What I would do differently if I had to start my business again

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Safrean Dave Henderson wrote this post in response to a question from a good friend. The question? 'If I had to start my business again, what would I do differently?'

My business first opened its doors in June of 2012. A little over two years later, with the business yielding a basic income, I made the decision to quit my full-time job as the operations manager in an engineering firm. I make it sound simple, it really wasn’t. In reality, 'inevitable' is more of the word I would use to describe the decision to resign from my well-paid job.

What made this decision easier? My business – empowering authors through creating and publishing eBooks on Amazon – had already been operational for more than two years before I quit my job. This buffer meant I had two things in my favour: a modicum of confidence in the business’s ability to generate an income, as well as money in the bank.

And so, nearly four years down the line, I think it's time to take an honest look at what I would do differently if I had to start this business again from scratch.

1. Create, build and shape a vision for the business before finding customers

What I did:

I accidentally started my business. Phrased differently, I had very little deliberate intention to start a successful publishing business. After initially discovering that authors needed help creating and publishing eBooks online, I built a simple Joomla website that advertised these self-publishing services (www.myebook.co.za). The marketing efforts consisted almost solely of ploughing money into Google AdWords to rank well within the search results. Surprisingly enough, customers then started – cautiously – walking through the door.

Was I ready for the business to gain momentum? Not really.

What happened:

Without an inspiring vision to get me out of bed each morning, the business eventually started to stagnate. I found myself feeling drained by long days spent behind a keyboard. Where was the excitement that should be felt when building a new business? The business, like any newborn child, consumed enormous quantities of my time and before long also began eating into my savings.

During these trying times I was painfully aware of the lack of a guiding vision. I needed a plan bigger than simply monitoring the inbox.

What I should have done:

Running a business is something that should be done deliberately. Each decision taken should be measured against an overall vision. This vision – or dream – is what will keep you warm on those lonely nights when money is tight and customers seem as angry as hell. This is almost always why starting a business for the wrong reasons will haunt you.

The key question to shape your vision: If no-one or nothing could stop you, what would you build?

To further test and refine your business idea, let's borrow a concept from the book Good To Great by Jim Collins. Jim referred to something called the Hedgehog Concept. This concept was essentially a litmus test helping businesses better understand whether or not to proceed in a new venture.

The Hedgehog Concept:

  • What do you have a passion for?
  • What could you be the best in the world at? (be brutally honest with yourself here)
  • Can this venture truly be profitable? 

Hedgehog

Image credit: https://www.jimcollins.com/concepts/the-hedgehog-concept.html

Recommended reads for those looking to uncover their Hedgehog Concept:

2. Plan, Plan, Plan

What I did:

Once the excitement of starting my business had died down and the memory of pats on the back from friends and family had faded, the lack of a clear plan to anchor me caused the goal posts to drift. As the months flew by, the business started wearing me out. The stress caused by allowing customers to dictate my day meant that I became less effective at the simple things. Customer service suffered. I suffered. I was edging nearer to the precipice of burnout.

What happened:

Depending on your personality, you handle stress differently. Me? I internalise stress. Strong, silent and frustrated. Come hell or high water, I would always show up the next day at the office, staring slack-jawed at the monitor, expecting my stoic presence to alter the reality that I was allowing my customers to plan my day.

I gradually become less and less effective within the business. Without a vision and without a plan to guide me, I stumbled wearily through each new day. Enter the messy tangle of burnout. 

What I should have done:

Plan backwards.

I have always struggled when asked to visualise my idyllic future. When asked why they started a business, many new entrepreneurs would be tempted answer the proverbial 'Million Dollars'. Unfortunately, as a South African this would mean more than 12 Million Rand. Beside our weak currency, this goal – a bucket load of money – has never excited me.

Instead, I calculated a few simple numbers.

  • What I would like to earn as a salary? Not just my salary but what I would like to pay those people working for me.
  • I love travel. How much would two trips overseas cost me in total each year? (Note: These would be working holidays).
  • How much would it cost to have the office space I envisioned?
  • What about the table tennis table in the foyer?
  • Don’t forget about the perennially-flowing coffee fountain.

Once I had the list of actual 'stuff' I would need to 'make business fun again' I could then work backwards. Adding the various amounts required for each item I could then deconstruct the additional income required per month to realise my overall vision. This total was then divided into the average profit earned from each customer.

The result? I knew that I needed at least six additional customers each month in order to give the business the overhaul it needed. With this monthly target in mind I could now plan a few longer terms goals that would need to be met in order for my business to find those six new customers. 

These improvements included things like:

  • An overhaul of our dusty website to better reflect our brand.
  • Fixing systems within my business that were required too much manual intervention.
  • An aggressive marketing drive to reach deeper into our market.

Having trouble reaching your targets?

  • Don’t stop once you have the long-term vision and goals. Divide the large goals into smaller and more reachable targets per month, per week and per day.
  • Stick to these daily-tasks religiously. Life will try and distract you.
  • Hold daily and weekly review sessions to gauge your success or lack thereof. If you get distracted, don’t give-up. Rather plan for how to accommodate these distractions better in the future.
  • Find an accountability-buddy to help you stick to your goals.

Simple hacks to achieving your goals:

  1. Do not go to bed before you have written – by hand – the main goals for the following day. Keep this list short, ideally less than 5 items.
  2. To help you keep track of your targets, consider using a platform such as Trello to flesh out the steps needed to reach each goal.

Recommended reading for those who looking to master the small business model:

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

To read the full post, please visit Dave's blog: www.thedavidhenderson.com

About the author

Dave Henderson is the founder of the self-publishing platform MYeBook, a business aimed at empowering authors and giving them a voice within the vibrant self-publishing community. Since 2012, this proudly South African entrepreneur (Nedbank Business Accelerator Finalist 2018) has helped thousands of authors around the world to reach new readers by leveraging the power of digital distribution. To learn more about Dave, please visit his award-winning business blogpersonal blog and connect with him on social media: FacebookTwitterYouTube and LinkedIn.  

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