It’s been over one full ‘term’ since I have been working for myself, both as a freelance trainer, and primarily on on my social enterprise project DoDigital, which aims to promote creative use of technology in education, and to a lesser extent, business.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a few months and a few people have asked me for advice if they were to do something similar, so I thought I would share some of what I have learnt so far!
At first rather predictably perhaps although I loved not having my time ruled by bells and relentless structure, I found the ‘do what-ever you want, whenever you want to’ structure I had a little overwhelming. As usual, a step-by-step approach helped, as did the advice in Peter Jones’ book about writing a 100 day action plan – it’s easy to do once you get going!
I taught Business Studies for over 4 years; however, actually running a business is very, very different! I may have known business theories inside out, but I found that once I had actually become one of those entrepreneurs that I used to talk about in classrooms, much of the theory was almost irrelevant.
That’s why I found this article by Richard Branson so interesting and hope that he will have some influence over government educational policy! Indeed, the government has announced today that it will be re-introducing the ‘enterprise allowance’ grant to encourage people to start small businesses. Too late for me, but great for those who want to start a business as it will provide some income in those months before the business takes off (that kept me awake !).
We all know this, but in my new role I initially thought I needed lots of help and guidance (I did need quite a bit!). Subsequently, I filled my first month or so with a lot of meetings with business advisors who were sometimes helpful, often not, speaking to lots of people about my business plan and reading lots (although I had spent virtually the previous 8 months reading about starting up a business). I found some advice inaccurate and conflicting, particularly around setting up a social enterprise – this is a real shame, as it’s quite straight-forward really!
Business Link will put you in touch with a local provider of business support (it took me a couple of follow-up calls to get one). Their website and helpline can help with answering the masses of little questions that come up when trying to set up a company, although I did find the masses of information on the website a little over-whelming at times! The government are making changes to Business Link, but they have promised to keep the free advice provision and update the website.
HMRC courses are also excellent, and provide free, highly useful and accurate information about the financial aspects of starting a business (a top tip from Duncan Bannatyne’s book!) and The British Library is a fabulous source of support for Entrepreneurs. Having read masses of books / blogs on the subject, there is a list of those I found most useful at the end of this post.
I was also very fortunate to receive great advice and support from some very kind people; Andrea Carr of Rising Stars, Juliet Robertson of CreativeSTAR, Debbie Inglis of Square2 and John Howarth of New Liberty, all of whom have their own businesses in the educator sector and understood where I was coming from!
So, if you do want to set up your company, do take up some of the free advice you’re offered, however, ask people who have recently, been through the process and can relate to your idea (I’m happy to help if I can!).
So many twitter folks have been a great source of support and encouragement, particularly @nellmog (graphic design superstar), @Janwebb21, @infernaldepart @mwclarkson @largerama @dajbelshaw @drdennis @tombarrett @kvnmcl @Ideas_Factory @icttoolbox @yorkie71 and all the other tweeps who have wished me well along the way!
The final, and most important thing I have learnt is, rather obviously, that you really have to just get on with it! As Alan Sugar discusses in this post, it’s all down to you! Here are some quotes which epitomise the first few months in business for me (all courtesy of @greatestquotes).
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh
“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.” – Henry Ford
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
“Take a deep breath, count to ten, and tackle each task one step at a time.” – Linda Shalaway
Steve Parks: Start Your Business Week by Week – great, practical guide, written in an engaging way.
Dragons’ Den: Start Your Own Business – easy to digest and some great advice, providing the ‘brand’ doesn’t annoy you.
Peter Jones: Tycoon – some useful advice together with some superfluous waffle IMO
UK Business Forums – a wealth of information and advice ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’
Freelance Advisor – lots of great information about ‘going freelance’
Enterprise Nation – great small business support website
However, this year I won’t be going back to school and for the first time ever on Thursday, my son went to school and I didn’t.
I am no longer officially a teacher, although I think I will always be a teacher.
I am still incredibly passionate about education and I loved working with teenagers, especially those that have to deal with more than most. I almost cannot comprehend that, for the moment, I will not be doing that job.
I am already doing some ICT consultancy and training for a number of companies, and am currently working on launching my own venture which will aim to help educators use engaging and innovative technology in their classrooms and organisations.
Running my own business has been something I have wanted to do for years, especially during my time as a Business & Economics teacher. Getting to this point has been a very steep learning curve and I have been devouring more books and online resources in the past 6 months than I have since my teaching degree.
As with teaching, I suspect that it won’t be until I am actually doing it that I really learn what it’s all about. It’s extremely exciting, although rather daunting after the safe confines of the teaching profession. Many of my former colleagues and friends think I am nuts and I am very grateful to the smaller number who share my ‘carpe diem’ attitude and have been so supportive. I look forward to sharing more details about the company soon.
Meanwhile, all the best to those of you starting a new term. I absolutely know the energy and dedication it takes to do the job that is never finished.