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  • Chris Mellor-Dolman

Start-up in Lockdown: the Inside View

Crisis? What crisis?!

It’s been just over a month since I launched my business. I’m now a self-employed marketing consultant with over two decades of experience behind me. Sticking to what I know and love is my main confidence driver. That said, going live with a new venture is a challenge at any time. Doing so during a global pandemic crisis with long-term implications ahead is infinitely more testing.

It’s been fascinating to hear people’s opinions about starting up during Lockdown, which without exception have been polar opposites. The dominant school of thought on the encouragement side has been around ‘great opportunity’ and ‘you’ll smash it’, versus the odd naysayer whose responses have tended to focus on ‘destined to fail’ and ‘no chance’ added to the words ‘…at a time like this’. Regardless of the opinion it’s feedback, and nobody knows better than a marketer about how valuable it is to understand what people really think.

Inspired and intrigued by the spread of viewpoints I decided to put fingers to keyboard to download my thoughts on progress so far, in the hope that it might be useful to others out there who are thinking about launching their own business.

In no particular order this is my thinking on going solo to date…

keep the faith

By all means listen to constructive criticism, but don’t waiver. Be resilient, build a thick skin, and remember why you decided to start your own business in the first place; it’s because you’re good at it, you enjoy doing it, and you believe you can make it work.

There will inevitably be setbacks, but regardless of the challenge you’ve got to strive to keep that glass at least half full. Learn from mistakes and failure. Choose the mindset that you’ll always try to find a way and to do your best, because this will give you hope. When you have hope anything is possible.

support and be supportive As solo flyers we need to support one another. Of course it takes time and effort, but the alternative - going it alone in isolation, is surely a fast-track route to failure. Start by getting in touch with useful people that you already know - former colleagues, customers and suppliers, especially if they’re the business owners themselves. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience that most are only too welcome to share. A vital move will be to solicit their honest feedback. Get them to walk your customer-facing assets such as your website and social pages to ensure that they work as you want and expect.

My best decision has been to resort to a mentor. Alongside my (long suffering!) wife, she has been my guiding light through the whole process of setting up and launching. Ever interested and curious she has been pivotal to a successful start, asking incisive questions and checking my logic throughout.

Broaden your reach by networking as much as you can too. Start with social media by sharing useful content, linking up with like-minded groups and getting involved in conversations. Sign up for webinars and online workshops to get yourself known in the areas that your business operates by making a meaningful contribution. It’s all about trust and reputation.

put a shift in

One of the biggest changes in your life will be the sheer number of hours you rack up working for yourself. I discovered from the off that running your own business is time very consuming. Of course, you’ve always cared working as an employee, but as the owner you won’t switch off. You’ll be thinking about your business 24/7. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing - far from it, because you’re investing in your own destiny and it feels good, but make sure that you set time aside for yourself, friends and family. You need quality downtime to unwind - you deserve it, and of course you don’t want to burn out; you won’t get paid for any time off work from now on!

learn fast

There’s so much more to think about. Forget being the niche specialist as an employee. Now you’ve got to be the all-rounder and think of everything. You’ll need to upskill quickly in key areas where you may have little or no experience, from managing your accounts and tax returns to sourcing supplies and being the spokesperson for your business.

There’s a wealth of help and advice, especially online. For example, you can turn to tools that take the donkey work out of repetitive day-today tasks. Many basic tools are free, and other more advanced options have attractive introductory offers for start-ups, so there are negligible monthly costs but they’re more than worth the outlay. For instance, I soon resorted to QuickBooks for handling my accounts, which made light of recording expenses and issuing invoices. I also eased the burden of my creative work by using Canva . The best advice I can give you is to talk to the people in your network about what they use

don’t underestimate

I feel lucky that I have secured a sales pipeline quite early on, but in reality it doesn’t kick in properly until the autumn. My advice is simple here: don’t underestimate how long it will take to get your first sales. Approach existing contacts first; they know you best and may well have projects and tasks for you to help with, so don’t be shy!

In light of the initial uncertainty and lack of income you really need to focus on controlling your costs and cashflow too by spending as little as possible to start with. Learning to spend the right amount on the right things at the right time is a good discipline that will stand you in good stead moving forward.

Finally, please don’t undersell yourself. You know what you’re worth. Make sure that what you offer is differentiated so that you’re not chosen as the lowest priced option. It's along way back up from the bottom of the pile!

other insights

Here’s a round-up of the other things I’ve learned and want to share with you…

keep things simple: the temptation is to try and do everything from the off. Believe me, you’ll overstretch yourself. Focus on what really matters for you to get paying customers. That means standing out as an attractive, approachable business that screams "we have just what you need and we're easy to do business with".

create a business plan: a structured business plan will ensure that you document what you need to do to launch your business and make it work. You can then reference the plan constantly to make sure that you’re sticking to it. Use SMART objectives, and by all means tweak it as things change. It’s not set in stone. It has to work for you.

be decisive: get the facts, analyse them thoroughly, consult with trusted aides and make the decision.

So there it is, my ‘view from the top’, even though at this early stage I feel like I’m at the bottom, looking up high to a very distant summit. That’s just the reality of working for yourself I guess, but there’s adventure ahead and that’s what you’re in it for.

This is now your very own livelihood to nurture and grow. You have to do what you perceive to be right. You’re the master of your own destiny. Be professional, break the rules where they need to be broken to make things better, take the people that matter to you on your journey (you’ll need them!), and make sure you use your head, heart, gut and soul to do the right thing… always.

As ever this is an open invitation to drop me a line to share your thoughts about this blog, and indeed any other marketing or SME-related topic that you want to discuss:

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