6.28.2015

What they don’t tell you about starting your own business

By Lara Kelly, theguardian.com, co-creator of Hum Flowerpots

Man yawningFrom turning into an obsessive bore to the painful journey of creating a new product, Lara Kelly reveals the realities of becoming an entrepreneur
1. What ‘being your own boss’ really means
Nobody warned me about turning into a full-blown monomaniac when I started out on my business venture. It was as if a raging fever had taken over, and all cautions
and criticisms were just obstacles to be overcome in my all-consuming mission to be successful. Of course, having faith and perseverance is what gets you there in the end, but I didn’t realise how much it would change me. A year on, I may be thinking and worrying about the business 24/7, but I am trying very hard not to be such an obsessive bore all the time.
Another surprising aspect of all this is that it doesn’t actually feel like work, even the really difficult, stressful stuff. Somehow it’s completely different when you are your own boss. And I’m learning new things all the time. One minute I am wrestling with accounting software and VAT calculations, the next I’m doodling ideas for a YouTube video, or pasting some code on a page of our website. Overnight I have had to learn a whole new set of skills, and the challenges keep coming. To say it’s a steep learning curve doesn’t do it justice.
 2. What developing a new product actually involves
This is how it went: “Hey, we’ve got a great idea for something new and different (a colourful patterned outdoor plant pot in our case) so let’s go and get it made!” If I had known how distressing, expensive and difficult this path is, I might have been better prepared. Many people give up without achieving their goal, but funnily enough, we don’t hear much about them. All I can say is that researching the idea from every angle is a good start, but it is just the start. At some point you have to put your money on the table and trust people, and if it doesn’t work out, you have to be prepared, financially and emotionally, to start again with someone else. As I explained the other day to a passing stranger who hadn’t actually asked me about it: developing a new product takes nerves of steel and much more money and time than you think.
3. The true value of friends, relatives and neighbours
There are plenty of companies providing advice and services to startups for a fee, but I found lots of invaluable free advice right under my nose. I was amazed when I realised how many people I already knew who had useful contacts, experience and knowledge. Suddenly I found my attitude changing from “Yeah, I’m not sure what my friend does, it’s something to do with Intellectual Property” to “IP? Just what I need to know about. I can totally grill my friend about her job, with only a faint sense of shame that I had no interest in it until now.”
4. That selling stuff is not easy
You follow the advice, create a great website, online advertising and social media, press releases, even distribute flyers, but there’s no overnight success. I’ve now realised that it’s a great long hard slog to even be noticed, let alone convince people to buy stuff. When I’m shopping, I think “There’s a product, it’s been put on a website or displayed in a shop, and people buy it.” But I now know that there’s blood, sweat and tears behind every retail transaction, and that people gloss over it because they are so relieved to have made it this far without going bankrupt or insane, or both.
5. That your business plan will look hilarious within 6 months
Yes, writing a business plan was a vital first step that helped me focus on the task ahead and apply a professional approach. But after a few months things had changed so much that those initial projections looked laughably naïve. What they don’t tell you is that this doesn’t really matter. Ditching the old plan and writing a new one just shows how adaptable you are in the face of all those “unforeseen challenges”. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway!
Lara Kelly is co-creator of Hum Flowerpots

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