Merje Shaw is the founder of Path59 and Scandiscapes
Merje Shaw is the founder and MD of Path59, a consultancy that helps companies in traditional industries get to grips with digital transformation. Alongside Path59, Merje is also the founder of Scandiscapes, the UK’s first dedicated online platform for Scandi design-lovers seeking to reconnect with nature through stylish biophilic décor products. Here she shares her top tips for starting a successful business from your kitchen table.
So you’ve had a brilliant idea and found a gap in the market that you are in a unique position to fill. Great! Now you just need to turn it into a business – sounds simple, no?
As someone who had been advising (some rather large) companies on their business strategy and customer experience for years, I assumed that the actual business side would be easy. Turns out there’s more to it thank you think. To give you a head start, here are some things I wish I’d known about running a successful business before I started out.
Be prepared to be a jack of all trades
Many of us who have started companies after a successful career are initially sceptical about the amount of work it really takes to run a company – I know I was. But it does make sense, if you think about it. All those functions that are invisible in many organisations when they are run well, will now be run by you: HR, finance, facilities, asset management, project management, client and customer services, administration, cleaning…the list goes on. All you can do is focus on the critical for now and accept that not everything will be perfect for a while.
Have a nest egg
This can be crucial. I started my business after having a child and then really started to expand the company after having the second. Looking back, this wasn’t the best move as it led to some very interesting personal financial situations. Learn from my mistake and build a little nest egg before you start – the opportunity will still be there once you do, or you will find something even better.
Save on everything
If you want to start a profitable company, doing this from your kitchen table is actually quite sensible. When we started out we got a big shiny office a swanky co-working space because we believed their promises of being start-up friendly and providing excellent networking opportunities. This soon proved unnecessary. Start at your home, the local coffee shop, the library, anywhere free. When you grow larger, there are accelerators and incubators that offer subsidised workspaces as well as very basic office spaces like Ministry of Startups that understand what you need – a desk, a chair, the internet, and a space to share with your team.
Build your website yourself using Squarespace or WordPress – whichever you find easier. If you are doing it right, you will need to be constantly adapting it anyway so creating a full-blown site will only go to waste, especially if you can’t tweak it yourself.
Your marketing collateral…
Contrary to popular opinion, and despite having previously run a branding agency, you don’t need a full-blown brand when you are first starting, as you will keep evolving. A logo and colour scheme are fine to begin with. Once you know who you are as an organisation, you can refine your brand. Tools like Canva will help you create consistent-looking collateral whilst others like Later, SmarterQueue and Hootsuite will help you take care of the social side.
… but not your accountant
This is one area where cutting costs is not advisable. Ask around for recommendations from other business owners - you’ll be able to tell the good from the average by how engaged they get with understanding your business. Whatever you do, make sure they’re Chartered! I didn’t with our first one and we nearly went under as a result of their incompetence.
Know your customer
The main difference between a successful start-up and a legacy organisation is something very simple – customer focus. A start-up company, by definition, is still in search of the perfect product-market fit. How you successfully find that is identifying a customer need that is painful enough for them to pay for it. Talk to people and potential customers. Make sure you are always listening to your customers – and not just listening, but also observing. People are notoriously bad at explaining their reasoning (mostly because a lot of decisions we make are automatic).
Be prepared to eat humble pie
You will be wrong, a lot. I won’t lie: it is painful. But what you get from accepting that you don’t know everything is a new kind of resilience that also enables you to ask for help with things you are not as strong with. This, in turn, helps you develop the emotional intelligence to…
Talk to the smart people
It is amazing how often incredibly smart and interesting people are surprised when I ask them for advice. Surely they’d expect this all the time? Sadly not – so many of us get our heads down, tinkering away at our ideas and never share them, for fear that someone else might steal them. I have news for you – ideas are cheap. Everyone has many, many ideas and some of them are brilliant. But unless you actually make those ideas real, they are worthless. So talk to smart people – they can help you make your ideas a reality.
Build a tribe
You know how in the beginning I said to save costs on working spaces etc? This can backfire when you start to feel a bit lonely. The good news is that this is completely unnecessary – look out for entrepreneur groups. There are active communities on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Many organisations also run start-up friendly networks, such as the IoD99. Being able to compare experiences with people going through the same journey is incredibly powerful.
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