Tips for surviving the first year out on your own

That’s right folks . . . Lexicon Press is well over the first year milestone, which (due to the catastrophic failure rates of small businesses) puts us somewhere in comparative age between Clint Eastwood and that weird guy from Beetlejuice. Hopefully we’re over some of the teething hurdles that can jump out of the gloom like a drunken footballer attempting to hail a taxi.

Considering I am somewhat oblivious to danger and stupidly walk face first into pitfalls of all kinds, I have learnt a couple of things by trial and error. I have now compiled a small list of dos and don’ts when it comes to the first year of a small business.

Double projected costs, halve projected revenue

That’s right. You heard me. I don’t care if you’ve got Donald Trump flying in on a diamante-encrusted elephant for the launch of your new business, throwing wads of hundred dollar bills at your sophisticated urban crowd (all turtleneck skivvies and flashing teeth) whilst a flamboyant yet tasteful mariachi band plays in the background.

Somewhere, at some point, you are going to have a “for the love of humanity will someone please bloody pay me” moment. This will generally be at the time when petrol prices have hit the roof, your electricity bill is due and the bum is falling out of your last half-decent pair of pants. Your options may look somewhat limited at this time, but there are a few things you can do.

Don’t:

  • Flog your entire CD collection down at Cash Converters.
  • Start supplementing your breakfast cereal with sawdust to string it out.
  • Donate various bodily organs to scientific research.
  • Get all sulky and listen to Enya whilst crying in the bathtub.

Do:

  • Change your billing terms to 7 days instead of 30.
  • Charge in stages where possible (i.e. 30% upfront, 30% at half way point) to minimise bad debt.

Double time frames, be realistic about projects

So, you’ve got a project on the boil that you’ve been nurturing for some time like a precious lotus blossom. It looks like it’s going to come to – oh no, no it hasn’t. False alarm. It’s still just sitting there, not blooming, like a useless pile of stupid withered compost.

Milton

Milton in the basement

Maybe the corporate giant that is green-lighting your project has decided to retrench everyone you’ve built a relationship with, including the janitor, the Spanish lady who empties the vending machines and even the weird Milton-like guy who lives in the basement.

Maybe unavoidable personnel issues (i.e. staff absences, wrong skillsets, long liquid lunches) have caused delay after delay after delay, pushing the estimated completion date of your project out past the next return of Halley’s comet.

Maybe the large aforementioned corporate has decided to review the terms of contract for a record eleventh time, giving a healthy boost to the legal profession in the region whilst delivering a hefty kick to your backside through your wallet.

Whatever the reason, there’s a couple of things you can do to try and salvage the situation.

Don’t:

  • Stalk the project heads by hiding behind their bins at night and making strange howling noises. This is not constructive.
  • Try to hurry things up by agreeing to any new revised contract terms without reviewing them first. You could quite easily end up working for 20 cents a day, or as a guarantor for a West-African golf course.

Do:

  • Salvage what you can. Sometimes lowering the scope, or introducing stages, can help gather some momentum on a complex project.
  • Be realistic about your corporate partners. Sometimes it takes a while to turn a large ship around.
  • Never neglect smaller projects or jobs in favour of larger opportunities. Small stuff is your bread and butter until you get settled. Large projects and ideas are great and always have a couple on the go, but be realistic about timeframes and implementation chances.

Above all, don’t be proud. Take the small jobs, contract out for one day a week, work nightshift at a bar or restaurant. Every cent that you keep inside your business and don’t use on living costs can be used for growth, and that’s the name of the game in the first year.

If you’ve got any further tips feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Stay well

Andy