What do you think of when you think of an entrepreneur? Richard Branson grinning from a hot air balloon basket, secure with his millions? Those people who started off selling eggs when they were 3 and were always selling something, so now they’ve got an empire? After writing the introduction to my latest guest post, I was thinking about what an unlikely entrepreneur I am. I never showed a flair for business as a child. I kept my head down, did mainly admin jobs; was a good problem solver and solid worker, but not that exciting or, frankly entrepreneurial. Did anyone who knows me see Libro coming, and being the success it is now?
Now, I’m not setting myself up to be a business guru. But I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I feel I have some insights and experience which it might be useful to share. So: I think there are different ways of being an entrepreneur. Some people throw everything into it and take lots of risks (aha – the title is coming in now …). Others, like me, are more careful. And maybe we won’t get the multi-million rewards (and the failures, and the lack of time for family and friends, and the stress …) but we’re still brave.
I started my business. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I didn’t take a risk with my finances and lifestyle: I ‘soft-launched’, which means that I started the business part-time while working, full-time at first, at my day job. Some people think doing this shows a lack of commitment – I don’t think I show a lack of commitment to Libro, but I do want to protect my own interests while proceeding with the business.
I went part-time at my day job. But I wasn’t taking too much of a risk, because I’d made sure in advance that I was making enough money with Libro to cover the loss of earnings – both times that I decreased my hours at the Library.
I’ve reached out to potential clients via Twitter and Facebook. But I did it more personally, subtly, answering tweets for help, reminding people of what I’m doing, rather than taking out expensive ads on all the social media. I’ve used social media and have gained clients through it, but at no cost apart from my time.
I certainly felt a bit nervous when I went to my first networking meeting. “Wear your normal business attire,” they said. What? My pajamas, or tracky bottoms and a hoody? But I suited up and went for it, and made some good contacts. Later on, I started going to the Social Media Cafe and now I’m helping out at the Social Media Surgeries. But I didn’t risk a lot of money on expensive memberships, or put everything into one form of networking; at the time of my first meeting, I was working full-time still and could not have coped if I’d suddenly developed lots of new customers. And I’m still evaluating the cost-benefit analysis of the bigger networking groups, and actively seeking new smaller, local ones to join.
So what I’m saying is, you don’t have to go out all guns blazing. If you’ve got an idea for a business but you’re not sure what to do next, think about it and start small. If you fail, you haven’t risked everything and lost it. If you succeed, you can grow slowly and carefully. It won’t work for everyone, but nothing does. This maybe offers an alternative to jumping in, if you’re not a natural risk-taker.
May 18, 2011 at 10:46 am
Good for you – I think it’s very easy to suppose from how start-ups are portrayed in the media to think that there is only one way of approaching it. My method (I’m a bookdealer) has been much like yours: I’ve never had a bank loan but have grown slowly. I’m very impressed that you’ve succeeded with social media too. I’m very much still feeling my way with it, so I hope to use you as an example!
May 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm
Thanks for your kind comments, Jane. It is good to know there are more of us careful people out there! Do drop me a line if you want to chat about using social media …
June 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Some very good points Liz – the problem with a lot of businesses is a lack of planning – they may not bother with a business plan, or doing market research, or thinking about alternative suppliers or even a risk strategy (I got the title in too!), but cross their fingers and hope for sunny weather and lots of footfall. Build a business on this basis and the startling statistics about the number of start ups which fail in the first couple of years start to make sense.
Liz at Libro
June 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm
Thanks for your comments, Nick. Yes indeed, as well as care in not risking too much, you still have to take care in planning and assessing as you go along. I’m quite horrified at how some people just jump in and risk everything without working stuff out first!