Think big, start small...
This is my new motto for 2018. Becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business can be daunting. It is easy to get bogged down in social media posts, blogs and classes that scream out the successes of people that set out on the same path you wish to take. Something you don’t see all that often, and probably a topic for another blog post, are the stories of people who tried and failed. The fear of failure is probably the one thing that holds most people back from even trying to start.
There are many things that can go wrong; you’ve got the wrong product, you haven’t researched the market correctly, the price is wrong, you end up working one hundred hour weeks, the marketing strategy is wrong, you miss a great sales opportunity, the pitch to investors goes wrong or you simply run out of money before you can get your venture off the ground. The responsibility for all these things usually falls on the one or two founders of the business so no wonder there are many cartoons out there suggesting that starting a business can be one of the craziest things to do in life!
I believe in my products and I know it can help people. This is the positive attitude that people expect you to have when attending any form of business event. It makes sense, if you don’t believe in it then why should we, is what they will ask. But I want to make sure that it is ok to admit that you can be scared about what lays ahead in terms of taking your product to market. I reckon there are many great products out there not being sold because someone felt overwhelmed at the prospect of setting up their own business.
As I start out I’m scared. Scared of not being good enough, scared of missing something vital, scared of letting people down, in summary, scared of failing. I am trained to be a geologist, I know how to do that and it is something I am extremely passionate about. I have no experience in setting up and running a business. I knew I needed help and was fortunate enough to attend an accelerator programme in Aberdeen. I spent twelve weeks meeting and learning from people who had become entrepreneurs. Whilst they each bought their own expertise they each had a running theme and that was failure. It is a lesson you have to learn as an entrepreneur but more importantly the bigger lesson is to pick yourself up, figure out where you went wrong and start again. Towards the end of the programme we were expected to pitch to a group of business owners in Aberdeenshire. I was petrified, the pit of my stomach was churning, I couldn’t eat, I didn’t know what to say and, in the end, I dropped out. I knew I had disappointed people but I just couldn’t do it. This was my first big failure. Pitching your business is one of the key things you need as an entrepreneur and I wasn’t sure I could do it.
After the accelerator programme I was left with ideas for five different businesses and a general idea of where to begin. I had done the ‘Think Big’ but was left with a sense of what now? This is where the ‘start small’ comes in. As 2018 starts I have created a plan and a series of goals. MindMeister and MeisterTask are two useful apps that I have found where I can keep track of all my ideas and plan out what I can get done each week, month and year. There is so much that needs to be done and I know that if I set out to achieve everything I would fail. Instead I have been able to break down each task into smaller, manageable goals. It may seem counterintuitive because ultimately you will complete everything but the sense of achievement of ticking something off the ‘to-do’ list every day, no matter how small the task, is extremely satisfying compared to ticking a box once a month or year.
As for pitching, I decided that I needed to put myself out there and practice standing up in front of people and talking to them. I entered the FameLab competition run by Cheltenham Festival. It’s a science communication competition, something that I know that I am good at and I know what I’m talking about. They are held in informal settings with music and comedy in between each person’s three-minute talk. I used marshmallows to teach plate tectonics to the crowd and ended up going through to the next round. It may not have been about my business or forward projections but the sense of achievement of being able to stand up in front of people without turning to jelly was great!
I am slowly learning to have a bit more confidence in myself by setting manageable, achievable goals. I need to not fear failure but rather embrace it, learn lessons from it and use that knowledge to continue to grow myself and my business. There’s no problem in thinking BIG but if that is scary and daunting just start small. Try and have fun, you’ll end up achieving so much without really realising it!