So you want to run your own business?

It is always amazing to find out what drives various entrepreneurs. A few days ago, Dean Kennett, Managing Director of Just Hospitality, decided to pen his thoughts - some of his experiences of starting this wonderful business and the things that he learned along the way. We share them here with you...

There are two types of people. Those who enjoy being employed and us others who don’t like being told what to do.

That’s not actually the case, but the myths of running your own business are well known and possibly more informed people would possibly do a better job than I, of trying to explain.

I get asked all the time from employees, clients, friends and family…why did you start, when, what’s good about being your own boss? Anyone in business will know these questions. They usually come out of nowhere, at dinner parties, socials or even camping in a field. The randomness of the question is almost a given, with no holding back they fire away hoping for a trickle of info, that they can think over.

Why the question? Because they either wish they had done it, or are thinking about taking the plunge themselves. I sound like I’m being harsh, but the reality of running your business is far reached from anyone but you in it. Even with other businesses - I respect, but I don’t pretend to understand the enormity of their tasks or what crisis they find themselves in.

You’ll only ever know if you do it, pure and simple.

So, what is it like? What type of person must you be? What cash must you be sitting on? What are the core benefits?

I’ll use my experience as an example:

My parents would have described me as a complete dreamer and my teachers would have huffed and said he could do so much better if he focused in class.My career ambitions at 10 were to be able to live in America, have a plane I could fly back home at the weekends to see my mum and be a milkman.Not exactly the cornerstone of building a business. I often think I would still like to be a milkman though.

I started the business with my last paid months’ salary, a visa card and an understanding first client.

Running a company and becoming a Director all sounds very exciting. The day we moved from becoming a small one-man business to a limited company was a significant day. Then my accountant made me read the legal side of being a registered director and the new responsibilities laid upon me. I didn’t sleep very well for at least a week. 

But one thing ringing in my ear was my dad’s advice. Get your finances in order and you’ll sleep well. So, I hired the best financial mind I knew, my beloved wife Sam. Not one penny slips past her, she resents making silly mistakes and is one corner of the business that I wholly trust.

The next advice I sought was from my old boss Jonathon Cooke. Hire the best you can, ensure they are better than you at what they specialize in. The next year I hired Matt Byne, our fantastic chef. 

The lessons you learn are quick, painful and can eat you up. What I advise now is:

  • Know your subject inside - out
  • Tread the boards
  • Get the badge of honor 
  • Be well informed of what it is you are selling
  • Accept you’ll be talked about, leave paranoia at the door when you walk into work
  • As best you can leave work, at work. Golden rule in our house was not to talk shop after 7pm. Never argue or talk about work in front of our daughter, over dinner or around the family. They’re not interested, all they want is your time.
  • Be honest, be even more honest when you mess up. 
  • Take responsibility for an employee’s decision, right or wrong - you hired them and if you did a bad job in the hire, you only have yourself to blame. Get shot of ‘em, move on.

    Good advice is hard sought in the early days. Everyone has a view point, everyone has well intended but often ill-informed steer for you. “I wouldn’t do that” or “I’d gamble and go for it” all great, but then they go back to their paid jobs. Be respectful, maybe take a pinch of what they’re saying and the rest? Well ignore it. Seek out other business leaders and get mentored. Most others running a business won’t give you the answers, but they will understand and feel what you’re up against. It works the other way too – I’m currently speaking to two other businesses regularly and it’s amazing what you can pick up by someone else’s learning. And that’s another thing – never stop learning. 

“You must get long holidays and time off”. I hear that a lot. Well, yes now I’m a lot more focused on my family, but I lost a good ten years. Missing your daughter’s 2nd birthday because you are clearing an event for a law firm who never paid your bill is a hard pill to swallow. Nearly going bankrupt several times, the fear of the VAT man taking away your home and trying to keep a marriage on track is a real test. Looking at the bank account and wishing the negative was a positive. That’s why so many bail out, the enormity of just balancing your own life is very much second to ensuring you deliver for your staff and clients.

It’s a 24/7 365 thing. You can be opening up Christmas presents on Christmas day or on an inflatable couch in Greece being pulled along by a speedboat with your family and suddenly then it kicks in. It never leaves you, doesn’t have a day off, it doesn’t reduce, it pesters the life out of you, you worry and cry over silly things, it rules your life. Sleep is your only rest. Often you feel you’re not up for the job and you ask yourself why am I the bloody MD anyway? Surely someone else better educated could do this? You want to run away, you want for someone else, just for one day to feel the weight of your troubles. The darkness of it all is part of the ride, you see. There is no handing it over, there is no stepping aside there are no get out clauses of running a business. You either do it, or go get a job.

You go around in circles, you weigh up what you know and have learnt. You check in with those who know you best and keep your feet on the ground and sometimes you try to make your dream come alive, not just for you but for everyone around your circle.

The other ugly side to suddenly being successful is well known. Jealousy. You lose friends, they distance themselves from you, they secretly wish it would all fall down around you. Does that sound strange? Well its true. Then the others think you'll roll around in a Rolls Royce and have a helicopter ready to pick you up and take you home.

Well, it could not be further from the truth. Every penny we can muster to go back into Just Hospitality is to ensure its still there in 20 years’ time. I might not be around, but I’m only hosting this position I find myself in. The legacy would be short lived if I ignored the great team around me and selfishly splashed out as I felt like it.

So, what are the benefits? If you’d asked me even five years ago I’d have said a different set of answers. But as it stands, right now here are mine;

  • Seeing employee’s careers develop under you
  • Real solid trusting relationships with clients
  • Being able to offer a work scheme for Highshore school, so young adults that have a tough start, get the chance to get paid work and feel part of society. 
  • Not making all the decisions anymore

To this end. If you can keep at the table, when there is nothing to be there for, when everyone else has left you, when the water is dry, when the crumbs have turned into mold and the paying guest has left no cash – if you are still there and you still want to be in business. Even after all that & you’d be there in a heartbeat to serve, to sell what you know you are good at.

Then yes, you should start a business.

Dean can be reached on twitter via @DeanKennett for comment, advice and 'food in the workplace' banter!

Marketing @ JH