When you go seaching for start-up advice, you’ll find plenty on finance, marketing, and of course, business plans. These are all really important of course. However, in all the business advice I’ve found over thirteen years, loneliness isn’t a popular thing to talk about.
Whether it’s simply that business advisors haven’t been in that position, or that no-one wants to discuss it, I’m not sure. But, of all the challenges I’ve faced, loneliness has been the hardest to deal with…
Now before you suggest a networking group, please hear me out. I know of the many benefits of spending time with like minded people, I get that. Please, stop for a moment and cast your mind back.
Does anyone else recognise the feeling of lying wide awake in the early hours? The clock ticking, lying next to your partner who is also laying awake? You both know how bad it is. The cash is gone, the phone isn’t ringing and staying in that well paid job makes so much sense. How can you even speak the words ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’ ?
Or how about the loneliness of being stuck at a customers address. They’re relying on you to fix the problem, but you’ve no-one to ask for advice. How are you going to explain to your partner, that you left the job and didn’t get paid. You couldn’t fix it, because you couldn’t find out the answer, you had no-one to ask. It’s a pretty lonely feeling.
Loneliness in a crowd
Worse than that is being lonely in a group, say a networking group. Full of aspiring, positive speaking, go-getters. Talking about uncertainty, doubt and fear isn’t going to get people making a beeline for you next week. Even amongst that support group, it can feel pretty lonely.
I’ve been in that place. It’s not part of anyones business plan and you won’t find a chapter in the ‘Ten Steps to Success’ book or Youtube video. However, loneliness is a real emotion that start-ups should know about and be encouraged to talk about. Just a few years before going alone, I was flying with a crew, surrounded by people that knew me through and through. There was banter, and respect and expectation, but never loneliness. Within four years, I was a man in a van. The difference was brutal and completely unexpected. Of all the challenges in my career, loneliness has left the biggest impression on me.
Oh and it’s not reserved for start-ups…when you’ve been around for a while and you’ve got employees and suppliers who look to you for payment, and you’re pushing close to the overdraft limit, who are you going to tell? Your partner? The bank? Your peer group who respect you ‘making a go of it all alone’. What do you mean you’re terrified of failure? Who on earth wants to hear all that?
For me, I was lucky. A chance meeting with a business coach allowed me to spend five years in ‘business therapy’. Pouring my soul out in the early hours, telling the truth to someone who wouldn’t judge me and being honest about where I really was. It saved me. Maybe I’m being dramatic, maybe it’s a state of mind, or, quite possiblly, I was just out of my depth. Whatever the explanation, one of my ‘Important Steps to Success’ , is to find someone, anyone you trust, who’ll listen, just listen. If you’re lucky, they’ll help you put things into context over a coffee, and loneliness will keep at bay.
We’ve all been there. Your boss needs you to work, you family needs you at home. When you’re self-employed, this is magnified ten-fold.
I still remember the frantic efforts to pick the door lock of a BMW, the light fading, my wife calling, my customer pacing. I’d promised her I’d be home in time, him I’d get his car open and neither was happening.
I’d struggled to earn anything all day then finally the job came in, a new BMW. It was a tough job, I’d never done one and they were difficult to pick. It was winter, the weather was bad, and the light was fading.
This was over ten years ago, at a time when my kids were just seven and three years old, my business was just getting going. I’d still have days with little work, so when a job came in I’d have to take it. In parallel, I’d have times I’d need to be home , to have the kids, so my wife could go to work. Just like yourself, we had no family about to help us, it was tough.
I know many of us go through leaving the forces and settling miles from our place of birth. We made our home in the beautiful city of Lincoln, our families were 200 miles away. We had to work well together, managing this constant juggle.
Today I had a similar, unusual choice. I was booked onto a training course, one hundred miles from home. I’d previously promised to take my daughter to the train station mid-day, to go back to university, and on top of that, my son to school. It was a tough one. I wanted to do it all, my business was once again making life difficult all round.
On this occasion, I booked a Taxi for her to get to the train station, and my wife did the school run. I had the most amazing day, getting an education. It would’ve been easier for all of us if hadn’t gone on the course, I felt bad, even though they all told me to do it.
These are the choices we face when we don’t have a boss. Family or work. There’s no-one to make the choice for you.
Can I just get this out of the way. I was an idiot when it came to getting the money to start my business. Obviously I didn’t feel like I was at the time, but within a few months I knew, as the great Jim Rohn would say, I knew I had ‘messed up’. Funding a business is hard for a reason.
For a start, I had no experience in how to fund what I wanted to do. That’s a good reason to get it all wrong, but not really an excuse to how much of an idiot I was. I’d been to Business Link, and did the lesson in writing a business plan and funding a business. I’d even taken it to the bank. My business manager, to be, read it through and asked me some really awkward questions, (you know the type ).
Firstly, what money was I planning to put into the business? How much money did I have to tie myself over until I started to make a profit…(awkward) When was I going to start to make a profit?
These are not questions you want to hear when you are so excited about the idea that’s burning inside your head. Do you remember that time when all you could think about was going it alone? I still remember it well. So these questions threatened to put a bit of a dampner on things. For a start, I didn’t have any money sare that I could use in funding a business. Next, I didn’t have any money saved for cash burn and as for profit and loss, I was going to be a Locksmith, not an accountant.
I was such an idiot. The business manager, must have seen me coming, with my Business Link folder and my standard business plan. ‘NO, I’m sorry. You need to go away, and come back with a better plan. You’ll need money to live on and it will run out very quickly if you’re not making a profit….’
Now I have a problem. I had already decided to leave the RAF and told them such. The plan inside my head was amazing. No-one in my city was doing what I wanted to do, so surely, how could it fail? On top of that, I was going to be paid by the RAF for 18 months, while I worked my notice so what could go wrong? Why wouldnt they lend the money I needed for funding a business?
Mistake number One. Listen to someone with experience.
Up to this point I could be forgiven. I was just one of many dreamers that had woken up one day, wanting to make a go of being in charge of my own fate. The point where this changed was ignoring the advice of my business manager ( what did she know ) and also not discussing it with anyone else that may question me. So I did what any of us would do and applied for three credit cards, with a total limit of £20,000 and got all three granted (but didn’t mention this to anyone). This was my land for funding a business. Then, instead of arranging sensible finance for my £20,000 equipment I needed, I put it all on the cards, maxed them all out. I’m actually cringing now as I think about it. If you are thinking about this, don’t be an idiot.
Mistake number two. Understand what you sign up for
Not understanding minimum payments. The cards had 9 months interest free. Unfortunately, I didn’t even think about how much the minimum payments would be. This was partly because I didn’t have a cashflow forecast and partly because I was far too busy doing important stuff like….a logo….and business cards! ( I told you I was an idiot).
The biggest shock was when the credit card statements started to arrive. The payments were many hundreds, that I didn’t have. I honestly thought I would have nine months before I needed to pay anything! I’m so embarrased, but I need to get this out and in the open. Now I considerd myself to be smart. I did an engineering apprenticeship, was selected for RAF Aircrew and was promoted in the shortest possible time, so how did I have such an idiot brain?
Mistake number three. Live like you are skint.
Despite my stupidity, I had the best possible chance to make up for it. With 18 months pay, while I set up my customer base and gained experience, all I had to do was watch what I spend and save some of the money…..I didn’t. We carried on living like I was in the RAF, on nearly £40K, which twelve years ago, was good money. I wish I had known, but I just carried on regardless. With three months to go, I was barely covering my business costs!
How did I survive? Well we did, with two tiny children and little income from the business. This will take another blog entry, but for anyone thinking about leaving a perfectly good job and starting out alone STOP!
Honestly answer the following questions.
How much can you expect to earn once fully experienced in the business you are planning? So if you are going into plumbing, how much does a plumber earn? Find out. Talk to experienced plumbers, do not believe what they tell you on the Armed Forces resettlement adverts, or any course for that matter. Do the research. Email plumbers and ask them, look at job adverts.
How long will it be until you are earning that amount of money? It takes a long time to get up to speed. As a Locksmith, it took me at least five years. How are you going to make up the shortfall in cash? If you can’t answer this, then it will end up as debt of some sort and debt is what will sink your business before it even gets going. Believe me, I know.
Lastly. Why are you starting a business? Have you just had enough of where you are working? Is it that you can’t face another job interview? Maybe you’re seeing the business you work for charge your time out at £50 per hour and you’re only getting paid £10 (There’s a good reason for this). Whatever your reason, make sure you’re honest with yourself. I knew that I was interested in self-employment because I was running a part-time business years before in the RAF and loved it. However my main motivation was not having to do interviews that I would get rejected from. I put my family at a real risk of homelessness, just because I couldn’t answer these few questions, oh, and because I was an idiot, funding a business.
I’ve started to sort my emails. There are about 10,000 of them and so this is not a simple task. However, most of them will be deleted. Fortunately, I have a few years worth of emails from my self to my coach, all those years ago. It was a time I was going through a hard time and felt adrift in a rough business ocean.
It was a time that I lacked any confidence that I’d ever get out of my financial mess (more of that later). Needless to say, I was up to my neck in it and regretted ever leaving the RAF.
This is a short piece that I wrote, back in 2011. It’s pretty desperate.
A rough business ocean
‘Imagine, if you can, you’re in a large sailing boat, its been your home now longer than you can remember. It’s your own design and you built it.
The proudest, most exciting time was when your family and friends watched you launch it, “good luck, you’re so brave, I never knew you were a boat builder!” it was a dream come true, master of your own destiny.
So you made your way out of the harbour, the water was calm and you had endless energy to check the stores, paint the deck and you looked forward to getting some distance from the shore.
“we’re just going to see what happens ” Is the reply you give when people ask “ where were you going?”
You’d not really known thought about this.
“How long was the voyage? “
Again, this hadn’t seemed important all those months and years ago.
Gradually, you did make your way further. You were so heads down working away that after a while you realised. You were in open water.
The swell grew and lately you notice that the boat rocks and rolls and you fear it’s going to tip over if the next wave is any bigger.
But there’s something more worrying. Water is seeping through the wooden joins of the boat. There had alway been a little water at the end of the day, but lately its worse, you are spending more and more time balling out the water. How could it be that you found yourself so adrift in this rough business ocean?
You thought that it was easy to build a boat, you read a few books, followed some of the advice, but there was alot to read and in the end you just wanted to get going. So now you’re miles from the shore, you’re all alone, even if you knew where to steer the boat, you couldn’t because you’d spend all day baling.
Without the time to be a helmsman, the boat simply drifts, from one storm to the next. There are things in the boat that would help, but you don’t have the skills to use them, or the time to learn. If you could just turn back the time, you would have done it all so differently.’
Being out of control, is what a rough business ocean feels like. There doesn’t feel like theres any hope, or help around. Its a common feeling and one you need to be prepared for, then hopefully you’ll never feel it.