Happy New Year to you, my reader.

I’ve not been blogging since before Xmas. To some extent, there is so much negativity around in news headlines that it’s all a bit of a blur. So I’ve been focussing on work – our little IT business – and planning 2009 hiking challenges around Britain, one of our great hobbies. This certainly does make one feel much more positive and I think it’s crucial at this time to have an aspiration which takes you away from the decidedly average economic outlook.

I am extremely happy to see that although companies are more careful with their money, the IT sector is still quite buoyant – so it is not all doom and gloom for us at the moment. My first web-based project should go live at the start of March and this is keeping me very busy. It’s also terribly exciting to know there will soon be a website out there that I project managed.

On the general business side, there is much to learn – not only “real customer” relationship management, but also all the other associated aspects of running a small business. Working for yourself is certainly so much more real than working in a large corporate – there is an immediate feedback loop and a firm connection between quality of your work and your own earnings. Try as they might, with all the carrot and stick policies of end of year bonuses or performance reviews being in place, corporates can never provide this sence of immediacy and of proximity to the real world for its employees. I certainly never felt it for all my 10 years in banking. Hard, nasty, macho culture, for sure, but real? No, not really – it was isolated from the outside world, insular and locked in its own cycle of greed and competitiveness.

So what have I learnt so far in my few months of working for myself?

  • Choose a Company name wisely: Coming up with a good company name is a nightmare if you want it to be “trademarkable”, to have a .com domain, and if you want it to sound catchy. Going through the process of renaming your firm after spending days on coming up with the original name is very painful but will happen if you miss something first time round!
  • Trade Marks: Tread with Caution. Nasty business. Treat with caution, as big firm lawyer have deep pockets and will contest trade marks that you put forth if they slightly resemble theirs, even if you think they are quite different. As a start-up, you won’t have the funds available to fight a legal battle – hence our backtrack and second name choice
  • Lawyers charge a fortune. Tell me something I did not know before. Yeah, OK. However these guys are essential for a new start-up to get things right. For instance, getting contract document drafted well is key, but it’s going to cost! Does one search for a suitable freebie on the web and try and cludge something together to look OK-ish, or pay hundreds of pounds for a professional review? Sounds obvious, but maybe less so if your cash balance is running low and you have tax to pay.
  • Customer relationship is key: Face to face contact and frequent phone conversations is paramount to keep them on your side and keep them parting with their hard-earnt cash in these difficult times. More than ever I am reminded that it is dangerous to rely on emails for keeping in touch, things can get missed or misconstrued.
  • Many customers don’t pay on time – Obvious, but a lot of effort then goes into chasing them.
  • All this admin: Horrible, but essential. Keeping accounts in good state is critical to knowing how much cash you have and whether you can afford to pay yourself. Keep records of everything, it will come in handy.
  • Back up your data! Your PC will fail when you least expect it and then disaster can strike.
  • Tax: Hmmm, my personal favourite. The admin that HMRC puts you through is quite significant and all returns are sensitive to deadlines. And there will be several – all the PAYE, NIC, VAT stuff… Corporation tax later on in the year… The last thing you want to do is miss a deadline.
  • Companies House: Surprisingly, they have forms of their own which goes with admin stuff like changing your company name – that caught me out.

Basically, it’s back to the old adage of “Don’t assume anything”. If you think it’s easy, but you are doing it for the first time, chances are there is something you’ve missed, so do your research.

Is it fun? Definitely. Is it scary? Most days. I am not the No.1 player in our business, but I am getting more and more involved by the day, and I am really loving it.

Right this second, I can’t quite believe that only a year ago I had a “proper” job running a team, had a steady salary and had a promotion in the bag – that was an enviable place to be for many of my peers. And some say, I threw it all away. I guess I have – it depends on your point of view though. My goals in life have changed rapidly and something drastic needed to be done. So, having taken pretty much an 80% paycut to do what I am doing now, I now never want to go back now to that daily grind again (yes, making a bit more money needs to happen to sustain my enthusiasm, but I think we’ll get there slowly). How’s that for a change of perspective…