Back to work

Last week I started a new job. For me that’s not so unusual – it’s not that I get sacked a lot; it’s just that for much of the past 20 years I’ve been working on time-limited projects lasting from one to three years.

What this means is that I’ve got a range of experiences of starting a new job; that exciting if a little scary introduction to your new employer and fellow employees. The learning is not all one-way of course – you and your new colleagues are both sniffing each other out (and are, presumably, both keen to make a good first impression).

I should say here and now that my new team (and yes – is does already feel like a team) have made me very welcome – the right balance of informal chat, hard information, and time to learn. I think this reflects well on the wider organisation which I’ve known for the past 15 years. What they’ve made of me is, of course, an unknown (and what they’ll make of me after a staff talent show at the end of this week is even more worrying…)

What may be more instructive is to focus on the best and worst introductions I’ve had to new employers and, particularly, that first apprehensive day. As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. To save their blushes, I’m not naming names here (maybe they know who they are?)

My worst first day was not as bad as the experience of two people I know who didn’t even make it to the end of the day – one of them even left his coat behind, so keen was he to escape after the lunch break. In fact, the day in question started well enough – on arrival I was presented with a folder to read with induction materials in it. I later discovered the organisation was jumping through an ‘Investors in People’ hoop and I was never referred to that file in the rest of the time I was with the organisation. But the most memorable moment was when the Chief Officer – my line manager – arrived and declared (without knowing I was in earshot) “Oh, I’d forgotten he was coming”. Not the most positive welcome and, in truth, the relationship never really recovered. Which isn’t to say I didn’t work with some great colleagues and enjoy my role, but first impressions do count. I don’t think it left a permanent scar – although here I am talking about it two decades later!

On my best first day I was introduced to one of the biggest and most friendly organisations with which I’ve worked. There was a bunch of flowers, a bowl of fruit, and a card waiting on my desk and when I was introduced to colleagues on two floors, I was amazed that everyone seemed to know about me and asked questions that conveyed real interest. I later discovered that the trick was pulled off by my line manager sending an internal e-mail around alerting staff to my arrival – simple but effective. That thoughtfulness and friendliness continued throughout my time in the organisation although, ironically, the job didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would.

So, what have I learnt about my various arrivals in new roles with employers in the not-for-private-profit sector?

  • First impressions count: It’s a cliché, but it’s very hard for employers to win back respect if they have sent out the wrong signals in the early days and weeks
  • It’s about culture not process: If the introduction and induction feel like management are going through the motions, they probably are; a reflection of organisational values which says more about the leadership than the staff team.
  • Flexibility in a framework: Marching new recruits through a rigid two-week induction process is not necessarily the answer – people have different learn styles – but ‘having a plan’ (however flexible) is reassuring for all concerned.
  • Seeing the situation from the other side: some staff members who have been in post for many years often forget what it is to be a ‘newbie’ – a bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way (it’s the little things…)
  • Balancing: Alongside being flexible is recognition that there’s no right or wrong way to do induction; it’s always going to be about balancing… formal and informal/ personal and professional/ rules and common sense
  • Pacing the introduction: My ‘best first day’ organisation’s induction lasted around three months! I wasn’t expected to get familiar with all part of the (large) organisation in the first few weeks.

A final thought… Joining organisations on a regular basis means I also have the experience of leaving them. I think there’s whole blog post to be written on this subject – in my experience a lot of well-meaning organisations take their eyes off the ball when it comes to looking after staff who are leaving, whatever the circumstances of that departure.

 

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Investing in business success

In my work with young people wanting to set up their own enterprises, I take a particular interest in the insights of others similarly placed to provide support to business start-ups. In Milton Keynes, my meetings with young would-be entrepreneurs are held at the NatWest Accelerator Hub. Below I chat with two women who manage the Hub – Sharon Rai and Debbie Lewis – to find out more about them, their support roles, and their vision for the Accelerator Hub itself.

Sharon and Debbie are both steeped in business with combined experience in running a chain of hair and beauty salons, training, coaching, and other business development roles. Sharon grew up with family businesses around her – she describes her grandmother as a “serial hustler entrepreneur” so business is in her blood.

The role of ‘critical friend’ to entrepreneurs excited both women and it was the diversity and number of businesses being supported by the Accelerator Hub that attracted them – the scope for making a practical difference to the business development of over 120 would-be entrepreneurs each year.

“It’s about everyone in the Hub pulling in the same direction to achieve more than simply working 9 – 5 and getting an income; they want to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world around them.” Both also appreciate the freedom the backing of a major high street bank gives them to work out what’s best for the clients – without an agenda, hidden or otherwise.

I wonder how far Sharon and Debbie can stand back and put the emphasis on clients ‘doing it for themselves’? Both are clear about their role… “At the interview stage [for admission to the Hub] self-motivation is an important assessment criterion. It’s not our role to enthuse them; we’re there to pick them up when they are down, slow them down when their heads are in the clouds, and reflect back their comments when they need a dose of reality.”    

Support for Hub clients

There are two programmes on offer to would-be business owners; Debbie and Sharon makes the distinction between the two…

“The Pre-Accelerator Programme is for early-stage, or what may simply be ideas-stage businesses” explains Debbie “It’s an eight week predominantly digital [so arm’s length] offer to help with client discovery, validation of the business idea, and basic steps to assess whether the business has legs. After further reflection and work on the business idea (which might result in big changes to the original concept), entrepreneurs may then be able to apply for the Accelerator Programme.”

Sharon explains the sort of entrepreneurs coming on to the Accelerator Programme. “We may have people who are not yet trading, but may have secured investment, may have built a prototype or MVP [Minimum Viable Product], and have enough early interest to warrant the support the Hub can give them. In contrast, we may have businesses that have been trading for a number of years but want to make a step change. The critical element on the Accelerator Programme is that we’re looking at scaleable businesses. They have access to up to 18 months of support (reviewed every 6 months) but it may not be best for businesses stay for the full 18 months in one go. For some it’s a matter of getting out into the business world, or fixing a part of the business that’s not going well, and then coming back for the next step.”   

What’s in it for the bank?

The Hub in Milton Keynes occupies the second floor or a large building occupied on the ground and first floors by staff involved in commercial banking activities. It offers free facilities and programme support to Hub clients with a team led by Debbie and Sharon. I wonder about the commercial rationale behind this philanthropy and both are quick to answer…

While we’d obviously like clients to bank with NatWest there’s no obligation to do so. Indeed, if you looked at the cost per acquisition it would look like a very expensive way to get business customers! Ways in which the bank benefits from the Hub include an Entrepreneurial Development Academy where the Hub team are training ‘entrepreneurial thinking and doing’ in banking staff. Intrapreneurship is how they describe it. Fintech [technology specifically relevant to financial services] businesses and entrepreneurs may also be able to help the bank – through a healthy two-way exchange of ideas and insights.

A third potential benefit for NatWest is innovation, as Sharon explains “Being at the forefront of innovative technologies and solutions, we can feed that thinking and behaviour back into the bank.” And Debbie believes that the inter-change of ideas does effect change…

In the relatively short time I’ve been in post I’ve seen continual review and feedback and I haven’t found the frustrations of slow progress that other organisations experience. What we’ve reported gets considered, though obviously, it’s not always acted on.”

I learn that NatWest wants to be seen as the number one bank for entrepreneurs, so anything the Hub can do to turn clients into advocates must be good for business and brand. This also fits neatly with the vision for the Hub, which is to be a household name and first-choice provider when it comes to talk about ‘tools for entrepreneurs’ in and around Milton Keynes.

Defining success

I find it hard to believe that a business support facility backed by a major bank wouldn’t want some hard facts and figures to show the return on their investment. Sharon confirms that they’re working to certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the productivity of the Accelerator Hub. “For me, the really important measurement is the percentage success rate, and our 87% success rate compares very favourably with the 50% success [or 50% failure rate] of unsupported businesses. We also measure investment attracted, jobs created, and number of entrepreneurs supported.”

Alongside these ‘hard outputs’ are the ‘soft outcomes’ that result from bringing entrepreneurs together under one roof. These include the connections being made – between entrepreneur and mentor, or at a peer-to-peer mutual support level – to create a local community and support ecosystem that is invaluable. “The stories behind the figures are what drives the magic – creating something that is sustainable, long lasting, and with a significant local impact.” 

Sharon also identifies what she describes as a ‘fluffier element’ when defining what success looks like. “At the Hub we talk a lot about having a growth mindset – this is about supporting and enabling people to take ownership of their decisions. Success is when those same entrepreneurs hire their team and use those same principles.

Another measure of success is our ability to get entrepreneurs out into schools to inspire the next generation, to give them a sense of purpose and the heightened sense of self-worth that comes from surviving the highs and lows of starting and running a business.”

Debbie continues… “For young people, having someone coming in to school as a non-parent and non-teacher, and showing interest in them can give them a real buzz and a sense of importance. And it can be particularly powerful when the entrepreneurs are of a similar age to the students.

Having a vision for the next generation seems appropriately forward-looking for a sector like banking and financial services that has been transformed in less than a generation, let alone between generations. As we finish, I reflect that ‘banking on the future’ summarises our conversation quite neatly.

For further information about the Milton Keynes Accelerator Hub, e-mail miltonkeynesaccelerator@natwest.com, go online at www.natwest.com/accelerator and you can book onto one of the Natwest Entrepreneur Milton Keynes events via www.eventbrite.co.uk

How to talk business

The first thing to say about the language of business is ‘handle with care’. There’s a lot of business bullshit around and, when it comes to business support, people may use jargon to bamboozle you into buying something you probably don’t need , so you need to learn the language. This applies equally whether or not you delegate a particular business domain to someone else within your enterprise.

Take marketing for example, a good marketing specialist is a real asset, particularly if you’re short of time rather than money. But after 40 years in marketing I believe that much of it is common-sense communication. Even so, whoever’s responsible for your marketing, as a business owner you still need to know your way around abbreviations like USP, SEO and SWOT, and decide whether content marketing (the current ‘big thing’) is for you.

Of course once you move on to business finance you’ll find there’s a whole new lexicon to learn. You’ve probably seen the Dragon’s Den pitches where entrepreneurs get tied up in knots over their gross and net profit, their margins and mark-ups, their cash forecast and turnover figures. You don’t need to learn your figures off by heart (although if you can memorise a few, that can impress in the right circles) but you need to know where to find them when asked. Once you’ve done your homework, you can share the mantra turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is reality” with authority (and know why it’s true).

Note: I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t pay for professional advice – objective and informed guidance from a trusted source is invaluable. I’m merely suggesting you find your way around the business lexicon first, so you better understand the conversations when they happen!

Finally, you should strive to be clear and concise in your communications with other entrepreneurs and would-be customers, avoiding the jargon where possible and explaining it when you can’t. Honesty and ‘straight talk’ can go a long way in building your reputation and, ultimately, making new sales. So, learning the language and using it well is good for both your business and your buyers. Or, as they say, a ‘win-win situation’.

Getting started:

www.startupdonut.co.uk/business-planning/start-up-business-jargon-buster

https://blog.invoiceberry.com/2018/09/revenue-vs-cash-flow-facts

https://blog.invoiceberry.com/2016/09/11-invoicing-terms-every-small-business-freelancer-know

For enterprises of the social variety here’s another jargonbuster  https://www.socialchangecentral.com/social-change-buzzwords/

For further free resources to help start and grow your business, go to Build Your Business  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/build-your-business and Free Lunch https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support

 

How to fail at writing a business plan

Don’t start it: Like many activities when we can’t see the point, or the end point, getting started can be the most difficult part of writing a first business plan. Technically a plan is never finished – it should be a dynamic document – tweaked, edited or even rewritten as reality kicks in – particularly at the start-up stage. So, don’t be afraid to just get something down on paper knowing it won’t be right first, second or third time. The secret of getting started is to draft a section or two of the plan that you’re relatively comfortable writing about (which may not be the early sections) to share with, and get feedback from, someone you trust, probably not a family member or friend.

Start at the beginning: Traditionally, the first part of a complete business plan in called the ‘Executive Summary’ but it should be written last – it’s a short summary of everything else in the plan. It’s important to get it right, because it’s the first (and may be the only?) thing a busy reader may consider to assess the business portrayed in the rest of the plan. But you can only summarise the rest of the plan in words and figures when it’s been written!

Try to get it right first time: The business plan for a start-up is particularly prone to change because, if it’s a new venture there’s no hard information on which to base your expectations. A first-year plan is at best an informed hope not a prediction – expect to regularly change what you’ve said will happen. To get your first complete draft finished you need to accept that ‘good enough’ will be ‘good enough’. Ultimately your objective is to make it good enough to ‘do the job’ – to get that all-important first investment, to get your mate to join you on the journey, to recruit an assistant… whatever.

Read other business plans for inspiration: There’s no right or wrong way to write a business plan, no fixed format. You can find lots of business plan templates on the internet and any number of examples of ‘what a good plan looks like.’ These examples are best avoided – it can easily bias your thinking (there’s a temptation to copy…) and your business plan has to be just that – yours. If you have to copy someone else’s work it suggests you haven’t fully understood the ‘why, how and what’ of your own business idea. Or, if you have difficulty writing clearly, talk your ideas through with someone else who can help you put your ideas down on paper.

Keep it to yourself: Note – a business plan is not a public document; you decide who sees it. That said, it’s best shared in draft form with a ‘trusted adviser’ – not necessarily a ‘professional’ but someone detached enough to give you unbiased feedback. It’s then up to you to decide which comments to take on board and which to ignore – remember, this is your plan. Once completed, you can issue different versions if you don’t want all readers to see all your business ideas and intentions. You may have a two-pager that covers the broad principles and only share more detail on a ‘need to know’ basis.

You may also be tempted to keep your business idea (and plan) close to your chest for fear someone will steal your idea. This is understandable but, in reality, you’re go further faster by telling as many people as possible. This does not apply if you have an idea which should realistically be protected – in which case you need to find out about Intellectual Property Protection.

Think of it as a publicity brochure: Bearing in mind that a business plan is circulated to a limited readership, it should not be conceived as a publicity document. It should be written clearly and concisely, free of jargon and bullshit. A business plan is all about communication – showing why you and your business idea are a perfect match – but you are selling that pairing in a special way that’s positive, but honest and persuasive.

Make it complicated: Apply the KISS principle – Keep It Simple [Stupid]! A business plan is great for downloading all the muddled ideas that are probably buzzing around in your head, but it should also untangle those ideas. When you’re very close to your business idea (and if you’re really passionate, you may even be obsessed by it!) you could find it difficult to think clearly. This is another reason it’s good to get someone sympathetic to act as editor – or at least someone with whom you’re comfortable talking through your ideas.

Make it sound very tentative: While a business plan is only a plan not a promise, it’s good to make it sound more definite that it probably is. It’s natural [and honest!] to use phrases like ‘may do this’ ‘could do that’ ‘if this happens then…’ when talking about ideas that might be quite vague at the planning stage. In reality, you need to present your plan in a more positive way to persuade the reader you’re likely to put the plan into action and make it work.

Use long words and lots of abbreviations: As with most good writing, avoid any words and phrases that are going to cause the reader to stumble. People sometimes think that using complicated phrases and loaded words like ‘new’ ‘exciting’ and ‘unique’ will impress the reader – it doesn’t!  If you must use technical terms, include a glossary at the front in your business plan (or at the bottom of the relevant page) to explain them. It’s OK to use abbreviations to save space and make it easier to read, but you need to explain them when first used (and include them in that glossary).

Make it long: A good business plan is about quality not quantity. You may be proud of your 30 pages, but the reader is unlikely to be (particularly if they have to read lost of plans). Only use as many words and figures as you need to ‘do the job’ (and know what that is – getting an investment, communicating your thinking with a would-be mentor, whatever). And if you can’t describe your business in less than 20 pages, maybe you need to re-think it?

A last tip – if you can use illustrative material – photos, graphics, interesting diagrams – to communicate your idea effectively, don’t be afraid to use them in moderation. It can also make your plan stand out from the rest.

See also:

The business plan paradox https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/the-business-plan-paradox

What makes a great business plan? https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/what-makes-a-great-business-plan

For a sample business plan template, go to  https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/tools-resources/business-tools/business-plans

With business in mind

When people are motivated to set up a business because of something very personal to them, the impact on the development of that business can be good and bad. It’s about balancing head and heart issues – how to harness that lived experience to drive business success while remaining objective enough to make hard commercial decisions.

For Jon Manning, founder of Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support (AEMHS), the motivation behind his business start-up could not be more personal and powerful; diagnosis of bi-polar disorder two years ago, aged 27, after first being hospitalised when six years old. The creation of the business is, Jon admits, as much about his own route to better health as helping others with their mental ill-health.

I’d been through all the NHS services but couldn’t get a lot of support. Different diagnoses at different stages meant different places to go and new waiting lists to join – I was getting fed up.  After the bi-polar diagnosis, I went to talks to learn about my disorder, but it didn’t help and I felt others in the room wouldn’t be able to help me either. So I thought I’d come up with new training; sharing clinical techniques for ‘normal people’ to learn how to help their unwell colleagues quickly, without having to wait.”

Jon is clearly frustrated about the time it takes to get through the mental health system – up to two years from initial GP referral to diagnosis. Average diagnosis of bipolar disorder, due to its complexities, he says, is 13 years; one explanation of a rise in suicide rates.  Which is why Jon set up Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support – named after his two grandfathers one of whom, Ellis, had bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, spending 30 years in hospital.

Luckily the development of Jon’s business has been spectacularly fast compared with the workings of the NHS. “Our first year’s income was achieved in the first four months, meaning I could bring in a team of ten clinicians – psychologists and health practitioners – to do the training.”

After the first year, 8 Award Nominations and 2 business awards followed bringing support from major companies and the ability to increase his professional fees from £200 a session to £1,000 a day. A new annual package for businesses means turnover is expected to be £300,000 in just the second year.

As if that isn’t likely to keep Jon busy enough, he has set up a schools service alongside the business – a not-for-profit arm to develop a programme of support for the 75% of children who are rejected for mental health support. Schools can refer students directly to AEMHS for a course of treatment (involving their parents) to try to keep them out of the health service system.

Keep it simple

Of course the development of the business has been nowhere near as smooth as the story this far may sound; like most entrepreneurs, Jon has to learn some hard lessons. Keep it simple is his top tip…

If you do just one thing but do it really well, you can profit from that. You don’t necessarily have to start with a huge range of products or services. Focus on one thing at a time, once you’ve aced one, you can add another. I started out with 16 services – all the things I wanted to do. I took advice and reduced the list to 11, but was then advised even that was too much. Now I’m focusing on two – training workshops and an online coaching platform.”

Getting started with the workshops wasn’t all plain sailing either. “No one wanted to do them at first” admits Jon. “I thought about what medical conditions had most impact on people – treatment for anxiety and depression are top of the list – so I developed exercises and imagery to simulate those conditions.”

Feedback – good and bad – on those re-focused workshops was important for adapting and improving the offer. Invitations to a free event won some paid business, which meant Jon could afford to recruit mental health practitioners to develop new workshops. The annual package of quarterly workshops – on anxiety, depression, trauma and enduring illnesses – was born, including clinicians proactively reporting on issues each month to help tackle anything before is has a business impact.

Know your purpose

Jon’s stresses the importance of understanding the purpose of any new business – not just what you’re doing but, why you want to do it. For him it’s about doing a good job and working on something that’s worthwhile. Communicating this is also important. “If your purpose is clear to everyone you work with, that will pay off. People need to buy into you – what you’re doing and why – that’s the way to get clients.”

Letting go

As well as balancing head and heart, another issue for people with a deeply personal motivation for starting a business is being able to let go – trusting others to help run the business when it becomes too much for one person. Jon agrees…

“It’s hard, but if you have specific strengths in one area, you need to see the specific strengths in other people. If you bring in people who are better than you [trained and with more relevant experience – for example, clinical staff] delegation is easier because they’ll do a much better job.”

Because ‘people buy people’ – which is certainly the case at the start-up stage – bringing in other staff can be an issue, but Jon believes this is about being open and managing client expectations. This relates to another of Jon’s guiding principles – honestly – particularly if things go wrong…

 “I’ve told clients exactly what’s happened when things didn’t go as planned. I’d rather put work back a month than rush it. I’m sometimes guilty of over-sharing, but I believe honesty can really help build your reputation, as can asking your clients for advice – they appreciate being consulted; they like to help.”

Thinking long term

“The big question is… do you want to do something for now, or create a business? For a business to succeed, you need a long term view – a vision – and you need long term agreements, long term clients, and long term goals. Solving a minor problem is probably not the basis for a sustainable business. If you’re tackling a bigger problem [like mental health and wellbeing at work] it’s about chipping away and coming up with long term solutions.”

Which brings us back to the ‘why’ of the business you’re starting. For Jon Manning, that purpose became increasingly clear through dissatisfaction with his previous employment. “I realised the work I was doing was good money and quite flexible, but it was menial and without purpose – I needed to help myself.” A year later, Jon is sure he made the right move. “I haven’t had a salary for the past 12 months so I’ve left all that life behind, but I feel a lot better now than I’ve ever been.”

Further information about Arthur Ellis Mental Health Servicehttps://arthurellismhs.com

Jon is based at the NatWest Accelerator Hub in Milton Keynes, https://www.business.natwest.com/business/business-banking/services/entrepreneur-accelerator.html#hubs

Changing mindsets

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

That her new app to help young people build essential mindset skills has been successfully launched is, says creator Elise Williams, a testimony to the power of the tools she shares through the app.  She explains how she faced lots of challenges, with all the self-doubt that comes from spending money on developing an unproven resource. But she’s come through it in one piece by tapping into many of the mental strength developing skills she advocates!

Elise describes her app – Make Your Mind Up – as “Everything you wish you knew but weren’t taught at school – resilience, motivation, focus, confidence, stress control – tools for building a positive mindset and mental strength.” The evidence-based videos and tools are informed by research from many disciplines including sports psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience.

Elise’s commitment to developing the app reflects her own personal experience after leaving school and university. “I came out and stepped into the big wide world and, very quickly, I realised how unprepared I was for coping with the stress of even small things. Speaking to friends I realised I wasn’t alone – which was reassuring – we’d all gone through 18 years of education but still felt unprepared without a foundation of essential skills.”

For Elise, an important element is that the app provides an urgent solution – to help users get through a challenge. She describes Make Your Mind Up as “a pocket mentoravailable when people most need it” The plan is to spread understanding of the tools and mindset thinking through workshops with schools, teachers and parent groups; schools are invited to get in touch about trialling the materials for free. A growing Facebook community also offers valuable peer-to-peer support to users and is a useful source of feedback on content and ideas for new resources.

Despite their value in emergency situations, Elise stresses the need for regular use of the mindset tools. “There’s a danger you don’t keep the tools in your kit sharpened – it can help prevent serious development of unhealthy responses if you practice and keep your skills updated. It’s all about building up healthy habits – reminding yourself, for example, why you might be having negative thoughts.”

 As someone who knew little about app development when she started out, Elise had some useful insights for other would-be app creators. For her, finding the right developer, which wasn’t easy, is top of the list. “It took maybe six months, and I think some providers took advantage of my inexperience. When I finally found the right people I could see they really understood the concept, and they were parents of children in my target market which helped! Meeting face-to-face at the start was really important to assess whether they were genuinely interested in helping to make my idea a reality.”

As with many other businesses buying-in professional services, assessing financial estimates from would-be providers is not easy. Again, Elise took the common-sense approach. “I went to as many people as possible and got lots of quotes which I assessed against each specification for the work involved. In the end it was a matter of balancing what was on offer with what I needed and, ultimately, what I could afford. Elise urges patience in finding the right person “It’s important you don’t feel pressured into going with the first quote you get.”

Wider business lessons Elise has learnt along the way include “Not putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to make things happen instantly; they’re not going to. Trust the process – Rome wasn’t built in a day!” That said, Elise does advise others to have confidence in their ability – to be assertive with suppliers from the start, and keeping them to deadlines. Advance research can help entrepreneurs speak with more authority and Elise looked at lots of other apps (on a range of topics) to decide what feel and functionality she wanted for her own.

Which all sounds like appropriately good advice from someone who has just launched a practical advice-giving app to help us cope with whatever life throws at us.

For more about the Make Your Mind Up app go to www.makeyourmindup.co.uk, join the Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/283258582152043/?ref=bookmarks, contact Elise direct elise@makeyourmindup.co.uk

Elise is supported through the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, details at https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

 

Our best friend’s best friend

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

Lisa Sinnott has made it her job to understand man’s best friend (her service users) and their relationship with her paying customers. “Dogs and cats are members of the family, so you want someone you can trust” she says.

Lisa launched her business – Albany Pet Services – two years ago offering a solo dog walking service, reinforcement of existing training such as loose lead walking, and personal animal visits tailored to the particular needs of both the animals and their owners. But it was a blind colleague, not one of her four-legged friends, who inspired her to start her own business. As Lisa recalls…

“I got a maternity cover contract with the Guide Dogs charity and worked with this amazing lady called Sue who had been blind since she was 19. She also had cancer and had such a resilient spirit. I was with her in Chelmsford at a Scout and Guide event. My contract was coming to an end and I thought – she can do anything she wants – she’s not letting her disability stop her. It was then I realised I needed to be more confident and go for stuff I really wanted to do – which is when I decided to set up my business.”

It was at this stage that Lisa contacted The Prince’s Trust and was accepted on to the Enterprise Programme – with support that she describes as “amazing”. The business planning helped her structure the ideas whirring around in her head and, she says, “Got me thinking about things people often don’t consider, such as competitor research.”

Acknowledging that starting and running a business can be lonely, Lisa says “Meeting other people wanting to set up their own business – in the same position as me – was really good; to hear their ideas and knowing I wasn’t alone. Monthly meetings with my business mentor are really helpful – for bouncing ideas around and coming up with new ideas I hadn’t thought about.”

It’s ironic, but not so unusual, that people in caring businesses sometimes fail to take proper care of themselves. Lisa has learnt the hard way that it can be very difficult to separate home and work life. She warns against letting the heart rule your head.  “I’m terrible” she says “I can be up at 7am working in bed, then doing a full day’s work. You must have self-care – you can’t keep going all the time. It’s hard when you’re passionate about something. But you must make time for yourself – spending time with friends, doing things you enjoy. I love improvisation and have recently joined a girls Gaelic football team and played in Dublin which was fun! I’ve had to create business boundaries – there’s only one of you at the start so you have to look after yourself.”

That Lisa puts the welfare of her service users (as well as keeping their owners happy) at the heart of her business is reflected in comments she makes about the lack of regulation in the pet-care industry. There’s a problem because anyone can call themselves a dog walker. Everyone should at least be qualified in first aid.”

Lisa also acknowledges that the wellbeing of her dogs can run counter to the income-generation needed to sustain the business, “In terms of group walks, some people make £100 in an hour because they take out ten dogs at a time. But that’s irresponsible – it’s not good for the dogs’ welfare, what would happen in an emergency – if one of them needed the vet? It would take a lot of time to get all the dogs all bundled in the back of the van again. And how would you protect the dog that was unwell? These are all questions to consider when choosing a pet care provider.

What advice does Lisa have for anyone starting their own business? “Value your time – remember that your time is precious. Ask questions, get advice, and if you don’t know something read and research! Become an expert in your field.”

It would seem that providing a successful pet service is as much about disciplining yourself as guiding the four-legged friends in your care.

https://www.albanypetservices.co.uk

https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business