What Derails a Start-Up?

I wanted to write about what derails a start-up.

Not just the obvious things like no funding or bad cash-flow. These are the seemingly obvious things in my mind that lead (quite quickly!) to the ruin of a fledgling business.

Nobody ever started a company thinking ‘yes, today my start-up will have an epic fail and go out of business’…

But in the very early stages of taking a product or service to market, there are many more emotional challenges than people ever plan for.

Looking at a lot of the hyperbole circulating on the internet, there are endless articles about ‘grinding’ for business success ‘smashing it’ and lots of very male-dominated language that to be honest (to a female, middle-aged, middle class Waitrose shopper like myself), seems a bit, well, odd?!

Not to mention the Instagram pictures of Rolex watches and people setting fire to piles of dollar bills – really?

This is the fantasy imagery created by social media by ‘snake oil’ sales people promising the ‘quick win’ and fast route to global world domination.

Basically; the truth of the matter is, there’s no such thing as a quick win.

Hard work, dedication and persisting with the mundane is (eventually) what will win through.

Yes, of course you have to work your arse* off (American chums, please insert the word *ass here) and starting a business is a labour of love undoubtedly.

But the biggest emotional killer that I have seen over working with nearly 2,000 start-up business owners in the last 3 years is social isolation.

Ooo; emotion. I can feel some people reading this already feeling a bit awkward.

Isn’t having emotions and admitting to them a bit, well, un-British?

Most people who have started their own company have normally been employed somewhere else, no matter how briefly. It’s the very reason that people do start a business. They get fed up of building someone else’s empire and want to build their own!

But what differs (and what’s NOT seemingly obvious to most), is that the team that you were used to having around you for ‘banter’ and emotional offloading and support, are no longer there.

The accounts department (who let’s face it, most sales people love to hate!), the procurement people who check and vet the supply chain, the marketers who drive the leads into the business and the sales people that convert them. The credit control whizz who can make late-payers cry and more importantly – pay! These roles and many more make up successful organisations.

This is a revelation to the start-up business owner, when they realise they are having to complete all of these job roles themselves; whilst trying to business develop and keep the company ‘on track’. No wonder there’s such emotional and mental stress.

As a start-up business owner being a polymath is actually an advantage.

I have coined a new phrase for start-up which is ‘Jack/Jill of all trades – master of SOME’, because ironically, being able to be skilled at one to three disciplines in a start-up is an advantage.

Historically, we have been taught by the education system and society that diversification and multi-tasking is the road to ruin. When you start a business from your kitchen table or spare room however, having several/multiple skills is a major advantage.

But nobody ever warned you that your mindset and emotional discipline are key too.

In my experience of speaking at length to many solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and small business owners; mindset and persistence are the two key differentiators of success vs failure.

Owners also have to have an ‘open mindset’ and should also be emotionally intelligent in order to succeed.

Yes; you can burn everyone else to the floor and compete against the world (and these are useful motivators at times), but collaboration actually leads to more profitable organisations.

It doesn’t matter as a start-up business owner if you cannot master Facebook advertising; if you can’t stop crying in frustration and getting angry because Windows 365 is updating AGAIN just as you need to send that vital quote or sales e-mail.

What matters most ultimately is your mental health – so here are my top tips for balancing the inevitable workload mentally, so that you can stay on track to pursue your goals profitably:

1.      Find your tribe – use social media and local meetups to help identify groups who ‘get you’ and will provide genuine support both practically and emotionally.

Don’t be afraid to go to a few groups or ask around locally or ask for recommendation on Facebook/Linked In.

2.      Keep going back to the meetings – there’s always something ‘more important’ to do and that will never change. Once you work for yourself, there’s only you to do the work in the early days.

Unless the building is on fire, it can genuinely wait until tomorrow.

This is your brain in ‘frazzled mode’ and that leads to emotional catastrophe and meltdown so take a break.

People matter, as humans we are built to naturally seek to be part of a community – find and treasure your community and tribe.

3.      The devil on your shoulder

‘you can’t do it’

‘look at the state of you’

‘who are you to think that you can do this’

‘what will people think of you’

Ah yes, our old friend the negative self-talk – rest, recuperate, ignore and move swiftly on.

4.      Social isolation – if you haven’t seen anyone for days, except the computer screen, the postal delivery drivers and the family pet, this is NOT GOOD.

This leads to overthinking and strain on your mental health.

Go out and seek some company and talk about something (other than business) and if you can get out for a walk, then go and exercise. Endorphins will help with a mental shift.

5.      Give yourself a break – stop working so hard, because nobody will really notice or even care.

Sorry, it’s true.

Don’t believe the hype of your overworked brain, that invents a whole host of reasons as to why you should stay glued to the laptop for the umpteenth social media post. Have a rest.

6.      Structure your days for maximum productivity.

Long hours work culture is a structure built on old principles from the industrial revolution.

Technology is available 24/7; work when you feel most productive and are at the height of your mental powers. It may take some time to adjust to this concept, but all humans are productive at different times of the day. Find your pattern and work to it.

Diary block your tasks.

Monday and Friday are great for admin, the roads are hell for traffic and most customers are either sad because it’s Monday and they are back in the office; or secretly watching the hands of the clock on a Friday, so sales calls are best Tuesday-Thursday and that helps you focus.

Lastly, if you are struggling and think that it is a real issue and more than a good night’s sleep and a rant can solve, then please ask for help. From your GP or a host of other mental health providers that are geared to support people.

It may be as simple as starting with a chat and some advice from a friend, but ultimately, your life matters more than any business. There’s always someone listening.

Solent Mind:

If you need help and are based in the Solent area; then contact Solent Mind a charity that have wellbeing centres that can provide additional support and signposting.