Mweni recently got retrenched – but that’s not why she asked to meet me. She had been working in the public health industry though her true passion was in nutrition, and she had been advising clients on the side for the last year. She was not terribly upset over her retrenchment and took this as a sign that it was time to take this venture seriously.
But like everybody who starts a business, Mweni was unsure about what the next step should be. She hit me with all the questions she could muster.
She must have Googled some articles in preparation for our discussion. Should she write a business plan, hire somebody, get an office, get a partner?
How should money be handled, tax, accounting? Whoa! My mind couldn’t take it all in. After she voiced all these concerns and got them out of the way, I simply asked her if she was scared. In resignation she said yes. I did sense some disappointment because she had come prepared for some real technical information.
We burden ourselves with questions that can only get answered along the way by acquiring immediate technical expertise is the fear. Let me explain.
Mweni is leaving a stable job and a regular income. She is also leaving a structured job description and an organisation that people around her such as friends and family recognise. If you are transitioning from employment, you are also experiencing a change in your identity which can be very uncomfortable. Apart from social recognition based on title or brand of the company you worked at, every organisation has a culture and established routines. You walk in on Monday morning and know what you are supposed to do, how to greet people, which meeting to go for, where the coffee is, etc. For Mweni, the same Monday will not have any of that. Nobody will have set meetings for her and in the beginning, there may be nobody to greet. How do you deal with this?
Understand that your version of what a business is may not be accurate, as you may be comparing yourself with what you became accustomed to in your previous job. Mweni’s idea of a business is the organisation she left, which had 300 employees. It’s very easy to be intimidated when her reality at the moment looks nothing close to that. I advised her to simply take the step that is right in front of her. If that day it is calling one person, do that. It may be writing a proposal, setting up a meeting, working on a profile, research, sorting out a diet, etc. Be prepared to fail and learn along the way. Consider starting up the experiment phase. Growth is a sequence of small steps not one large event.
Mweni was of course also concerned about money. She had received a retrenchment package from work and was wondering whether to invest it for the future or use it in the business. Money doesn’t come immediately so don’t spend immediately. When I starte out, I made the mistake of spending money on things that were not providing a return e.g. setting up an office. I had to shut it down later and learnt that I only ever needed an Internet connection, phone, laptop and means of transport to run the same business. Mweni did not need to spend money on the business other than to get it registered and set up a website. Spend only what is needed to start generating money. In a service business like hers, the immediate financial output required is minimal. If, like Mweni, you have some money, it may be harder to not spend. But you must restrain yourself.
This period is for you to really get acquainted with the business and remove the theory in your head, otherwise you will spend in the wrong places. I also advised Mweni not to invest in illiquid assets like property. Since business may not be able to pay her immediately, she may need to draw money from it for her living expenses e.g. rent, food and fuel for a while. However, she should give these drawings a timeline so that she also puts pressure on the business to generate income. Even if you are starting out without any money, you will learn that you can survive on a lot less than you actually think. Keep personal spending to a minimum. Starting a business can be overwhelming but do take it one day and one action at a time.