Starting your own business? Bear in mind the ‘Important Others’.
If you are in the final/serious stages of considering starting-up your own professional service firm, this is a really important blog post. I am not sure I thought about the issue of ‘Important Others’ enough when I set off on my entrepreneurial journey and I very nearly paid for this lack of foresight.
Don’t do the same.
So, what is my point here?
Well, unless you are a one-dimensional automaton who lives solely for the shallow success of business life – that is wealth creation for wealth creation’s sake, or external applaud only for the sake of your own ego aggrandisement, then your proposed adventure is likely to have a more rounded, philosophical ambition. Ultimately, one hopes … the success you seek is such that you can spend more time with the people you love, more time surrounded by people that inspire you to better things, more time laughing with good friends, more time working for the causes you feel passionate about and more time in the pursuits that further develop you as a person.
I am not saying that building (and maybe selling) your professional services business is just ‘a means to a better end’. Indeed, being involved in a high-performing team is one of the most essential elements of such a rounded life. What I am saying, however, is that the pursuit of the right ambition can be for naught if none of the people that are special in your life survive it with you.
The ‘road to the top’ in the big professional services firms (‘Big Four’ management consultancies, ‘Magic Circle’ legal firms etc) is littered with failed marriages and broken families. Indeed, you may be reading this looking to escape the inevitable tension on your personal life that such a career journey is placing on you. If so, it would be crazy to take greater control over your own destiny but to then forget this fundamental aspect when you do become your own boss. But this is so easily done. I know many successful business owners who, on the surface, achieved their wealth creation goals only to find it was a hollow victory and that too great a personal cost was suffered en route to getting there … and all this was realised too late.
Business owners are inevitably driven, conscientious folk … you want to delight your clients, you want to help your colleagues to grow, you want to improve the numbers, overcome the latest obstacle … and you know that no one else is going to do this for you. Such thoughts can occupy your head for most of your awake moments (and plenty of your asleep ones too!). There is no natural break-point in such a stream of consciousness. As per Parkinson’s Law (applied to running a professional services firm), ‘work truly does expand to fill the time allotted to it’. As such, the ‘off button’ – or a determination of what time should be allotted to your business and what time is to be preserved for family and friends – needs primarily to come from you.
As I mentioned in a previous extract, you will struggle to contain this within a forty-hour week but, notwithstanding, you should give due consideration as to what boundaries should be set in order that your ‘bigger picture’ is never lost.
I mentioned that I nearly paid for this. It is, to some degree, the entrepreneurial dilemma. You need a certain stubbornness and constriction of vision to the immediate problem in hand to be successful. But if this constriction remains in place for too long, ‘Important Others’ are out of focus and invariably neglected.
I have a beautiful family of three children and when I set off with Moorhouse in 2004, my son was five and my eldest daughter three. My youngest, Annika, was born a year later. At the time, I shared with my wife, Roz, the plan to start up a business and the overall goal to sell it within five years such that we could, with providence, enjoy greater financial freedoms. This all went pretty much to plan – as my guide series expands upon – but I would be doing you a disservice if I brushed over this ‘Important Others’ aspect of the journey.
In short, my strategy paid off – just. I am now in the very fortunate position, having exited the business post a successful sale, of having considerable financial freedom and autonomy over the current stage of my career. Freed from the demands of running the business full-time, I am able to invest time in new projects but, most importantly, to spend valuable time with my long neglected wife and children.
It feels like I have caught the moment just before it nearly got out of reach. If you rarely do the school run, or attend the school plays, or take your partner out for the evening, or just chill out with long-term friends … these moments will pass you by. After a decade of working away from home and allowing all these relationships to imperceptibly weaken (in a million, tiny acts of omission), I just about got away with it. I wouldn’t like to say how close it was but certainly if I had pushed the same focused agenda for another few years, I wouldn’t deserve to be married or to have children that know me as a father.
I don’t want to get overly philosophical here and – don’t worry – my future extracts quickly get to the stories, checklists and pragmatic advice you seek but I would be doing you no service if you didn’t spend a moment to weigh this aspect up also.
Running a business is not the easy route, and the sacrifices and anxieties inherent within it will, on occasion, spill over into your personal life. But just ensure you don’t focus on it to the extent that other – frankly far more important – dimensions of your life suffer in the long term.
The best way of doing this is to talk through this issue with loved ones in advance and at regular intervals en route. Take really honest ‘pulse checks’ on this and surround yourself with friends who will be brutally candid with you when you start to lose this perspective. Give them explicit permission to do so; indeed, demand it of them in advance.
Most of all, be prepared to take ‘time out’ whenever such relationships really require more time and commitment from you; this might result in the business taking a small step backwards occasionally but far better this than relentlessly driving a thriving concern whilst all your important friendships and relationships irrevocably wilt.
If you download the free guide 01, you will see there is a ‘Case Study Corner’ written by my wife, Roz, who gives her perspective on all of this. If relevant to your circumstance, you might get your partner to read it and discuss ‘so what?’ in relation to your own circumstances.
With that slightly tangential, but really important matter covered, in the next extract I turn to my final extract from Guide 01 … how to best ‘Sustain yourself’ on the entrepreneurial journey.