In this excerpt from The Monocle Guide to Good Business, we get a glimpse at some of their expert advice on how to turn that great idea into a successful business.
Inspiration: Know where to start
The first thing you need is an idea (or two, just in case the first one proves daft). You don’t have to think of something that’s unique—although this can be helpful in some instances. Often a fresh approach to an old format is the perfect place to start. A good coffee shop, a friendly lawyer’s office, a modest but ambitious architecture firm, a cake shop with good buns, and a nice window display: nothing new but things the public wants repeatedly.
Awareness: Look before you leap
Think what this means for your life—are you ready for the sweat and tears? Be clear about why you are doing this and be ready to make some sacrifices in the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction. Because while it may be momentarily glorious to tell your corporate boss that you have had enough of her and her temper, what lies ahead for any entrepreneur takes courage and involves numerous set backs.
Detail: Design a blueprint you can rely on
Create a plan. A really detailed one. You may not stick to it in the end but there are some essential questions you need answers to. What are your start-up costs going to be? Who will be your investors and how will they be repaid? What do you intend your profits to be in year one? Be modest, clear and honest—especially with yourself.
Commitment: Stick to your idea
Don’t dawdle. After you have spoken to everyone, don’t get blown off course. Your head will spin if you ask too many people for advice. Let’s say you want to start a small wine company with links from vineyard to retail. A survey of opinions will push you up and down market from Chile to Italy. But if you know your passion is for selling Spanish wines to Japan or Brazilian ones to Canada, stick with it.
Investment: Fund your business
Now raise the money. If you need investors, start with friends and family and show commitment by adding your own cash. Forget the Palo Alto venture-capital model (having a vague idea and getting a billionaire to pay for your vision) because beyond that bubble, investors want to see that you too are sharing the risk. You also want people who are in it for the long haul and will not jump at the first sign of trouble.
Petiteness: Have only what you need
If you do need your own office or shop from the get-go, start small. Too many retail concepts, for example, fail because people just start off too big, paying rent for floorspace they don’t need. Conversely, there are lots of shops no bigger than a few square meters that raise the bar in terms of inventiveness.
Appellation: Ensure immediate recognition
Choose a name for your company that will stand the test of time and work in all formats—and in various nations if you intend to go global. It also needs to be something that you can say on the phone and people will get first time. Having to explain or spell the name repeatedly will become very tiresome very quickly.
Recruitment: Get the right balance
Pick your first staff carefully. Okay, they can talk the talk and have the right skills, but are they nice? Will they be there when the tough moments arise? Do they seem like the loyal sort? Gather people around you who can become a team.
Marketing: Let people know who you are
Choose a marketing plan—a simple one. How are you going to let people know that you have launched and that you have a new product? At every event and meeting get contacts so you can build up a database of useful names. Produce a newsletter. Print posters. Make tote bags. Just get your name in front of the right people.
Community: Have a local love-in
Base yourself in a community and be a part of it: get involved with neighbouring enterprises and start-ups. Local trading associations and business groups do good things but many new companies find ways of becoming part of their local scene without such formal backing. If you are running the local wine store you’ll get to know when people are drowning their sorrows and celebrating their birthdays. Join in.
Consistency: Work towards long-term gain
Brands are made through repetition, so don’t change course too easily. Okay, so they don’t get it at first but before you switch strategy make sure that you’ve given it a good go. It’s hard to have any credibility if you’re an upscale wine store one day and a cider store the next. Often it’s not the product but the presentation that needs tweaking.
Expansion: Aim for sustained success
Employ more people. It’s a testing time when a business expands and clients can no longer have all of your attention. There are painful hurdles as you expand and you have to cede control on certain things. If you can, promote from within and reward loyalty. Outside hires can often go wrong if you’re a small, tight organisation with a clear set of unshakeable values. Be cautious.
Etiquette: taste (when you’re in China)
In China, taste everything you’re offered during the course of a meal—but never clear your plate as your host will assume you’re still hungry and keep filling it. Between tastings, don’t talk business; wait until the plates are cleared away.
Etiquette: preamble (when you’re in the UK)
In the UK, small talk is an essential prelude to business talk; the weather and the day’s events are both acceptable topics. After skirting round the real reason you’ve met, everyone will be happy to attend to the matter in hand.
Pruning: Aspire to the greater good
Let people move on—don’t keep staff who are bad at their jobs. It’s one of the most painful things an entrepreneur has to do but you should not renew contracts or avoid difficult reviews if you have found yourself with staff who will never be able to help you.
Assistance: Make the best use of your day
Getting bigger? Employ an assistant. Today you booked flight tickets, tried to fix the photocopier, made some lunch, and dealt with numerous questions from your team. There comes a point when you need an assistant who can give you time to do what you’re good at.
Reflection: Remember how you got here
Remind yourself how this venture all began on a regular basis; go back to those founding core values again and again, making sure you are staying true to your company’s heritage. And be able to articulate your story (the real one, not a made-up one).
Rest: Take a break
Have a holiday. You deserve it. Sun on your skin, a doze in the afternoon, a long, long dinner. You’ll forget it all for a few days and then you’ll find your fogged mind clearing. On the final days you’ll be revived and full of ideas for the years ahead. You’ll even have the occasional smile as you think to yourself, “I’m running my own company. I’m my own boss. I love what I do.”
For the full list of the steps to success and more expert advice on how to do good business, consult The Monocle Guide to Good Business.