In The Business Survival Kit, serial entrepreneur Bianca Miller-Cole outlines the often scary path of becoming a business owner. In this extract, she discusses just how to find your purpose.
The following is an extract from The Business Survival Kit, Your No-BS Guide To Success by Bianca Miller-Cole & Byron Cole.
You’re an aspiring entrepreneur. You’re launching a business. For the moment at least, your course is set.
But I’ve got some news for you. While this may be your first business venture, it almost certainly won’t be your last. At some time in the future, you may well start a second business, and then a third. In the meantime, as you move forward with your current venture, things will evolve. Inevitably, you will adapt your plan and perhaps even pivot to a completely new business model, as circumstances and your own assessment of the opportunities change.
This process of change and adaptation is necessary and positive, but it can lead to a period of uncertainty and perhaps self-doubt. As you ring the changes, you might well ask yourself: ‘Is this what I signed up for – is this the right business for me?’
You always have options
Here’s the good news: as an entrepreneur you always have options. If you don’t think a business plan is quite right, you can change it. If the business is moving in a direction you’re uncomfortable with, you can alter the course. You are in the driving seat. You have choices.
A successful business can be anything you want it to be. If your goal is to grow, take investment, and cash in for a life-changing sum of money, that’s absolutely great. But it’s equally fine if you simply want to make a good living, work the business for most of your life and pass it on to your family. The choice is yours. You have an opportunity to be the entrepreneur that you always dreamed of being.
Will this business not only survive but flourish? For instance, is there a fit between the product and the market? Is the market big enough to generate a sufficient profit? In other words, you need to address some important commercial questions. And if the business plan simply doesn’t add up, clearly it won’t be the right venture.
You can build a company that is financially a success – and who would argue with wanting that – and yet feel that you would rather be on a different course. And, actually, you might be more successful if you truly follow your own vision. For instance, there could be two identical entrepreneurial businesses, both selling the same product to broadly the same group of target customers. One flourishes, the other struggles. What differentiates them? In all probability, it is the passion, commitment and talent of the owners, rather than anything about the product itself. The fit between owner and business is important.
Validating the idea
It all starts with an idea. Maybe it’s just a flash of inspiration on a drive home from a nine-to-five job, or maybe it’s something that you’ve been thinking about for months or years.
So, there’s an obvious first question to ask yourself: ‘Is this the right idea?’
Validating an idea is important, but it only takes you part of the way towards creating a business that will thrive. Arguably, it is much more important to look at your plans and ask yourself what the purpose of your venture is. Why should it exist?
Perhaps you talk to a few friends, and because they don’t want to offend you or rain on your parade, they say, ‘Great idea – go for it.’
It’s important to seek advice from people who can help you validate your idea by looking at it objectively and bringing their expertise and experience to the table. Typically, the most useful input comes from people who have enjoyed success in a similar field.
But sometimes you won’t necessarily need help that is industry-specific. For instance, you might need advice on raising finance to support your venture. What’s required here is knowledge of the corporate finance market – bank loans, crowdfunding, selling shares, etc. – and a solid awareness of what potential investors or lenders are looking for. This might come from a corporate finance expert, or someone who has personally raised money.
Reaching out to suitably experienced people within your circle is a great way to at least make a start on validating your idea.
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. One common trait of successful people is that they are often happy to provide nuggets of advice, without expecting anything in return. There are limits, however. We are talking about busy people, who have their own businesses to run. So, always be polite and don’t expect too much.
Seeking advice from experts in the field will help you to validate your business concept, gain confidence and avoid getting too caught up in – or depressed by – the views of naysayers. Once you know you’re on the right track, criticism becomes easier to deal with.
Why purpose matters
In addition to considering the commercial potential of a venture, it is vital to reflect on how the business sits with you as an individual.
So, ask yourself:
- Why do I want to start a business?
- What is my purpose as an individual?
- What is the purpose of the business, and how does it align with my purpose?
Now, finding your purpose isn’t necessarily an easy or simple exercise. For one thing, as we progress through life, there are always going to be people who (often for the best possible reasons) will try to define our purpose for us – for example, the parent who is determined that their children go into medicine or law when their ambitions actually extend in other directions. Sometimes, it can be hard not to be swayed by what other people expect. And even if there are no external pressures, very often we struggle to know ourselves. Maybe it’s something we don’t give enough thought to.
So, before you start a business, take some time to think about what you want:
- What makes you come alive?
- What inspires you?
- What are you passionate about?
Then think about your strengths, skills and talents. Some of them are innate – they just seem to come naturally – and others are learned. Consider all your talents and select a top three for special attention. We all enjoy doing what we’re good at. If your strengths align with the requirements of your business, that’s a good sign.
On the business side, does success equate with the life-changing, multimillion-pound exit deal that we discussed earlier, or with the creation of a company that can be passed down to the next generation? And then there is lifestyle … Does success mean retiring at the age of forty and pursuing non-commercial hobbies, interests or passions? Or is the idea to take the money you’ve earned and move on to other interesting projects, perhaps in other sectors? Is philanthropy part of your thinking, or becoming an educator who nurtures up-and-coming talent?
Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, what kind of dent would you like to leave on the planet, and how do you want to be remembered by those who succeed you?
Now, you can perhaps overthink this a little. Truth be told, few people are remembered beyond three generations – but by thinking about your legacy, you are also focusing on your ideal life and your ideal business.
You may be running a business – but, as it turns out, it isn’t your ideal venture. It isn’t quite what you thought it would be in terms of its potential and the life that it’s delivering for you. In fact, you’re beginning to ask, is it really worth it?
If you find yourself repeatedly asking whether or not you want to carry on doing what you’re doing, it’s probably time for a change.
Ideally, that change shouldn’t see you quitting company owner- ship for the security of a nine-to-five career. You are an entrepreneur, after all, and the desire to create something great runs in your blood. So what you may need to do is either change your business or start a new one.
Let’s say you run an architecture practice – one that was set up with the express purpose of working on interesting projects. In reality, in order to pay the bills, you’ve found yourself mostly working on fairly basic house extensions. You’ll need to make a plan to win more interesting work, and where necessary cut back on the bread- and-butter jobs. Make time and create the financial headroom to go for the prestige projects – the ones that stretch and inspire you.
“Are you crazy?”
Maybe someone questioned you when you announced your plans to leave a comfortable career and branch out on your own. And maybe you responded by asking yourself: ‘Am I crazy? Is this the right thing to do?’
You’re not crazy. But starting a business is a big step, and success isn’t going to happen overnight. It may well be tough, but achieving your ambitions will be easier when you know your purpose.
After that, it’s time to set some solid goals.
The Business Survival Kit, Your No-BS Guide To Success by Bianca Miller-Cole & Byron Cole, published by Penguin Books on 23 September.
Images: Getty/Penguin Books