What you should know before starting a business

Thinking of starting a business? Hayley Parsons gives a few pointers to consider before you leap into self-employment.

The thought of running your own business is exciting; you imagine the freedom of being your own boss, earning money for yourself instead of someone else and the choice to work when and how you want to. In most cases the opposite is true.

The thought of running your own business is exciting; you imagine the freedom of being your own boss, earning money for yourself instead of someone else and the choice to work when and how you want to. In most cases the opposite is true.

There’s a great saying that entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

It is so true; you must be prepared to work your guts out, at the beginning it will be for little reward and you are at the beck and call of your clients or customers.

But don’t let that put you off, as it is so worth it. There are, however, a few fundamental things you have to get right before you take the plunge.

To business plan or not to business plan? It’s a difficult question. I have met many people who are so intimidated by the thought of writing a business plan that they give up before they even start their business.

I also know some people who find a business plan an integral step in mapping out their business, with clear steps of where it is going.

I’m a great believer in going with your gut on this and doing what best suits you and your business. When I set up my company I had a business plan, but it wasn’t very polished, but it was what I needed at the time to get the business off the ground.

If you need investment or a loan then the people you are approaching for money will need some sort of an idea of where you are going to spend their money and what the long-term aspirations for the company are, but it doesn’t have to be set in stone. And if writing a plan is putting you off starting a business at all, then don’t bother.

But having some kind of a roadmap of where the business will be in a year or two years’ time will help you.

You can look back at it and see how much you have achieved in such a short time, or you can look back and realise that doing what you’re doing isn’t as easy as you first thought. A plan is just that; what you hope to achieve, not what you necessarily have to achieve.

What if you don’t succeed?

Consider what you’ve got to lose. What is the worst that could happen if you don’t succeed? Can you afford not to earn for a few months?

Are you investing everything you’ve got into this business? If so, consider it very carefully; if you have done your research and know that you have customers ready and waiting for your product or service, and you take the plunge with your eyes wide open to the risk you are taking, then go for it.

You’ve made the decision to go for it, so don’t look back. Have the courage of your convictions and always look forward. If you find yourself considering the life you had before you went it alone, maybe self-employment isn’t for you.

As I mentioned earlier, be prepared to work like you’ve never worked before, but also prepare your family and friends for the changes in your workload.

Running your own business is all consuming, it means you might not be able to make that birthday party or that you miss that girls’ night out, but it will be worth it, and your friends and family will understand, as long as you manage their expectations.

This won’t be forever, but in the first few years of starting a business your time and your life is not your own.

Get your little black book out and use every contact you have to get your name and your business out there. Ring old friends and colleagues, call in favours, ask for introductions and network like you’ve never networked before.

Never be scared to ask for advice and help from those friends and colleagues and to take it. Many people will have been in the same position as you at some point in their career and will be more than happy to help you and see you succeed.

All new businesses go through major ups and downs and you just have to ride that storm. Don’t look back and don’t over analyse too much. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

But above all else enjoy the ride. It’s a rollercoaster but one that, if you are successful, you will look back on fondly and a time when you will learn more than you ever thought possible and work harder than you have ever done before.

Hayley Parsons is the founder and former CEO of Gocompare.com.

Further reading on starting a business

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