01/06/2015

By Jerome Laredo, Lightspeed


So you want to start your own business. You’ve got the idea, the ambition and are about to embark on life as an entrepreneur. What will it be like in the uncharted waters of a small enterprise?

Do you really need a partner?

It’s your business so your DNA should run through it. My response therefore to anyone pondering the possibility of a potential business partnership would be ‘think twice’. Unless you need a particular individual’s expertise, contacts, time or money it’s probably best to kick off as a solo entrepreneur. Having a partner slows down the decision-making process, splits the profits and can blur the original idea before it comes to life. This isn’t a social experiment and a pastime for friends. Be really cautious about starting a business when you are only going to have 50% of the company – or less. There seems to be a lot of start-ups in the hospitality industry that employ family members and no doubt a small handful of these are successful. Working with your nearest and dearest can be fraught with problems. I have first-hand experience of working alongside my father and brother and although I learned an enormous amount, I’m more than aware of the family tensions and lack of formal boundaries that can spill over into the workplace. Promoting a family member may smack of favouritism to your workforce which could be demotivating for some. My advice? Go for it alone. Seek advice from business coaches and advisors by all means, but remember that ultimately you run the show.

What’s on paper?

Don’t spend months researching a business plan. It could be out of date before you get your first customer. I believe in the power of action so rip up any rulebook that requires you to spend many hours outlining mission statements and elevator pitches. Get hands on as soon as possible. Act. Try things and don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes. The only time you’ll need a formal written business plan is when you are deciding to make a big sales pitch or asking a bank for money. This is open season for you now so keep your eyes and ears open and adapt your idea as needed to appeal to the market.

You can’t be too customer-centric

The customer is king. Treat them with respect. If you are honest, deliver on time and provide excellent customer service then you are doing what you need to do to succeed. Of course you will face the odd mistake, disappointed client or bashing on social media but how you deal with that could, in fact, be the making of you. My experience is that however dire the situation, having a healthy dialogue with your customers means that you can turn even the most negative experience into a positive. Some of my best relationships with customers have been forged from shaky beginnings.

Get out there

A business grows and adapts by networking. Yes – networking. Take the plunge however awkward it may seem at first and prepare to see your company expand. Business opportunities don’t clock off when you do so it’s worth spending an evening a week meeting business people whether it’s through a chamber of commerce, alumni or trade association. Even the most mundane situation can be used to your advantage. Every time I sit next to someone on a plane I get a new idea.

Employ the right people

Business relies on people’s performance for its success. When you’re ready to take on your first employees it is essential that you hire the right people for the job. A fast-moving environment will need staff who are willing to adapt and thrive. I have a reputation for being a very slow hirer and for good reason. I like to find the person who is the right cultural fit for my company. And it’s not always those that seem right on paper. For example, a prospective candidate with a CV packed full of big brand experience may seem very tempting. Their career to date could impress your clients. However an employee from the world of big business may find start-up life extremely stressful. Gone will be the stability of corporate life only to be replaced by loosely defined job roles and a greater feeling of uncertainty. So, take a wider view, and make interviews a collective responsibility. Ask your colleagues to help you in your quest to find each new member of the team.

Tap into the tech

It’s unthinkable nowadays to imagine running a business without technology at your fingertips. Every aspect of the business can most likely benefit from technology so it’s worth the investment. Think ahead when making any purchase to ensure that the systems you set up can handle your company as it changes shape and grows. The cloud is probably one of the most important innovations for small business in recent years. The ability to access information about your business at any time, from any location will allow you to escape from the office or shop periodically but still keep on top of every activity.

Trust yourself

Businesses fail every year. Don’t let that put you off. There are many great places to go for advice and many people to hunt out that can offer you words of wisdom. The challenges faced and sense of achievement experienced makes it all worthwhile. Don’t fear failure. Even Richard Branson knows a thing or two about that.