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.

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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

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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.

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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”.

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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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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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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.

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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Going Solo. 3. Money. Can you afford to go solo?

Money

On the next blank page of your notebook, write “Finances”. (Don’t forget to add it to the index.)

This bit is scary. Just writing that word is frightening, which in itself might spawn a series of posts: “Why we are so bad at money.” I digress.

Audit

Step 1 is to perform an audit on your personal finances. This process could definitely provide a hundred blog posts. If you are looking for a template/approach, you might do a lot worse than look at “You Need A Budget” (YNAB). What we are trying to work out is how much money we need to live each month. Write “Income Requirement” under “Finances”. Write down all your expenditures. Rent/mortgage, utilities, food, travel, everything you spend.

For most people, this exercise is, in the first instance, pretty simple. Very quickly, they arrive at the point, “I currently earn 1,000 dib-dabs per month, and I could certainly cope with earning 1,000 more, but if I earned any less, there would be trouble.” This post is for those people.

Side Hustle

Quitting your job tomorrow to focus on speculatively writing the script for “Star Wars 45 – Facebook Fights Back”, would be very dramatic, and we all love a dramatic gesture, but to be honest, it’s probably not a great idea.

Whether your solo project is a creative one, a business one or a combination of both, it is unlikely to finance next month’s rent. Almost always, going solo begins as a side hustle. You are going to start your new “thing” without giving up your current income.

You may already have known that, but stick with me. This exercise is not about the result, but about the process. You have documented not only your minimum monthly income requirement, but why it’s the minimum. If you have done this properly, you should already be feeling empowered. You know what you need and why.

Start-up capital

Now – aside from the income question above, let’s look at capital. Does your solo project need capital? Do you need a start-up fund?

I’m not talking about the money you might need in the future, I’m talking about the money you will need to spend to get your side-hustle going.

I’ll give you a clue. The answer, at this point, is “No. I do not need capital.” I have raised money in the past, to start a new venture, and we’ll come back to that, but at this early stage, we’re talking about a side-hustle.

I often hear objections to the above.

So, let’s deal with those now. Continue your Finance pages with, “Start Up Capital Requirements”. List out all the things that you actually need to start your side hustle and your estimate of their cost. Knock your self out. Enjoy! In minutes, you can get yourself to 50,000 dib-dabs. A new computer, business cards, mobile phone, website, stationery, a desk, gardening tools, new suit. The potential list is endless, and of course specific to your business idea.

Wasn’t that fun?

It’s a useful exercise, and I do not doubt that you do need (or want) all of these things. I believe in you. You will have that Mac Pro. Just not yet.

Mindset

Before you buy anything, work out who will pay for it.

The device upon which you are reading this post is what you will use to find customers. You may even have more similar devices. Even if you have none of the tools that you need to deliver whatever it is you are going to do, first, get customers. Get commitments.

Before buying a rake for 5 dib-dabs, have someone who is going to pay you 5 dib-dabs to rake their lawn. Then borrow a neighbours rake and get your first job done. Then ask the neighbour if they want to sell you the rake for 3 dib-dabs.

This is important. It’s also not about capital. It’s about a mindset. If you have some money laying about, that you want to invest in your side-hustle, don’t. You’ll just buy stuff you don’t need. Trust me. I know this for all the wrong reasons. You also won’t learn anything. I am prepared to take on trust that you are really good at spending money. We all are. I, for example would consider myself an expert on spending money. What you need to learn is, can you hustle? Can you generate income with nothing more than words?

Summary.

You can afford to go solo. Because you are not going to spend any money.

Time? Yes. That’s next week’s post.

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Going Solo. 2. What’s the start point?

Start Point

You think you want to go solo. That’s great. I’ve worked for myself since 2003 and I wouldn’t ever want to work for anyone else, ever again. Let’s work out your start point.

You can do it. Everyone can do it. But being able to do it does not mean that you should do it.

If there is one thread that runs through everything involved in being your own boss, is that the buck stops with you. There’s no one to bail you out. The first maxim is “be honest with yourself”.

Notebook

I’m an analogue sort of guy, as will become increasingly obvious. Grab yourself a notebook. I’ll happily sell you one, but any book will do. This book will record your thoughts and chart your progress.

Leave the first few pages blank (we’ll put an index in here). At the top of say, page 5 write,

“Going Solo”.

Then beneath it, write the following

  1. What you are now. Employee? Student? Unemployed?
  2. How you fund your life. Salary? Savings? Partner? Any way you can?
  3. What responsibilities you have. Parent? Carer?
  4. What’s your personal situation? Do you live alone or with others? Do you fund just yourself or others?

Write as little or as much as you want. The important thing is to be honest. This book is for you. It’s your business partner. Don’t tell lies to your business partner.

Leave a line, and write down what you want to be; You Tube Superstar, Management Consultant, Landscape Gardener, Author, Model, Gravedigger, Personal Trainer – whatever it is that you want to be. What’s the dream? What are you aiming for?

Analysis

Don’t look now, but you’ve just documented a start point and an end point. If you were working for a big company, then you have completed a “situational assessment” (or any other of a thousand buzz phrases) and set a goal.

We are just going to call it the journey. We have identified where we are starting (Point A) and where we want to get (Point M). Now, all we have to work out is how to get from point A to M.

Now, go back to page 1 and write Index at the top of the page. Then write – “The Journey” on the left side of the page and “5” in the middle.

Wow. Look at you. You have instigated project “Going Solo”, completed a Situational Analysis, established a goal and documented and indexed the project. In an office, you should probably take a break here. Lunch maybe. It’s been a productive day.

Sorry, I’m being flippant (partially). We will revisit the journey and will write more pages on it. When we do – be sure to add the page number next to the 5. That way, whenever you want to reference the journey, you’ll know where to look.

OK. Lunch break over.

Take a look at the four questions and their answers. If you are unemployed, independently wealthy with no responsibilities, then what are you doing here? Go surfing. Immediately.

Conclusion

If you are not that person, then the chances are that your start point is, to some extent at least, going to guide your approach to going solo. That, my friends, is effectively the beginning of a feasibility study.

Next post – what to do about money?

My writing is supported by people like you. “Going Solo” is free, and will remain so, but some content 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.