By Ian Whitworth
Time To Set Up Your Own Place?
So you’re thinking about setting up your own business. After years of boredom and frustration, you’re finally going to stick it to The Man and get your own place up and running. About time.
Can you do it? Conventional motivator wisdom says yes. But they want your money so they would say that. This blog is about the gritty reality of actually doing it, from someone who has.
There’ll be no “write down your big hairy audacious goals” to stick on your bathroom mirror here. If that works for you great, there are lots of Anthony Robbins-knockoffs to help you out. But unless you read a bit wider, your inspiration and self-improvement plans are exactly the same as a million time-share real estate sales wannabes out there. Do you want to be that? Stop reading now.
The Brutal Truths Of Owning Your Own Business
I spent the first five years of my career at the back of hotel conference rooms as an AV technician listening to motivators deliver that kind of shtick. You need motivators if you have the sort of job where you stand in an airport and ask a thousand surly passengers per day if they like wine. I’d rather give you some brutal truths right between the eyes, balanced with an honest account of how great setting up your own business can be.
My business partners and I were employees together before we started our own caper.
Most of what we were told as employees, the popular wisdom and accepted success goals, turned out to be wrong. At least, wrong for us. I spent the first fifteen years of my career trying to please people and “be corporate”. Fair enough, that’s what I was paid for and it was great. But strange instincts told me to mess with the system. A lot of my suggestions were judged to be a bit weird. So I focused on learning how things are done in Corporate World, despite the questions they raised. I silenced the voices in my head when they asked questions like “wouldn’t we make more profit if we fired half our clients?”
The MBA Approach
We’d always assumed MBAs were our natural business overlords. They had studied hard, paid plenty for their degrees, and seemed very … businesslike. Then, as we watched the havoc they wreaked on worthy businesses around us, we realized their maniacal focus on finance and process delivered short-term results but killed a company’s soul. Which, ironically, killed its financial performance.
In MBA world it’s finance first, clients second, staff a distant last, whatever they say publicly to reassure the troops. MBAs have no respect for the craft of the people who work for you or the pride they take in it. In MBA world they’re just generic, replaceable units of labor.
The Non-MBA Approach
We realised the path to a successful, lasting business is to do the opposite of whatever MBAs think. Our belief was: keep your staff happy and inspired, they’ll give you happy clients, and your bottom line will largely take care of itself, without a heap of tiresome analysis.
We wanted to free the people from the prison of process, let them take pride in their work, embrace individuality, and just be interesting. We decided to test this theory with our own money. All of it.
We’re not in a well-known field. Our main business, Scene Change, provides the presentation technology – sound, lights, video projection and staging – for corporate events like conferences and product launches. We have businesses around the country.
Our people lurk in the dark at the back of the show, making bank CEOs, software platforms and new cars look heroic. After decades, I still don’t think my Mum fully understands what we do. But our lessons apply to any startup.
Fun x 1000
Since we got our own place, we’ve ratcheted up the instinctive behavior and it’s much more profitable and a thousand times more fun, though it needs to be strongly grounded in knowledge we soaked up during the sensible work years. And how do you know when you’re having fun with nothing to reference it against?
My co-founder and I don’t work directly in the businesses, but have equity partners managing each of them, each the sort of person you’d want in your cool gang to pull off a glamorous casino heist. It provides us with passive incomes that are very satisfactory thank you. And because we don’t care about big houses, we reinvest most of it in new businesses and the fun just multiplies.
Should you make the leap? Probably, you’ll regret it if you never do. Maybe subscribe to the weekly email so you don’t miss stuff, you’ll get a helpful free e-book on how to set your own biz up too. Thanks for joining us.