Three pieces of advice that I wish I'd taken

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When I think about how many decisions I would have taken differently with hindsight, it makes you think about how different things would be. Richer, more successful, less stressed, but wiser? No.

That said, if I had been given the opportunity to follow in someones shoes, to see what decisions someone else had made taking a similar path, then I would have been foolhardy to have ignored them. So consider this blog a chance to do just that, learn from someone else’s mistakes before making them yourself, although there is no substitute for experiencing things first hand, there are some mistakes that you’d far rather not have made yourself, regardless of the missed opportunity to increase your wise-ness!

So to start with, here are my top three pieces of advice I wish someone had imparted on me. Consider these the low-hanging fruit of running your own tech company, and being as successful as you possibly can….

Over 90% of tech start-ups fail

…and that includes your own. Our business is to provide services to other companies by way of software development and consultancy, and naturally in our business, we get approached by lots of entrepreneurs with ‘great’ ideas. There are virtually no tech companies that won’t come across these individuals over the course of time, and every single one of them is going to make millions, and you have the gilt-edged opportunity to share in that success, it’s a no-brainer surely? For free development, or sweat equity, you’re going to have a share in this business, and make millions in less than 3 years!

I’ve heard this patter more than a dozen times in just over 5 years, every entrepreneur as enthusiastic as the last one. Of course, some of them will become millionaires, and maybe, just maybe you will be able to share in this success, but it doesn’t happen very often. It’s also worth bearing in mind that of the 10% that do survive, a large percentage of these just bumble along, getting by without being really successful.

I’m not saying don’t invest, but I am saying take a real-world view of what is in front of you, ask yourself if this is the 1 in a 100 opportunity that’s worth having some stake in. If you do decide that this is the case, then consider what type of stake you are going to have, and at what cost to you. Always look for a balanced approach where you are able to get a stake in the business, whilst still being able to make a profit on the opportunity. Assume that the piece of paper presented to you as shares in their business, is no better than scratchy toilet paper, and you won’t be disappointed, but maybe, just maybe, it will become worth something.

There are no friends in business

Seems a bit harsh? Well maybe a little, but it’s a good premise to start with. That’s not to say I’m a miserable bastard who has no friends at all, I have plenty of business colleagues that I consider friends. It just means that when it comes to doing business, treat friends with the same level of caution and diligence you would that crazy entrepreneur who collars you as you come out of the tube station in Shoreditch.

If you find yourself uttering the words, “let’s not worry about the contract, we’ve known each other for years”, then take a fork, and stab yourself in the thigh. When it comes to that 'hindsight’ thing, it’s the way that friends can respond under pressure that is the most enlightening. Self-preservation it seems, is a stronger force than friendship. Having a contract in place also protects that friendship, as if things do get hairy, you can both take a step back and follow the contract as a 'how to get out of this crap’ guide - if it’s balanced then it will yield some sensible advice for you both.

Another doozy is “I’ll do it for mates rates” - the only person that gains in this scenario is your 'mate’. Your mates rates will no doubt be played off against another service provider, who may also be offering 'mates rates’.

Friends who are also entrepreneurs (see advice item no 1) are a potent source of failure, those who coerce you into investing heavily in their brilliant idea only to take you down with them, the only consolation here is that these forces of nature tend to fail quickly.

Become indispensable to your customers, and know when you are…

Far too many tech companies, particularly in the service industry, are at pains to ensure that their clients are kept insanely happy, doing their bidding at any time of day, regardless of how much time it takes you, you’d even wipe their backside if it was demanded of you, wouldn’t you?

But who is really in control of the situation? Is it the client who pays the bills, keeps the project ticking over, ensures that those little faces that stare at you expectantly from behind their monitors are kept plied with work? Or is there ever a shift in power, when without your team of brilliant minds tapping away relentlessly at their keyboards, plugged into Spotify as their source of awesomeness, the client would be at a loss, unable to function?

If you manage clients and projects well, this is possible. If you can become such an important cog in their machine, the flux-capacitor in their Delorean, then you hold the cards. This is important to know and also to understand the power you now wield. So when the client approaches you asking for a discount in rates, or asks you to do some work pro bono because “we’ve kept you going these past few years”, then hold your nerve. Be willing to say 'no’, being fearless of the consequences. In fact, you should now be in a position to make a little more margin, ask yourself what they would do without you, what alternatives do they have?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about being mercenary, as fostering a healthy relationship with clients is essential for long-term success, but it is about not being taken for a ride, knowing your true worth and not being willing to compromise on this.

So in closing, consider these three pieces of advise as some hindsight that you had the fortune to come across before you made the mistakes - if you’ve already made them then welcome to the burgeoning club, and take pride that you are wiser than you were before you made them.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, son



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