As an entrepreneur of over 20 years himself, Graham is well placed to coach would-be entrepreneurs to plan, build and grow their businesses by opening up their minds to thinking about the many priorities and challenges to be considered along the way to running a successful business.
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I've got an admission to make; I am an entrepreneur, and it's taken me decades to get to the point where I'm prepared to admit that out loud. It's not even a word I really like very much. What does it mean? It means I work for myself and I have done for a very long period of time, in fact, decades.
There are increasingly more people in the working population of the United Kingdom who work for themselves than have historically. And that's a part of the gig economy. It's part of modern society. It's part of our new or newer ways of living. But - and this is big but - it's not easy; It's not the same as going to work for somebody else where there's a reliable guarantee of a salary at the end of the month, where there's a relatively well-defined role, and there's a relatively well-defined relationship with all of the people that you interact with. You know what's expected of you, and in return for that, you get paid. Clearly, when you work for yourself, that's not there. It might get there over time, but it isn't there when you start or before you start.
So, as I was reflecting on being an entrepreneur and thinking back to when I started and I was thinking of starting on my own, and I've built a number of businesses over the years, sold some of them, retained some of them, and I've worked with other people, obviously, as a coach to help them build their businesses.
I've seen this a lot and as a coach, it's a real challenge thinking about a conversation with somebody who was considering becoming self-employed or becoming an entrepreneur, how would an executive coach help them? How could you get them to work out the things they need to work out in advance before perhaps they've either made the decision or once they've made the decision how they increase the chances of success?
And this isn't about simply sharing my experience. This isn't simply about saying, Right, what I did was, because that may be completely inappropriate. If they want to be running a painting and decorating business. I've got absolutely zero experience knowing how to do that. If they want to start an organisation that does translations for people, I've got no idea how you do that. Someone doing a digital marketing company from their front room, I don't know how you do that. So, it's not about my knowledge of starting businesses, though clearly, that would help. It's not about that. It's about how I open their mind to thinking about the things they need to be thinking about in order to prioritise them and get them into the kind of order, the kind of shape that's going to give them the right decision to proceed, or, as I said before, increase the chances of succeeding.
If I was speaking to somebody who hadn't yet made the mind up to start on their own but was seriously thinking about it, and in their head, they had some idea what they thought that was going to look like, my initial questions would be around what is it you're going to sell? Is it a service? Is it a product? Who do you think is going to buy it?
I'd start to get them to think about whatever their dream is in cold, hard facts around the business element, the transactional element of what it is they're going to be doing. And, if it's necessary, if it's appropriate, I might even push them towards thinking about the mathematics of the financials of it all, How much money do you need? Therefore, what does that mean? That if you're selling things you need to make per thing you sell or the number of things you need to sell. So, how realistic does it look like your ability to earn the kind of living that you need to, or how long is it gonna take you to get to that point?
I might then take them to another point, which is how much security and financial security do you have in terms of time from giving up your current employment, and your current income, to creating your new income in your self-employment phase?
How much time have you got before it all becomes very, very bad? Because if that's a number of weeks, then you need to be on a surefire success. If it's a number of months, you've got a much better chance of getting through that difficult startup phase.
Once I've got them to think about what they're going to do, who they're going to do it for, and what the financial implication could be, I then talk to them about risk. Now, this isn't about putting people off. It's about what could go wrong. How would you deal with that if it did? And this is preparing them for the future. This isn't about predicting failure. This is about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. So when it should happen, you are able to deal with it most effectively. And indeed, probably take it in your stride and see it as not the threatening risk that you might otherwise have seen it.
I also would then probably talk to them about what does success look like? One of the difficulties in setting out on your own is being clear about what it is you're trying to build. If all you want to do is create a business that gives you an income, that is one thing. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not decrying it in any way, and it's a success if that's what you achieve. But if you're looking to build something that you ultimately want to leave or give to your family or in some way create a huge amount of wealth, then that's a different thing.
So starting to visualize success, describe success actually. Putting yourself into the position of having been successful enables this person to begin to think, I really want to do this, or I'm not so sure. Because obviously if you are doing it for yourself and it's going to be a one-man band and it's generating income, what happens when you go on holiday? If you're going to build a business that's going to be employing lots of people, that's a completely different risk profile. Suddenly you've got overheads. Suddenly you've got a situation where the business is growing, you're taking on cost commitments that aren't necessarily being paid for by customers because you're investing in advance - are you prepared for that? Are you happy to do that?
Then you've got all the managerial issues of managing a team of people, particularly when not only are you the boss, you're the owner, and so that performance directly relates to your success.
So, as I would be speaking to this potential entrepreneur, I'd be getting them to fast forward into the future around. What could go right, what could go wrong? What do I really want? How would I know that I'm on the right track? And what is it I'm actually seriously contemplating doing?
If it was appropriate, and it might not be, but if it was appropriate, I'd also talk to them about alternatives. What's driving you to want to do this? Is it you really want to do this? This is the most exciting thing you've thought of in decades. Or is it, I'm just fed up with work and I just, I've gotta do something else? Are you running away from something or are you running towards this? And if you're running away from something, it's not necessarily that this is the right thing to do. So what would your alternatives be?
Anybody attempting to achieve something that's very difficult - and working for yourself is difficult. It's so much easier when it's what you just want to do so much easier when you're doing it with ease and flow with the energy that comes from a desire. If you're doing it because I've just got to do it, then it's not the same and the chances of success are clearly much lower.
And so more and more of the conversation with the potential entrepreneur will be around, Why are you doing this? So we've talked about what, we've talked about the why, we've talked about how success would actually manifest, and we've begun to visualise with them what it is they're thinking about.
I believe that over time as an executive coach, you will help them shape the realities of what they're trying to do, to a point where their confidence levels have really risen sharply and their desires have really sharply risen sharply, or they've said, No, that was just a point. In either case, you've done them a huge service as an executive coach. In either case, you've helped them achieve what they really do want to achieve, whatever that might be, and fundamentally, that's the job of an executive coach.
There could be elements where you would refer them to experts like accountants or marketing people or salespeople or people who would know more about the generalities or the specifics of something they choose to do in their entrepreneurial lives. Something, where they need this mentoring input, where they need this true life experience input that helps them to get the kind of level of understanding that gives them, again, more confidence for the future.
But that isn't the starting point here. The starting point here is that you don't have to know the answer as a coach, you just need to know the questions. And these questions are really about what you're trying to achieve and what you're trying to achieve them.
That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at theexecutivemindset.co.uk
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