Being in posession of very little business knowledge – sadly, ‘shopping’ doesn’t turn out to be a valid area of expertise – Sarah and I signed up for a free (yay!) ‘Building a Business’ course at the University of Bedfordshire, where we learnt a lot of things that sound obvious, but really aren’t, as soon as you start thinking about it. As in, ‘who is your ideal customer?’ (tip – ‘someone with more money than sense’ doesn’t count as an answer, although I still think it might be true), as well as some stuff that is fundamental to running a business properly, such as the difference between profit and turnover, and between cost and price. Lots of people who had set up their own businesses came to speak to us, which was useful, as well as inspiring. A man came who was so enthusiastic about lockers that we were not surprised in any way that he ran the fastest growing locker business around – I cannot believe that anyone could refuse him the opportunity to install or repair lockers having spoken to him. His passion was obvious. We were secretly glad that we also had passion, it seemed useful!
Part of the course was to write a business plan to compete against the other people on the course. The winner would get £1,000, plus a lot of free advice (priceless.) All through the course we discussed how we were not in any way ready for a business plan, didn’t understand how to write one, didn’t have the time etc, etc, etc…and then as the deadline approached, a bit of long-suppressed competitive urge awoke in me and I remember breezily telling Sarah ‘we may as well enter, we don’t have anything to lose. How hard can it be?’ Er, quite hard, is the answer. Especially if you only have 48 hours, and small children to look after at home. But we were determined to give it a go.
And there followed the most intense two days of recent times. Having bribed the youngest two with Cbeebies magazines and raisins, we used all 4 of our other-child free hours to type out a very wonky business plan. I picked the brains of a knowledgeable friend and managed to tweak our SWOT analysis (yes, that’s right. We talk the talk. Though we still view the adoration of these diagrams within the proper business world with suspicion. It probably explains why we’re not millionaires now.) Sarah sweated the finance section and we condensed our clothing-empire dreams into a 500 word summary. Having finished a mere 15 minutes before the deadline, Sarah dashed to the copy shop to have a copy run off (neither of us owns a functioning printer) and delivered it, by hand, to the university whilst I did the preschool run.
On the way home, with 4 children in tow, I got a phonecall.
University Man: ‘Er, hello, a colleague of mine has just recieved a copy of your business plan. Did you read the entry form?’
Me: (sensing my own stupidity) ‘Um, not very carefully, perhaps?’
Uni man: ‘Well, you can’t submit a hard copy. You need to email it. Shall I give you the address?’
Me: ‘Ah, I’m walking by a very busy road, with 4 children, 2 of them AREN’T EVEN MINE! can I call you back?’
Having laughed at our own stupidity, emailed the plan, shut the laptop, declared that a celebratory lunch was in order, we recieved another call:
Uni man: ‘Hello again. I’ve got your email. Um, did you read the entry form?’
Sarah: ‘Ah. No.’
Uni man: ‘You need to submit the actual form, not a business plan. Can you do that, by 3pm?’
Us (collective panic, with some hysterical laughing) ‘We’ll give it a shot!’
And with a bit of help from the TV (how else to keep 4 children quiet for two hours?) and some clever formatting by Sarah, we squished our business plan into a four-page form. Not pretty, but we did it. 2.58pm.
The game was on!