Ian Whitworth, serial entrepreneur, co-founder of corporate audiovisual company Scene Change and author of Undisruptable joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to share why there’s much less ‘risk’ in starting a business than you think.
Ian Whitworth describes himself as a “reformed branding and advertising creative director turned entrepreneur”, and he firmly believes everyone would be better off if they ditched their day jobs and went to work for themselves.
“There’s a lot of confusion around risk in setting up a business, because everyone around you says, ‘You’ve got a nice, safe job; it’s a big risk setting up your own business’. And the problem is they don’t quite understand risk,” Ian explains.
“If you only had one client, that’s not a business; it’s a nightmare situation where one person or company has the power of life or death over you. If you lost that client, you wouldn’t have a business. And it’s the same with jobs.
“You might be doing an awesome job and through no fault of your own, they can decide to cut the head count. Suddenly you are gone, and you have no control over that whatsoever. So, the only way to really get some control over the situation is to set up your own business.”
Ian Whitworth, author of Undisruptable
Knowledge and experience trump big ideas
You don’t have to have a big, wildly different idea to start your own business. In fact, Ian says it’s better to take some of the skills you’ve gained in your existing job and turn that into a business.
“Another great piece of mythology is that successful new businesses are about having a great idea,” Ian says. “The importance of a great idea is a little overstated. Great ideas are terrific fun and make a cool story, but an idea is not a business. It might be 10 per cent of your business, but the other 90 per cent is sales, hiring staff, distribution, pricing and all the other mundane details, and if you don’t get them right, your business gets rinsed.
“In the area you currently work in you have a whole bunch of knowledge, you have contacts, you understand what makes clients spend that money – and that’s really the most important skill in business. So, the best place to start is around what you’re currently doing; maybe a newer, better way to do that,” Ian advises.
Listen to Ian Whitworth on the Flying Solo podcast:
Think big, not small
Once you make the leap and kick off your own business as a sole trader, Ian says it’s important to build a sense of trust from the start to be taken seriously and mitigate risk – and that requires thinking big, not small.
“A lot of small business owners signal their smallness with the things they do, and customers are nervous,” Ian reveals. “They want to know that you are going to turn up; you’re not just going to take their money and never be heard of again.
“Basic old school reassurance methods are essential, such as having a landline phone and office address on your website or business card. Even though those are virtual things that divert straight to your mobile, it appeals to people’s risk avoidance instincts; they’re reassured by things like that.
“Likewise, investing in design and branding up front so that it doesn’t look like a ‘small’ business is wise. Brands work – they make money for you because clients are reassured by a brand.
“When I was making my website, I picked the most expensive one. I could have got it done for $99 by someone on the other side of the world, but I got it done for $400 by someone who lives in my time zone. They got that website set up in two days with about three emails from me. They just got it done because they were really good. By deliberately choosing the most expensive option I saved literally dozens, maybe hundreds, of hours of my own time.
“You can get your logo done now for 50 bucks online, but it looks like it. I draw the analogy, if you had to wear the same pair of shoes to every meeting with every client for the next 10 years, would you spend 50 bucks on those shoes? It’s worth spending a bit more money on a website and design that says, ‘this is a bigger company’. There’s a certain amount of bluffing, but you have to use whatever techniques you can to make yourself look bigger, so clients are aware that this is a legitimate business they’re dealing with.
“My view is that in the online creative marketplace, if you are good enough to charge more than the other people, then you must be really good.”
Don’t go it *completely* alone
As a sole trader, the name itself implies that you will be managing everything within your business alone, which feels inherently risky. However, Ian says that’s not necessarily true – nor should it be.
His top tip when starting out?
“Find someone good to do your marketing, particularly digital marketing,” Ian advises. “Don’t try and do your own because it’s actually really hard.
“Google and Facebook both have DIY options for doing your own digital marketing, and they’re basically just a vacuum for sucking the money out of your bank account as fast as possible. They’ll give you some numbers, which look impressive, but they mean nothing and they won’t sell anything. It’s a shifting nightmare trying to stay on top of all the algorithm changes; everything is changing from minute to minute. It’s like trying to get a large octopus into a small bucket.
“You, as a business person, could literally spend every hour of your day mucking around with that, whereas you should be chasing customers.”
Speaking of customers, Ian says the best place to start when building up your client base is with the customers you already have.
“It’s a very ancient concept, but start with your existing customers and just service the hell out of them,” he says. “That’s where most of your business will come from. We’ve grown the business 20 to 30 per cent per year since we started, and the amount of growth that’s come from ‘cold’ business calls is zero. It’s all come from treating our first bit of work with a new client as an ad for our product.
“This is not new information, but it’s easy to forget.”
Undisruptable is a step-by-step manual for starting your own business, packed with lots of foundational advice along with a few laughs because, as Ian says:
“All business is fun. Sure, there’s also searing pain involved, but there’s a tremendous amount of fun. Seize control over your own destiny by starting up your own business – it’s not quite as terrifying as everyone around you is telling you!”