Starting a business presents an amazing opportunity filled not only with hard work, risks and challenges but also potential freedom and satisfaction that you cannot get from being an employee. To be successful as a business owner one needs to adjust to being the decision maker even when there is no 'right' or 'wrong' choice.
Last week, as I was working with a group of people seeking to start their own businesses I was reminded of the importance of learning to be the 'grown-up' in a start-up business.
I once heard a new business owner describe starting their own company as a huge mind-set change. They described sitting down with their co-founder and saying, “Where have all the grown-ups gone?” They kept expecting someone to walk in and tell them off, or to demand they explain themselves and change their plans; but no grown-ups ever emerged. This was because they had to get used to being the first and final word in their business strategy, decision making and in developing ideas for their brand new business.
When you start your own business venture you get to operate in a space where no one else can tell you to do, or not to do, things (within legal reason that is!). Conversely, it can be very daunting to operate in a place where have no rules, no warning signs and no-one else to tell you what to do. In my conversations with the group of start-ups I was asked many questions that began with phrases such as:
“…What should I do…? Do you think it is a good idea…? How should I organise this…? What would you do…? Can I do this…?”
Seeking advice and guidance was sensible for these new business owners, some were only just forming their ideas others were establishing their new businesses. With nearly 5m businesses in the UK, of which almost 99% are SME’s, asking other people is a massive potential resource (and 3.7m of these are sole traders, so we will all know people forging their way through starting and sustaining a micro businesses). in this position, we encourage founders to chase information and persist in seeking as much useful information as they can in order to reduce the risks they are taking and maximise the chances of success. After all it has been said that, “only a fool learns from their mistakes; a wise wo/man learns from the mistakes of others”.
What I did constantly remind this group of was important though advice is, invaluable though it is to ask questions of other business owners, they are now ‘THE BOSS’. They are ‘IN CHARGE’ of their business start-up. This is scary for people if it is a new position to be in. Being the boss sounds great – the boss takes all the rewards of other people’s hard work is often a mantra I hear – but in reality it brings a unique set of challenges.
Rarely will there be straight forward yes or no choice when you are the boss. Little is gained in business terms by taking absolutely no risks. Clear win-lose opportunities don’t usually come along too often. The role of the boss is to think and plan well, to weigh the options and make a judgement about the information at hand, and then it is to make a decision. No grown-ups will be telling a new business owner what to do anymore; they will take the consequences of their own choices, whether good or bad, foreseen or unforeseen.
This is a mind-set change; it is radically different from being an employee. Many people enjoy working within boundaries or frameworks set by others. The start-up entrepreneur makes their own boundaries. They often decide not only the game they will play but also make up its rules too! Blank pieces of paper can be scary but if the new business owner really wants the rewards of entrepreneurship they must take the responsibilities too. Decisions will have consequences, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
If as a start-up founder you are waiting for someone else to give you that vital piece of information, or that crucial chunk of finance, the inside track on a great deal or the route map to establishing an amazing business before your start, you will be waiting a long time. You are, in-effect, waiting for a grown-up to come along and you are waiting for someone else to build your new company for you.
The difference between a successful start-up and one that struggles may be no more than the owner’s ability to take the initiative at the right time and make a decision; even when they do not fully know in that moment how, why or even if it will be a good one.