Fresh out of university in 2013 I decided to start my own business, Vincent's Coffee.
I wanted to build a company that was responsible, ethical and rooted in offering quality products.
The past year has been a mix of ups and downs (a lot of downs if I am honest.) However here I am, still going, ready to launch new products this weekend and putting in place exciting plans for 2015.
The past year has without a doubt been one of the hardest of my life. Sacrifice is a key word any small business owner will undoubtedly recognise and one that I am now intimately familiar with. I have had to take on extra jobs, cut back all expenditure to the bare minimum and put my all into an idea which, despite all effort and intention, might not work out.
1. Estimate how long you think things will take - multiply this result by at least 10 (I'm really not joking here...)
I'm the kind of person who likes quick results - maybe that's why I love cooking, as you get to taste the fruits of your labour on small timescales.
Business may be portrayed as a fast paced world in the media, however in reality you need to be prepared for the fact that all businesses rely on people, and people are not 24 hour machines. Things take time, often a lot of time.
You need to account for extra time in everything, getting orders, people paying invoices, deliveries, even your own ability to complete tasks. At times things can seem stagnant and you can feel like no progress is being made. In my experience, this is often not the case - progress is always being made, even if it seems imperceptible.
2. Sometimes using your friends in a professional capacity is a bad idea (unless you define the professional boundary)
In the early stages I was really screwed over by a couple of people who I felt were good friends. They charged me a lot of money for some extremely shoddy and frankly unusable work. At the time I felt unable to challenge them due to our friendship and the fact that from the beginning the work had not been discussed in a professional context.
I would urge anyone using a friend in a professional capacity to define what this relationship will look like whilst you are effectively a client. Sit down and have a chat, formalise timescales, payments and what you expect from them, write this down and agree on it. It may seem drastic, however if both of you are clear on expectations, this means that disagreements can be avoided later on.
3. You can't do it on your own
Remember the somewhat cliched line "No man is a island"? For a long time I felt like I could be a all-encompassing-one-woman band, taking on everything and without the need for advice and guidance.
Oh how wrong I was.
We need to interact and collaborate with others, human society is built upon this. Not only did I burn myself out with trying to do and be everything, I also felt extremely isolated and lonely.
The entrepreneur is often portrayed as the lone wolf, someone who strives out on their own, ahead of all others. This may be true for some, however my overwhelming feeling is that you need a strong support network if you are to embark on your own business venture. Things will get tough and then they will get tougher, you will need someone - I spent a whole week crying almost constantly on my also exhausted partner.
Build a strong support network for yourself (I would advise against leaning on just one person, they might need a break!) - speak to friends, family, partners, even consider getting a professional mentor if you think you need more guidance!
My last and biggest piece of advice would be to keep on going - it will be hard, you will feel shit and it might not work out. However you will learn so much along the way and this will enrich your life both professionally and personally. It's worth it, even if you fail at the end.