. The more they try, the more resilient they become. Resilience builds confidence through taking action. Over time, you will discover that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay; because you know you can deal with it.
Some of the greatest business icons, including Walt Disney, Henry Ford and even Peter Jones, experienced bankruptcy before becoming successful – but that never stopped them having new ideas or starting up another business. Many Olympic medalists too, know all too well what it is like to lose it all and win again. Those who achieve the greatest success often have to overcome immense hurdles.
- A positive attitude.
Courage has its roots in the attitude we choose day to day.
How we respond to small difficulties affects how we react to greater adversity. Developing a ‘victor’ mentality means that when things go wrong, you are more likely to look your fears in the face, and react with, ‘All will be well’ rather than, ‘I’m scared’ or ‘Poor me’.
- Self-discipline. Adopting a disciplined approach to life enables your auto-pilot to take over on those occasions when the going gets tough. Those who develop self-discipline put the needs of the goal ahead of immediate gratification. That means they make constant progress – and it also means they don’t stop to question whether they want to do something. If it needs doing they will just get on with it.
- Assessing risk. Courage helps you to take the leap, but you also need to assess the risks associated with what you are doing –and prepare for the consequences. Be realistic – but don’t let over- preparation stop you from taking a chance.
- Fear. It is natural to feel uneasy in the face of experiencing something unknown – but adrenaline can be a valuable weapon. It keeps us alert, encourages us to raise our game, and puts us in a frame of mind for fight and survival.
If you desire the outcome enough, you will find the courage to look fear in the face in order to achieve success.
“The time to Shine is when it is Darkest.” Bear Grylls
February 23rd, 2013
Women now make up 15% of company directors in the benchmark FTSE 100 Index; this is an increase on last year’s figure of 12.5% and what many commentators would call “a step in the right direction”.
Whilst this looks like progress, Lord Davies’s call for companies to have 30% of women filling all boardroom seats by 2015 and Vince Cable’s recent open letter to FTSE 100 companies with all male boards, could actually be more damaging to women, ultimately undermining their position in the boardroom.
Diversity in business is a positive move as it brings a wide selection of backgrounds, talents and perspectives to the table. However, introducing a quota system to achieve this could lead to tokenism, a dangerous concept which runs the risk of tainting all women who end up on the board.
Under such a system, a woman who is highly competent and qualified for the job may start to question whether she is on the board because of her qualifications or because of her sex. This is a huge concern and will do little to empower women in the boardroom. A quota system will also lead to an undeniable change in the way female colleagues are viewed by their male peers.
What interests me is the motivation behind Davies and Cable’s call, do they want more women on boards because of the talent they will bring to the company or because they believe that women are being discriminated against under the current system?
If the latter is the case then legislation will not solve the problem but will only work to create more barriers and obstacles for females to overcome. Instead the culture needs to change and this has to be addressed through education if true equality in business is to be achieved.
Having more women on the board is not just a numbers game. There is strong evidence to suggest that having more women on the board improves a company’s performance. Further studies, such as those in McKinsey’s “Women Matter: gender diversity, a corporate performance driver”, have shown that a ‘critical mass’ of 30% or more women at board level or in senior management roles produces the best financial results.
At entry level, there is roughly the same number of men and women going into companies but once you reach senior management there is a big attrition rate as women leave to start families. The majority of women want to combine work and family, relying on government social policies to allow them to do so.
The new plans to allow parents to share maternity and paternity leave could assist female career progression as it will help women balance work and family life, enabling them to return to work sooner. If you are going to take time out, you cannot return to work after nine months and expect to be top of your game but is the situation by design or discrimination?
While the culture does need to change board appointments must always be made on merit, with the best qualified candidate getting the job.
February 21st, 2013
Use this exercise to focus on what you need to Do next, in order to Be the way you want to be, in order to Have the outcomes you are visualising for the future.
1. What decision would make the biggest difference to your business life right now?
Whether you are a start-up entrepreneur or an established business owner, you probably wish there were more hours in the day. Investing money or resources in outsourcing, training or mentoring can be an excellent way to free yourself up to focus on the elements of your business that need your unique skills and vision.
2. If you stay on your current path, where will you end up?
Is your business heading in the direction you want it to? What is making you money? Where are you losing money? What activities contribute to the growth of your business? How can you spend your time most effectively? Take 10 minutes to plan your day first thing in the morning, and make sure you are not busy being busy.
3. What are you tolerating or putting up with?
Most people are ‘putting up with’ something that they feel would be too time-consuming to sort out. It might be your terms of business, an awkward client relationship, a poorly designed website or an underproductive member of staff. Whatever it is, there will come a point where there will be a cost involved in putting off the moment of decision.
4. If you could improve one business relationship who would it be with, and why?
There is a truism in business that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your contacts. Do you know who your most valuable business contacts are? There is another line that goes, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Could any of your relationships be causing your business damage? Do you need to make time to build some business bridges?
5. What are you putting off doing and what will it cost you if you don’t do it?
This may be connected to resolution number 3; or it may be connected to a personal skills gap or a lack of knowledge. If you are stuck in your comfort zone, sooner or later there will be a cost involved. Is now the time to grasp the nettle and plan for change?
6. How different would your life be if you followed through with this goal?
Developing your skills in, for example, public speaking, market research, social media, financial planning, people management, can transform your ability to achieve your dreams. Investing time in you as well as your business will develop your range of skills and turbo-charge your drive and your business.
7. What will you regret not doing with your business life in later years?
Few of us give ourselves enough time to reflect on the whole life picture. A common business coaching exercise invites people to write their own obituary: highlighting past and future achievements. This is ‘starting with the end in mind’ in a very real sense and can wake people up to the time they have to achieve their true goals.
8. What has lack of confidence or self belief stopped you achieving?
Everyone has self-limiting beliefs of some sort. I once had a self-limiting belief about being able to talk to large groups of people; now I am not fazed if I need to speak to 1000 people. If your beliefs are getting in your way, you can choose to make time to take advice and get out of your own way.
9. What is your purpose? What elements of your business are you passionate about?
If you identify your true purpose you can plan every decision to take you closer to achieving your goal. Every choice you make – from actions and reactions to promises and excuses – provides clear clues as to where your true motivation and priorities lie. There is little point in building a business around something you feel is a good idea, if every time you are faced with a time choice you are diverted towards doing something else.
10. What is the one change you could make that would make you feel happier about the way you run your business?
Every change begins with a single step. What one thing would make a difference to the future of your business, now?
‘Get ready to Do It! – and get started, right now.’
February 19th, 2013
Do you make decisions that work for you? Or are you more likely to procrastinate, to a point where the decision is made for you? The fine line between success and failure depends upon the decisions we make, those we choose not to make – and how quickly and effectively we make them – every moment of every day. Everybody has a mindset for success and process for making a decision, even though they may not realise it. Knowing what to Do, and when to Ditch an idea or action lies at the heart of having the confidence to make things happen.
STEP 1 – GET THE DECISION-MAKING HABIT
Managing your business, your life or your workload involves making decisions: lots of them. Effective decision-making means developing the skill of achieving real clarity of thought and trusting your intuition to know ‘this is right’. At its core, making any kind of decision comes down to saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to an idea, an action, behaviour, or outcome – quite quickly. It is also a response to a want or a need. Wants will almost always drive decisions more than needs. Giving priority to what you want to do, rather than what you need to do is not necessarily a good idea.
A useful way to keep yourself firmly on track is to ask yourself regularly: ‘On a scale of 0 to 10 how much closer will this action take me towards my primary goal?’ (10 being ‘Yes’ and 1 being ‘No’). A low score doesn’t necessarily mean you should ‘Ditch’ your idea. It just means you need more information or to make adjustments before you take things further.
If it is not a 10, ask yourself:
‘What next action will take me to a 10?’
‘What is stopping me from taking the next step? (Is it money, skills, family, confidence, resources?)’
What is my greatest fear? (Is it failure, loss of face, loss of security, getting it wrong?)’
Commit to taking action: Identify the area that isn’t working. Look at your options. Identify what is working. Choose to do something about the area you have control over.
Prioritise: Prioritise those things that will take you closer to your goal.
Schedule: Don’t let your decisions escape. If you have identified an action, decide on an action date. The more you get used to doing this, the clearer your priorities will become.
Delegate: Try to confine your actions to those tasks that only you can do. Outsource or delegate anything else.
Monitor and measure: Stay in control of the process. Once you have scheduled a task or an activity, keep it under review. Revise or ditch those things that aren’t working. Focus on doing only those things that truly add value to your life, your work or your business.
STEP 2 – TAKE RESPONSIBIILTY FOR YOUR ACTIONS
An important part of taking decisions is the willingness to take responsibility for the outcome. This means in part being able to weigh up options and having the strength of character to make the best possible decision quite quickly. The characteristic that I have noticed consistently when working with successful people is that they are ready to be accountable for things that go wrong and they don’t dwell on past mistakes. When you take personal responsibility, you put yourself in control, and are able to influence the future outcome of a situation. If, on the other hand, you are constantly looking for someone else to blame, you make yourself a victim of circumstance. Do it! or Ditch it – but take responsibility for it.
STEP 3 – MASTER YOUR MOTIVATION
The decisions you make will always depend on what drives you to succeed in the first place. For some it will be the heady draw of material success, for others the desire for recognition and belonging. Some will be motivated by stability or the needs of others; some will act because they know they will succeed. Your motivation is always connected to your main goal. People who have lost focus and direction have often lost sight of WHY they are doing something. When the going gets tough, the why keeps us on track.
If you find yourself constantly distracted from the task at hand, ask yourself what you are being motivated to do instead and why. What is your true primary goal? As Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do.’ The important thing is to know what you want, why you want it and to make sure that every day your actions and behaviours take you closer to your true objective. However, motivation needs to be supported by clear goals and targets, and by positive action. The more we succeed the more motivated and confident we become – and the more likely we are to set the bar higher in the future.
The most important criteria for success are personal and relate to:
- Your vision for the long-term success of the idea.
- The level of excitement you feel about setting it in motion.
- The commitment you are willing to give to make it work.
- The depth of understanding you have about the benefits of taking the decision.
STEP 4 – DEVELOP THE HABIT OF SELF-DISCIPLINE
How many times on average does someone attempt a goal before giving up? Would you guess 1, 2 or 3? The real answer is less than 1. Many people give up before they even try. Self-discipline is the trait that makes the difference. If you know you can rely on yourself to be disciplined in approach, you know that there is the possibility of success. Without it, it is easy to feel defeated before you start.
I work daily with experts who are at the top of their fields in business, sport and every area of enterprise. When I am asked, “What is the one thing that sets those who succeed apart from those who fall short of their true potential?” or “What do successful achievers do that others don’t?” the answer is always rooted in self-discipline.
Successful people are willing to do the things that they don’t necessarily want to do, in order to deliver the results they want. Rather than stopping to question whether they want to do something, self-disciplined people are more likely to just get on with it! They put in extra hours and effort because they always have an eye on the long-term goal. A self-disciplined approach delivers improved performance and successful results – and keeps people on track.
Self-discipline is easier to maintain when developed as a habit in every area of our lives. Build your self-discipline muscle, daily. Ask yourself, “What changes in my own approach will make the most difference to my success?”
What do you need to START doing? Take action? Set achievable goals? Monitor your progress? Seek advice?
What do you need to STOP doing? Procrastinating? Living in the past? Having regrets? Blaming others? Putting yourself down?
What do you need to do LESS of? Spending? Watching TV? Eating junk food? Putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own?
What do you need to do MORE of? Networking? Saving money? Planning? Monitoring cash flow? Taking action?
By matching your desires to the actions you need to take to make your dream a reality, you can begin to apply the self-discipline required to make your future a certainty.
STEP 5 – BE BRAVE
The successes that mean the most in life tend to be the ones that are hardest won. When things come easily we may undervalue the prize; when we feel safe we may stop challenging ourselves to grow and develop. At the root of every successful endeavour lies the courage to face fears and take action. To fulfil our true potential we need to step outside the realm of our ‘normal’ behaviour and do something that stretches our boundaries, broadens our knowledge, raises adrenaline and challenges us to explore new frontiers.
Being brave helps us to face up to anxiety and recognise it as a normal stage in learning something new. When self-doubt strikes and asks, “What if I fail?”, “Is it worth the risk?” “Am I good enough?” “Will I make it?” there is only one form of defence that will combat all known doubts – and that is to ‘adopt an attitude’ of bravery and step outside your comfort zone. The good news is that the braver you are, the larger your comfort zone becomes, and the more self-reliant, resilient and successful you will become.
If you have a great idea, Be Brave. Commit to DO-ing it or DITCH-ing it – but make sure that your best ideas don’t die a death from indecision.
February 7th, 2013
Retaining top performers starts on the day they first arrive and continues every day thereafter. In my business we celebrate a new recruit’s first day to let them know they are valued from the outset.
They receive a card signed with messages from the whole team and will find flowers or champagne to welcome them on their desk. We go out for a team meal to celebrate our success and build team spirit.
Tips for retaining top performers
- Wow them, make them feel special, whatever job they are doing within the company.
- Make sure they know what they need to do to be successful.
- Have a planned induction process that ensures new recruits meet everyone in the company and have a contact in every department.
- Develop and train, help them to consistently exceed their personal best.
- Make sure they are in the right role to match their skills and values.
- Ensure you have a balance between support and challenge.
- Be honest, open and respectfully direct.
Develop an owner mentality in every employee
When an employee has an ownership mentality they never come to you with a problem without delivering a solution too. They are less likely to forget to turn off the lights or the air conditioning at the end of the day; they will be polite to all customers and will be more likely to return a sales enquiry.
When a member of staff has an owner mentality they are creative and move with purpose. They speak about the business with passion and commitment. They are driven by results and take great pleasure in achieving success for the business.
Steps to creating an ownership mentality
- Have belief in your team and demonstrate by giving them projects to champion.
- Manage your mood and choose the appropriate response.
- Be honest about your financial goals and set up charts to monitor progress.
- Be a mentor to them.
When your employees have an ownership mentality they feel empowered to make a difference and care about the bottom line as much as you do. An energised and committed workforce knows that you care about their welfare will focus on delivering the best of their ability – because people work for people – not for organisations.
February 5th, 2013
I probably don’t need to tell the majority of you this but being a professional coach and operating your own coaching business can be incredibly rewarding. When I trained as a coach (with The Coaching Academy) back in 2005, I already had an extensive business background and was able to set up my coaching business relatively quickly and easily.
I do realise that this isn’t always the way for some of our students here at The Coaching Academy, so I’d like to share my tops tips for setting your business goals as a coach and ensuring you’re on the right path to success.
Having a clear vision for your business, supported by a well-researched business plan makes the difference between building a business and building a profitable business – provided the strategy is sound.
Setting clear business goals that you want to achieve within a defined period of time brings focus to the decisions you make every day. Having specific goals also enables you to monitor your achievements over a period of time so that you can measure the extent of your success.
Ask yourself quickly, on a scale of 1 to 10:
Where am I in terms of knowing my short, mid and long term goals?
• In 3 months
• In 6 months
• In 1 year.
On the basis of each of your replies, ask yourself:
• What is my immediate priority?
• What action am I going to take today?
On a scale of 1 to 10:
• How much closer to your goal will this action take you?
Having a clear plan that is regularly revised and revisited will make day to day decision making and action much easier and will structure your business development for a positive outcome.
Wishing you well.
January 24th, 2013
I am often asked what makes a good idea a good business idea; and how to turn it into a successful start up. Every business starts with an idea or an opportunity that fulfils a need or a want. Preferably both.
Identify a need or a want; find a way to fulfil it and you have the kernel of an idea for a sound business. But only consider developing the idea further if you feel passionate about the idea.
I have been asked to get involved with setting up many excellent business opportunities over the years – but I know that I could only remain enthusiastic if the whole concept fired me with enthusiasm. There is little point in buying a tool-hire franchise if the thought of doing DIY leaves you cold; or opening a florist if you are allergic to pollen.
Many ideas are good ideas. Whether or not they turn out to be successful depends on your passion for the concept, your belief in yourself, and the steps you put in place to plan your business journey in advance.
Setting up a new business is like planning an adventure holiday, with finite time and resources. To get the most out of your journey you will budget for your costs; your choice of route will match the time you have available; and your choice of activity will depend upon your interests, skills and passions. If you want to embark on something that needs specialist expertise, you will make sure you are trained or supported by those who know what you are doing.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro might seem a good idea: but it is only a good idea if you take people with you who know the way and have reached the summit before. It becomes a very bad idea, liable to end in failure (or worse) if you attempt it solo, especially if you have no experience of the climatic conditions.
It is wise to make sure you have taken good advice before you spend a single coin of your money – or an investor’s money. Whether you are a sole trader, a limited company or a partnership, there are certain business essentials to be stamped in your passport before you enter new territory:
Having belief in your idea
Whatever led you to your business idea, your chances of success will increase many times over if you have genuine belief in your idea and a passion for your business plan.
• Self-belief: Belief is what keeps you going when others knock you back; it’s what helps keep you going when you are tired; it’s what helps you to overcome unexpected obstacles and to see challenges as surmountable rather than a reason to quit.
• Plan ahead: Having a strong belief that something can work is not the same as blind optimism or letting your heart rule your head. Pour your belief into the practical structure of a business plan: stating your objectives, your financial plan and including a strategy and a timeframe for achieving your goals.
• Take good advice: Share the information with a business expert: such as your accountant or a business mentor – so that you have objective advice. Once the plan is realistic and healthy in its aims, it will become your anchor: your benchmark for testing whether something is right or wrong for your business strategy.
• Commit to your plan. The plan is an active document that will keep you on track and prevent you from spending too much money upfront on non-essentials, choosing a poor location, or changing direction in a way that is incongruent with your core idea.
• Manage your cash-flow: Money is important in business. You need to manage your finances as is if your life depended on it – because it does. If you are unfamiliar with how a profit and loss sheet works; or you find yourself procrastinating rather than monitoring your cash flow on a regular basis. Hire. Help. Now. Cash-flow problems are a serious threat to businesses of any size: especially during the start-up phase.
• ‘Get real’ about your strengths and weaknesses so that you plan, prepare and put things right before you get started. Knowing where your weak spots lie and seeking professional expertise to balance your skills, will put you in a position of strength.
• Be an expert. Don’t be tempted to set up in business in an area you know nothing about. Refurbishing your own home doesn’t give you the skills to be a property developer. Knowing all the best beers won’t help you to run a country pub.
• Test the market: Never make assumptions about your market, your competitors, or pricing.
Testing the market
Just as wise travellers will ensure they have been inoculated against potentially fatal diseases before they leave home; so too it is important to test your idea and plan ahead for important contingencies: to protect your future business health and give your good idea the best chance of start-up success.
In the musical, Oliver, a rose seller sings as she walks along a London street to sell her wares: “Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two for a penny.” Does she know what her customer needs? Yes: good value for money. Does she know what her customer wants? Yes she does. No-one needs roses for survival – but many people want them and love to receive them; even today they are one of the most popular flowers. Her customers decide that they need their beauty and scent and all that they represent; which is why roses are the only option in her basket. The good value just helps to seal the deal.
Asking yourself key questions about the market for your product or service is useful. Asking potential customers the same questions, and assessing what the competition is doing, is even better – because it will help to build a clearer picture and help you to avoid making expensive assumptions in your business plan. Ask yourself and others:
• Who will buy your product or service?
• At what price will they buy it?
• How will they buy it? (Online, in-store, mail order etc)
• How often will they buy it?
• Who else can they buy it from?
• Where can they get it cheaper?
• What else will they buy?
If you are a retailer:
• What is the average spend that you will need per customer?
• What is the average daily footfall in your location?
• Do the potential customers match your customer profile?
Knowing how many customers you need, on a daily, weekly, monthly basis – in order to make the business profitable – is essential. A common mistake is to over-estimate the number of clients, projects or footfall that you will experience in the first year of trading: or to invest in premises before you really need them. Testing the market before you begin will help you to make adjustments along the way. A useful strategy is to start (very) small and grow gradually. Many a successful start-up has begun at home.
Doing a value check
The early stages of starting up a business are full of excitement and potential. You may feel energised and possibly anxious in equal measure. You are likely to have high expectations for the future. This is also the stage at which you are most vulnerable and liable to make expensive mistakes.
• Doing a value check in the form of a SWOT analysis is a useful way to take stock of the Strengths and Weaknesses of your business idea; the Opportunities to improve and hone it, and the Threats to its success and survival.
• Check that your price point is aligned with your level of service and the quality of your product. If you are focusing on mass market sales of low price items, keep your customer service polite, but fast moving. If you are selling a specialist service to a niche market, you need to provide excellent client care. You will have fewer customers than a mass market business – but the ones you have will want to feel cared for and remembered. It is vital for repeat business.
Whatever your business model – it is important to know what differentiates you from your competitors. Your USP (your Unique Selling Point) will get you noticed. It will set you apart and ensure you are remembered. If you create something so essential or desirable that everyone wants it – they will find a reason to need it too.
January 15th, 2013
Last year, I launched a competition which saw hundreds of you sharing your DO IT! OR DITCH IT stories with me. A heart-felt thanks to each and every one of you who submitted an entry. I was really touched reading all of your tales of DO IT! or DITCH IT situations.
I found it really difficult to whittle down the entries to a shortlist of 10 and even harder to then select a single winner for the prize on offer – 6 months’ worth of personal mentoring with me, including the first session over lunch with me at one of my favourite restaurants in London. After much deliberation I am really delighted to announce the winner… Drum roll please…
Congratulations Hilary Steel of Kent Women in Business
I was really impressed with Hilary’s “done it!” story. Ignoring the critics who told her it wouldn’t work, Hilary will soon be launching the Kent Women in Business Magazine and the Kent Women in Business Awards – you can find out more here - http://www.kwibawards.co.uk/
What impressed me most about Hilary was her intent on making 2013 her best year yet and how she has already achieved so much already with practically no budget but lots of hard work and dedication. Her passion really shone through for me and I’m looking forward to working with her over the next 6 months.
Special runner up prize – Rupinder Kaur
Because it was such a hard decision to select only one winner, I am also announcing a very special runner up prize awarded to Rupinder Kaur of RK Coaching – http://rkcoaching.co.uk/
Rupinder’s focus for her coaching business and her honesty in how she often uses DO IT! or DITCH IT thinking to banish fear and self-limiting beliefs to charge on with taking action was incredibly impressive.
I look forward to meeting with Rupinder for a 2 hour mentoring session in the near future.
Once again, I sincerely thank all of you for your entries. Look forward to hearing about your success stories throughout 2013.
I wish you well