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.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

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.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

 

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.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

Going Solo. 11. Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd.

My oldest solo project is Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd. (Lime)

Origins

I set Lime up in 2003. Having moved from Budapest to Cleethorpes in 2002, I was working as a barman, and as a consultant. A foreign exchange business was considering expanding into France. I had lived and worked in Paris in the same industry during the late 80’s and 90’s, and therefore made for a pretty good guide.

Talking to my client, it became apparent that I had an opportunity to sell different elements of my expertise and experience to a number of companies, as an external resource. So, I did.

Growth

The business sustained me through until the end of 2005. I never hired anyone and managed every element of the business myself. Once or twice, I was on the cusp of taking that critical step of evolving from a company of one.

I was offering training for point of sale teams and line managers. I was offering business consultancy projects (Paris for example) and management consultancy, where I was working inside a business, putting it in a position to grow. I got to the point where I needed to be in more than one place at a time. Could I have someone else provide the training, while I was business consulting?

Research

I explored the idea with clients.

The answer was unequivocally, “No.”

In a nutshell, companies were hiring me because it was me. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. Let me explain.

I’m a good trainer. I communicate well, I enthuse and inspire. However, there are many trainers that do that. My customer service training is well designed, researched and tested. Well, there is a lot of excellent customer service training on the market.

Point of Difference

My difference was my authenticity. I was training people who worked at the counters of foreign exchange bureaux. I had been there. Night shifts opposite the Pompidou centre, Sunday afternoons in St Tropez, rainy winter days on the left bank, I’d done them. Such authenticity is not unique.

However, frontline experience, excellent material, strong delivery and multi-lingual presentation – it was rare to find that wrapped up in one person.

I realised that I could expand in scope and size, but risked undermining the very thing that customers desired. On the other hand, I could charge a premium, keep overhead low and make more money that way.

Evolution

Over the years, Lime has evolved and mostly offers anti money laundering consultancy. The principles however remain the same. When companies engage Lime, they engage me – someone who has been in the compliance hot seat across multiple jurisdictions. But that’s a tale for another post.

Next week, Money Transfer International.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

Going Solo. 10. Multiple Businesses

Multiple businesses is a side-effect of Going Solo. New projects can become an addiction.

My Journey

In Summer 2002 I got fired. My time in Central Europe came to an abrupt end. I moved from Budapest to Cleethorpes, a seaside town on the North Sea coast of England.

Consequently, I became a barman to try pay some bills and setup my first company. Stuart didn’t jump into Going Solo, he got pushed.

Lime Training and Consultancy was incorporated in February of 2003, although I had been trading as a sole trader in the second half of 2002. I was providing customer service training to the foreign exchange industry. I didn’t have a printer, so I used a print shop to put together training materials.

Money Transfer

In April 2003, my marriage broke up and I moved in with my Mum, in Cyprus. Lime spawned a Cypriot sister company. I started consulting for a local company offering MoneyGram money transfers. In 2004, I teamed up with the guy that fired me (A long story…) to setup Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd (MTI) and moved back to the UK.

Subsequently, the Cyprus company was folded up, but I kept Lime going, and it is still going now.

For 10 years, my professional life was all about MTI, until we sold the business in 2014.

stuartlennon.com

Footloose and fancy-free, I started this blog, ostensibly to record the writing of my novel. No novel yet, but I’m getting there, honest!

Pocket Notebooks

In 2016, I rediscovered my childhood passion for stationery. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was the proud owner of pocketnotebooks.co.uk, now nerosnotes.co.uk

1857

While I was diving into stationery rabbit-holes, I discovered podcasts. I got talking with TJ Cosgrove who has a healthy obsession with pencils. Somehow or other, we got to recording and releasing our talks weekly. Tonight, we will be recording episode 84.

Variety

Each of the above gives me something. Not always financial reward.

I’ll give some background on each one over the coming weeks.

Multiple businesses / projects is one way of keeping things interesting when #goingsolo.

Membership

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

Going Solo. 9. Learning the Ropes

By definition, learning the ropes will be dependent on what you are doing. What I am trying to get at though, is the difference between a hobby and a business.

Administration

If you are anything like me, then you’re passionate about what you want to do, but less passionate about the stuff that you have to do around it – the dreaded administration.

Like many things, it’s easy, if you know how. If you don’t, relax. We’ll get through it.

Entities

Do you need a company? Can you be a sole trader? Which do you want to be?

Much depends on your location; countries have different laws. My advice is that ultimately, you want your hustle to be in a company. A company is an entity of its own. This has huge advantages in terms of liability and in terms of saleability. However, forming a company has a cost, and you know how I feel about cost. If you have revenues or customers already in place, then I recommend that you form a company. Certainly in the UK and the EU this is not a complicated or costly process.

However, it may be that you want to leave company formation until you have some revenues coming in.

Bank Account

Sounds obvious, but use a separate bank account. Wherever possible, use this bank account for all expenses. If a customer wants to pay cash, great. Take that cash and deposit it into the bank. Trust me, you’ll thank me when it comes to working out your accounts.

Management Accounts

In Post VII, you drew up a budget. In itself, that is a useful exercise. However, charting progress against that budget gives you real control of the business. The good news, is that this is really simple.
At the most basic level, you can insert columns into a copy of your budget file – and input the actual numbers. If you budgeted $30 for telecoms, and your bill comes to $25, you enter that in the column adjacent. If you really want to show off, you can have a column that takes one figure from the other. There’s no reason that you can’t run your numbers like this on a spreadsheet, but you will need to be disciplined and have a good attention to detail.

Automated Accounts

My attention to detail is abso…oh look! A squirrel.

You see my problem.

For this reason, I automate as much of my accounts as possible. I use Xero, and love it, but I imagine that Sage and Freshbooks are just as good. For each business, I link my bank and Paypal accounts to Xero, so that transactions are automatically downloaded. My webshop is also linked, so sales download too.

Now – in theory, I could integrate my budgeting process with Xero too, and I daresay that I will, one day. I just haven’t got to it yet. For the moment, my management accounts categories match my budget categories, so its easy for me to see how I’m doing in individual categories.
While writing this post, I reconciled my accounts on a mobile phone. Xero learns and so when it saw a bank payment to Google Apps, it suggested to me that this was probably my subscription to Google for email. I agreed, and it entered the expense into the ledger. Done. I love it.

Returns

Management accounts help run the business. Xero will produce the data that you need to submit a return to most authorities. In short, you can do it all yourself.

However, if you haven’t made submissions before, it makes sense to get help here. Most accountants are happy to look over output from your digital bookkeeper and advise you. There’s a fee of course, but as they charge by the hour and you have done much of the time-consuming work, this fee need not be large. Agree in advance.

Seek Help

This post could run to pages and pages. As I wrote it, I realised how much there is to administration. (Ideas for some more posts!) Look. EVERY business person has been where you are now. If you’re not sure about accounts or company admin, ask someone. Ask me. Grab me on Twitter, DMs are open. I’ll help if I can.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

Going Solo. 8. Time & Space

Last week, I covered money and budgets. Time and Space are equally as important, if not more so.

Time

We hit “Time” here, in post 4. I find that time runs away from me very easily. I have also discovered that all time is not created equal. One hour in the morning is worth several in the afternoon for me. I have more energy and enthusiasm early. Come evening-time, there are some tasks that I just can’t do. Writing for example. It may be that I could retrain myself, but it’s certainly easier to lean into my natural inclinations. If I have a lot to do, I’ll go to be bed earlier and get up earlier. Your mileage my differ.

Whatever decisions that you have made about time, will have an impact on space. Obviously, much will depend on the type of endeavour that you are pursuing, but in general, where are you going to work?

Space

At home? A coffee shop? A shared workspace? If you have been reading along, you know that I recommend not spending a cent unless absolutely necessary. However, be realistic. If your personal circumstances make working at home impossible, then you need to make a plan about where you can work effectively. If that means paying a licence fee for a shared workspace, then budget for it.

Routine

Once you have decided on where and when you will be working, get to your notebook and setup a page “Normal Routine.” All we’re doing here is some time-blocking. It’s not rocket science. Simply, if you have decided that you need 10 hours a week to make the project work, then let’s see where those 10 hours are. Once you have set them, you need to commit to them. Life will get in the way, and not every week will be “Normal”. That’s fine, it happens to us all. But to adjust a plan, you first need to have a plan.

I time block every week, either on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. I fill in my scheduled appointments, then my ‘must-dos’ for the coming week. This gives me an idea of the shape of my days, and the key things that I am going to achieve.

Next week

We have the numbers, the time and space, next week – “Learning the Ropes”.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

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.

My writing is supported by people like you. 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.

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.

My writing is supported by people like you. #Going Solo is free to all, but some other series are “Members Only”. 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.

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.