Big Wide Ocean: Strategies For Worry Free Business
Author: ApproachableLawyer

Chapter 1
LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Chapter 1: Look Before You Leap

 

You take a deep breath as you compose yourself.  As the sun rises over the horizon it draws you like a magnet to start running towards the end of the pier.  The heart quickens as the anticipation rises.  The legs kick against the wooden decking and you’re off.  Now you are committed the end of the pier draws closer and then… you jump.

Eyes open … all you can see is bubbles.  You didn’t realize the water would be so cold - from the outside it looked so inviting. The heart races as you float to the top.  You take a quick breath to see that you have already been swept some way from the pier by the current.  Then something brushes your feet.  You retract your legs and start kicking. Do you swim back or keep going?

Standing on the pier everything seemed so tranquil.  The sun glistened on the big wide ocean as it popped its head over the horizon.  The blue of the ocean seemed to be begging you to jump in.

Many people have felt exactly the same way when going into business for the first time.  The prospect of going it alone seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.  But often the reality is not the same as the expectation.  The water may be colder than you think.  You may get swept out of your comfort zone by the current. And then there are the perils and predators that live beneath the ocean.

So, is making the leap the right decision for you?  If you have made the leap already it is never too late to get out of the water or equip yourself with the tools and strategies to make your time in the water more worry free and create a successful business. 

So if you are wondering whether to take the leap (or wondering whether taking the leap was the right decision), consider the following:

▪    Have you confronted the brutal reality of taking the plunge into the business ocean?

▪    Do you have the personality of a business owner or entrepreneur?

▪    Is your timing right?

 

Health Warning:  Reading the first two chapters of this book can seriously damage your enthusiasm for business.  DON’T PANIC.  It’s a deliberate strategy for you to confront the reality of being in business.  The remaining chapters of this book teach you how to survive in business and become successful.  If you get through the first two chapters in one piece you have what it takes.

 

HAVE YOU CONFRONTED THE BRUTAL REALITY OF PLUNGING INTO THE BUSINESS OCEAN?

Statistics show that between 33-43% of businesses fail in their first 7 years of trading (depending on which statistics you read).  When statistics are produced they tend to focus on “real business failures”.  In other words, where the business has become insolvent (and therefore been liquidated).  However, there are many cases where the business fails to live up to the expectations of the business owner.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the business has run out of cash.  It may simply be that the business owner finds himself or herself working excessive amounts of time in the business only to generate a modest profit.  All of a sudden it dawns on the business owner that the business doesn’t warrant the investment of time, energy or stress.  In this scenario, the business owner has two options: either sell the business as a going concern or liquidate.  A sale is the most preferable route and it is likely to generate the best return on capital invested (though not necessarily on energy invested).  So the business gets sold, but does not get added to the long statistical list of business failures.  But, if you were to ask the business owner whether the business venture was a success, he or she would in all likelihood say “no”, simply because his or her goals were not achieved.  The statistics therefore may not be totally  accurate reflection of business failure.  That is not good news if you are thinking of going into business or have done so already.  So before you make the leap into the big wide ocean or even if you have already made the leap, pause for a while to reflect on what you hope to achieve.

What are your goals?

Have you really identified your motivation for going into business?  It is important that you do and that you are very specific about your motivation. The reason is simple.

If you jump off the pier into the water, you will either sink or swim.  Swimming takes a lot of effort.  Even treading water takes a lot of effort.  In the same way, growing a business takes a lot of hard work and investment of time and money.  At times you will become stressed.  Even keeping your business ticking over can be draining and exhausting.  Throughout that time you are likely to receive knock backs or experience times when you will wonder whether it was all worthwhile setting up the business in the first place. It will be your ability to bounce back from those set backs and persevere when times are tough that will see you through to the good times.  And there will be good times (possibly better than you imagined).  Your ability to do both these things will come down to one thing, and one thing only: your motivation for being in business in the first place.  If your motivation is strong, you will survive.  If it is weak, then you are more likely to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

It is no coincidence that many business owners go into business for the first time after a bad experience in the employment sector.  That bad experience could be anything from frustration in your work, a nightmare boss or a redundancy.  It is the pain of that experience that spurs you on to create a better existence in the self employed sector.  As a matter of psychology, human beings want to avoid pain and experience pleasure.  Research seems to suggest that pain avoidance is a more compelling motivator than gaining pleasure.  Whatever it is for you, you must be very clear in your own mind why you are going into business, because when times are tough you will automatically compare your current situation with the alternative.  For your business to survive, the option of remaining in business must be more compelling.  For a large part, your ability to see beyond your current situation (pain) to the bigger picture (pleasure) will be what drives you on.  If the pain/pleasure equation works the other way your business will not survive.  Hold onto the big goal and you are motoring.

This book will not give you the motivation to run your business.  What it will do is give you strategies for reducing your worry and dealing with those challenging situations that will inevitably crop up in the start up years.  That means that in the tough times, the future will be brighter and your motivation will be far more likely to see you through.

What is your motivation?

So let’s define your motivation.  Generally, there are three reasons for going into business.  You may relate to one or more of these three. They are:

▪    to obtain freedom to do as you wish;

▪    to earn more money;

▪    to create a valuable asset – value may not be measured in dollar terms but in its value to the community.

Let’s look at each in turn.

I want to be free….!

Work had become a drag. Even getting up in the morning seemed like hard work. It was almost like being in jail with no way out. It never used to be like that, but after 5 years with the company the work no longer excited Jerry.  He could see that the company was losing money and had identified ways of turning things around. But his boss had always been sceptical of new ideas and preferred the old ways, which until now had proven successful.  But, times were changing in the industry and the company was losing traction.

The alternative for Jerry was to find another job but vacancies in Jerry’s field were scarce and were unlikely to offer much more money. On the other hand, Jerry had become an expert in his field. Starting up his own business would give him the opportunity to test his ideas and earn more money, but most of all give him freedom. No longer would he be tied to 4 weeks holiday per year and an 8.30am to 6pm work day. He would be his own boss, answerable only to his customers and could employ his own staff to do the work for him.  Having staff to do the work would allow him to follow his other passions of travel and sailing which is really what he wanted to do. With that to look forward to, motivation should not be a problem. Jerry made the leap.

Jerry’s story may be familiar to many business owners, and for many the freedom of time is the most valuable of rewards in having a successful business. Many business owners would place it above having more money, since money is nothing without the time to enjoy it.  Having free time enables you to enjoy not only money, but also personal and family relationships. Yet whilst many business owners seek freedom of time, not all achieve it (though they may achieve more money). The 8.30am to 6pm work day turns into the 14 hour work day. Your clients and customers become your new boss and your business demands that you take no holiday. Weekends are also lost to the business and family life suffers.  This can be endured for a while, but eventually something has to give. Often it is the business (though it can be the family).   There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel to ease the pain of the current situation.  So the original motivation is lost and the business becomes another statistic on the pile of business failures.

The sad thing is that this could all have been avoided. This book explains how.

I want the nice house in the country

Alison’s dream was to own a house, all to herself. But rising property prices seemed to be pushing her dream further and further away. The sum needed for a deposit was getting larger and larger.  Alison had started saving some time ago but her salary wasn’t keeping pace with the property market. Promises of a pay rise had not materialised. Rival companies were offering a similar rate of pay so the only option was a promotion. That’s when it dawned on her. Even if Alison became the best that she could be in her field, as an employee there would always be a ceiling on her salary.

When she started work, her salary offered security and the ability to pay the day to day bills. It even offered her a reasonable standard of living: nights out with the girls and the odd dinner out with her partner. But that was all. Saving to achieve her goal would take a lot of time even if she followed her career path to the end. Setting up her own business offered an alternative. Her income would be dependent on her own success, not someone else’s. Alison thought hard and decided to back herself. Alison made the leap.

Unfortunately for Alison, after 3 years in business on her own she was only earning marginally more than she could in the employment sector.  By the time she had paid taxes, overheads and other expenses, she felt she hadn’t really progressed any further.  Although self employed, it was really just another job.  Alison realized that to achieve her original goal, being self employed wasn’t enough.  She needed to create a real business.  In other words, a business which would generate revenue for her regardless of whether she was working in the business or sitting on a beach.  This book suggests strategies for doing that.

I want to sell so I can retire

When Sam Morgan sold Trademe to Fairfax newspapers for millions of dollars in 2006, John was ecstatic. Not because John knew Sam Morgan or was about to share in a part of Sam’s new found wealth. No, simply because John wanted to be an entrepreneur just like Sam. The news of the sale fuelled John’s desire to set up his own .com company. Even if his business could be worth half of what Trademe sold for, John would be a very happy man.

As John read the story of how Sam Morgan had got his idea for Trademe after a fruitless search for an electric heater, how he used to live with his parents on a bus, never got a degree and worked tirelessly for weekends to promote the website, John felt a kind of affinity. If anything, John had more going for him: a great idea and a good degree. Surely John could be as successful? He thought so.  John made the leap.

Ten years later it wasn’t the lack of a good idea which prevented John selling his business: it was the lack of a real business.  John suddenly realised that a business was much more than a good idea. A business was a robust structure built in a solid foundation at which lay policies, procedures, and watertight agreements that allowed the business to be run by anyone, not just him.  By having these in place, there were fewer risks in the business for a potential purchaser. The goodwill and Intellectual Property were protected by a rigorously enforced Intellectual Property policy and there was no substantial risk of litigation. Most importantly, the customer base was loyal and had the potential to grow exponentially.

Unfortunately for John, the due diligence process carried out by his potential purchaser let up so many red flags that the offer was shortly off the table. John’s dream of selling his business for substantial amounts of money quickly faded. He had two options: either reduce his asking price considerably or invest more time and money getting the business right. Neither option was particularly attractive, and whichever he chose John knew that his retirement plan would need to be put on hold for a few years yet.  John wished that he had got it right the first time around.

So if your motivation for going into business is to build a valuable asset which you can later sell for lots of money and retire, this book will set you on the right track for building a sustainable and robust business.

The science of business failure is the key to success

If you walk into any high street bookstore you will see many books about business success.  Each adopts a different theory about how to create a successful business.  Some come from marketing perspective, some from a leadership perspective, and others from a strategy and execution perspective.  The various theories on offer can make very confusing reading for someone in the early stages of setting out in business. And let’s face it, not every business owner wants to create a business as successful as Wal-Mart or Cirque duSoliel.  For most, just getting through the first 7 years in one piece is a good starting point.  This book doesn’t offer a magic formula for business success.  What it does is offer simple strategies to prevent business failure.  By preventing business failure you give yourself a launch pad for a very successful business.

Fortunately, business failure is a science: It is predictable.  If you take any failed business and chart its business history you can identify where the business owner went wrong.  That is because it comes down to a simple equation:  cash in must be greater (or at least equal to) cash out.  Now this equation will not necessarily hold true in the early stages of the business.  In fact, very often it is the other way around.  The important thing is that year on year the gap between cash in and cash out is getting smaller and smaller whilst improving the capital value of the business.  For example, take the situation with 42 Below Vodka.  Before selling to Bacardi, 42 Below Vodka never turned a profit.  Instead, they had to keep borrowing from the bank.  The reason they were able to borrow from the bank was that they were able to demonstrate that the equation was swinging in their favour.  The owners were bought out for a very large sum of money.  Despite never turning a profit, Bacardi saw a valuable asset in the brand and a business that was moving in the right direction.  No one can deny that the business venture was a success for the original owners.  If you get it right, you could do this too.

So, to make the equation swing in your favour you must either generate more revenue or spend less (and preferably both), whilst creating a valuable asset.  In other words, you need to increase the earnings ratio on every dollar invested into your business.

This book will not tell you how to make more money.  For that, there are plenty of books on the bookshelves.  This book teaches you how to protect your earnings ratio.  So as you stand on the pier looking out at the big wide ocean, it may seem inviting and calm.  What you can’t see is the temperature of the water and what lies beneath the ocean:  the predators and dangers that can make your life as a business owner tricky at times.  The trap many business owners fall into is making the leap without appreciating what they are in for once they have taken the plunge.  Very soon they run into trouble and no matter how good their product or service may be, the earnings ratio gets damaged, sometimes irretrievably so that the business never recovers.  So, before you make the leap consider what lies beneath the ocean.  Confront the brutal reality of what building a business is all about.  This book will give you a route map to building a business on solid foundations and will give you an insight into what lies ahead.  It will help you confront the brutal reality of business and then give you strategies for overcoming the pitfalls.  OK.  So you’re still reading that’s a great sign you’ve got what it takes now let’s look at the inner you.

 

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

For some, swimming underwater is the ultimate of experiences.  Being underwater swimming amongst the sea life gives an amazing experience of freedom.  For others, the experience can be suffocating.  Having to rely only on an oxygen tank for air can be very frightening.  The heart rate increases and the need for oxygen increases.  Diving instructors can tell nervous divers by the amount of oxygen left in the tank at the end of the dive.  Those for whom the oxygen depletes at a rapid rate are not comfortable under water.

Similarly, not everyone is cut out to be a business owner.  Fortunately, for divers and business owners alike, this reality only becomes apparent once you are fully immersed in the water or the business.  It is never too late to get out and no embarrassment should attach to it.  Owning a business is simply not for everyone.

This begs the question of what makes a successful business owner.  What is it in the psychological make up of an entrepreneur which makes that person successful in the business world?  Numerous surveys and lengthy research has been conducted to find the right answer, but ultimately there is no perfect make up.  What is clear is that a successful business owner must possess all of the following traits to a greater or lesser degree. If one of the following traits does not exist or exists only in a marginal way, it will hinder that person’s ability to become a successful business owner unless he or she finds someone else who possesses that trait to work in with him or her.  Those traits are:

1.       A willingness to work hard. Every business owner will agree that no business gets off the ground without a lot of hard work by the business owner.  The basic premise of building a business is that you put a lot of work up front to reap the rewards much later on.  This is known as delayed gratification.  This contrasts with employment where an employee invests time and within a short period of time (between 1 week to a month) is rewarded for his efforts by a salary or wage.  A business owner may wait many years before seeing the fruits of her labour.  However, if you get it right the fruits eventually outweigh the investment much more than if you remained in employment.  It is just that you have to wait and be prepared to work very hard in the meantime.  If you are not prepared to do this, then going into business may not be for you.  If you are, read on. 

2.      You must be goal orientated.  Building a business is like swimming an ocean.  If you don’t have an eye on your destination, you can’t expect to get there.  Instead, you will go round and round in circles and be pushed off course  by the current never to reach your destination.  If you are not very good at setting goals then think twice about making the leap.  You could employ a business coach or a CEO to help you with goal setting, but at the end of the day you are the one swimming.  If you don’t set goals then decision making becomes difficult.  Ultimately, building a business will require you to make difficult decisions.  Clear goals make those decisions easy.  If you have got as far as thinking about going into business, then its likely you have goal setting abilities.  All you need to do now is practice setting them regularly.

3.      An ability to self motivate.  Building a business is never plain sailing all the time.  Challenges and road blocks will get in your way from time to time. Sometimes you will end up making bad decisions in the face of those road blocks. “One step forward and two steps back” is a common expression of many business owners at some stage of the business building cycle.  How you deal with these failures and setbacks will determine your success.  Will they paralyse your decision making ability?  Will they make you wallow in failure and cause you to miss other opportunities along the way?  Can you turn setback into opportunity?  The answer to all these questions will come down to your natural ability to self motivate.  People who can self motivate remain focused on the big picture.  They keep faith even though the brutal reality of their current situation is telling them to quit.  Since you’re still reading, you can probably tick this box.

4.      An ability to get on with other people.  Success in life can be resolved by a person’s ability to get on with other people.  This is never more so than in business.  Somehow you will have to win customers, negotiate with suppliers, deal with professional advisors and the list goes on.  Business is simply an inter connected series of organisations feeding off each other.  If you can’t connect, you die.  The better you can connect, the more successful you will be.  No man is an island.  The same applies to your business.

5.      A willingness to move outside your comfort zone.  Going into business for the first time will be an exercise in moving outside of your comfort zone.  Don’t let it stop there.  There will be many times in business where you will have to move outside of your comfort zone.  Don’t shy away from that – instead embrace it.  People say that successful entrepreneurs are risk takers and there is some degree of truth in that.  A better description is that they know how to take calculated risks and can calculate those risks quickly.  In other words, no risk is taken unless it has been weighed, measured and assessed.  There is a difference between taking a senseless risk and a calculated risk.  Both move you outside of your comfort zone, but only the latter should be the preserve of the business owner.  So if you are a risk taker, consider whether you need to be more calculated.  If you don’t like going outside of your comfort zone, building a business may become a stressful experience for you.  If you are in business already, you’ve already moved outside of your comfort zone once.  Now, just do it regularly.

6.      A willingness to learn and take advice.  If you think you know it all, it just means that you don’t know what you don’t know.  Successful business owners are not impressed by their own intelligence.  They understand that they don’t know everything (in fact, they often think they know very little).  That means they are willing to get and take advice where they are not experts.  They actively go about increasing their knowledge and surround themselves with the best people in their respective fields to provide advice.  In the early days of setting up a business you may not be able to employ experts or business coaches, or go to $1000 seminars, but it costs nothing to go to a library and read what the best minds in the world have to say about building a business.  If you are not prepared to continually educate yourself then your progress in building your business will be slow.  Hey, you’re reading this book aren’t you?

One of the interesting things about this list is that it doesn’t mention anywhere the need to have the ability to sell, market, manage cash, build a website, design a brochure, and so on.  There is no doubt that in the early stages of your business you will have to do all of these things to some degree. You will have to wear many hats, and some of those hats will not fit.  That in itself will not stop you being a successful business owner.  The reason is because all of these things can be learned to such a degree to make you competent.  You may not have a natural ability for them, but you can be competent and that should get you to the stage where you can either employ someone to do it for you or contract out that part of the work to another organisation.  A common mistake is not knowing when to delegate.  There is a simple answer to this:  if it is not one of your strengths, delegate it as soon as you anticipate that you will earn enough money to afford it.  Bear in mind that as soon as you delegate, it will free up your time to concentrate on your strengths and therefore allow you to earn more revenue.  If you wait until you can afford it, you have probably waited too long.

If you can’t delegate yet, then learn what is involved and do it yourself.  You will find strategies for doing that in this book.

IS YOUR TIMING RIGHT?

Full of expectation of what lies ahead in your quest for freedom you jump…….and then ….. Splat.  You land face down in four inches of water with sand up your nose.  As you look up, you realise that while you were deliberating whether to jump or not, the tide went out. 

Sometimes, the reason for business failure is simply that the business owner gets the timing wrong.  That can happen in one or two ways:  Either the business owner jumps too soon, or leaves it too late.  Both can be disastrous for the business.  There are a lot of factors to be taken into account when considering when to launch your business.  Some could be business or economy related, and others may just be personal.  Each is as important as the other. 

Have you jumped too soon?

Jumping too soon is like diving as the tide is starting to come in.  Essentially you adopt the position of the pioneer; the business owner who sets out in business to introduce the world to a completely new concept, product, or idea for which there is no existing market.

Unfortunately pioneers must work hard to become market leaders.  That is because pioneers have to invest a lot of time and money converting the marketplace to their concept before they are able to sell their product or service.

So essentially, they have two sales to make.  First they sell the idea and second, they sell their product or service which encapsulates that idea. 

Where pioneers go wrong is that they invest all their time and money selling the idea, and then just when the market grasps the idea and is ready to buy their product or service, someone else comes along, improves the product or service a little, then captures the market.  This competitor hasn’t had to invest any money or time in selling the idea.  They have let the pioneer do that.  All the competitor has had to do is invest their resources into copying and then improving upon the pioneer’s product or service.  In fact, sometimes the competitor doesn’t even need to do that.  They just spend more money on marketing and advertising to capture the market.  Essentially, a competitor leverages off the hard work off the pioneer whose cash reserves are starting to run dry.  There is no more frustrating experience for the pioneer business owner to see someone steal the market he/she had worked so hard to attract.

Of course, that is not to say that the pioneer business owner can’t be successful.  But he/she needs to understand that it is going to take some time for the tide to come in and whilst it is coming in, people will jump into the water with you.  So if you are determined to be a pioneer, jump into the water with your eyes open – it could be a long wait before there is plenty of water to swim about in and when there is, make sure that you are ready to take on the competition.  The strategies in this book will make sure you have a robust business structure to take on that competition when it arrives.

Don’t leave it too late to jump

At the other end of the scale is the business owner who jumps into the water when the tide is going out.  In this case, there is an existing need for the product or service offered by the business, but that need is waning, either because there is too much competition or the need for the product or service is itself waning.  For example, it would be a foolish person who decides to go into business as an encyclopaedia salesman.  Encyclopaedias have been overtaken by the internet and the ease of seeking information using sophisticated search engine tools.  The tide has virtually gone out on encyclopaedias, but we probably haven’t yet seen all the internet has to offer us.

So, an innovation in the marketplace may affect the viability of your business.  Other things could include the nature of the economy, insufficient demand, or an over populated competition.  Whatever the case, you will need to find a real point of difference which will make you stand out from the competition if you want to become successful.  You are only going to find that point of difference by doing your research on the market before you jump.  Only by doing your research and then coming up with a robust marketing strategy will you be going into business with your eyes open.  Find out who your competition is.  Identify their strengths and weaknesses.  Pinpoint exactly who your target market is (or could be) and how many people/businesses it comprises.  Identify with as much precision as possible what their need is and how your product or service solves that need.  If the equation doesn’t add up to a successful business, either find another ocean or stay on the pier.  Otherwise, if you don’t do your research, you could end up falling flat on your face. 

What about your personal life?

Business factors aren’t the only timing issues you need to consider.  Think also of your personal situation.  Market forces may be right, but if you are not in the right place in your own life then things won’t work out.

Generally, if someone is thinking about setting up a business there will be something in their personal life which has triggered them to investigate that option; but not always.  Sometimes, the decision will be forced upon you.  For example, you may have been made redundant or market forces may only be giving you a small window to launch your product or service.  In these situations a double check with your personal life is strongly recommended. 

The key issue when it comes to personal timing is money.  Setting up any business is going to involve hard work and money in varying degrees.  If you have very little money, expect to work harder because you won’t be able to hire talent.  Growth could be slow, particularly if you have to fund that growth through cash flow.

The biggest problem in the early days of setting up a business is that it is difficult to work hard and remain focused when you are worrying about money.  This worry slows down business growth even further and makes the cash problem worse.  Ultimately, you will need to make personal sacrifices.  That’s okay if it is just about you, but if other people are relying on you to be the breadwinner, then the stress and tension is going to rise, which in turn will affect the business even further.

So, consider whether this is the right time in your life to be undertaking this journey.  Would things be easier if you waited a year or two?  If you waited, could you accumulate some cash reserves which may ease the first few years of trading?  Alternatively, some of your dependants may become less dependent over that period leaving you free to invest your money elsewhere.  The only answer to these questions is to speak to those who are likely to support you.  What do they think?  Are they supportive?  If they are not supportive, assess how much you need their support and the likely effect if you go ahead regardless.  If you go ahead chapter 5, teaches you strategies for improving cashflow.

Should you listen to everyone?

A word of warning:  when you speak to people about your plans to go into business, be selective about the advice you take on board.  That is because everyone has a different tolerance to risk.  For example, there are some people who would never go overseas because they will not fly (despite air travel being one of the safest forms of transport).  There are others whose idea of a good weekend is throwing themselves off cliffs.  Then there are the majority of people in between.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, you need to take calculated risks which put you outside of your comfort zone.  So when you receive advice, don’t only assess the advice which you receive, but also the risk profile of the person giving that advice.  Many of your family may have a low tolerance to risk.  Alternatively, they may be giving good advice.  You will need to assess which side of the line they fall.  The best people to take advice from are actually other successful business owners who have already jumped off the pier and made their way through the big wide ocean.  I have not met one successful business owner who doesn’t advocate going into business.  After all, why wouldn’t they?  The key is in finding out how they became successful.  All will have developed robust business structures.  That’s what this book teaches. 

Are you ready to take the leap?

Congratulations!  You made it to the end of Chapter 1 your enthusiasm for business is still intact.  Now let’s take a closer look at what lies beneath the ocean so that you are equipped with strategies to build a successful business.  It will give you the opportunity to experience the big wide ocean without getting wet. You can hang your hand over the side and test the temperature before you leap in.  What’s more, it will give you strategies for dealing with the perils beneath the ocean which you may encounter along the way so that you will be better equipped to build a successful business.

So whether you are standing on the pier ready to jump in, or you are already in the water, hop on board as we take a journey out into the big wide ocean.

 

 

 

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