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The true story of a new small business

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Over the last four weeks, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time directly involved in the launch of a new business. I was asked to be involved because I’ve done it a few times before, and because my skill set is complimentary to (and has very few overlaps with!) the entrepreneur behind the business. The way in which we’ve been working together has been a great reflection of a principle that I outlined back in July last year (see the original article here).

It’s been a process I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, particularly having been there when the idea was first sparked and having been able to see it through to launch. However, enjoyment, important though it is, is only a very small part of the story. As a learning experience for everyone involved, there have been so many powerful experiences that can be adapted to training in large, small, or any size, organisations. This article will start a series on real experiential learning – how we can learn by doing.

Before the series starts, below is a taster of what is to come, and an outline of the areas that will be covered. However, being flexible out it, this is not a definitive list, and I’m hoping that, as the series progresses, your comments, thoughts and feedback, and your own experiences in business start-ups, will add flavour, affect the flow of the articles, and really bring alive the challenges, the frustrations, the emotional upheaval, and ultimately the enormous reward of becoming your own boss.

My role in this series will be to start the conversations off, focus on the broad learning that can take place from a specific experience, and try to develop understanding of how we can consistently learn and improve.

As a starter then, here are some of the areas that will be covered in this forthcoming "business start-up" series:

Planning your route

There are (probably more than) a million and one books and other sets of resources covering business planning, as well as a bunch of other people who argue for the "back of fag packet" approach. Who is right, and what difference can a plan really make? How much time should you allocate to it, how much detail should go in, and who is it really for?

Getting what you want

Negotiation is uncomfortable for a lot of people, but doing it well to get what you want is a critical aspect of starting up a business – and much, much harder to do when you are only a little fledgling, uncertain as to whether you can fly or not. How do you negotiate from a perceived position of weakness?

Pushing on through

As you put plans (if you have them!) into action, there will be stumbles. You’ll get lost from time to time. And you’ll feel the will to carry on slipping away (if you’re a normal human being!). How do you push on through?

Piggy in the middle

You might be setting up a business whilst still working in another job. You might have other ties and responsibilities (family, friends, home). You might even have had a social life before you started! How can you possibly manage whilst being pulled in hundreds of different directions?

Tiredness, tears, and tantrums

There may be people who sail on through life and business without a care in the world – please come and see me if this is the case for you, and I’ll treat you to a coffee (or perhaps a chamomile tea…). For others, there will be times when it all simply gets too much. Occasionally you might need to scream, but how do you ensure that you stop screaming at some point and get cracking again?

Your support network

How big, how broad, and how strong is your support network? You’re going to need it, and how you build it and how you use it will be a fundamental part of your success.

Conquring the fear

We are all (if we’re honest with ourselves) capable of wobbling from time to time. What if it doesn’t work? Why should it work for me? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I deluding myself? I think these are perfectly reasonable questions to ask, but they are certainly essential ones to answer…

Making it up as you go along

Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Incredible – the person who has a thorough, detailed, comprehensive and workable plan for absolutely everything that could possibly happen – need read no further. For the rest of us mere mortals, there will come a time (or a rapidly piling up series of occasions) where the unforeseen happens. What then?

Controlled flexibility

New business is about creativity, right? It’s about improvising, riffing, adapting, and being flexible, yes? Well…yes and no. At some point, you need to have controls in place, so that you know what’s working and what’s not. How can you put controls in place without stifling the inspirational creativity that got you started in the first place?

Playing other people’s games

I really wish the world was full of entirely supportive people who are consistently, openly, and reliably on my side, all the time. But, when I’m awake, I realise that this is not really the case, and sometimes, just sometimes, you have to play other people’s games to get things done. How do you do this, without undermining your principles?

Where is the finish line?

You’ve had the idea. You’ve worked your socks off to get everything ready. You’re tired, drained, exhausted, but you’re there…the launch of your new business is in a couple of minutes. You’re thrilled, ecstatic, overjoyed. The bad news that you really need to know is that the work is just about to start…


This forthcoming series of articles will take you through the real launch of a new business, which has taken place in a mad, rushed, crazy four week period; a business that started trading on May 1st 2010. It will be focused on the realities of small business start-ups, but will aim to tease out some of what has been learnt and what can be applied wherever you work and whatever you do.

I’d love you to get involved with this story, and share your own too. Thank you.


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