Learning curve

The failure curve for start up businesses is acute.  In this article, we share the 7 key lessons we learnt as we started our business.

Opinions vary about why start up businesses fail,  but some say as many as 90% fail within the first two years.

And yet, more and more of us are choosing to start businesses doing the things that we love.  That’s partly driven by the economic conditions, but it has also become very cost effective way to start out.

Technology costs have dropped to almost nothing, especially if you are an online business.

  • Registering a new domain only costs a few pounds a year
  • Your hosting costs are next to nothing.  We rave about Media Temple, our hosting provider, who seem to ‘get’ start ups.
  • WordPress is free to install if you want to self host it, and a WordPress.com blog is very simple to set up.
  • 99designs and others allow you to pick a logo for around £199.

So how come these lower costs and risks of starting a business aren’t improving the success rate?

Because it is easier to start, it is also easier to fail.

The competition gets tougher and tougher. If, like us, you are starting a business that is all or mainly online, then you will understand how difficult it is to be different, and if you are – then to keep people’s attention.  If you are doing this on your own, it’s terrifying.

Worse yet, the sea of competition grows daily.  It comes from every angle.  For example, we could say that we are competing with Facebook and other smaller, but specialist social networks.  We are competing with niche bloggers and start up websites.

You’re here.  You’re reading this blog, so we’ve managed to hold your attention this far.  Hoorah!  But it remains an uphill struggle to stay out of the obscurity relegation zone.

What they don’t tell you at ‘start up school’ is that you really only get the experience you need when you accept how little you know.  That keeps you learning. Only through gaining experience do you learn humility & to accept how little you know. And that keeps you learning.

Here are the lessons we’ve learnt in our short tenure as honest citizens of the interwebs.  We don’t know whether this will keep us in business, but we will keep sharing our experience.

1.  Do it your way

This is the most important lesson that we have learnt.  As you start out, advice comes from all sides, most well meaning.  It’s critical to hold your ground, and do it your way, even in the face of the naysayers.  That’s what will make you different and not the same as others.

We have to remember that society works hard to normalise us, but being normal and the same as everyone else isn’t going to build you a successful future.  Don’t underestimate how hard people will work to throw you off your course; it’s all part of the fight for attention.

You’ve got to find your own individual story to tell.  Some call this a narrative.  It’s the manifestation of what you stand for and it’s what leads your tribe to do great things.  It won’t appeal to everyone, but then they can go elsewhere can’t they?  Concentrate on the people who are pleased that you are around.

2.  Start without debt

Debt isn’t just about owing money.  It’s about not being in control of the important decisions that shape your future and that of your business.   Yes, there is an argument that attracting funding will help you scale your business fast, but it’s always going to be a question of motivation.  Think long and hard about whether you really want to saddle yourself with uneasy bedfellows.

We’ve chosen not to.  We accept that that will make our growth curve longer, but we also know that it will keep us close to the people that want to be part of our future too.

3.  Your market

Now this is an interesting one.  We are continually learning more about the market that we are hoping to do business in.   Of course, we started the blog on the back our own experience.  That’s a good place to start.  We still believe we are unique but there are many other websites providing some of the same services.

Does this matter?  Well in some ways it doesn’t.  You bring your own slant to the services that you deliver.   We apply the Carlsberg philosophy to our offer ‘if KindredHQ had a farm, it would be the best farm in the world.’ (Rest assured that we’re not going into farming anytime soon). We can also join forces with those that have a specialist bent in a particular field.  That gives you both bargaining power and collective reach.

4.  Get a mentor or coach

You need friends as you set out independently, they will share the ups and downs.  But we found that having a mentor and/or coach has been invaluable.  A mentor has been there and done it and won’t mind admitting that it didn’t go right all the time.  We’re going to be announcing our own coaching and mentoring programme soon, aimed at independents and freelance business owners, something that you’ve said you would value.

5.  Be an expert

One of the reasons that we set up KindredHQ is because we were (and are) going through the same things that many independents and freelancers are.  We empathise with our audience.  As a direct result of researching for articles that we write, we are deeply focusing on specific areas you are interested in.  We can do a month of learning in a couple days.

As long as you express your own voice & push hard on doing what you are good. we believe that someone will notice,  But don’t wait for the market to take notice on its own. You need to reach out and connect with others, participate amongst the people you want to know and be known by.

6.  How you spend your time

We must have spent hours and hours (and lots of cash) on coffee the year before we launched.  The fascination of hearing from others about why they do what they do, and discussing how we might help each other is incredible.

And of course, it’s lonely working on your own.

It feels wasteful to spend your time doing this, but remember that it will give you the feedback and interaction and momentum and confidence needed to keep doing better. It will also help you find what you are good at & where you should focus.

But if you are good at it, think about charging for your time.  It will put a value on it, and after all, we have to pay the bills.

What you shouldn’t do is give your time to people who don’t deserve it.  Even for money.  We wrote about that here.

7.  Do it today.

We are far from being perfect and slightly embarrassed about our early attempts.  But we did start a blog!

If you wait until you are perfect before you start you will never get started, because as you learn more you realise how little you know.

Anyway.  Onwards and upwards.  W’ll keep making mistakes and learning, and with a fair wind, we’ll continue to represent a sector that we are passionate about.  Good luck and keep going.


Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

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