Ten Questions To Answer Before Starting your Own Business
Starting a business can mean a number of things: striking out as a self-employed freelancer for the first time, buying into a local franchise, building a networking marketing business, breaking away from the business you’re working for now to form a new version of something similar, or starting your own brand new business from scratch
And when it comes to your dream of balancing a rewarding career with the flexibility to spend time with your family, starting your own business can be the ideal answer, maybe even the obvious
solution. You get to choose your working hours, where you work from, who you work with and what you do, after all.
But it isn’t the answer for everybody. Although all those potential benefits are there, they may not all be available or easy to make work in the beginning. And there can be some unexpected potential pitfalls and down-sides to being a business owner that, for some, will swing the balance back in the opposite direction.
So, if you’re thinking of starting a business, how do you know that it’s the right option for you?
First, before you resign your current job to get started, there are a number of practical steps you’ll want to take to be as sure as you can be that starting a business is a good option for you right now.
To begin with, you’ll want to be sure you have done the kind of research that will enable you to put together a watertight business plan that demonstrates what exactly your business is about, how it will operate, how you know there is a demand for what you’ll be offering, how your business will differ from your competition, how you will make money (and how much you will make) and how you will market yourself for success.
Then, once you know what you’ll be offering, in order to actually get going you’ll also need to make some decisions about how you set up your business legally, whether as a sole trader, limited company or partnership. And of course, you’ll have to work out where your business will be based.
As strange as it sounds, you may even want to consider your exit strategy before you start! The way you set your business up might be different, depending on what you intend to do with your business in the longer term (sell it to fund your retirement? Sell it after a few years to do something else? Develop something that your children can work in and then run? Develop something that will continue to make money for you even after you stop working in it?)
But ahead of all of that (or at least alongside it) I’d suggest all aspiring business owners also spend some time exploring what running their business will actually be like for them at a very human level. In other words, thinking about how well suited to business ownership you are naturally, and making your decision about when (and if) to start up based on strong awareness about what will be required of you, how things will be different and how that matches what you really want and need.
Here are ten questions to reflect on and answer to help you think beyond the practical aspects of starting a business, and consider the emotional realities of doing so.
Why am I doing this, and what do I want out of running my own business?
First things first. Why do you want to start your own business?
Try and list as many different reasons as you can. Then try and sort them into some kind of order, with the biggest reasons at the top. Your personal why and your business’ why may be different –
that’s fine. It’s important at this stage to be honest and clear about what’s in this for you, because this is what will motivate you to keep going when things get difficult.
What kind of flexibility do I really want, and why do I want it?
When you talk about wanting flexibility, what does that actually mean? It’s easy to talk in broad, sweeping statements – but thinking this through in detail to give you granular facts will be your friend.
Are there specific things you want to be able to do outside of work? Do you need or want to be able to change your mind about what you do at short notice? What limits do you want or need to set on how many hours you work or on which days, or parts of days, you work?
Your answers to this may have a profound impact on the kind of business you set up or on the likelihood that you will be able to drive it to financial success in the kind of timeframe you’re looking for.
How will I fund the first two years?
We’re only partially talking about how you fund the business here. Business costs aside, if your start up doesn’t make any real profit for the first year or two (and most don’t), how will you pay your personal bills and fund your lifestyle?
What do your answers say about the timing of your business or how you go about starting it?
How do I feel about financial security?
And while we’re on the subject of money, let’s be really honest: as a business owner you have to be able to deal with not feeling you have a secure income.
I’ve worked with several business owners with established businesses whose stress revolves around financial insecurity – even when they are turning over a million pounds or more, and are employing a sizeable team and have a healthy profit. As a business owner you are responsible for driving your own income (and that of your employees, if you have them), and the sense that you could lose business and suddenly have no income (or a much smaller one) is almost ever present.
Can you live with that? Will you sleep at night if you can’t say with certainty that you will have a certain level of income every month without fail? What would you need in order to feel the kind of certainty you want?
What are you prepared to risk or sacrifice, personally?
There are more unknowns than certainties when starting up a business.
If you were discover your business needed more of something than you were expecting (more time, more money, more energy, more people) or something different to what you had planned for (a different type of location, a different product, a different way of marketing and promoting it, different opening hours, a different model altogether), what would you be prepared to sacrifice as a result?
Or, more importantly, what are you NOT prepared to sacrifice?
Time? Weekends? Lifestyle choices? Your home? Your social life? Time with your partner or children?
What do your answers tell you about what you are and are not willing to risk in the name of starting up your own? What are the biggest risks, and how can you develop a Plan B before you start, to mitigate them?
How much time and energy are you willing to invest?
Building a business takes time and energy. And there’s nobody else to make it happen but you. In the beginning you will probably be the CEO, Accountant, Project Manager, Marketing Manager, IT Manager, Product Developer, Administrator, Cleaner…you get the idea.
There’s no race, of course – you can work at your own pace and build your business as quickly or slowly as it suits you to. How do your financial expectations or requirements match with what you are prepared to invest in terms of time and energy?
What are your strengths?
What are you really good at? What do others say they value about you? What do you love doing so much that you forget to eat or go to the loo when you’re doing it? These are your strengths.
Will you be using them as a business owner in your business? How can you use them to help you overcome the kinds of hurdles that start-ups face or to give you confidence that running your own business will be a good fit for you?
What do you absolutely hate doing?
If you’re really honest, what would you rather not do as part of your work?
How much time will you have to spend doing the things that you really don’t want to do, as a business owner? Could there be any way around that? Could you Find Help on That Works For Me for example?
The more time you have to spend doing things you don’t like or that you find really difficult, the less likely it is that you’re going to enjoy running your business.
Business owners need to do all kinds of things. Whatever the nature of your business, you will need confidence, resilience, the ability to make decisions on your own, the willingness and ability to learn and try doing new things and the willingness and ability to be a sell (yourself, your products or services, your business). You’ll also need to be able to motivate yourself and be a dab hand at prioritising the most important things.
How does this description fit with the things you love doing and are good at, and the things you’d really rather not do?
What support will you need (and what do you already have)?
What kind of support will you need as a business owner, especially during your start up phase? Practical support with things like accounting or legal advice is probably a given. What other aspects of running your business will be new to you? Who could help you with that?
And what about emotional support?
How does your family feel about you starting your own business? If they don’t seem very supportive, this is probably their own way of trying to keep you safe because they love and care about you…but where will you access the kind of moral support, understanding and acceptance you need when your confidence is wavering or you have a difficult decision to make that is proving stressful?
Will you feel able to ask for help, both on a practical and emotional level, and from people known to you and as yet unknown, as you travel through your start up journey?
If you can’t find that kind of support easily, what strengths do you have that you can draw on to help you cope with the ups and downs of running a business?
How will things change for you in two, five and ten years?
We start with where we are now, but our lives continue to evolve. For example, as our children grow, they generally need a different kind of support and time from us as parents, and the things that motivate us at work and in life may change.
What will have changed about your life in just a few years time, and how might that impact on what you want from your business or your work? How does that impact on the ideas you have and the decisions you make about starting your own business?
Bio – Jo Lee
Meet Jo, our Start Up coach. As a business and career coach, Jo is that unusual beast – as well as being an experienced, professional coach, she has also walked the talk: Before starting her own business in order to coach others full time, she developed a highly successful 20 year career in marketing, business management and senior leadership that culminated in running a well-known £50 million company while raising her two young daughters… and somehow incorporating a voluntary role as governor at her local primary school into the bargain. Having launched and grown a number of brands in her career, and having worked closely with a well-known, award winning UK entrepreneur, Jo uses that blend of first-hand experience, with her coach’s knowledge of the psychology of success, change and happiness and a host of evidenced based tools and techniques, to help career professionals and business owners get unstuck and achieve more success with the things they want and less of the stress, overwhelm and self-doubt they don’t.