This is going to be short. Very short, because if you are taking an interest in this, chances are you're in a similar position to me and you don't have time to absorb anything dense, however interesting and useful.
I'll get the pitch out of the way first as I expect there are a number of sectors and business models where what I am about to say is not relevant. The IWH Group is a small consultancy which brings together an experienced team of hands-on, skilled practitioners who assist companies to win and perform new work in regulated sectors such as national government, international aid, logistics, maritime and aviation support. We are a very hands-on lot, we deliver our outputs quickly, solving problems, advising, undertaking projects and enabling our clients to succeed.
So, after 12-months as the Director and Principal Consultant at IWH, here's what I've learned so far.
People Don't Call You
If you are looking for new work it is you who has to do the running. You can't wait for people to call you; they are working hard too and, chances are, they won't bother. You need to take the initiative and work out a balance between being a nuisance and staying on their 'To Do' list. You can't stop calling either. I am really bad at this, but when I schedule time into my day, every day, to make new approaches and follow-up leads, it works.
Don't Under-Estimate Word of Mouth But Don't Rely On It Either
Word of mouth is great. If you do a good job, news tends to travel and you pick up new work. This has happened to me a few times this year. You cannot base your marketing and sales strategy on it however. I treat any approach I receive through word of mouth as luck. Pure upside.
Decide What Your Website is For
For IWH, the website simply validates that we are a viable business with a set of services and people to deliver them. This might not be what it will be for in the future, but websites are future-proof. They can expand or contract, become more complex or simplify, depending on how your business develops. In a company like IWH, you don't have to have the finished product up and running straight away. I have avoided spending time and money by deciding early what the purpose of the website is, accepting that it will change over time, and not getting sucked into what it could be.
Holidays Are Quiet
Who knew? After 9-years as a P&L holder and a sales and proposal director, and a much longer naval career that exposed me to NATO and the EU in Brussels, I certainly should have seen it coming. January, July and August are really, really quiet so you need to take time out to find opportunities that either span those months, or gather in enough work either side of them to enable you to meet your commitments.
Get a Grip of Your Ego
Over time my ego has made me do some less than useful things. But this year I couldn't afford to let it bugger things up for me. Now, whenever I enter a situation, I try to be conscious of the extent to which my ego is responsible for my reactions and behaviour; the theory being that I can recognise when it is driving me towards an unhelpful response and make a change. I'm still not great at it, but this year I have been a lot better.
Trust Your Friends
Running your own business is lonely, and unless you solicit it, no one questions your decisions. Most people have a set of friends who they trust, who are experienced in their own walks of life and, most importantly, are genuinely keen for you to succeed. Ask their opinions, run your ideas by them, tell them your fears and uncertainties, and then listen to them. Don't forget to pay the favour back in the future though.
Find Yourself a Mentor
Until starting IWH, I had always been fortunate to have more experienced, senior people in my professional life who were prepared to assist and guide me. I found it helpful and reassuring that they were there and in the first few months of IWH I really felt the absence of this. As a result, I took steps to work with and consult people who shared my values but also had a breadth of different experiences. This enabled me share and seek guidance on some of the decisions I faced.
Go With Your Gut Feeling
Having said all that, there have been times when no one can advise, when the issue has been very bespoke and only I could make the decision. In those circumstances, I have had to trust my own judgement and experience, make my best guess and be prepared to live with it.
Make Sure You Love It
This year has been the most professionally fulfilling of my entire career. It has also been the most viscerally frightening. I have slept badly. I have had great days but also terrible days. Some people have been rude and unsupportive (though not many). I have worried about money, reputation, capability, health and then about money again. I am told that this is normal but it has sometimes been very tough indeed. I love doing this however, and being enthusiastic and enjoying the work has been essential. Otherwise climbing out of bed every day and facing some of these challenges would wear very thin.
Whilst it has been really useful for me to write this, as it has made me reflect on some of the things that affected my first year, I don't expect that I have said anything new. From time to time however, I have found it useful to read the accounts of people who have been in similar situations to me; this has been written with that in mind.
And in case it hasn't been useful at all, at least it was short!