10 bits of advice for new entrepreneurs
Alessia Cesana is a young social entrepreneur who is celebrating her first 6 months (between planning and trading), a period of time she would have thought very small before, but which now looks like a tumultuous and life-changing time. Taking the leap towards entrepreneurship was moved by a deep belief in the vision and idea behind Laurel and Yew, a passion for the cause mixed with the belief that business was the best way to solve the problem. If asked, she would say that everything else about starting out was “having nothing to lose”. Here’s the advice she wishes she was given before starting, which she’s happy to pass along to anyone thinking about starting or just starting out.
 Your age matters far less to others than it matters to yourself
Whether young or older, chances are you feel a bit self-conscious about age one way or another. Truth is, it matters far less to others than it does to your insecurities. What people in the world of entrepreneurship are interested in is your idea and your vision, and how realistic it is for you to implement that vision. Age itself is no guarantee that you are or aren’t the right person for the job.
 Find people to support you as it’s a hard journey on your own
Whether it’s a co-founder, a mentor, a business coach, an understanding partner, a group of friends or your parents, this is not a journey you can do on your own, even if you are a solo-preneur. Find out what you need support in, whether it’s strictly business or more personal, and find the right person (or people) to be alongside you.
 It’s more about whom you know than what you know
What you know is important, especially as your expertise is the core of your business, but there are many facets to being an entrepreneur besides the actual job you’ve founded the business for. It’s okay to ask for help and delegate to people who know more than you do and don’t underestimate how important it is to know where to find the answers you don’t have yourself. A great network of people you can rely on for help is an invaluable business asset.
 It’s okay to make mistakes
Your value isn’t tied to what you achieve. Entrepreneurship is a journey with ups and downs and even Richard Branson had a few failed ventures. Making mistakes means you’ve taken a risk in something beyond your comfort zone, or in rare occasions that you’re about to burn out. They’re occasions to re-evaluate what you’re doing so you can do better, but as long as you’re doing, you’re doing well enough anyway.
 You don’t have to put up with negativity
Constructive criticism is vital but there is one thing that constructive criticism isn’t: negative. Constructive criticism sees what can be done better, so it’s positive in nature. This is not about surrounding ourselves with yes men and relentless positivity that leaves no space for realism, but negativity is not realism and it drains your energy, which is not what you need. The job is hard enough without it.
“What you know is important, especially as your expertise is the core of your business, but there are many facets to being an entrepreneur besides the actual job you’ve founded the business for.”
 Take care of yourself, there is only one you
You are your most valuable business asset. You’re the one who knows the vision inside out. You’re the one who picked the core team, who built relationships with the investors, partners and first clients. In a way, the brand is you and you are the brand. Finance experts will tell you how important keeping the original team together has been in many buyouts. You can’t afford to leave the business without you.
 Communication is key
I have a confession to make. Had I read this list 6 months ago I’d have thought: “Why is this here? It’s so much basic common sense”. It goes without saying that while in theory I might have thought I knew it, in practice I have spent many months working on the back of assumptions about what another person is thinking about. Part of it are insecurities I didn’t even know I had until I’ve started my business, but part of it was learning the hard way that what you say and what the other person hears and vice-versa aren’t the same. Make sure you listen well and clarify anything that is being said.
 Don’t be afraid of looking pushy
This is probably the hardest one for me, as I’m a very reserved person (one of the mythological creatures who are the Introverted Entrepreneurs), but I’ve learnt it the hard way. If you wait for other people to be in touch or offer something you want because it’s more polite than you asking for it you’re not going anywhere. Everyone else is busy and everyone else might be thinking “If they wanted to keep in touch they’d be in touch”. If you get in touch and it goes nowhere then you’ll know for sure they only said what was the polite thing to say when you meet someone networking, but those who are genuinely interested will get back to you and be glad that you made that first move.
 Learn to say no
Just because you offer a service, you’re not under an obligation to take every work opportunity that comes your way. While there are legitimate concerns about the need to make an income, you have a right to choose your clients as much as they have to choose their provider. There are only so many hours in the day and everything you do needs to maximise your return on investment. Would you like to miss out on a well paid opportunity because you’re too busy juggling four low paid projects to make ends meet? Make sure your cash flow and start-up capital can account for getting the ball rolling so that you can make decisions without the pressure of needing money.
 You’ll never be ready to start so just do it
I think entrepreneurs have a tendency for perfectionism, which is just moving the goal post and never reaching it. You need a solid plan and by all means take your time to build it, but give yourself a (generous if you need it) deadline and stick to it. After a few weeks just ask for an opinion from someone who can mentor you and tell you whether it’s a good starting point. Business plans are living organisms that will change when you test the market and find out what actually works rather than what market research says it will work. You only need good enough and to build from that foundation. Excellence is closer than you think.
About Laurel and Yew
Laurel and Yew specialises in eco-chic interiors, with a mix of antiques, upcycled furniture and fair-trade products from the developing world as well as supporting traditional British craftsmanship. We have a curated list of suppliers that are aspirational, considered and unique so that we can make the world a better place one beautiful room at a time. Thanks to these careful partnerships we support businesses in empowering young people through work and as we grow, we aim to offer training opportunities to young people in disadvantaged areas of South West London, where we’re based. Our scope is broad as we select projects by ethos rather than by type.