It's ok to ask questions

Questions – lots of questions. Decisions – lots of decisions. Recently I celebrated the 2 year anniversary of my business and it seems every day is full of questions and decisions, lots of the questions are the same over and over again:

  • Am I enjoying it?
  • Could I / Should I do more?
  • Am I doing the RIGHT things?
  • Do people “get it” / “get me”
  • Is my pricing right?
  • What does the next month/quarter/year look like?
  • Am I making money?
  • Can I pay myself?

And many, many more.

Ultimately for me questions 1 & 8 are the only ones that really matter because everything in between are just functions of those 2.

Yet it is funny, with one notable exception, until recently despite all these questions going on in my head and decisions to be made (surely I’m not alone here?) I have found it extremely rare to get that sense from other business owners overtly because if you ask how things are going to other SME business owners the answers generally range from “manic” to “great” to “busy” to various other descriptors designed to portray success and/or confidence and that is perfectly understandable.

Recently however I met with someone I’ve known virtually the full 2 years, who has been in business a long time and their answer was “pretty tough actually, we’ve lost a couple of big contracts. All the staff will get paid but I might not.” How refreshingly honest I thought, no bull, no bravado just his state of mind that day.

That conversation got me thinking about the notable exception. Undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have taken during the last 2 years was to apply for the business accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark. The programme is designed to provide support and challenge for people setting out in business and it certainly did that. Lots of different people and different businesses were in the “hatchery” and our journeys and time on the programme varied greatly. But more than anything, for me the scheme provided all the following in spades:

  • A close and supportive network
  • Exposure to different people, ideas and experience
  • A safe environment to make a mess of things, show emotion and learn
  • Access to mentors, experts & support
  • Challenge
  • Confidence

In fact a group of us who started out in the first programme in Leeds 18 months ago met up for a few drinks and the chance to catch up last week.

What a journey the 2 years have been, the stereotypical rollercoaster ride emotionally with some amazing highs and a fair few lows as well, despite the lows though I have absolutely no regrets about my decision – indeed it was in part a desire not to get to the end of my working life with regrets of missed opportunity that prompted me to set out down this path in the first place.

Perhaps the thing that has crystallised the most for me over the last few months though, is – it’s ok to have questions. None of us have all the answers. Recognise what you do know and seek help and support for anything else.

Ultimately my business is about helping other people with the financial elements of business whether that is through training one on one, in groups or ongoing support as an outsourced partner.

Questions I have helped other start-ups to answer of late include the following:

  • Should we seek funding – what options have we got?
  • What can I pay my new staff member?
  • What would investors look for?
  • What should the plan be?
  • Can I pay myself more?
  • Should we VAT register?
  • Should we go limited?
  • What do I need to do when to be compliant with HMRC?

If any of those questions are on your mind – I’ve been in your shoes. Help is available! 

You can read here about that work with some other “E Spark” alumni: http://blmforum.net/mag/yorkshire-entrepreneurs-unite-to-conquer-financial-management/

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