Erin Walls, a specialist business advisor for SMEs at Ward Williams Creative, looks at the important personal considerations that need to be made before going into business.
There are more UK businesses being launched than ever before, with 526,446 companies established in 2013 compared with 484,224 in 2012. London and the South East have seen the most entrepreneurial activity, with 136,936 new businesses launched in London alone last year. This is great news for the economy, but inevitably not all those businesses will thrive and survive and it is important to consider the potential personal costs of starting up.
Erin Walls, a specialist business advisor for SMEs at Ward Williams Creative says, ‘There is a lot of buzz around start-ups at the moment. You can find lots of tips on start-up finances, but you also need to consider the personal cost of starting up a company of your own.’
Walls has the following advice:
· Consider the impact of financial insecurity
New businesses can take anything from a few months to a few years before they start making revenue and initial seed capital or investment may not last that long, so there is usually a period of a few months at the very least where the founders have little or no income. This can be difficult for those with a family who may need to reduce personal outgoings. Personal pension payments could be frozen for a while and non essential spending could be cut, eg on holidays, gym membership, take-aways, new clothes. Those living in a large house could consider renting this out and living in smaller, cheaper rented accommodation, but would need to check the mortgage provider approves.
· Be realistic about personal cash flow
When the finances become stretched it’s hard to remain objective. Be realistic when looking at business cash flow, for example if you have five potential jobs over the next six months, don’t be totally optimistic and account for them all coming in, equally don’t assume you’ll win none of them. Be realistic about personal cash flow too. Work out how much you need to earn once up and running, to provide not just for the business, but enough to live on and to provide for any dependants.
If your proposed business will generate about £35,000 revenue in a year and business costs are about £15,000, then you can only hope to earn £20,000 a year and there will be tax on that. What if costs rise as they always do, can you live and provide on £15,000?
· Manage everyone’s expectations
It’s said that most arguments between couple are about sex or money and many relationships come under strain during the start up process as money and pressure become daily issues. If your partner supports you, how long are they willing for the household to live on a reduced income? If your partner has a variable income or a lack of job stability, then maybe this isn’t the best time to start up. What is your partner expecting the situation to be at the end of six months or a year and is it in line with your thinking? It is really important to manage everyone’s expectations.
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· Watch your stress levels
When you work for yourself there is no one above you on the ladder; the buck stops with you, which many people find stressful. Most people who run their own business, even those that are successful, say that they never turn their business mind off, even when at home, or out with friends. Lots of people think running their own business will allow them flexibility to do the hours you want, but in reality most people work more hours in their own business than they would as an employee. Some people find that as the pressure builds they start to become unwell or fall sick more often than usual. This is a sign that the stress it taking its toll and nothing is worth killing yourself over, so it is essential to find a way to de-stress and to keep fit in body and mind.
· Consider the implications of personal guarantees for business loans
Sometimes giving a personal guarantee for a business loan is unavoidable when you are in a start-up situation, but before you sign your name on the dotted line you must at the very least consider the implications to your personal life if the business fails and the loan is recalled for immediate repayment by you personally, or if legal proceedings start. What if that happens?
· Learn to spot the warning signs of business failure
Be aware of the signs of failure. Obviously you need to be positive and we all hope things will work out, but there are some signs that clearly signpost a big problem:
· Negative cash flow. If you don’t have cash you will be unable to pay debts and the business will become insolvent
· Lack of pipeline – When you start out, many friends and connections will generally be positive for you and say they will help, or know someone who would want your service or product, but if after a few months no one is following through and you have no work lined up, then that pretty much tells you that the business won’t work. If you continue, you will be working at a loss, or on a day to day survival basis and that is hard and stressful and not a nice way to exist.
Case study: How Richard Hearn adapted his business development
Richard Hearn of Stoke Newington left a full-time job with a charity in November 2013 to set up a business called GenerationMe, training disaffected young people and brokering work experience placements for them. He set up a pilot scheme with a few employers on board to host placements and connected with an education charity to source young people for placement.
There were delays along the way, so he began freelancing as a trainer for an apprenticeship provider, but this work was limited and sporadic, so his girlfriend agreed to support him financially for three months, but this crept to four and then five months. There were a lot of potential developments that Richard was confident could lead to an income, but they were not coming off quickly enough. Richard comments, ‘My lack of financial contribution to the household began to cause arguments, my partner being more objective about the fact money was not coming in and I took it personally at times.
'I have swallowed my pride somewhat and had a reality check that my training business will take longer than I thought. I am doing more freelance work to boost my earnings and have reduced the time spent on my training company to one or two days per week. In the meantime I make daily savings by small things like not buying lunches and travelling by bus instead of by tube, as small savings soon add up.’