I realised this week that it’s almost exactly a year since I took the decision to set up my own consultancy company. Reflecting on the last year, one of the main things that has struck me is just how much help and encouragement I have received along the way, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Of course you need to have a good business plan, marketable products or services, and a fair bit of luck to succeed in any new venture. It is undoubtedly a risky and intimidating experience at times, but I’ve benefited from the following three factors much more than I would have anticipated.
1. People want you to succeed
Perhaps the hardest part of setting up a business on your own is exactly that – you are on your own. I now have no colleagues to share a joke with or commiserate with at the end of a hard day, and the success or failure of the whole enterprise rests entirely on my shoulders.
Yet by stepping out into the unknown I have discovered instead a much broader network of people who have been willing to give me the benefit of their time and expertise, without any shared interest in the success of my company. Past colleagues who have taken the time to make introductions for me or give me advice. Friends and family members who have believed in what I’m doing, and helped me to do the same. Other entrepreneurs who have given me the benefit of their experience. Virtual strangers who have been kind enough to respond to my tentative enquiries, or have been willing to take the risk of working with me despite my business’s short track record. Almost invariably I’ve found that people respect those who have taken the risk of setting up a new business, and are genuinely willing to help them succeed.
This is certainly true for me now when I come into contact with other small businesses. Regardless of the differences in the nature of our work, I feel a strong affinity for the independent retailers at my local row of shops, the plumber who fixes my boiler, the builder I ask to quote on a leaking roof. I realise that they too know the ups and downs of running a small business, and that they rely on people like me choosing to buy from them. Wherever possible, I now prefer to support other small businesses through my purchasing decisions, instead of further filling the coffers of multinational companies.
2. There really isn’t that much red tape
It’s fair to say that a lot of my first month as a start-up company was spent filling in forms of one kind of another. Companies House, HMRC, the Information Commissioner, insurers, bankers, professional bodies, trade associations, there seemed to be no end to it all for a while. Yet having dealt with the initial registrations and approvals in that early period, I have since been pleasantly surprised by how little bureaucracy I encounter on a day-to-day basis. Contrary to popular belief, most of the legislative demands placed on my business seem entirely reasonable and proportionate. This is not to say they aren’t annoying at times, just that I can see why I have to do it. Having spent most of my career working in large organisations which were highly regulated and/or bureaucratic, this has made for a refreshing change.
I am of course conscious that setting up a consultancy is one of the easiest and lowest risk ways to start a business there is. I have no employees to worry about, no stock levels to manage, no investors to satisfy, and very few suppliers to pay. In addition, my background as a Chartered Accountant undoubtedly helps me navigate some of the financial and legal issues that may bamboozle others. Yet with a bit of expert advice and support where it is needed, I’m convinced that most people would find they are more productive in a small organisation than a large one. And this is without mentioning the reduction in e-mail traffic that comes from working in an organisation of one rather than several thousand…
3. There’s more help available than you think
Another thing my eyes have been opened to is how much help is available from organisations in the public and private sector for people starting businesses of any kind. As a start-up company I’ve qualified for all sorts of free services that others have to pay for (such as business banking, legal advice, accreditation with a professional body). I’ve been able to attend events on growing a business and developing my marketing skills, all at no charge, and I get sent more invites to access support, funding, advice and networking services than I can begin to draw on. My existing association with the University of Nottingham meant I knew a bit about what universities had to offer businesses, but even so I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much support is available from universities, local councils, the Federation of Small Businesses and many others. Even dealing with the dreaded tax man has been better than I feared. While it’s already a year since I incorporated my company, it’ll still be another 6 months or more till my first corporation tax bill falls due.
Perhaps it’s just because I notice these things more now, but in general I have been impressed by what seems to be a new-found enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in Britain. I’m grateful to be able to benefit from this in my own small way, and as one of only 20% of SMEs with overseas customers I hope I am bringing some benefit back to the UK in return. Yet I’m more grateful still to all the friends, family, former colleagues, clients, contacts and so many others who’ve supported me over the last 12 months, whether you were aware of it not. Thank you to all.