GUEST BLOG: what i've learnt from my business failures by John Sollars

When I celebrated 40 years of working at the start of January someone asked me if I had any regrets. Without thinking I replied, "I don't regret anything. What's important is to learn from your mistakes and move on". It was an off-the-cuff reply, but it is a core philosophy of mine. This April, I'll reach 10 years running my present printer ink web business, so that's 25% of my working life, but before Stinkyink I had two other opportunities.  Along the way I have picked up valuable lessons.

In 1982 I left my secure job and opened a small shop, selling CB Radios and electronic components, with a partner. We scraped along for a couple of years, but never made any money and eventually I had to go out and find a 'proper job'.

Lesson number 1: obtain adequate backing and research the market: we were woefully underfunded and far too niche for a small market town to support.

Lesson number 2: know your margins: our overheads (mainly rent) were totally unsustainable on our turnover.

Ten years later I gave up another well paid and well rewarded job to start again. This time it was in manufacturing, running a small sub-contract assembly company with two partners. When the recession hit we were looking at bankruptcy. It was a really unpleasant experience that took me some time to get over, both financially - I personally was pursued by the bank for all three personal guarantees - and emotionally.

Lesson number 3: if it is worth doing, do it yourself.

Lesson number 4:  manage your cash flow - it's no good having customers who don't pay on time.

Lesson number 5: understand your financials: involve an accountant and book keeper early on to help manage the numbers.

So I went out and got another 'proper job' until 2002 when, guess what? I gave it up to start my third business. This time it worked and ten years on it is still going well; I employ 14 full-time staff and am probably too old now to find another 'proper job', so I need to keep this going. 

So what have I done differently this time over my two previous opportunities? I've learned my lessons: I have a niche business, selling printer consumables on the internet to a European marketplace; we are based in a low cost unit on my local industrial estate, so the rent is sustainable; I have no partners - this time it is all down to me; and I am absolutely paranoid about managing my cash flow and accounts. I'd recommend any start-up ensures it has a good accountant available and gets monthly reports and advice from him or her.

Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the digital calculator and the C5 bike, once said, "to run a successful business you need a couple of business failure". In my case I guess he was right.

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