Carl, you’ve built a very successful career as an accountant, tell us about how that influenced you to write The Startup Coach.
Whilst I have never been the stereotypical accountant, the accountancy training was a great foundation for learning more about how business works. Pretty early on in my career, in fact whilst still studying, I became an advisor and was fortunate enough to speak to thousands of businesses across the UK. So; not only have I had the experience of running my own businesses, but I’ve also been able to pool the experiences of thousands of clients.
The Startup Coach is essential reading for entrepreneurs. In your experience, what is the most common mistake most start-ups make in their first year or two?
There are so many! That might sound like a flippant comment, but many business owners make what would be considered “schoolboy errors” each and every day. The most common one is probably relying on optimism.
Anyone who starts a business will tend to be naturally optimistic about their concept. That is almost a given, as otherwise they wouldn’t risk the time and money to get started. This optimism is then reinforced by friends and family who will want to praise both them and their idea, as none of us like to give bad news. By this point, the projections are prepared and the financial projections have plenty of zeros at the end of each number… The reality is that business can be tough, so you need to be as realistic as possible when planning your business,
The Startup Coach covers everything an entrepreneur needs to know to get their business off the ground but what practical advice could you give to our readers about attracting and securing investors once the business is up and running?
The simplest advice I can offer is that they need to know their business inside out. Whether you are approaching a bank, a private investor, or a firm; the individual making the decision will be acting as if it is their own money.
They will want to see proof of concept, traction, and future cash flow. Most importantly, they will want to see their exit scenario (whether trade sale, IPO or simply repayment of their debt), and to believe in this they will need to believe in you as an entrepreneur. You will need to know your products and services, your market, the opportunities and threats, your key performance indicators, and the relevant ratios in your business. This isn’t the time to say “that’s one for my accountant”!
Do you think potential entrepreneurs should be put off from starting a business because of the current economic uncertainty, particularly since Brexit?
Absolutely not. There is never an ideal time for starting a business, much like there never being an ideal time to start a family or change career. Any situation can be analysed to find an external influence which could be used as a reason not to do something. Having said that, I think that prospective business owners do need to be aware of the challenges of economic uncertainty, not least the impact on confidence, the funding markets, and our currency.
Social media marketing has really taken off over the last few years – what are your thoughts on it? Do you use social media marketing to promote your books/events
I’m a big fan of social media, and it is an amazing way to connect with the wider world. I’ve got a presence on every major platform, and I try to use those to spread the word about what I’m doing. I rarely use them for overt promotion, instead I like to give away content wherever possible.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to use social media marketing to grow their business?
The biggest issue I see in social media marketing is a lack of understanding of both the “social” and “media” side of it - and a simple focus on marketing! No-one goes onto Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat to be sold to. So, a 140 character update is not going to sell your product. Instead, you need to interact with your audience. What’s more, you need to understand the “media” and get to learn the culture of each platform, as they all have their own unique ways.
You give amazing, professional business advice. If you were to start your own personal “dream come true” business, what would it be?
I already do it! That might sound like a cop out, but if I had a blank canvas, I’d be doing exactly what I do today, with the businesses I have today. If any entrepreneur has a “dream come true” business, they really should try and do it. When passion and hard work combine, the results can be very powerful!
Although you’re a seasoned professional, do you ever get nervous about public speaking at your events?
Not any more. It was something that I suffered from in the early days, but only slightly - I’ve been really fortunate not to suffer like many, instead it was simply a dry throat at the very start of a presentation. This went after a couple of seconds, and probably wasn’t noticed by anyone else.
Those days are now long gone, after hundreds of talks both in the UK and internationally. Now, I get a real positive buzz both before and after speaking - I believe that this is the same adrenaline that causes nerves in some people, the difference is simply how we interpret it.
How do you unwind after a long and stressful working day?
In truth I rarely “switch off”, as I see building my business as something similar to playing with Lego - building stuff is fun! I’ve realised however that this isn’t healthy, so I’ve made a conscious decision to start exercising more. As I’m not a morning person, I tend to go to the gym at around 9am - this allows me time to clear my head and think about what my key priorities are for the day ahead, whilst also improving my physical health.
We’re all guilty of procrastination, how do you deal with this?
I just try to keep it simple. Maintaining complicated to do lists becomes a task itself. Instead, I just try to have up to three main things to achieve each day, which I informally evaluate based on impact and importance - not urgency. Provided they get done, I know I’m headed in the right direction.
You’ve also written The Franchising Handbook which is another hugely informative read. Do you have any plans for another book?
Yes I do, writing is something that I love, so I’ve already started making plans on book number three.
Get Social: Twitter