You walk in to the office. You’re a minute or so late. You’re hot and bothered from racing to get there. Your feet hurt already. The coffee machine is broken, so you can’t have one. You get to your desk. There’s a yellow sticky note on your PC that asks you to come to a meeting that started 20 minutes ago that no-one told you about. You drop your things, pick up a pad and go down the corridor towards the meeting. As you near the door you can hear them talking about you. You stop, and listen.
The upshot is, they think you are expensive. They think they could do all your stuff themselves and they don’t like your style and direction. Sounds like they are about to dump you – after all you’ve done.
You know you have made them millions and you know they have no handle on the market or the delicate customer/chain balance. They don’t have a clue how to negotiate with the agency and they couldn’t motivate or manage the sales team, the board and the key suppliers in a pink fit. You know you’re vital and they think you’re just another marketing person, just one more little cog in the wheel of corporate OZ. Bastards.
You can’t be bothered with this crap. And besides that, you’re sick of being there until 8 .30 pm and being told off for being 5 minutes late the next morning. What a bunch of turkeys.
You throw your head back, straighten your shoulders, march in and tell them all to fuck off. Feels really good, like diving into a cool pool on a hot day. Fifteen minutes later you’re on the street with both a heavy cardboard box and your future in your hands.
Now what do you do?
Go out on your own.
You’ve always wanted to be your own boss. You’ve always wanted to test your ability to run the whole show. To have your ideas followed without question. To get your plans implemented. To get all the money, all the glory. Feel all the fear. Welcome to the real world. Welcome to the jungle.
It’s actually a pleasant rain forest. Some days it rains like shit and half your life gets washed away. Some days you step on a snake and you’re lucky you don’t die, but most days the weather is cool, the sun shines through dappled leaves and there’s plenty of fruit on the trees, as long as you can work out how to get up there. It’s not as scary as the corporate world wants you to believe. They make it seem dangerous because, since the powers that be abolished slavery, there’s no other way to keep good people in their jobs besides fear; of the unknown, of failure and of penniless starvation.
You’re a big girl now
This is crunch time. This is the time to prove to yourself what a brilliant mind you really have. How charming you can be. How smart and manipulative you are. How much people love you or fear you. Every day, look in the mirror, growl, and say to yourself, ‘go get em girl’.
There’s the morally defendable reasons for breaking out on our own, like ‘independence’, ‘testing myself’ and money, but the real reasons are more fun. With your own show you can trade in your frumpy spouse, send your kids to better schools, do a lot more overseas trips, get written up in trade journals or interviewed on TV, launch brilliant offshoot companies and stick it up your rich cousins and the guys you went to school with who told you you’d amount to nothing. You could even sue the bastards at your old company, just because you can. Not to mention that you could design your uniforms in that brilliant lilac/orange combo you’ve always liked or turn your nanna’s chocolate bickies into the biggest thing since diets were invented. The satisfaction is frankly, immeasurable.
The thing that puts more people than anything else back on the scrap heap of employment is fear and stress. Stress is the killer. For those who worry, this is not the life. For those who succeed, the only attitude is that there is no point worrying about things. Your natural human survival gene will kick in whenever something is threatening you. Within a very short time you’ll be acutely attuned to danger – and you’ll know what to do about it almost instantly after you sense it. If for any reason, or no reason at all, you don’t think someone will be a good influence, will pay their bills, will be trustworthy, trust your gut.
Millions of things can go wrong, but most of them don’t. Stressing only burns up energy and causes heart attacks. It does not help. If you are really worrying, write down the problems and what you can do about them, then go for a 10 k run or drink half a bottle of vodka or do something else that takes your mind off them until the next day, when things always miraculously become easier to handle.
When’s a good time for you?
There’s no bad time to go out on your own. A recession might seem like a bad time, but it’s more understandable that people get laid off, so you’ve got more justification when you’re explaining what you’re now doing. The whole world good or bad times, always needs things like food, clothing, transport, marketing advice, so the level of demand might be one or two percent below a boom, but it’s only the tiniest degrees of difference. Everything goes in cycles and good or bad times will not stop you if you’re cut out for the jungle. Do it when you feel like it. Or when you’re angry enough. I’m a big believer in revenge as motivation.
Have a marketing career game plan
I remember Lindsay Fox saying that he looks in the bathroom mirror every morning and says ‘what am I going to do today’? When you are your own boss, your life is totally in your own hands. You could go down the beach. You could spend all day at lunch, or on the couch. So you need to plan. I don’t mean a big business plan, although most people need them. Assuming you are a trained, disciplined, experienced marketer, I’m talking a couple of pages of notes on long and short term goals. That length ‘business plan’ can be actioned and will get results because it’s focused. Just check/ re-do your set of notes every few months to keep yourself on track.
The people who need complex, every possible scenario business plans are not the marketers, they are the people we must work with. The accountants, bankers, partners and mothers out there who often don’t have a full grip on what you have in mind and want to know you’re on the right path. If you’re asking for money you’ll need to do one. And a big fat one at that; 50-100 pages, with lots of appendixes and a juicy cash flow, especially if you’re asking for a lot of money, or for help from a government department. There’s plenty of books on how to write a business plan on Amazon and a ton of advice on the web, so I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that everyone always believes a ‘logical’ spread sheet and the findings of ‘market research’. You may have to doctor some elements of the story for an audience, but never kid yourself. It’s your own money/life on the line.
McDonald’s first owners only thought in terms of a couple of diners. Ray Kroc bought them and thought of a couple of thousand. Don’t limit yourself by the lack of imagination that is often corporate Australia. The owners of corporate Australia, usually USA, German, Japanese or UK businesses, don’t think small time. But as they want you to only run Australia, and they don’t want you to run the world, (that’s their job) they happily keep their employees dream’s small. If your idea will work in Frankston, it will probably work in Frankfurt too.
Start Career Change Instantly
There’s a book I read once called The First 90 Days. The premise was that the first 90 days of any relationship is vital, sets up the ground-work for it forever on. So it’s critical to get things on the right foot straight away. If you’re going to change how you do things or how you react to things or for that matter have a personality change, do it as soon as you decide to take the leap. It’s the same with employing people or getting a new squeeze. Set up the systems straight away, so they think ‘this is how it is, this is how it’s always going to be’. If you want them cleaning the dishes or buying take-away on the way home, start pretty close to the first date.
Take your contacts
The most important things for survival are the soft mushy human ones you’ve made into friends. You’ve probably collected hundreds without even realizing it. Take your data-base along with you. But have key people; one for motherly advice, one for collecting money advice, one for motivation, a couple to flirt with etc. etc. While many firms have written into their work contracts that you can’t actually contact clients, there’s usually nothing about suppliers, advisors or work colleagues, and they know potential clients, know lawyers, accountants or graphic artists, media people etc.
Take their systems
If you don’t actually storm out in a fit of pique, but like a player, plan and stage your exit with more dignity, it gives you a chance to write down the business systems you think work. Systems are vital – they make businesses run well. Get a little note book or send yourself emails whenever you notice processes going on, whether they are financial tracking, how orders are placed etc. It’s a pain in the arse trying to remember how everything is done when you’ve left, but easy to observe /document as they happen. Template everything you can.
Everyone’s an Expert
I mean the taxi driver. Your mother’s cousin from Kanzas. The dog. And finally, on my list of those not to listen to – all the accountants you ever met socially.
Now’s the time your training and professional experience really pays off. Manage all contact points. Be integrated. Don’t scrimp on thinking it through. The plumber’s home tap often drips. If your marketing has holes, it’ll cost you a mint.
Your Mum loves you. So she might lend you some money. So does your rich uncle Peter. The bank won’t unless it’s against a house. I know of no one who’ll lend against projected cash flow in Australia. If you find some group who may, please, please send me their details. There are millions of decent, law-abiding, well-run businesses out there who would like to meet them.
Venture Capitalists, like ‘business Angels’ (which are really just individuals playing at being VC’s) are a source for money but notoriously expensive, ‘cause they take such a big slice. So are the various, exciting-sounding government grants, mainly because the time that goes into winning them is often more than they are worth.
Put some skin in the game
In smaller start-ups, it’s almost always all your money. If you want people to lend you money, you usually have to put in too. This can be done as a salary sacrifice, but most of the time cold hard cash (you might draw against) is the only credible thing. You’ll only have a voice if you put in lots and it does give you a tool to hold onto power. Power is critical. If in a year or two you find yourself getting up at 5 am to do the books for a board meeting, you’ll remember this advice…those with the power sleep in.
Paying for things
Equity is the most expensive money you ever borrow because you have to keep paying it off forever. Avoid it. Don’t give away equity (shares) for favours that you could pay for easily, especially basic services like accounting or engineering design etc., no matter how much it sounds like a good idea at the time. Control and not having to answer to others is so much more important than paying for a few hundred hours of someone’s work at the front end. If you are short on money, stretch out the payments over some months, but it’s best if you negotiate that first. Don’t be surprised if the ‘smarter’ people insist on payments up front. They’ve heard that start-ups invariably fail.
The failure rate of new enterprises is another fear-factor concept designed to keep employees in their place. They tell you 9/10 fail. Shock horror, your family will loose the house and your kids will starve. I did some work with a major bank and it turned out to be bunkem. We analysed the businesses that supposedly ‘failed’. It came down to a definition of failure. What is simply change and growth, on the surface looks like them going bust. They often didn’t. As most businesses start out as a trading name, turn into a company, then become a trust, may change it’s name, float or get sold to the kids for tax reasons…every few years what was legally one entity became another. It’s just morphed like Madonna into a new vehicle. Same people running the show, same customers/products etc. Failure rates are way lower like one in 2 or even 3? Interestingly, women entrepreneurs have a much lower failure rate than men. One reason seems to be that they usually don’t think they know everything – they ask people for help.
Swim with the fishes
Make mates with people who run their own businesses – it’s amazing what a bit of advice/right suppliers can do for your day.
Don’t ignore legal stuff
Many promising businesses have gone bust because they have missed taxes or permits, insurance etc.
If they are friends, they often won’t be in 10 years. If they are spouses, see previous sentence. Likewise, someone has to make the tough decisions and be the ‘boss’. However you may hide your dark side, make sure when it matters, this is you.
The really good ideas are those you hadn’t heard of until you read about them on a blog. Facebook. “I’m going to get a bunch of kids to put all their details on this website, including where their tattoos are” .. or Twitter “Kids are going to tell us what they had for breakfast… Why they did their nails in green”. Would you have considered that?
There’s still lots of scope for businesses based on the sheer nature of man, like food, environmental, or ones that do things fast and easy, porn etc.
Innovation, especially within established industries, pays well. Things that you’ve always wanted to do, like starting a ski school or teaching rich women about shopping in Paris, might sound great, but doing it lots over time will ruin it for you.
Learn to budget
Sometimes your money has to stretch to Mars.
Cash is king
Think cash flow. CASH FLOW. Which is why it’s best to get a customer or a thousand before you jump. This is not to say you should sell too cheap – many people go broke making sales. However, it’s a fine balance. You’re better to have a sale and some money, than no sale. Keep your expenses to those you must make. The only time to splash out is when you’ve retired.
Look after your other lives
Your kids, your sex life. Your friends. You’ll probably own several businesses over the years. (I’ve already owned about 10) But you only get one set of key relationships and the buggers remember when you weren’t around.