It’s exciting starting a new business.
There are new ideas and new colleagues to contend with, and then there's the thrill of actually getting underway.
All that can mean many hygiene factors that should be addressed get overlooked.
Businesses are iterative and go through cycles - people come go, and tasks can all too easily get sidelined for ever-pressing client work. This can however cause a lot of remedial catch-up action down the line.
With that in mind, here are a few things I wish I had known (and addressed) when I set out, in case they're of help to you in your business.
Shocks are inevitable
The markets will and do fall. Bad publicity around financial planning issues will happen. Valued staff will get poached by other firms, and people you thought you could trust will let you down.
Unfortunately, issues like these are a matter of course. It's just business, and they must all be worked through or around. The world largely doesn’t care and will keep turning. As business owners, we have to do the same.
Business suppliers will always put themselves first
Push hard on pricing and agree payment terms both in and out. Don’t settle for first offer pricing, as most will negotiate in a competitive world.
Be prepared to shift your mindset to succeed
It's important to be prepared to listen to others, and to be persuaded from your own point of view. Hear as well as listen.
Get your documentation and governance sorted
In advice firms it's easy to concentrate on the regulated side of things, such as professional indemnity insurance, regulatory permissions and the like. But there is also the business side of the practice to think about.
Directors’ service agreements are a must. These detail the level of commitment required, hours, expected standards, leave entitlements and a lot more.
These agreements are a legal way of codifying against directors who do not put in the same effort, take more leave than others, or resent or resist being held to account for agreed standards of conduct and performance. They also mean reviews are held to a framework.
The same goes for job descriptions, core values, mission statements, brand guidelines and all the rest. They shouldn’t be seen as a chore but a must-have.
Don’t underestimate your competition under any circumstances
Everyone is competing to succeed and to attract the clients you work with. Never underestimate how hard you will have to work to attract and retain them.
Your client value proposition must stand out and be constantly worked and delivered on. Understand that business is a never-ending competition.
Just how long it takes to gain a successful business footing
It took me much longer to establish my business than I thought it would, with much more work than I imagined. This is probably true of all our businesses.
I also wish I'd known how hard it would be to get everyone to commit to the same massive effort to succeed.
How resilient you have to be as a business leader
It’s an old cliché, but it's lonely at the top. Co-directors will support you to a degree, but they can also act more like employees rather than leaders if allowed to when it suits them. Work every day on your resilience, integrity and loyalty to your team.
Embrace personal growth and positive critique
It is not just about professional exams. Lifelong learning is good for the soul and should be embraced with a passion.
Have interests outside your business. Take courses, find other exams, pick up a camera and learn. Be prepared to be critiqued, and recognise that this is not criticism. Only the weak and insecure see it as such.
Be endlessly curious, and build the same sense of curiosity in your team members. They should always be striving to be better and understand the eco-system within which they work.
Building a profile brings dividends for you and your firm
This could mean cultivating press commentary, or engaging in the debate around the serious issues facing our profession.
Be prepared to stand up for what you believe in, despite the fact that social media responses and the comments underneath online articles can be far from professional, even personal, at times.
Retain your integrity, be prepared to defend the good from the bad and be seen to do so. Sincerity and honesty are incredibly powerful business strategies. It should go without saying that they are also attractive personal traits.
That knowing your numbers is priceless
Business metrics, who brings in the business, where the clients come from, who is networking and where time spent is successful. The list of potential business metrics and success measures is endless, but massively important. Use dashboards or other software to track as much as is possible.
Just how much effort must go into marketing
Everyone is marketing all of the time, so whatever you do must stand out in a very crowded market.
Being prepared to experiment, and even fail, is all part of a learning journey. Seek help if needed, use software, again know your numbers and what it is that works for your clients.
Just how disappointed you can feel sometimes
There are a number of things that can cause you to feel dejected or disappointed at times - team dynamics, the occasional bit of negative client feedback, not landing the client you thought was a sure thing, or a negative or underperforming colleague who refuses all help. Again, coping with these challenges comes back to your personal standards and resilience.
Don't lose sight of the social side of business
Remember to have fun. This means taking the time to enjoy the successes, and to celebrate with your team. All work and no play and all that.