I’ve been lucky enough in my life to find an amazing lady to share my journey with, and we’ve had two wonderful girls join us along the way. We’ve also suffered sorrow and tough times, as many people do. However, I must say none of that prepares you in any way for the year we’ve just had.
Starting your own business is bloody tough, believe me, and what I’d like to do is share some of these experiences with you my friends. Shared experiences are important and I hope that some of you out there can relate to the things I talk about here; for those that are just starting out, that you can perhaps find some comfort in the fact that others out there feel the same. I’d love to hear of your experiences of going into business.
Helping People on their Transformation Journey
On a cold November day in 2015, a group of 5 got together in Nottingham to talk about an opportunity of setting up our own business design and technology consultancy. We felt we really had something to offer to our future customers, and firmly believed that we had a stronger set of shared values than many of our soon to be competitors; we were going to be honest and simply deliver on our promises. After all, that’s all it takes, honesty, hard work and a bright idea……. easy, right?
With fire in our hearts, we were ready to take on the big 4, to be the underdog, to become the people’s choice, a company for a new generation.
Hitting the Wall
As any new business owner will tell you, it’s not long before the initial enthusiasm wanes and inevitably mistakes happen. However, we learnt an awful lot, and one of the few things that I still believe we got right was to spend our first couple of months focusing on our brand image and messaging. By early January 2016 we had a spanking new website, a logo and branded documents, this is precisely what success looks like.
Coincidentally the actual messaging we came up with in the early days wasn’t strong enough and we’re re-focusing as we speak to really nail down the value of the Services we offer. Another key lesson learned.
January also saw an unexpected amount of free time for myself where I could build on our ‘success’, a 3-year business plan was crafted and we worked up our first couple of bids – absolute masterpieces I can assure you. However, February hit us hard (good and not so good), we landed a customer and then in quick succession, we lost some bids and our team of 5 was reduced to 4. I caught myself saying, ‘hold on, this wasn’t part of the plan?’. And that’s when the realisation hit me, this was going to be a lot harder than we all first thought.
I seriously began to wonder what we were doing that was so wrong. The honest answer to that is absolutely nothing; we were doing, in the main, all the right things. We threw in all our efforts and emotions to try and capture that sweet taste of success, but despite unwavering belief, it simply wasn’t forthcoming.
Let’s just say that March followed suit and spirits had dropped, but then suddenly success arrived and we landed a new customer – YES! This was the start, it was only going to keep getting better and better, success drives success!
Weighing in with Experience
Time for a stock take thought I…
In 5 months we had moved from a conversation in Nottingham to having 2 paying customers for our Services. Not only that, we needed no capital investment and we remained debt free. It’s also worth stating that this was achieved effectively ‘out of hours’ as all of the team remained in existing work. But this again, almost proved to be our undoing and was the crux of our issues, as you’ll see when I explain how the remainder of 2016 panned out.
My stomach turned on a daily basis. Our journey was more like a roller-coaster. We had done a couple of huge drops, bringing on feelings of fear, but now we had hit a loop the loop and the fun had just begun. YES! This is what success looks like!
where’s the bloody track gone!……
The customer we won in March and had done good work for, suddenly stopped (not through a poor service I must stress), and worse still, a promised testimonial for our fine work to place on our website never materialised, and radio silence ensued. The reputation of your business is one of, if not the, most crucial tools in achieving success and is imperative for a start-up Services business.
Panic began to set in, strains on personal and professional relations now began to show and stress reared its ugly head; was this all going to prove to be too much? Where we in danger of losing it all and having to crawl away, tails tucked between our legs? Absolutely not! A resolute will is a must in operating your own business, finding a way to always support and be supported by your team, means that there is always a chance. We still had our existing customer, who was grateful for the work that we had done and our team now had some great experience in delivering various work packages too.
This incident caused us to pivot somewhat and we soon changed tact as the summer months rolled on. Whilst we remained on the lookout for opportunities from our existing relationships, we did move away from the bitter pit of disappointment that is the ‘cold bidding’ process, instead looking to build on our marketing. We started blogs to try and enhance our brand and show people that we thought and acted differently to the competition and began to drop a few well-placed advertisements – we are here, please call us!! Lady luck and some excellent negotiations bagged us some free resource, with one of the team being released from their existing role to work for 2 days a week dedicated to Marjolo at no cost. This was a turning point, it really allowed us to get to grips with some seriously focussed messaging about the business. Not only that, it helped ease my mind and I may even have been able to sleep at night; occasionally anyway.
As 2016 moved into autumn and beyond, we were picking up momentum (YES! Success at last!) with new customers arriving and further interest coming into the pipeline.
Despite all that, with the start of 2017 came another worry, I think the phrase that came to mind was
‘this s*** just got real’
Being able to build and establish a foundation throughout the 2nd part of 2016 was a turning point for our business. We now have a growing number of folk’s full time on the Marjolo books, with the rest of the team remaining as freelance specialists; for now. By investing in dedicated business development and support, we are now looking stronger and can certainly build a firm business throughout the rest of the year. Most importantly, I’m in love with our business and what we are achieving.
YES! This is what success feels like!
But hold on, why am I still having sleepless nights and an appetite that ranges from ravenous to eating less than a mouse on rations? Because despite our success, there’s now a whole new level of stress. We must now build upon our foundations, maintaining a sustainable business, but not only that, I’m now responsible for people’s careers, their income and their future’s; now that is a whole new level of scary.
My reflections so far:
· I would encourage any would be start up to do their homework first, and really think it through before you begin your journey.
· You really need to understand what it is that you offer (Service vs Product), we can’t all just simply be a hipster coffee shop start up and assume that people will come flocking.
· A small investment in ‘Your Brand’ and marketing materials is well worth it.
· Trying to build something new, whilst being risk adverse is a little like pushing water up a hill. But having the right core team around to give you a nudge or reign you back in accordingly is a must – it’s far too easy to get over excited.
· I would say that early doors, you really must make sure that you’re able to have one person dedicated to your business development.
· No matter how ready you think you are; trust me, you are not. But please don’t let this stop you, just be conscious of this and the impact it will have on you and those around you; be sure that you go in with your eyes fully open.
I hope this may have provided some useful insight to you. Do please share your own experiences via the article on LinkedIn and drop us a line if you would like to talk. If you have enjoyed this blog, do be sure to check out the rest of our stories and experiences.
I’ll see you on the road.