Embracing Mistakes from Day 1

This is a guest blog by Holly Thompson (Founder & Director, Future Skills Vision) who is one of our sponsors & speakers on Day 1 (‘Inspiration’) of Newcastle Startup Week 2018.

Following our first successful 18 months in business I look back at the highs, the lows and some of the challenges we have faced along the way as a startup and what’s next for Future Skills Vision (FSV).

Holly Thompson & the Future Skills Vision team

Deciding to setup a business and become an entrepreneur is by no means a decision anyone takes lightly. When I decided to make this leap from the world of employed to self- employed this was certainly a daunting prospect with so much uncertainty – would it work? Was I doing the right thing? And most importantly, was I crazy? Today I would answer yes to all the above.

Starting and scaling

So where did it all start? After having a successful career in education, it made sense that the initial concept for FSV was developed from my experience in this field. With so much competition and in 2016 so much uncertainty around funding and reform in several areas particularly apprenticeships, we spotted a gap in the market and an opportunity to really do things differently. To my surprise the concept and our services began to work, businesses were comfortable with the impartial nature of our advice, practical support and the honest approach we had to business.

So that was it – I had a concept, customers and had started to make some money….so now what? Well that was exactly the decision I was faced with, that turning point of am I a freelancer or do I really want to make something bigger out of all of this. The opportunity was certainly big enough so absolutely was the right decision to make to go bigger, after all somewhere deep in my mind this was what I always wanted to build, create and shape something completely new.

Little did I know the decision to drive the business forward was not the hardest decision I would face, this was just the beginning. So from that idea and initial concept we revised our services, widened our offering and I started to build a team. Being a people-focused business, this was certainly something close to my heart, and the challenge was to bring together the correct mix of people, with the rights skills but also who would share my vision, ethos and ambition for the business.

For any business owner building a strong team particularly in the early stages can be the difference between success and failure. We utilised a range of roles to gain access to the right blend of skill sets without taking on too much too soon. To date we have successfully utilised placements, internships, apprenticeships, full & part time positions alongside associates to support the growing business. Using my passion for this area we support other businesses to access the huge range of schemes out there to build their teams more effectively, ensuring they maintain an effective talent pipeline. And of course, we practise what we preach along the way.

Following the first 12 months I couldn’t believe how well everything was going and I was completely blown away by our initial success, as in every area the performance of the business had exceeded my expectations. We were now seriously considering the scalability of the business and the capacity to move into new markets – after such a short time this was mind blowing.

As much as things were going well and there were no obvious issues, we had our teething problems certainly, but no huge disasters, as I expected, I couldn’t help but feel like something wasn’t quite right. I had listened to so many fellow entrepreneurs tell their stories and every single one had faced significant challenges or turning points in their business in the early days, business wasn’t supposed to be easy after all! My gut feeling was something is about to go wrong – but what, there were no gaping holes in our business model, we had satisfied customers with more on the way. I guess looking back this was very much a fear of the unknown on my part but if I have taken anything away from the stories of others it is always trust your gut instinct, but did I? NO – this was the mistake that would take me down a very different path to the trajectory I had been on.

Cash is king

The key reason most startups fail – cashflow! And we walked head on into that same place – there was the issue, that gaping hole I had been looking for. We were proud of being a cash-driven business, we didn’t need anything, we had good customers who paid on time and we had good relationships with them. I could not have foreseen that the profitable and successful business I was running would face cash flow issues. You often hear people talk about businesses that grow too fast, that was where we started to see serious issues, the stakes had been raised overnight and 18 months in the business was still high risk, we moved from startup to fast-paced growth so quickly we hadn’t assessed the impact this growth would have or tried to mitigate the risks – the reality I didn’t see this coming!

That moment was my turning point, realising that I was literally living though the reason most startups fail which didn’t offer much comfort at the time, but this has also been the most defining experience of both my personal journey and that of the business. If I had learned anything up to this point it was that we could do this, we could get through any challenge that was thrown at us. I had surrounded myself with some fantastic people and had a great support network so help was never far away.

Learning and growing

Learning from this experience has in fact been what has fuelled the development of more robust growth plans and more careful consideration of how we truly move forward and achieve the scale we believe is possible. As much as this was a difficult time for the business it has been exhilarating and on a personal level an experience I needed to propel me to the next step in our journey.

Now we are building a wider team and will achieve national expansion in the coming months, with a clearer direction of travel and sense of purpose. The one thing I have learned from all of this is to respect and enjoy the journey, it won’t and shouldn’t be easy, but if you persevere it will most certainly be worth it. We are looking forward to the next stage in our journey and embracing the challenges that scaling will bring.

Find out more

If you’d like to meet Holly and her team, or find all the best help and support to start or grow a successful business in the UK, make sure you come to our Newcastle Startup Week festival on 14-18 May.


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