So what exactly did I get up to? I went in to business with a friend and I didn’t do one single thing to protect myself, her and most importantly, our friendship. It ended in disaster. I took £10,000 from my parents based on the promise of a payment from, would you believe it, a charity without anything to protect me, my parents money and most importantly, our relationship. It ended in disaster. I got a big office. I got a big office that cost a significant amount of money to get to every day. I hired people who had big financial commitments. I hired people that I would look good in front of rather than hiring people I could learn from. I furnished the office. I paid for team lunches on Fridays (I thought they were good for moral!). I believed clients when they told me that they would pay me in seven days. I believed them when they told me they would pay me in the next seven days. I paid bills based on these promises and I never realised that sometimes they just wouldn’t pay me. Well, not until it was all a bit late.
I listened to most of the advice I received. I received some great advice from some truly incredible entrepreneurs and individuals I still really admire but on inexperienced, delusional ears, it was dangerous. I believed the harder it was to build this business, the bigger my prize was going to be. I believed that my financial difficulty was in fact helping me create a competitor advantage. I believed that success really was all about who you knew and as a result spent most of my time drinking in private members clubs and enjoying pointless coffee meetings rather than doing any work. I believed that sleeping on the office floor for two hours a night, living on £25 a week and walking the long journey to work each morning made me a ‘real’ entrepreneur and it wasn’t until I knocked on my parents door to tell them that it was all over and their £10,000 wouldn’t be being returned any time soon that I realised I wasn’t an entrepreneur at all. I was just a kid who had behaved impulsively and selfishly and had no idea of how to deal with the consequences.
Thankfully, nearly five years later, I have learnt some significant lessons and have a much better grasp of what business means and how I fit in to it. I have improved what I am really great at and acknowledged what I am quite terrible at. I have profiled who I work well with and how I can work with them in both fun and stressful times. I have understood invoicing, cash flow management, expectation management and delivery. My will, determination and optimism have been tested a million times along the way and I would be lying if I said there hadn’t been casualties. I have been, at times, a really, really terrible friend; I have been a fairly awful daughter at times too and there are times that I know I haven’t done my best or delivered maximum value.
You probably wonder what has kept me going? Well, I’d lost too much to stop.
So when people ask me, what do you think the government should do to help entrepreneurship? My answer does not involve Capital Gains Tax or Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes. In fact, my answer wouldn’t even be directly associated with finance. I would shout ‘help, teach, mentor, advise and support’ and then I would add ‘honestly’. Entrepreneurship isn’t glamorous. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses fail every year and when they do you will face pain. Your confidence, your belief, your motivation, your pride and your self respect will waiver and to learn, to really learn, it is essential for you to accept fault and analyse it.
I actively encourage, and support entrepreneurship. It has made me live rather than just exist and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I firmly believe entrepreneurship can and will support the economy but I also firmly believe that unless we want to throw hundreds of young people down a path similar to the one I walked down they need training, education and regular reality checks. Unlike our American friends, we should no longer ‘embrace’ failure. We should leverage it – and all of those who have come out of the other side should support our talent of the future. Failure is not imperative to success and we should be doing all that we can to improve the rates of business success in the UK rather than making it easier for those who have successfully created income from their own business and more appealing as an option to those who haven’t. The entrepreneur community is thriving and bursting with talent. We are all gunning for a successful future. To everyone who has failed and survived, I would say just take some time out to consider the realities of it. What would you have wanted from the government or perhaps just the guy in the desk next to you? What few pieces of advice would have changed your business? What would have made the difference between failure and success? What tools did you need that you didn’t have access to? If you can remember, and you have survived, my plea to you would be ‘teach’ for there will be another one of your out there just hoping someone comes along to help them.