Going Solo. 7. Make a Plan

Make a plan. I imagine that if you have followed these posts, then you have pretty much done this already. Certainly, you have dealt with most of the questions that need to be considered. What I really mean, is “document a plan.”

Why

“Write your why” is taken entirely from Simon Sinek’s excellent book “Start with Why”, which I heartily recommend. Whatever it is that you are doing, have a think about why you are doing it. This should provide some pointers to how you are going to define success. Why I have a consultancy business is very different from why I have a stationery business.

Budget

I come from a financial services background, so I’m big on budgets. I won’t bury you in detail, however, there is an important element to this process. The first sheet  is “Assumptions”. Here, I spell out how I arrive at a number. For example –

Assumptions

For example, if I expect 10 transactions in January, going up by 1 per month, I will type in 10,11,12,13 etc into cells. Beneath that row, I will note my logic.

Then, these cells formula copy across to sheet 2, which is where all the numbers sit.

This allows me to change assumptions, and those changes automatically update my budget sheets. This is a kind of sensitivity analysis on the fly. What happens if I double the transaction volume? If I change the assumptions sheet, everything updates. This is how I make a plan.

Revenue

Sheet 2 is made up of monthly columns, totalled to a year. The top few rows are about revenue. I break these down as far as I can. For example, in the stationery business, row 1 is number of transactions, row 2 is average transaction value. (All fed from the assumptions sheet.) Row 3 is row 1 multiplied by row 2. That way, I can easily see whether I am not doing enough transactions, or that those transactions are not big enough. The key to budgeting revenue is to be conservative. Dreaming is fine, but not in the budget.

Costs

There are many ways to define different types of cost. I keep things simple. I have costs that vary according to sales, payment fees for example. Then I have a separate section for ‘fixed’ costs. Office rent, cell phone contract etc. Here, I tend to be as realistic as I can, but if in doubt, round up.

Contribution

Contribution is revenue minus cost. An important number. Ultimately, this exercise serves to show you what sort of revenue line you need to make this work. Tweak away. What if you could pick up an extra transaction a week? What difference would it make to the bottom line? How about if you put off getting an office for six months?

With a little work, you should arrive at a budget that looks both doable and worthwhile.

To be honest, the reality will probably be vastly different – but that doesn’t matter. The important things are:

  1. Sales number. You are delivering this. Be certain that it is doable. Then do it.
  2. Costs. These are not targets – but maximums. Do not overspend.

Keeping Score

Subsequently, each month you should compare your numbers against your budget – how to do that is for another post.

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Members 32. Wild East 4. Stealing

“I want to fire them and prosecute them.”
“Yes. Of course. There are some risks.” The lawyer measured every word.
“Risks?” John was almost screeching.
“Yes. Unfair dismissal cases for one.”
“Unfair? We caught them red-handed.”

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Living the Dream. 57. Hydration

Hydration eh? How’s that for a snappy title? If you live in a hot climate, hydration takes on an importance that comes as a bit of a surprise.

Golf

I play golf. There are three common ways of getting yourself around a golf course. The first is to rent a golf buggy. A natty little two seater vehicle upon which you buzz from shot to shot, saving yourself the majority of walking about that golf can entail. The second is to use an electric trolley. This takes the strain of your golf bag and clubs, allowing you to walk unencumbered. The third, and oldest method, is to sling your clubs onto your back and walk.

Part of the reason that I play is for exercise, so I prefer the third method. It’s tiring, but I’m happy with that.

Heat

However, in very hot weather, it becomes harder. Heat, humidity, and walking makes for a lot of sweating. Consequently, I need to take on a lot of water. This has two drawbacks. One, I have to carry this water, and frankly, water is heavy. Two, a cycle begins. I sweat more, and drink more. As I continue to sweat, the water carries with it minerals and the like. Apparently, these minerals and salts are vital in allowing your body to rehydrate. So, if you’ve sweated them out, you’re in trouble. Regardless of how much water you take on, you will become dehydrated. Your decision-making process will suffer, you may start hallucinating and even pass out. None of those things is good for your golf, nor indeed your health.

Hydration

Sensible people advise me to hire a buggy during the summer months, but I would rue the lack of walking. I tried a couple of times this week, but I miss the exercise. Therefore, I have rehydration tablets which I drop into some of my water bottles. These contain the mineral and salts that allow my body to make use of the water.

This seems to do the trick – although many people still shake their heads at the sight of me striding to the first tee, golf bag on my back. Of course, that might be my brightly coloured golf-knickers…

Incidentally, a hydration tablet is a fabulous hangover cure…#lifehack

Going Solo. 6. Make a decision.

Hey. How’s it going?

Last week, I promised that this week, we were going to make a decision. To be honest, if you are reading this post, then I suspect that you have already made your choice. However, I want to put a rational framework around what is probably an emotional desire.

The story so far

Let’s put aside emotion. In posts 1&2 we looked at what we wanted to do and why. I made some annoying statements about having a swim during work time, and working at the beach. In 3&4, we examined the resources we need, time and money. Last week, we delved into the bear-traps, the downsides.

Read through your notes. Can you do this?

Try this as an exercise. If you were reading these notes, made by a friend, would you advise them to go for it?

Reflect

At this point, I urge you to take a deep breath. Really think on this. Going solo is not for everyone. It isn’t. Some people thrive on uncertainty. Others loathe it. To make something work, you will be investing that most precious of commodities, time.

It may be that this is not the right moment. If that’s the case, great! The process that you have undertaken is not wasted; far from it. It has probably saved you a lot of time, energy and possibly even cash. Simply set a reminder to revisit your notebook some time hence. Things change. Ideas evolve.

Every individual will see this differently. You may feel that your side project will only require a couple of hours a week and that you have that time available. You may be happy to give it a go, accepting that you may quickly tire and give up.

However, in my experience, side-hustles only work with 100% commitment. If I feel 90% about an idea, then I don’t do it. I keep it on hold. Be honest with yourself. Life is not a rehearsal.

Decision

Alright. Next week, we get on with it. I assume that we are committed, and that we are going to get started.

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Members 31. Wild East 3. Buy Low – Sell High.

Buy Low – Sell High

“All of them?”
I nodded.
As a newcomer, I had mystery-shopped every location of our company in Budapest over a single weekend. Multiple bureau de change. In each, I had exchanged hard currencies for Hungarian forint. The service had been OK, apart from at one location which I had found closed.
However, the majority of transactions had been completed without a receipt, a key indicator of fraud.

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Living the Dream – 56. Kyproulla

Kyproulla is my new car. When I say new, she is actually 15 years old.

Kyproulla is a small Japanese hatchback with a tiny engine and a lovely personality. She has taken us into town for a gig (more on that later), and along the highway to the golf course. Economical and a dream to park, we’re off to a good start. Of course, that could all change in a smokey, breaking down heartbeat.

Why a second car?

The mountain hideaway is isolated. Nothing is within walking distance. Therefore, if one of us is playing golf, then the other is either playing too, or staying in the house. That’s doable, but Margaret is improving rapidly as a golfer and sometimes (always) would like to play with people other than me.

Additionally, Margaret has taken employment. She helps out at a kitchen store in the mall. Already, a week in and her Greek is accelerating away from mine. So, several times a week, she takes the car to work.

I feel that Kyproulla would enjoy a little customisation, so I’m seeking an evil eye and some worry beads to hang from the rearview mirror. She is helping me find my inner Cypriot.

Gigging

UB40. They were great. Everything was incredibly well-organised, the weather was kind and the band were brilliant. We were both nervous that the event would be hot, chaotic and unpleasant, and so were surprised and delighted. A cracking time was had by all.

Last night, she took us to Il Divo, the “Popera quartet”. Mags and I are both big fans so were really looking forward to it.

Meh.

The danger of expectations. UB40, we expected little, and they delighted us. Il Divo, we expected a lot and they disappointed us.

They were OK. Personally, I expected better voices. Between songs, the four attempt a little Rat Pack-esque banter. Cringe!

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the evening, and will continue to listen to the music – perhaps with a renewed appreciation for the production team.

Transport

Kyproulla behaved impeccably, and I managed to squeeze her onto a pavement, between two trees. Dainty little thing.

Going Solo. 5. It’s a piece of cake.

We’ve looked at why, how, how much, and when. This is a piece of cake. Isn’t it?

No.

Reality check

Time for a reality check. Going solo is tough. You will work long hours for no pay. For every success, you will experience multiple failures. Your family life will suffer. Your social life too. At times, frustration will be overwhelming. You won’t know which way to turn or what to do.

If you plan on making your side-hustle your main revenue stream, then just take a moment. Sit back now, perhaps pensively stroke your chin for effect. The odds are against you. Most businesses fail. If you have invested capital, then you will probably lose it.

Sorry about that. I was just concerned that you might be getting a bit carried away.

Bear-traps

Let’s complete an exercise. Time to get into the notebook again. Start a page – “Bear-traps”. Start writing down what might go wrong. Make a list. This will be specific to your particular project, but common themes will emerge. “No time. No customers. Revenue too low, costs too high. Too busy” Keep going. Keep imagining things that might not work.

Yikes.

That was no fun, was it?

Alright. Let’s go to work. How do you prevent each of these things happening? How would you deal with them if they came to pass? Perhaps the answer is obvious, or perhaps you need to write a few lines. Go through the list. Think each scenario through.

How did it go? How do you feel? Afraid? Crushed? Emboldened? Empowered? There is no right answer, but you have just stress-tested your idea. Hopefully, you have identified key threats to your business.

OK. Let’s keep going.

Sacrifices

New page. New title. “Sacrifices”. List out the sacrifices you are going to make to get this thing going. Are you kissing goodbye to TV time with the family? Are you halving your gaming-time? Write them all down. Again, how does this feel? Depressing? Exciting? Test your commitment.

You will be making these sacrifices with no guarantee of any successes.

Sometimes, going solo is a piece of cake, mostly, it isn’t.

Think on this.

Next week, we’ll pull everything together and make a decision.

Members 30. Wild East 2. Negotiation

“I will come down for negotiation.”

“Thanks Vesselina.”
I put the phone down.

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Living the Dream – 55. Rock ‘n’ Roll

“Oh. A George Michael tribute. The same guy that was Freddie Mercury last month. Shall we go?”

Experience prompted me to take a moment before answering. I elected for “hmmm…”

Proof that I can be diplomatic.

Tribute Bands

Let me unpack this for you.

  1. “A George Michael tribute.” A person who may or may not look or sound like George Michael singing his songs. I want to know why the person isn’t singing their own songs. Is this a glorified karaoke, just without audience participation?
  2. “The same guy that was Freddie Mercury last month.” What? This person is essentially an impressionist, presumably without the humour.
  3. “Shall we go?” No. Let’s not. Please, God. Let’s really not. Let’s poke our own eyes out, it will be more fun.

As you may gather, I’m not terribly keen on the idea of tribute bands. I’m sure that they are brilliant and it’s a great night out, but I just cannot muster any enthusiasm for them. That’s not Rock ‘n’ Roll.

However, I am keen that we “live”, that we take as many opportunities as we can to have a good time, to live the dream as it were.

Rock ‘n’ Roll (and opera)

The Cyprus Mail came to my rescue. “UB40 and Remos.” I have no idea who Remos is, but UB40, English band of the 1980s? Them, I knew. I booked us tickets. A stadium gig, no less.

A page later, Il Divo. Pop/Opera crossover, and more importantly one of Mrs L’s favourites. Playing the week after UB40 at the Limassol Garden Theatre. Where UB40 was cheerfully good value for money, Il Divo made my eyes water and my wallet cringe.

Both concerts begin at 2100, meaning we won’t be home till gone midnight. Will we turn into pumpkins? Both are outdoor venues, and both are at sea level. Temperatures are likely to be high 80s, low 90s with high humidity to boot. Doing the concert any earlier would be even hotter.

Scorecard

Our “cultural” tally For Cyprus thus far then, will be:

  • The Central Band of the Royal Air Force in a modern amphitheatre
  • Wine Tasting in a winery
  • A street art festival in Limassol
  • A tour of the Olive Park
  • A book launch in Limassol
  • Hamlet in an ancient amphitheatre
  • UB40 & Remos in a football stadium
  • Il Divo in the Limassol Garden Theatre

Not a bad start, I think.

Amusingly, the promoter suggests ‘formal wear’ for Il Divo. Good luck with that.

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Going Solo. 4. Where will you find the time?

Time

The finite resource. You spend some of your time earning money to fund your life. We spend yet more time sleeping, eating, and drinking.

You need to find the time to follow your dream. Time that might otherwise be spent with loved ones or on other things. In my opinion, this is the single biggest sacrifice that you will need to make if you want to go solo. There is an often used trope:

“Don’t say that you don’t have time. You have the same hours in the day as Albert Einstein/Jonny Ive/Nelson Mandela/Insert overachiever here.”

There’s truth in this. We all have multiple demands on our time. We make choices. Assuming that you are keeping your day job and starting a side-hustle, then you have to choose to spend some of your leisure time differently.

Notebook

Pick a page, say 10 pages before the end of your book. Write “Time Audit” at the top and in the index. Next Monday, account for every hour of the day on this page. On Tuesday do the same on the next. You can get as granular as you like with this, and there are all manner of electronic methods too – Toggl springs to mind, and I use one called Harvest. The Tech companies are pretty good about showing you your device usage if you care to look for it. We’re just trying to get an honest understanding of where our time is currently spent.

For example – my morning looks like this so far.

  • Up at 0600
  • Dog 0:20
  • Social Catchup 0:15
  • Swim 0:30
  • Journal 0:10
  • Business – Suppliers 1:05
  • Journal 0:20
  • Writing 1:00

I don’t try to account for every minute, whether I spend 6 minutes or 8 minutes on a coffee doesn’t interest me. We all need those minutes in-between, “margin” as some writers call them.

At the end of the week, revisit each page and tot up where your time is going. Again – be honest. You’re not publishing this anywhere, it’s for you. Most people I know come across one or two categories that surprise them. Social media and that wonderful phrase, “content consumption” often come up.

Analysis

Looking at your week, where can you find the time that you could reassign to the side-hustle? An hour in the morning before the household wakes? On your commute? As part of your lunch break? Instead of Game of Thrones or Fortnight? Something has got to give. It can be tempting to look at sleep. “I’ll just go to bed an hour later.” Be very careful. Sleep is important, you need it to function at your best and starting a new business, you want to be at your best.

Family

If you share your life with one or more people, then you need to discuss your plans with them. You will need their support going forward, and this is the time to get buy-in.

At the end of the week, you should have an idea of where you can find the time to dedicate each week, and at what point in the week. You will know what you are setting aside to achieve this, and, if relevant, you have support of those with whom you live.

This is beginning to look possible, isn’t it?

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