I was one of those accidental entrepreneurs, with an idea to make some money but no intention of making a business. I never thought of needing a support team.
I went on to build up a business to a fair old size, still solo, still determined to manage on my own. Partly, it was because I was a single Mum. That tends to condition you to cope on your own, soaking up everything that gets thrown at you.
But it was also chronic ignorance. Entrepreneurship was not a concept in everyday use back then, especially not out in rural England. There were inherited businesses, small local businesses – but high-growth businesses? And started (shock horror here) by a woman? Hardly never.
Britain lagged way behind the States. Coaches and mentors were not commonplace. Lonely, isolated doesn’t even begin to describe it. Even ten or twelve years ago, I found I needed to go to London to meet other high-growth owners, to learn about this concept of entrepreneurship. There I discovered my first support team, but it was a case of too little, too late for the perfect scenario.
I would recommend that anyone starting or growing a business has a 5-point support team minimum, ideally from day one.
Personal Support Team
As mentioned, I was a single Mum. No lovely supportive partner at home to discuss the tribulations of the day. Nor should you be obligated to have a relationship for your business! However, if you are in this position and don’t have family around to support you, you need to actively seek out a small group of friends who will do the same job. That loving, supportive, non-judgemental ear, people who will make you laugh and give you a hug; to keep you grounded and remind you what it is like to be human.
Peer Group Support Team
This arm of a support team is what I found when I finally went to London, people who were going through the same thing. I remember Australian entrepreneur Shem Richards talking to me about both people he met through shared workspaces in incubators and those within accelerators he has done and just how much value those people brought.
It wasn’t just the empathy but also a pool of truly expert advice. If you had a problem, wanted to find a new HR or IT company, were wrestling with new software, or had a difficult person on your team, the chances are someone in this group has already experienced the problem.
The IoD (Institute of Directors) is one possibility. I chose The Supper Club, now called The Helm. And then, of course, there is the Home Grown Club which provides food, a bed, and the possibility of the company of some of Britain’s leading entrepreneurs at both social and learning events.
Partners or Early Management
Investors now tend to favor start-ups with more than one founder. Accelerators actively put teams together. Personal partnerships can sometimes very successfully transcribe into business partnerships. Close friends often start businesses together. The duality of skill sets and personalities can take early-stage companies further than a sole entrepreneur can manage independently.
But if you are on your own and know no one you want to run a business with, it becomes far more crucial to import a strong management team early. Acquiring quality people may well mean sacrificing some equity but probably not as much as you would with a partner. And you gain experienced people who strengthen your business and become the support team you need to grow it.
Coaches and Consultants
Coaches and consultants are the marmite of the business world. I have known entrepreneurs to swear by them and many to swear about them.
It is essential to understand the distinction. A coach’s job is to encourage you to do the work. A consultant should offer expert advice.
One of the problems is that there is little or no regulation in either case. It is a gamble on what you get. There are brilliant consultants and brilliant coaches. However, there are also people with nothing else to do, perhaps a business career in their far distant past, who are more than happy to be paid large amounts to share their knowledge. And there lies the first problem. Because of the speed of change in business in the last few years, that knowledge is often woefully out of date.
There are also people using the “coach” title to look for businesses in distress, or a green entrepreneurs unaware of the possibilities of what they have, to buy themselves, or alert a VC for a health commission.
Some coaches will tell you what to do (a no-no for the professional coach), and consultants with no real knowledge or expertise to offer. They often charge exorbitant fees and expenses. I know of more than one story where a young company took years literally to repay the damage in costs and lousy advice.
But they are not all bad. Some entrepreneurs swear by their coaches. It is certainly worth considering having a personal coach who will keep you on track to attain the all-around life you want, something so easily lost with the pressure of business. It keeps you personally accountable to you, and that is a crucial role on any support team.
I am such a fan of the whole concept of mentorship. It has been accepted and rightly lauded in the States, both in corporate and entrepreneurial life, but only in recent years have mentors gained their rightful place as part of a support team in the UK.
They have also shifted in image, from someone a little avuncular, who will assist you on your way, to specialists in their field. It is a wise distinction. If you have an all-around mentor, they will have weak areas, and you may be vulnerable to listening to less than perfect advice. If you ask a mentor to help you in their specific area of strength, then you get the ultimate reward.
There is nothing to stop you from having several mentors on your support team, each mentoring in their own specific strength.
Support Teams are about Balance
This volume of people may sound daunting. I always fought the concept of spending too much time with others because I had no time to spare. And of course you cannot spend your entire time debating, learning, being coached.
But it is a chicken and egg. So if you want to grow your business and grow as a person in the process, it is not a solo process. You need a balanced, diverse support team in different areas, with different strengths.
If you want to succeed in the year ahead, build yourself the best possible support team.