Going Solo 21. Exit

Exit. Sometimes, it’s time to get out. MTI (a company that I co-founded) was running well, making money and growing. However – we were aware that the business environment was changing. Looking ahead, we felt those changes would not be favourable to us and so explored our options for exit. Ultimately, we ended up selling the business. I have no doubt that we sold at the right time – even though it felt very strange at the time.

If you are building a project where the motivation is profit, it’s important to keep the concept of exit at the back of your mind.

Why?

Exit can influence how you set up your project. I keep my projects in completely separate buckets – whether they be legal entities or simpler structures. There are lots of reasons for this – but a key one is that I am able to exit any individual project without having to unpick it from another. There is nothing to stop me running Nero’s Notes from the same company as the anti money laundering and training consultancy, but it would make understanding how each business is performing much harder and if I were looking to sell one or other of the elements, it would be very difficult to agree a value.

Exit should always be an option. When completing a review of a project, all possible outcomes should be considered. From expansion, to continuation, to exit. Time is precious, and it is foolish to keep doing something that is not working.

Failure

There are many well-worn phrases around failure:

“If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything.”

This is my favourite. I have pursued lots of different avenues and projects that turned out to be mistakes. Each of them has taught me something, some of them have been fun.

The key is not to let mistakes go on too long and be too costly. The review process has to be honest and ruthless. If exit is the right course, then decide upon it and take it. Obviously, if you have a saleable asset, things are complicated, but mostly, these miss-steps are simply things that you need to stop doing.

Move on

Measure, think, decide and move on. Some things don’t work out and that’s OK. Try to learn from the experience and see it as a a milestone on the journey

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Going Solo 20. Balance

Balance is important. I sometimes get the impression that people perceive Going Solo as a way of filling every waking hour with work.

Loving Mondays

For me, it’s the opposite. I want to choose how I spend my time, entirely. How do you feel about Monday mornings? I love mine. Absolutely adore them. In fact, I love Monday from start to finish. Usually, people hear this and it confirms their first impression that I am completely nuts. Nobody sane likes Mondays. The weekend is over. Fun stuff has stopped, it’s time to work again. So, why do I love that?

Why?

Simple. I don’t do it. I wake up on Monday morning and go play golf. That’s how I get away from the “back to work” feeling. I don’t go back to work. Initially, my intention was to play golf, then get going into the work-day. Doesn’t work. Why? Two reasons.

1. How I begin my day dictates my mode. I find it difficult to switch from golf to any type of creative work.
2. Fatigue. It’s hot here. I walk the golf course. When I have finished, I want a cold drink, something to eat and a nap. In that order.

Planning

Therefore, I have adjusted my Monday routine. I golf, come home with Mags (she golfs on a Monday too), have lunch and then a nap. I wake, swim and then do an hour or two’s work. Nothing too heavy, mostly planning, catching up – mapping out my week. Then, Mags, Spice and I get in the car and go out for supper and a quiz night with friends.

That’s why I love Mondays. By making most of it a leisure day, but still including some work, it allows me to break into the week gently. I don’t feel guilty about it, because I do plenty of work outside of office hours. For example I record 1857 from 8pm on a Wednesday evening and often work at the weekends.

Balance

Part of Going Solo is being able to choose when I work and to integrate my work with the rest of my life.

Work to live, don’t live to work.

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Going Solo 19. Isolation and Anxiety

Isolation and anxiety is not an issue for everybody who is going solo, but it is for many more than you might imagine. The clue is in the name “Solo”.

I love being alone. Some of the time. I can indulge my interests, get stuff done without interruption or interference. However, I am also gregarious, outgoing and needy. I love being in company. It’s all too easy to lock myself into my office, start working on projects and become entirely subsumed in my own world of isolation. This, in turn seems to promote anxiety.

I, typically, am not an anxious person. Most find me very laid-back. Recently however, I have discovered all sorts of things to make me anxious.

Anxiety

Podcasts. I listen to lots of podcasts. If I am travelling, or entertaining, then I get less time to listen to my favourite shows. A glimpse of my podcast queue can give me palpitations. What nonsense! I have a big queue, because I have been out with friends, laughing and having a good time. How is that worse that listening to a recorded show, which while fun, is frankly a voyeuristic experience? It’s crazy, but it’s real.

I am incredibly fortunate, in that I work from a dedicated space beneath my house. It’s my space, set up exclusively for me. I have a great view of the garden, a dog bed in the corner and if the weather gets hot, an air-conditioner. No traffic or commute. No stress. It’s perfectly possible for me to complete a productive week without setting eyes on another human being, or even hearing a human voice. I can communicate through the various electronic means, “hang out” on social media and still get stuff done. In fact, I get to the point where I dread actually interacting with people. I was only half-joking when I titled an 1857 episode “Becoming a sociopath and other Self-Improvements.”

Rules

I find that I have to have rules to combat this.

1. Face to face. I build some contact into my day. At the very least, Facetime or similar.
2. Speak to a friend. Call someone.
3. Get out. Walk in nature. I start each day with a walk.
4. Limits. I stop myself working. At 6pm, I stop and I leave the office.

It has taken me a long time to learn that sometimes, the most productive thing to do is to stop working.

Anxiety, isolation and mental health are very real things. Be self-aware. If you are feeling isolated – talk to someone about it. If necessary get help. Recognising that you are struggling is not weak, it is a sign of strength, a sign that you are on the ball.

Going Solo 18. Pivot and Adapt

Pivot and adapt is a consequence of an honest review.

If there are projects that are not working for you, then you have decisions to make. You may simply want to abandon the project, as I did with You Tube. I just stopped. Investment had been low and the output has no monetary value, so there is nothing to look to sell.

Novel

When I started writing Sean, I imagined that I would write it, edit it, pitch to a couple of agents, find one, get a huge publishing deal and overnight success. That hasn’t happened. So, I have adapted that project, spawning this website – stuartlennon.com. Perhaps, I should only publish here. A serialised novel? Who knows?

Podcast

1857 was an experiment. A sideline. something to support Nero’s Notes. As it is low-cost, in terms of capital and time, I can see that it might, at some point, wash its face (break-even). I envisage investing more time into this project.

Lime

Lime Training and Consultancy was founded to offer advice on setting up foreign exchange locations in Europe. It pivoted to a training company. It pivoted again to a compliance specialist. Throughout those pivots, it has provided a solid source of revenue.

Nero’s

Loggedoff started selling pocket sized notebooks and adapted to a broader-base of stationery. It may pivot again.

Paradox

Going Solo is great because I can be agile and adaptive. Going solo is terrible because I can be agile and adaptive! I have to guard against being too short-termist.

Pivot and adapt

When looking at projects that are not performing to your expectations, it’s too easy to react and make changes without properly assessing why performance is down. It may be that the idea is right – but the execution is not. Before pivoting a business, be brutally honest with yourself. Should you be pivoting, or should you be looking to exit?

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Going Solo 17. Review

Review is important. Writing this series of posts has acted as a review process for me. I believe in experimentation, I believe in taking risks, in trying new things. However, there is only so much time in a day, capacity in a brain.

Measures

– Time is precious
– Are you making progress?
– Are you meeting your objectives?

These are questions that you should be asking regularly. I find monthly too constrictive and perform informal reviews each quarter. However, the real review period for me is annual.

What measures you use are up to you. You might want to go all Marie Kondo:

“Does this project bring me joy?”
You might be entirely more prosaic:
“Does this project make me money?”

Which questions you ask will depend on where you are in life. If your side projects live along side a jobby-job that pays your bills, then I imagine the “Joy” question is more important. If you hope to make a side-project your main source of income, then the money question is clearly the one that interests you the most.

My situation

So – where am I?

First – an example of a cut. I explored the possibility of becoming a “You Tuber”. We have a channel called pocketnotebooks, where I hoped to post reviews of notebooks and insights into the business. I conducted a review, and decided that video did not bring me joy and was unlikely to provide revenue. So, I stopped.

What’s left?

Sean – I NEED to publish. A monkey to get off my back.
SL.com – Joy, and I hope, the future.
1857 – Joy
Lime – Income
Loggedoff – This project is under pressure. I have poured in time and money over 3 years. I love the analogue and I love the customers – but this one is certainly on probation.

Discovery

I have surprised myself by typing the above. Much of my own perception of my identity is tied up in Nero’s Notes and I am shocked to read that my subconscious is exhibiting such a ruthless streak.

Loggedoff gets reviewed around January – and I am interested to see where I go with that.

This raises an interesting point on reviews. Write them down. If you are anything like me, you may surprise yourself.

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Going Solo 16. Sean

In Paperback Writer, I made reference to my Work in Progress (WIP). The working title is Sean 1. The novel exists in several forms. On Scrivener, On Ulysses and in several cardboard folders on paper.

Writing a novel is a challenge on many levels. Finishing the manuscript is tough. Revisiting and editing that manuscript is torture, (I am currently avoiding any and all revisiting) and once one is happy with the product, a whole new avalanche of tasks arise. How to get the novel to readers?

Publishing

Partly as procrastination, and partly through genuine curiosity, I researched the various publishing processes.

1. Traditional.
i. Step 1 is to find an agent. You may or may not succeed and if you do it may take years.
ii. Step 2, the agent finds someone to publish your work. This too may take years.
iii. As author, you will get a small % of the cover price of each book sold. In turn, you will pay a % of that % to the agent.

The above is a gross over-simplification, but the reality is that it’s incredibly difficult to get traditionally published, and then incredibly unlikely that any money will result.

2. Self-publish. The giant in the sphere is Amazon. Sure there are other players – Apple Books for example. However, the majority of e-book sales and even self-published paper books go through Amazon. Amazon takes the majority of the cover price, but unlike a traditional publisher, Amazon does not source the expertise required to publish a novel as a traditional publisher does.

Again, this is an over-simplification, but the result is not dissimilar to traditional publishing – you are unlikely to sell much and if you do, you won’t make much.

Alternative

I’m not an experienced author, but I have done a bit of business – so I looked at these models from that start point. As an author, current publishing models stink.

Hence, stuartlennon.com. I have a membership model. I ask members to pay £12 per year. £1 per month. In effect, buy me a coffee once every 3 months. In return, Members get access to me directly in a bespoke Slack channel, a Members post each week and early access to anything that I publish during their membership. There are costs to hosting a website and managing a membership scheme, but other than those, that £12 per year comes to me. Not to a publisher, not to Amazon and not to an agent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not picking up hundreds of new members, and anything that I write will live or die by its quality, but as a businessman, maintaining control at least makes me feel that I am in charge of my own destiny.

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Going Solo 15. 1857

“Let’s call it 1857.”
So ended a conversation and began a podcast. I can’t reveal the detail of the conversation, as the origin of the title is a closely-guarded secret.

Origin

TJ was a friend of pocketnotebooks.co.uk and when I took it over, I got in touch with him. We agreed that he would shoot some brief videos on a variety of notebook brands. The videos can still be found on the pocketnotebooks You Tube channel. I learned that commissioning video is too expensive a method of marketing notebooks, but I gained a relationship with a kindred spirit.
One thing led to another and TJ and I recorded a trial run of a podcast. We borrowed heavily from the Erasable Podcast, Pen Addict and RSVP, our favourite stationery themed shows. A standard format emerged, and we used the structure to facilitate a weekly conversation.
That’s all it is really. A conversation. TJ and I are a generation apart. I was 21 when TJ came into the world and this becomes prominent when making references, particularly to popular culture.

Future

Might 1857 become a commercial project? It might. The production costs of the show are met by listener’s donations, merchandise purchase and underwritten by Nero’s Notes. There is a marketing benefit to Nero’s, but it’s difficult to quantify.
Producing 1857 is a channel for our creativity and a communication medium with customers. We have a Slack channel for listeners, and talking to them there is one of the few places where I talk directly with customers. It’s also a lot of fun.
To date, TJ & I have been disciplined. We record once a week and release once a week, so far, without exception. We pre-record episodes to cover vacations, maintaining an unbroken sequence of weekly releases that is approaching 90, as I type.

Value

I enjoy the anchor that a regular schedule provides in my week. The discipline of researching, recording and releasing is good practice and I’ll be honest, I really look forward to my weekly conversation with TJ.
We have only actually met once, when Mags and I flew to Belfast for a weekend, where TJ and Meg showed us the town. Naturally, we recorded a show – which you can find here.

Going Solo 14. Loggedoff Ltd.

Loggedoff Ltd was born in 2017. My wife, Margaret, observed that “Stuart Lennon, Writer” was messing up the house, eating too much, drinking too much and not exercising enough. James and I had examined hundreds of businesses for sale, but not found one that enthused us both. I started to canvas clients for Lime, and then stumbled across another opportunity.

Pocketnotebooks.co.uk was a website that sold Field Notes and a few other brands of pocket notebook. It was a side project of two guys up in Newcastle. It was clear from their blog that the site was at a crossroads. One thing led to another, and I gave the guys some cash for the name and the stock, and became an internet retailer.

Mistakes

I ignored almost all of the advice that I have given you in this series. I spent too much, too quickly and have spent the last 12 months focused on slimming the cost-base of the business, putting it into a position to become cash generative. The site is now branded as Nero’s Notes, named after our beloved miniature schnauzer, whom we lost last year.

The business remains based in the UK, even though I am now in Cyprus. Clare runs the physical side of the business from a small office in Amesbury, and I fulfil the virtual tasks from my home office beneath the house here.

I’m still too close to the fridge, and there’s a temptation to forego exercise entirely – but that is all about self-discipline. Margaret has observed that my waistline is growing again. This has led me to consider how I look at my various projects.

Realisation

I’m lucky in that I have Lime, SL.com and Nero’s Notes. I am my own boss, and can sneak off to play golf whenever I want. However, I have allowed lines to blur. If there is something organised – then I’m doing that, at any other time, I’m working. If I am not working, then I am feeling guilty about not working. So I exercise less, eat more (comfort-eating) and drink more (escapism).

It is only by writing the paragraph above that I have come to understand the paragraph above. I have had an epiphany. Once I have finished this post, I am going to think about and establish some boundaries for Loggedoff Ltd, for Lime and for this blog. Me being me, I’ll work this out on paper, in my bullet journal.

Lesson

The lesson here is that we must keep an eye on ourselves. It’s too easy to fall into a trap of doing more and more, without focusing on doing the right things.

Next week 1857.

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Going Solo 13. Paperback writer

I’ll become a paperback writer.

We had sold MTI and I took some time to decompress.

Since childhood, I had nurtured the idea that I was meant to be an author.

If not now, then when?

I set about converting a corner of the living room to my writer’s den, I bought an iMac and every book on writing that I could lay my hands on. I began following writers, both established, and aspiring, on Twitter.

It occurred to me that some point, I ought to write something. But what? It wasn’t as though I had a specific story in me, straining to burst from my chest.

I started this blog to chart the progress of the novel, of my becoming a paperback writer.

I thought I might write about my time in Central Europe. So, I bought Scrivener.

Nothing happened.

Well, not nothing exactly. I spent a lot of time on the internet and in the fridge. Then, I discovered NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Check out the website, but the concept is pretty simple. Write 50,000 words during the calendar month of November. So I did. It was all going so well, I wrote drafts for two novels. Around 90,000 words. Then I realised a few things.

1. A novel is a novel, a memoir is a memoir. My “novel” was more of a memoir and was interesting to me, but not to anyone else.
2. A first draft is a milestone, but it is a long way from a destination.
3. Writing fast for a thing like NaNoWriMo without a clear plan and outline produces a lot of words, just not necessarily in the right order.

The novel is not yet on the shelves, but it’s getting there. Words on this blog, added up would be pretty close to novel length too.

There is a membership option on the site, which grants access to members-only posts and electronic copies of any work that I publish in the year. Almost pre-sales of the novel, if you like.

Next week, Loggedoff Ltd.

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Going Solo. 12. MTI

MTI stood for Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd. It was a placeholder while we were writing the business plan. We forgot to change it.

Cyprus

As Lime, I was consulting to a Cypriot group that was the MoneyGram super-agent in Cyprus. I had managed a super-agent in Central Europe for the market-leader in money transfer, Western Union.

It became apparent to me that Moneygram was mounting a challenge to Western Union and that there might be opportunity beyond Cyprus. I discussed this with my friend and ex-colleague, James. Together we approached MoneyGram in the headquarters of their European operations, in London.

Long story short, Moneygram appointed MTI as a super-agent for the UK. MTI consisted of James and I, a few silent shareholders and a business plan. We took an office in London (I phoned my now-wife and asked her if she could find me a flat as I was moving to the UK in ten days) and bought ourselves laptops.

London

James and I built MTI from the ground up. We were Sales, Marketing, Compliance, Finance and Admin, as well as anything else that needed doing.

It was our ambition to be debt-free. James has a cost-control instinct that borders on ruthlessness, and it served us well. We under-estimated how long it would take the company to become generative, so after two months, we halved our salaries.

Simplicity

Our competitors completed detailed thorough research on how best to recruit retailers.

We recruited retailers.

Competitors recruited debt collectors and lawyers to reduce bad debt.

We escorted bad debts to their banks and took our money there and then.

Success

We met some dodgy people, we met some wonderful people. We worked very long hours, long days and weeks. The business made us laugh and cry, sometimes in the same day. We fought like cat and dog at times, but allied, we were an irresistable force.

For 10 years we worked and built a significant multi-national company that kept us well. The time came when we foresaw that our interests were diverging from those of our principal, MoneyGram, and we agreed to sell to them.

We both went to lie down in a dark room for a while.

Then, I decided to write for a living…

Next week, Paperback writer.

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