On a June day about three weeks ago when House of Fraser announced they were closing 31 stores, a producer from a London-based national radio station emailed to ask if I would talk live on air during their drivetime show about making a small business work in 2018. Their drivetime show runs from 1700 to 1900 but you could probably guess that, right? Her email was timed after the show had started.
I declined. I wasn’t prepared to talk about such a big topic at such short notice.
It’s all very well talking on the hoof to Nicola each week on Own It! (see below) where we have a regular 400+ listeners, and where I do get time to prepare like a proper pro, but 800,000 listeners with no prep time is quite another proposition. What I would say though is that if any radio station would like to set up a regular phone-in for self-employed people, I’m your woman. It’s what I do already for my clients and there are five million self-employed people in the UK alone and I’d love to help more of my soul mates.
But I have found the question so interesting that I have reflected upon it on and off ever since.
I would probably start with taking issue with their use of the word “making”. I am not sure we make anything work so much as turn up with our best intentions and allow it to take shape. But I am nitpicking. And I am not sure that starting from being made redundant after a short or even a long career in retail is your best preparation unless you want to open a shop of course. Then you’re quids in. Especially if they are paying redundancy after having taught you what you need to know to join the nation of shopkeepers. You’re probably gagging to have a go where your dinosaur employer failed.
I think trading conditions in 2018 are the hardest I have ever known them to be. Does that mean it is going to be impossible or difficult to make your small business work? No. But it is good to remember that you are not in this in splendid isolation, you are offering your clients and customers services and products in very specific financial times, where people think hard about what they spend their money on. Many would say that’s an ideal time to start because if you can make it now then you can make it anytime. It’s up to you New York, New York.
Maybe. Depends. Poss. Dunno. Regular readers will know I am in the business of encouragement but a little dose of first-hand reality never goes amiss either. I’ve been in business for 41 years and right now trading conditions are harder than ever, that’s all I’m saying. Do not misunderstand me and there’s no need to be discouraged either. It’s good to know where we are in the economic cycle.
That aside, it takes some or all of the following and I know there will be others I’ve left out. I hope you will write to me about those.
Good Health – if you don’t have that all of the time or even most of the time, your progress will be slower. Not impossible but slower and you will have to be patient with yourself and work when you are well enough and not when you are not.
Time – like good health, if the amount of time that’s available to you for your self-employment is restricted for any reason, so will your progress be. Again, not impossible, just a steeper climb and a slower one to reach your desired destination.
Energy – if you’ve got loads or can get it, you have an advantage.
Passion – if you haven’t got that, I wouldn’t bother. I’d go looking for something you are on fire with because that IS what it takes.
Resilience – for the knockbacks. If you can master a rubbery bounce back psyche, it’ll help you with the naysayers, the disbelievers, the antis and the downright critical. They will all appear to offer you their unsolicited opinions. Say thank you and ignore them, carry on and do what you were intending anyway.
The Capacity to Keep On Keeping On – see resilience, with added recognition of how long it might take since it isn’t overnight and these days, that’s how we want everything – instantly.
Discipline and Self-Discipline – it will behove you to develop some of this. It’s like strengthening your core, so much easier to run the marathon with a supportive middle bit. Running 26 miles isn’t all in the stamina and legs and carb-loading the night before. Who knew?
Self-belief – it would be a toss-up between this one and passion if I could only have one. You need passion at the start. Self-belief grows but don’t wait for evidence. You can do this. One chat with me will prove that. We all tend to underestimate ourselves and our achievements and think there must be something wrong with us. We are flawed, sure. But not enough to stop you making your small business work in 2018.
A Preparedness to Embrace Marketing or to source an expert and partner with them or pay them. This is non-negotiable. Sales is a close cousin but easy by comparison. Once you have people’s attention and have created desire, you just let them buy.
Personal Growth. No avoiding it. Self-employment highlights your personal weaknesses in a way which will make you gasp. No matter. We don’t wait until you’ve mastered all that stuff before you start, you learn and assimilate as you go and self-employment accelerates that journey. You could hide those flaws much more easily in a job, though it’s stressful to do that there too, I know.
A Sense of Humour – it’s that or crying. Laughing is much better therapy and it comes with the added benefit of lengthening your life.
Patience – this will take time. I say that above. Twice, in different ways. But one foot in front of the other over and over and over and always and you will get there.
The Ability to Delay Gratification – yep, you won’t get paid what you want from Day One. Don’t do this forever. If your business cannot afford to pay you, you don’t have a business. And no-one in their right minds will lend you money to pay your own salary. Unless they love you very much indeed or you have some other arrangement going on. If you do, what is it???
A Peer Group or Community of like-minds, all doing what you are doing, so you can feel normal and supported. Not normal like the rest of the world, just normal enough to relax and stop thinking that there’s something wrong with you because you are not like everyone else with career ambitions in jobs.
The Willingness to Outsource and trust others to help you and the resourcefulness to find the money for that. Learn some new things but don’t learn ALL new things. Do what you are good at and get help with the rest in due time.
Ask Others for Help. It’s been proven that they like you more when you do. Don’t be all give and no take or vice versa.
Don’t Follow Rules Blindly. Trust yourself. Make up your own mind. Find the workaround. Rebel. Do it your way. Create a new way sometimes, not all the time. Don’t be cowed. Don’t kowtow. You are an Entrepreneur now.
I think it is quite useful if there is no alternative, i.e. you don’t have someone or something to fall back on. A friend said to me today that she wasn’t happy ever in a job and now that she was back self-employed again, she could exhale in relief, she felt more herself. If a job never worked out for you, this is probably why. You were born to work for yourself.
This list isn’t exhaustive. I know as I put my head on my pillow tonight I will think of lots more things we need and want but no matter, we probably haven’t got them anyway, we can develop some as we go and we might as well crack on without thinking about it too much or we’d never start!