Startup, first few months in reflection

It has been almost a year since I took the plunge and resigned from my comfortable job and entered the world of self-employment starting Ecology by Design in February 2015. Receiving the certificate of company formation was an exciting moment but it dawned on me that I was taking this life changing step. I planned to have a few weeks off from work before really getting my head down but the draw of just sending an email here, designing a webpage there or testing a new piece of software to streamline the business was too enticing and I threw myself straight into it. Some people start a business thinking that they will be able to reduce the hours they work and dictate their own hours but the honest reality is that you work considerably harder than you have ever done before but somehow the hours are that much easier and satisfying. Each day a new and exciting task was achieved and new goals set. I had a business plan in place but it was fairly loose covering only the basics of setup and some financial projections to make sure that I wasn’t completely stepping into the unknown. I was reading Richard Branson’s ‘Losing my Virginity’ at the time, which I thought would inspire me to creating the next Virgin empire. To be a successful businessperson like Richard Branson it is often said that you have to be a big risk taker but I remember a few years ago in a ‘really thrilling’ meeting with a pension advisor that they described me as a ‘moderate’ risk taker so I was halfway there but not quite a Branson.

The first 6 weeks went from an exciting thrill ride to a mildly nerve racking time of thinking would all my hard work pay off?. I knew before I started that I needed a good run into the ecology survey season so I could maximise my chances of pulling in some larger projects and clients without leaving it to late and missing out on much of the early stages of the survey season. I suspected and budgeted for winning no work in the first two months but planning for this and the actual reality is tense because you are putting in lots of hard work but the work was just not coming. I was confident in my ability and confident in my plan but it was still a nerve-racking time.

Suffice to say I didn’t need to be nervous, although that little bit of pressure helps me to thrive. Projects started coming in, a bat survey for a small house extension here, a preliminary ecological appraisal of farmland there and from then I started to gradually plan projects and place nice little coloured tasks in my outlook calendar. The calendar gradually became a checkerboard of colours including survey work and secured meetings with prospective clients.

One of my drivers for setting up my business was the desire to be positioned in the market place so that I could help both large and small clients and to be more competitive with local surveyors. I lost count of the amount of times in my previous companies I had said the words to clients that I was more than willing to provide a quote but they would perhaps be better approaching a smaller ‘one-man-band’. I was now that smaller one-man-band but with the ability to take on much larger projects at short notice.

I knew that good business was all about relationships and key for me was building a good base of clients that I loved working with, working on inspiring projects and most importantly I offered a great service that led to repeat business. Starting a business seems to bring out the best reactions in people and I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to that as soon as I mentioned I was a new start-up the whole discussion changed and they would be willing to go out of there way to help me. One client that I approached I thought I was slightly pushing my luck with because they were bound to have a large ecology firm on-board but I pushed on regardless more than willing to take on the ‘big boys’. The reaction I got from the company director was one of ‘wow it is an exciting time isn’t it’, ‘I remember when I started this business back when and I can really relate to and respect people that take the leap’. This client has gone onto consistently give me repeat business with various projects and training events, a great open working relationship and referrals to other similar businesses.

The ecology season can often be broken down into two fundamental parts; the newt season from March through June and then moving into the bat season from May through October. Key in my business plan was to fill the newt and bat seasons bringing in large chunks of my annual revenues in two lumps coinciding with these seasons.  Come April and I was seeking help from freelancers and my Google Adwords campaign was quickly adjusted to reduce the amount of front page adverts but still to retain my exposure in the market. I had begun to build some good relationships with clients and secured that all important repeat business with a couple of planners, they now put me forward for all of their projects as well as recommending me to anyone they could.

Juggling my time delivering work, utilising good freelancers and meeting new clients has gone well. Planning surveys during the day with meetings in areas I was working in. Ranging from coffee and cake in local cafes too quick meetings in some of those lovely, inspiring motorway services we all love, I exponentially grew my client base and won some large projects needing multiple assistants to deliver.

Two months into the business, work was steadily continuing to come in, my personal, open and friendly approach seemed to be going down very well with clients and I started to win projects that I could not hope of delivering by myself due to the number of surveys days required before the end of the season. My plan for the first year was always to stay as just me and utilise other freelancers as required to bulk out my available resource. Quickly after the work continued to stream in I realised that in hindsight I could have justified employing someone in the first year. Instead I have relied on working long hours and utilising freelancers when I needed too. Future blog posts will continue to reflect on my first year in business but for now, sat in my home office I am thinking about employment contracts and job adverts for taking on my first employees in the New Year.

Merry Xmas  to everyone reading this and I hope to assist you in 2016.