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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

A sole trader mindset needs to change to grow

"You are the wind that fills the sails, but you are not the temperament for a rudder." (I'll Take Manhattan, Judith Krantz)

It's time for me to "level up" - no, not in the way that an excellent gaming phrase has been somewhat corroded by the government, but in its original usage, it's when a character in a gaming campaign has acquired enough experience it can grow and accumulate new skills, tools, and - it's gaming after all - points.

But the point of this is, I have a plan to grow something to consolidate the community work I have done most of my life, and I finally have the idea, means and connections to make it work. What I don't have, as my dad reminded me - was "sticking power". While he immediately saw my idea had merit (and watch this space for what happens), he told me - very much like the quote I used at the start "You will be able to give the project legs, but you are going to want to move on to something else after that". He's right. I have spend so long building my brand as a sole trader, that in starting a bigger project I had remained stuck in that mindset (ie. I'll do x and see what happens), and was letting enthusiasm carry me away. I wasn't thinking long term - once it's up and running, then I really want to "just run that project indefinitely"?"... A bigger project is not about "seeing what happens", but creating something that lasts. Am I wanting to see that through to the end?

...the answer is no, and another part to that is, I don't have the skills - neither do I want to development.

I am a creator, a catalyst, a person who can run build something short term - you know "This looks like a great barn, we'll do the show here!"...but that project runs for a few months and disappears as quickly as it has popped up. Ask me to do it forever, and that's about the same as throwing a bucket of ice water over my desires!

So where does that leave me with this project? It's a long term project, I know it will work, and it's about building something sustainable...

Are you a sole trader or a company?

As a sole trader I do everything myself, BUT if I choose to stop, take a break, or even change path - it is only myself I need to worry about. Not only that, but pivoting and evolving is quite easy as it's just me that needs to be adaptable and flexible.

However, if I were to scale up there needs to be a level of commitment - and capability - that I cannot do alone. For a bigger operation, it's not enough for me to just go online once a day to post a video, or just renew my personal licences and insurances...the work load is far greater, and the skills set more demanding. While I can do "everything" when it's just me that rises or falls, if things need to be done on a larger scale, with more regularity, scrutiny and demand - I need to find a team.

When you have a team you have a different responsibility - if something doesn't work for me, that's ok, if I lose an expected grant or a contact, that could be someone else's livelihood I've just been gambling with.

Where in the "company" do you fit?

If you have worked in smaller projects, or have had experience within teams in larger organisations, you might have an idea of this already.

As I said, I am a "catalyst" - I have a plan and the drive to push a short plan through - but I'm not so good at the day-to-day. I have always said that the skills set of the leader and the manager are different, BUT unlike many of the articles out there - I believe you need both. As a theatre director I lead, I have the concept, I bring the show together, I motivate - BUT I always rely on a stage manager who looks at the detail, who can be blunt when I have to be "smiley", who keeps me in check when I say " in this barn where we're doing the show...why don't we have pyrotechnics...!?" ...and it's actually really hard to be both.

Then, depending on the project, there are other roles that need to be fulfilled - and, I repeat, long term...not "I'll save Thursday afternoon to do my admin catch up".

So you need to build a team.

When you have a team you have a responsibility to them

This doesn't necessarily have to mean that you are present every moment - if you recruit wisely, your team will run itself. BUT if you recruit wisely, you will have to finance said team appropriately.

When sole trading, if you have a "quiet year" you may need to budget extra carefully, but you know where to cut back and belt tightening only affects you - with any ripple effect for your personal life something that you need to consider, but hopefully your family team will be behind you anyway.

In a company, a mistake, a mis-investment, a lack of income to remunerate has wide ranging consequences, and worse still, if you lose your team - because, with a heavy heart, they love you but they need to eat - it's hard to get them back - at least in the capacity you need for sustainability of a company.

So, here are some considerations if you are making the move not just to sole trading...but scaling up:

- Have a business plan - which includes an exit strategy. In my case, the exit strategy isn't so much one "in case it doesn't work" - but a handover because I know my role is only going to be short term

- Have a very clear awareness of the budget you need - perhaps you can apply for grants as well as relying on income

- With regards to income, while we all hope to make our fortune, at least at the start be clear how you can remain sustainable. Think in terms of the company being able to pay for itself (with your outgoings and team), before trying to get too big too fast.

- If things DO grow faster than you anticipated, consider having other professionals on contract such as accountants to make sure that your business administration is accurate.

- Remember that things are likely to cost more than you anticipate, and bear that in mind as you get started - a clear business plan will help you remain aware of possible issues, but might also function as an excellent document to secure external funding, grants and other investment.

- Build in time to check back with your plan and where you are as you continue to develop.

Good luck.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt Order The Leader's Guide to Resilience or The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness or Be A Great Manager Now


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