Stop The Excuses & Start A Business: Five Myths That Shouldn't Hold You Back
If you are thinking about starting a business, you can stop yourself from doing it for a whole host of reasons. But unless you are in a dire personal position, financially or emotionally, then there's really nothing stopping you from following your dreams, except you.
As a brand consultant, I meet a lot of people who are thinking about starting a business. However, taking an idea from talk to action can take years. Sometimes this is because individuals are fighting to overcome personal adversity while pursuing their professional aspirations. Other times, it's because they are being epic excuse-making machines.
In my experience, the top five myths people buy in to that stop them from starting a business aren't genuine reasons at all. From full-time students to first-time mums, I've seen some incredible examples of what can be achieved when you're motivated enough. If you are falling into any of the excuse-making traps listed below, here's why it’s time to get real and finally make it happen.
1) My idea must be ingenious!
No, your idea just needs to sell. New businesses fall under two categories; new inventions and current-businesses-done-better. People talk themselves out of perfectly viable ideas on the misconception that to win the jackpot, you need a brand new invention; something that’s never been done before.
In a world embellished with creativity, opportunities for something completely original are tough to think of and even tougher to get off the ground. New inventions usually surface from niche skills and experience, often in some branch of technology, science or engineering, and they typically start small before the potential for commercialisation is realised. Think Zuckerberg coding up his original Facebook.
I said almost impossible though. If you’re working on something in your basement that you believe in, keep going! Because such opportunities will of course continue to surface, they are just extremely rare; as rare as the minds who dream them up.
For the rest of us, the route to business success is actually simpler: Take an idea that already exists and do it better. You don’t need to be a genius to do this. You just need to possess the desire to act instead of complain. How often do you whinge about a product or service that you continue to use? Every time you complain, you are identifying something that could be complained about by others too. If you live in a city, how often did you used to complain about the price of taxis before Uber?
Wherever there are humans, there are opportunities for me-too businesses; that’s businesses that can be replicated time and time again; shops, transport services, estate agents, financial advisers etc; all companies saying, ‘me too’ to selling a product or service that has been sold for generations before them. Now change that list to Amazon, Uber, Right Move, Money Supermarket and you can quickly see how taking a business that has been replicated timelessly, and doing it better, can hit the jackpot.
In fact, if you track back the evolution of most major successes, they are far more commonly current-businesses-done-better than new inventions.
So your idea does not need to be some genius new thing that wins you the Nobel Prize. Your idea just needs to sell. If there are people out there selling it already, why can’t you sell it too, but better? You wouldn’t even be thinking about it if you hadn’t already stumbled across your own frustrations with a product or service that exists today.
Believe in your idea even if it’s being done elsewhere. Believe you can do it better. Believe you have what it takes to threaten the competition by putting your unique spin on something that has already been done.
2) I don’t have the money!
Then find the money and start small. Deciding not to start a business because you don’t have the money is like never eating apples because you can’t afford an apple tree. You could either buy apples grown by somebody else at a premium, or you could take some seeds, invest in some soil, and grow a damn orchard.
If you feel you need a large cash injection to launch your business, you could consider turning to other people to fund this. Family savings, business angels, seed funding, business grants, bank loans and crowdfunding are all ways of financing your startup through others. But these options can layer a large amount of pressure onto you from the offset, as well as relinquish some of your control and equity share, while raising the stakes if you fail.
I would always recommend growing your business organically instead - growing those apples from seeds at home. Firstly, you can do this at your own pace. You can work part-time around your current career and lifestyle - evenings and weekends, when the kids are in bed etc. This makes the dive into entrepreneurship a lot less scary. Yes, it can take longer to get off the ground and start seeing real return, but it’s a damn sight quicker than never starting at all.
If there are obstacles to doing it this way, for instance, your particular business idea requires expensive resources from the offset (equipment, machinery, software etc) and you can’t fund these through your own savings or current income, then I would always recommend crowdfunding or grants over loans.
Crowdfunding and business grants are a great way of securing funds at the same time as validating your idea, because if the general public or grant providers think your idea is too rubbish to invest in, they’re not going to invest. Better to find out that way than after you’ve wasted grandma’s life savings or signed up for a giant bank loan with a hefty APR.
Also, your first year of business sometimes entitles you to a load of free or discounted support and resources, including office space and consultancy, if you sign up to certain entrepreneurial associations or business incubation hubs. So your first year of business may not be as expensive as you originally think.
The point is, financing your startup is of course one of the first roadblocks you need to get around, but it’s not a reason to talk yourself out of trying. Check out the finance and support for your business section of the Gov UK website for an entire directory of resources. Make a business plan, be prudent, start number crunching and work it out.
3) I don’t have the time!
Seriously? I mean, really-truthfully-honestly? How many hours have you spent watching Game of Thrones or playing Fortnite this year? How much overtime have you worked for extra cash? How often have you been at the gym, pub, garden centre or shops? If you commute by train, do you read or sleep during the journey?
I’m not saying finding the time to start a business is easy, especially if you are already working and / or have children. But everyone has downtime, and if you don’t, then you’re probably making yourself ill. Assuming you’re living a relatively healthy lifestyle that does include some downtime, then you have time.
Because starting a business should feel exciting and fun, at the beginning at least! When you start to make sales, things will get more stressful and there comes a point when your business demands greater commitment. But initially, even if it means booking some time off work to get going, time can be found if the process is approached as part of your leisure activities. (Also think how many holidays you’ll be able to take once you’re a super successful entrepreneur).
If time is the issue that you’re telling yourself as to why you can’t start a business, what you’re really saying is that you’re too tired and unmotivated to do so. Even if you give your idea one hour per day, it’s better than nothing. One hour after dinner, or even better, first thing in the morning before you begin your day. Because in terms of time, what does starting a business actually entail?
Well, you’ll need to do some research, make some phone calls and fill in some forms. You’ll need to register your business with Companies House once you have decided which type of business you want to start (freelance, limited company etc). You’ll need to decide your business name, purchase a website domain, get a logo and website designed, organise some insurance and trademarks, secure the finances, choose an accountancy method, plot your sales and marketing strategy and establish your terms and conditions.
Yes, there’s more to it, including printed marketing assets (business cards, posters etc) digital communications (social media, mail platforms), operational resources (venue, equipment, packaging), plus additional legalities depending on your type of business. But initially, all you need to do is start.
These are mainly things that can be done online. Most of your time will be taken learning what each of these steps entail, making decisions, paying for and administering the surrounding tasks.
Each one of these tasks can take hours, weeks, months even, but if you sketch it all out in a business plan, you will soon get an idea of how long before you can launch, how many hours you'll need to dedicate in order to grow, and how much money you'll need to fund the whole process. Within your business plan, you can establish achievable bitesize milestones to keep motivated, and I promise, as you start to hit those milestones, your motivation will soar.
So you can claim that you don’t have time to do these things but I bet if you’re honest with yourself, what you’re really saying is that you don’t want to sacrifice your downtime today. And if that’s the case, then you don’t have the drive at this stage in your life to be an entrepreneur.
That’s not to say you can’t acquire that drive. Perhaps there is something else going on with you that means you don’t currently have the confidence or energy to apply yourself to this. If that’s so, call it what it is and address it when you’re ready and able, rather than blaming a lack of time for your reasons not to pursue your dreams.
4) I need to learn stuff first!
Nope. Knowledge, whether from education or experience, can be developed as you go. If “I don’t know the first thing about running a business” is your catchphrase, just stop. You get the concept of a sales transaction, yes? You understand the scenario of, ‘I need that thing,’ and, ‘I can supply you with that thing at a cost,’ surely? Well then, you’re halfway there.
All entrepreneurship starts with the basic sales transaction - supply and demand (we've all seen The Wolf of Wall Street by now, and if you haven't, oh my god watch it). If you are currently employed, even by a non-profit, you are already part of this transaction. You are already using your wealth of skills and experience to assist with the exchange of goods or services for money, and your employer believes your skills and experience are valuable enough to pay you to do so. Why don’t you believe you can do the same for you?
Your idea, the one that’s been festering away in your brain for however long, came to you for a reason. It sprouted in your mind because you crossed paths with a perceived gap or problem in the world. That sprout does not require a diploma to be watered. It does not require you to have worked in the industry for X amount of years or hold an MBA. Yes those things can massively accelerate your capabilities, but look up the stories of some of the biggest successes in history and you will find that many entrepreneurs completely changed directions into unknown territory when they made their major success, while learning a few harsh lessons along the way.
Your idea already exists. Run with it before someone else does. In fact, run with it even if someone already else is! Anything you need to learn in order to be successful can be acquired later, and you will probably learn faster from making mistakes as you go. But if you wait until you think you know everything, you'll never start. Taking your idea from concept to incubation just requires you to act, so the key is to know some stuff, wing what you don't know, and learn the rest along the way.
5) Everything needs to be perfect!
Oh, THIS little gem. This is the stumbling block that I come across the most. Not only from those who are thinking about starting, but also from those that have already taken a few steps and then some.
The entrepreneurial brain is a creative, problem-solving brain. But with this usually comes a large level of perfectionism. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but unless managed, it often gets in the way of people actively pursuing their goals or making any real progress towards them.
Take your business name, for instance. You can’t start a business without knowing what to call it. But time and time again people get drawn into the notion that their business name and logo need to be some ingenious metaphor that incorporates everything they intend to do, as well as everything they’ve ever done, their family heritage, their religion and their favourite breakfast; the very universe must align to form one ingenious piece of business symbolism.
What your business name and logo actually need are to be available as a company name on Companies House, as a trade mark within your industry with the Intellectual Property Office, and as a close-enough match for a website domain and social media pages. The availability of these factors need to be proof-checked while you are coming up with ideas, because you can have the best idea you’ve ever had in your life, but if it’s unavailable, you can’t use it.
Yes, choosing a business name that cleverly incorporates your USP will help your brand and is a popular objective, but it’s not essential. Think of the online card-retailer Moonpig, whose business name and logo has literally nothing to do with cards. That’s because in a culture saturated by highly competitive industries, being rememberable trumps being relevant, and this involves much more than a name and logo. A strong business brand is curated by establishing a consistent visual identity and brand personality over time and through your entire operations. While this needs to be strategised as part of your launch plan, it can and should evolve over time.
Don't waste time trying to perfect the holy grail of brand ideas. If you really want to attach some clever and meaningful symbolism to your business name and logo, then go with an idea that means something to you. Imagine a group of business grads pitching a new technology brand to some potential investors and trying to justify that their cool idea is going to be depicted by a common piece of fruit - probably wouldn't go down too well. But to Steve Jobs, the symbol of an apple meant something.
The point is, as long as it's available, your business name and logo can be pretty much whatever you want and this desire for utter perfection can cause fatal procrastination. I see this issue extend right the way through to straplines, websites, operations and prep, going back to myth 4 - that you must know everything before you start.
Sometimes budding entrepreneurs need to let go of this need for perfectionism and just say fuck it, let’s do it! Otherwise you might never get off the ground. As an example, I absolutely loathe the 'Health & Happiness' strapline on my homepage. It’s not savvy or original and it doesn’t sum up what my blog is about. But my blog was ready to go live and without a better alternative, I wasn’t willing to let a strapline get in my way. The right one will come to me eventually and it was far more important for me to just get going.
So if you are stalling following your dreams because you feel that all your ideas need to be absolutely on point, loosen the reigns a little and prioritise action over ideas. Your perfectionism, which can be a powerful attribute, will better serve you if you can consciously decide which areas need to be perfect now and which areas can be brushed up along the way.
As a close, starting your own business can seem terrifying because it means putting your creativity on a public stage and broadcasting the fact that you are trying to do something different. It can expose you to judgement, financial hardship, humiliation and jealously. You might fail, which most people fear (see my blog That Friend Called Failure) and you might damage your stability, career, reputation, relationships and financial security. Or, you might change your life for the better.
Buying into these fears on any level can naturally lead us to procrastinate and waste precious time that could be spent being successful and living the dream. So if you do have a dream of starting your own business, and are buying in to any of the myths I have described, maybe you are actually trying to avoid overcoming your fear of failure. Be honest with yourself. Stop procrastinating over self-doubt, stop worrying about the stakes and just try. Try wisely, but try.
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