It’s good to talk and coming from a large corporate team I’d always had the benefit of other people around me. If I wanted advice, wanted to share some news, needed someone else’s opinion or simply needed someone to vent my frustrations to it was a given someone would be around. What I hadn’t realised when I first decided to go it alone with my own business was the value of having those other people around me. I guess I took it for granted somewhat.
If I’m honest though, in the beginning I wasn’t all that worried about it. I was confident, I felt I was capable enough to go it alone, I didn’t really think about the human interaction thing. So I set about researching my business market and getting things moving – and that part wasn’t really a ‘lonely’ experience. I never thought about it. It was at the point I had a business model in place and had properly started trading that I noticed the empty space that having no ‘team mates’ had left.
Like most people, I wanted and needed human interaction. I wanted to chat, to share my plans and my ideas with others and to get some feedback. So I began networking at local events to fill that void. It just so happens that it was a hugely important part of the process of growing my business both in terms of funding and the structure of my future board of directors.
I continued with my networking and I soon started to meet some very interesting people and made some great new connections.
I also found that I started talking to my husband a lot more about business-related topics than I had done in my previous career. Unless it was something really significant, we never really talked about our respective jobs at home it’s just the way it was. But suddenly I was working on my own and that can be an isolating experience if you don’t involve other people. So you could say my husband became my first sounding board.
I soldiered on. I continued with my networking and I soon started to meet some very interesting people and made some great new connections. It was at that point that I realised I needed to recruit more people around me. But who and what did the business need? One early trigger for me was at an investor presentation where I discovered the feedback was: “She’s good, I like her and I really liked the business idea, but she’s alone. It’s just her.” I soon realised that being alone could be detrimental to the success of the business.
A wake up call
My first reality check was recognising what kind of people I could afford to recruit. They may of course be enthusiastic, great at the day job and very happy to roll their sleeves up, but they don’t have the business strategy and senior experience to take the company all the way.
Ironically, I met my first advisor at a networking event and we established that we’d both recently looked at buying the same business, a small tutor business – and we had both walked away from the opportunity for varying reasons. But that gave us a great starting point, we’d found a common ground and we shared similar views in this instance. We became good contacts afterwards and he became one of my first informal advisors, someone to chat to and have the odd coffee with.
Are you on my side?
Starting my official search for the right advisors was a daunting experience. After all, I wanted senior people with business acumen and insight, but I also wanted them to believe in the business and to be committed to its future growth.
When you enter the non-exec territory you are often dealing with ego, I didn’t want people that were simply looking for something nice to add to their CV. In my experience, I’ve come across many non-executive directors that use opportunities like these as a stepping-stone to their next adventure. While there is nothing wrong with that, each to their own, these weren’t the kinds of advisors that I was looking for, so I had to ensure they were the right fit for me and the business.
My question to any potential advisor is – are you on my side? What I mean by that is, this business is my baby. I need people that care about what I am trying to do, people that will add value and are working to the same goals as me. The next issue is chemistry; a huge factor, if we aren’t on the same wavelength and we don’t click, it won’t work.
A sandwich moment
Ironically, it’s the little things that send warning signals that someone isn’t on the same wavelength as you. In my case it was a random sandwich moment.
When you enter the non-exec territory you are often dealing with ego.
I once went to a meeting with an advisor and we popped into a café for a sandwich and coffee beforehand. While in the queue I popped to the toilet and left the advisor with my sandwich order. When I returned a few moments later, he had paid for his sandwich only (leaving mine at the counter), and was waiting at a table. I was horrified! It wasn’t that he’d blatantly refused to shell out £3 for my sandwich (which I’d have politely offered to reimburse him for anyway) it was the realisation that this person was completely on another wavelength to me. I would never have done something like that, not in a million years.
Facing up to your mistakes
Like most people, I made recruitment mistakes. You only get a short time to decide if a person is right for the role and sometimes your first impression doesn’t turn out the way you had envisaged. I recruited some very nice, but ‘ok’ advisors initially. The problem was, although they were enthusiastic and generally nice people, they didn’t have the credentials, seniority, experience or the capability to deliver what I needed.
So, you have to make some tough decisions, if it’s not working and if it’s holding the business back, you have to make changes. Of course, I later realised that is wasn’t all their fault; I’d recruited the wrong people and in all fairness the fantastic board of non-execs I have now wouldn’t have worked with me back then.
A few years ago I didn’t have the business longevity, credibility and experience that I have now. Instead of walking into a room of potential investors and saying “I’m going to do this…” I can now walk into a room with complete confidence and say, “I have done this…” – that makes a big difference. Suddenly more people are keen to be part of the success story and I found that it was at that point I found the right advisors to take the business forward.
My top tip
If you’re an entrepreneur going it alone and are thinking about bringing in more people around you, don’t take the first person that shows an interest in being an advisor. Take time to consider if the person is right for you. Network as much as you can, as it’s the very best way of meeting new people and making connections. Go on your gut instinct - are they on your side? If you feel you can trust the person and you click, there is a greater chance of it working.
If you make a mistake, don’t fret and don’t drag it out - too many great businesses are held back. It’s not personal, it is business and you have to keep that at the forefront of your mind at all times.
About Karen Bach
Karen Bach is the founder of KalliKids.com. Karen holds the belief that children learn and develop in many different ways – not just through academic subjects and the school curriculum, but also through play, fun, sport, music, visiting new places and learning new things with new people.
Through past experience, Karen discovered just how hard it is to find quality family activities for children and parents. That is why she created KalliKids in March 2012: The place that over 90,000 parents look to find recommended trusted and approved family activities that are checked upfront.
Prior to founding KalliKids, Karen had a long corporate career as director of VC-backed and Plc growth companies and most recently as commercial director for Kidsunlimited.