My journey Part 3: Starting a business
With a budget of 500€ and a trainticket to Paris. Read to the bottom for my top 5 mistakes.
This story is the third part of starting up my own business. In the last story, the seed was planted and the idea-tap was turned wide open. It was now time to put it in motion. Its the summer of 2011.
I decided that I would just do what I liked to do and was passionate about. My dream of becoming a professional triathlete !
Yes ? Well, no. Did not happen…Was not fast enough…
It had to have a business component. The other thing I was lyrical about was aviation and more important the process of continuous improvement. Building better processes, building better companies, safer operations etc…
So I would start a consultancy office for aviation companies, large and small, focusing on Safety and Quality. I would write operations manuals, draft procedures, perform audits, give trainings. And build an empire of aviation consultancy greatness. To the stars ! And beyond !!!
Focus on the meat
I felt I had probably found the niche of niches. It does not get smaller than that. Anyway, I still think it is key to focus on what you know best and what really makes you happy.
So that was decided.
Now what do you do first when you have a great idea and a business concept ? Find customers ? Do market research ? Think about value ?
Nope, design business cards !
Can’t have a business if you don’t have business cards.
And business cards need a logo. Obviously.
Mistake 1: Nobody gives a damn about your logo or your name. Customers want to see value and if you are going to be a consultant, you are the value, not your logo. Although, …, when I proudly offered my business card without moderation to anyone who I would meet, they all said that the design was great. Smiles. But snap out of it: logo’s and names do not pay the bills. Focus on the meat.
Have a quick think about the name if you must, store it somewhere as a working title and start executing.
So after having wasted valuable time on name and logo, I went to actual work.
A trip to Paris to start it all
I booked a one day ticket to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget which is the biggest business expo in the world when it comes to aerospace. Tip: If you are going to start a business, you might as well go big straight away.
Of course I did not approach Boeing or Airbus, but I went there with my freshly made business cards and a lot of enthusiasm to present myself and the value I could add. It was a confidence booster most of all and you get to pitch your services over and over, finding what works and what not.
Anyway, the next thing I did was calling my network and announcing my idea. I did that to test my ideas amongst people of the same level I was going to approach anyway. Turned out that one of the people in my network invited me for lunch and offered me the first project.
I started doing the internal audit programme for that company. As a pilot and engineer I had enough knowledge to identify the good from bad.
That project then eventually led to designing a new company wide safety system including emergency response plan, which again led to doing the same thing for a few flight schools. The ball was rolling.
In the first two years of having my business, one project linked to another, then yet another. I literally did not have to make any huge marketing efforts. All the tools were there to use : google, linkedin, facebook, twitter.
Besides the 100€ I had spent on business cards, I spent around 150€ on a train ticket and about 250€ to set up my company legally in Belgium. With a minimum of investment you can start being your own boss.
The work I did would pay enough to reinvest in new training courses, better equipment, software etc… so my services would become better and wider. I had one problem though: how do you scale a consultancy business? That’s for one of the next stories.
The company I started in 2011 now encompasses all my professional activities. It manages other activities and still lets me fly as a professional pilot. Two years after my first visit in Paris at the airshow. This time with my own booth. The road has been chosen, the path is long but step by step I am living the dream. Per Ardua Ad Astra.
Top 5 mistakes I made
To end this story I like to share a top 5 of mistakes I made and you should avoid when starting your first business
- Focusing on vanity: don’t waste time on name, logo or website to start. First find out if you are providing value. If that is not the case, vanity will not help you.
- Underestimating yourself: be confident and know your value. When it is time to put a price on your efforts, ask the price you are worth. I made that mistake.
- Asking too much too soon: on the other hand be ready to offer value for free. Show that you care about the problem the potential customer is having and are able to solve it. You are not in it for the short term. By giving confidence and offering solutions you are building long-term relations with your customers which will pay back more than the initial free effort. My ratio now is to offer 2 to 3 solutions for free, then charge what you are worth (see 2).
- Money kills creativity: the more money you have at your disposal when you start up, the more chance you will spend it on non-essentials. I did it when I took the company one level up from a one-man outfit to a registered LLC. For that you need starting capital which you can use immediately though. I combined mistake 4 with mistake 1: i.e. I made a fancy website. The only person who was happy was the web designer. I never had 1 customer for that particular business come in via the website. My motto now is: Creativity and innovation are the products of necessity.
- Keeping your ideas to yourself: each time I had a idea of which thought that it could be something great, I tended to cover it and almost talk to no one about it. It felt like if I would tell anyone, they would steal the idea and run of with it. It’s not only fully paranoiac but is utter nonsense as you are the expert in your own domain. No one will perform your idea the way you could yourself. It also deprives yourself of feedback from others which may validate the idea or not.