Posted by: DrAlanRae | May 13, 2008

Business for Free Spirits

Being a free spirit means living life on your own terms. This means you need to know how to earn an income in a way that’s under your control and which reflects your interests and values.

This is the introduction to twenty stories that tell you something about what it takes to be achieve the level of self sufficiency and expertise you need to succeed in your own terms. Like all stories it begins…..

Once upon a time…

There were 2 people who worked together. They left University in 1974, bought a ruin in Shropshire and re-built it to minimise demand on the world’s resources. They lived without electricity for 6 years, had a composting toilet and kept pigs, goats and chickens. At the same time they needed to earn a living so to start with one was a town planner while the other worked on the house. Then he got a job in marketing in a big engineering company while she had children. Then in 1981 they were clear that they needed control of their own lives so they decided to set up in business.

Their first trip out was with another person who’d done it before. So they listened to what he said – and for a time things went very well. They developed their own software, sold computer systems and at the insistence of their colleague went into retail and home computers (this was the early eighties when nobody knew what you were doing and you could get 3 suppliers to each pay half your marketing costs and make a profit on that alone!). Soon they had 3 locations and 25 people working in the business. However they over-reached themselves – bought lots of home computers for Christmas but couldn’t sell them. 10 months later they had to close the business.

Their colleague decided to close down and reopen. 25 years later he’s still there. Our 2 moved 100 miles up the motorway and started a specialist computer aided design dealership which lasted for 10 years and needed to reinvent itself 3 times. They employed 8 people – 3 sales, 3 technical, developed specialist software and trained their team up to be self-sufficient. However in trying to expand the company they went a bridge too far and had to close it down. The team, however continued for another 7 or 8 years.

After that they worked separately, she got a job programming manufacturing software in browser interfaces. He got to set up a flagship Government funded IT training and demonstration centre. This led to developing many e-business training products and an eventual management buy-out in 2001, He got her back to do the IT for the company and they did lots of good things developing training materials for the DTI’s Ukonline for Business project and carrying out research projects.

However as things often happen the angel who had put up the money in the first place took too much out again too soon and needed to merge with another organisation. The management style of the new organisation was corporate / abrasive and after about 9 months our 2 heroes had had enough and jumped ship.

So yet another cold start. He carried on with what he was doing – research and training projects around e-business and other innovative areas. She decided it was time to stop talking about it and start doing it. This business, plants4presents.co.uk expanded so that within a couple of years we burst out of the house. The garden was full of plants, the garage was full of packaging and everytime you went upstairs you knocked over a stack of wicker baskets. One more Mother’s day and the neighbours would have strung us up from the lamp posts.

So they moved – to a nursery with 2 acres of derelict glasshouses.

18 months on we’ve just finished our 4th year, have turned over nearly half a million, employ 8 or so people, and have added organic veg and online biological controls to our portfolio. Future plans include getting the nursery itself back into commission, moving to sustainable wood heating, recycling the rainwater (you get a lot off 2 acres!) and generating some passive income from all the knowledge products that the consultancy business has generated.

So full circle but a notch or two up the spiral.

Most of the 20 stories is about stuff about how to do business that we found out along the way. Much of it was learned by doing it but a good chunk came from having the luxury of being in a business training environment where I was exposed to some useful ideas about what good practice might actually look like and having the good fortune to work on projects that paid me to work through these ideas.

So that’s what these stories are about. You’ve already seen the first one here.

I’ll publish the rest over the next couple of months.

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