Risk vs reward… how I turned my entrepreneurial dreams into reality

By Tristan Bailey 

Starting a business can be considered one of life’s great achievements and for some it is the only ambition they have after leaving school. An entrepreneurial mindset is embedded in Kiwi DNA and is often why we’re frequently referred to as a small business economy – but as technology advances and life as a tradesman changes, so too does the scope of starting out on your own.

While the excitement of going out on your own affords plenty of opportunities to hone your craft and build your network, the skills and deliverables needed to grow your business are completely different. 

Small decisions can impact the industry – we need to back ourselves

The construction and trade industry, like many others, can be impacted by the seemingly small decisions made by a collective of people all at the same stage in their business journey. When starting out it can be hard to know how to package up and charge for your services and more often than not tradies frequently price themselves down to gain crucial business or from simply not knowing and working out what they need to make ends meet. 

While neither of these is wrong, the industry provides important and increasingly in-demand services for the needs of a burgeoning population in New Zealand. As we grow our teams and harness years of experience for pricing jobs, naturally we become more competitive and the rates reflect this – but we have to work together to understand how not backing our skills is undermining the value of our industry. 

Takeaway: Back yourself from day one and talk to other tradies who have been in the game for a while – see more on this below. You’re a skilled, qualified, experienced service provider – if everyone thought like this, we could see fairer rates being paid to technical experts across the board. 

Are you on the tools or on the tools?

You might want to decide where your passion lies pretty early on. Do you love being a builder specialising in architectural builds or do you want to make affordable kit set tiny homes accessible to every Kiwi and expand your business across the country? 

It could be both, but figuring out where your skills fit could help you make some strategic decisions early on in the business. This may not be achievable within the first year of business, but if you find yourself wanting to get out from under the tools and back at your desk running numbers or building ideas, or out on the circuit selling your vision, you could consider how you take steps to make this happen early on by finding a niche or investing in certain aspects of the business to enable you to take on an employee – freeing you to grow the business. 

Takeaway: Be realistic about what gets you up in the morning. You might be a wizard on the job but rubbish with the sales – if you want to grow and establish yourself as a go-to service provider, you’ll need to have a plan in place to achieve your goals. 

Your expectations and goals go hand-in-hand

A frequent misconception about running your own business is the ability to pick and choose your own hours and get home at 5pm everyday. While an element of this is true (and important) – if you choose to be home with the kids between 4-6pm everyday or dedicate every Thursday to rugby, don’t compromise on that. However, the hours you put in often reflect the output and this is particularly true in the first couple of years of business. You’ll wear many hats – sales, accountant, marketing, on the job – and if you want the empire you’ve dreamed of, more often than not the hours have to reflect that. No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep! Some people dream of business success, others stay awake to achieve it!

Some business owners just want to get the job done and have enough to retire on, and others just want to be in the industry because they are passionate and love it!

Set your goals and your expectations up front, it will save a lot of disappointment and enable you to make the right business decisions for you, your family and your business. 

Takeaway: Time management is the key here, if you want to grow your business how do you think about moving from job to job, to value + growth. Once you understand what levers you need to pull to make your business work for you, you’ll see better outcomes.  

Your learning journey has only just started

You may have left school years ago, but when running a business, innovation and growth is a mindset you need to embrace – and that starts with listening and accepting that education is your friend every step of the way. This doesn’t necessarily mean night school, or heaps of online courses, but it does mean you need to be open-minded to change and agile enough to embrace it. If you know you’re in demand and think you can grow your business, consider a business course that equips you with the fundamentals. 

If you’re unsure about rates, where to niche, how to communicate effectively, talk to other business owners. There is a vast network of business owners out there who are more than happy to share their expertise and experience – I’m one of them. I regularly have a coffee or beer with other owners starting off in their business as the more we share, the more we gain a different perspective, which enriches the way we do business. 

Takeaway: If you learn something new everyday or appreciate a different perspective, you’re adding value to your business. Everything you learn can be applied in some way to the way you operate day to day and scale the business you’ve dreamed of.

Be prepared to fail

You won’t always get it right and that’s ok. The phrase fail fast has gained prominence in the tech and startup sector because it empasses an agile way of thinking that encourages and allows you permission to pause on what didn’t work, learn from it and move on. You will make mistakes, you will have to unlearn that failure is catastrophic and that being open-minded will enable you to see where you went wrong. 

Despite being in business for years, I know friends who’ve made mistakes – where once they might have taken days to reconcile their loss, they come to the conclusion that they don’t know it all – and this is vital. You have to set aside your pride and ego and appreciate that you will always be learning and that your reputation, your ability to admit when you’re wrong and equally, admit when you can’t take a job because it compromises your values or long-term vision, are all important. 

Sometimes you’ve got to take a job or two that doesn’t quite hit the rate / the vision / growth target, because you need to put food on the table and that’s ok too – but if you’re learning, listening, have adopted an innovative mindset and are open to change, you and your business will continue to grow. 

Takeaway: Get the fundamentals right. By learning and appreciating that growing a business is a way of life and an ongoing progression towards your bigger life goals, you can adjust and pivot as required. It’s not easy, but asking for help or guidance is one of the biggest (and easiest) things you can do – by helping each other, we raise up the industry. 

I’m always up for a coffee or a beer – if you have an idea, wanna tackle a big topic or simply have a yarn about business, drop me a line

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