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A growing number of people are moving away from wanting careers in organisations and towards a more flexible and entrepreneurial alternative. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is starting a limited business, but personally, I don’t know any IR35 contractor who doesn’t think of themselves as an MD or business owner, even if they are only contracting.

In 2018, 2,500 new businesses were being set up on a daily basis and I was among this number. Being in my mid-40s and having spent a long time in corporate finance and commercial teams, you might think it fairly late to go it alone – and alone is an accurate word to use – but I felt the time was right. And once I opened my eyes to that world, I was amazed to see a significant number of my friends and colleagues thinking of taking this route too. In short, there are many more to set out on this entrepreneurial journey still.

When two worlds collide

It used to be the case that there was this ‘them and us’ culture – you were either an entrepreneur or a corporate, and the two shouldn’t or wouldn’t ever meet. That’s not as true anymore. I’m not talking about intrapreneurship or side hustles either, although both are happening. I’m talking about entrepreneurs and corporates collaborating, or wanting the skills each has, particularly when start-ups are at the scale-up stage.

Just look at the traits we most often associate with entrepreneurs or innovators – risk taking, persistence, opportunism, confidence, disruption. Those traits can sometimes be as negative as they are positive if unbalanced. Those with a corporate mindset can often bring that balance – a calmness, logic and the different sort of persistence that is used to dealing with multiple stakeholders, complex agendas and being able to pivot without emotion or ego when there is a challenge. And then, ultimately seeing something through and getting something done.

Those planning skills, the ability to lay out numbers and understand what they mean, to explain and interpret something, to budget and track to plan are truly valuable skills in the entrepreneurial world. With the applied diligence you see in the accounting and finance world, you can actually drive more value out of a business.

A great example is in the world of investment appraisal, or project accounting. I see a clear value add in applying the disciplines we know at the point of inception, or at the point of key strategic growth. It can really help structure thinking around the business model and what the real focus is. Get that right at the start and it’s then much easier to focus on the plan as you work through delivering it. And in the same way as we would in a corporate environment – with clear laid out processes, eyes on the right cash and capital numbers, and the right cool, calm interpretation and reality checks too.

I joked with one of my entrepreneur friends once, when he said to me smiling: “But Russ, I’m an entrepreneur and you’re worried about process!” I have three businesses and didn’t question his definition of entrepreneur, but replied: “Yes, ‘completing finishing’ and getting the numbers in tends to be important for business…”

I haven’t just made this observation of the two worlds colliding in conversations, but I’ve also seen it more frequently now as a prospective requirement in job adverts. “Come and work with us developing the most innovative app in the world. Would suit an entrepreneur with a corporate background.” It’s a good balance. Yin and Yang; chaos and order.

Success is a lonely road

I said earlier that ‘alone’ was an accurate word. You probably see more people than you ever would in an endless sea of meetings, coffees, talks and networking events, but it’s still lonely. There’s no shared jeopardy or comfort in shared decisions anymore. That’s why businesses with a partner or more than one founder are more likely to succeed. Even if you act as an agent, advisor or consultant, or are their outsourced finance, marketing or IT provider, remember you are now as much a part of their team as anyone.

But if it’s lonely, then why are accounting and finance people moving towards an entrepreneurial mindset or lifestyle?  Some of it may be that our finance and commercial teams are the ones that tend to hear a lot about the disruptors – Fin-Tech, Insure-Tech, Ed-Tech, Anything-Tech – and I wonder if we are starting to get more curious as we see more of these being picked up by larger businesses? As more contractors and interim professionals come and go, we may also wonder what that would feel like for us. I can’t prove it, but I also wonder if the perception of uncertain times we live in encourages us to take more risks too. In safe environments, we tend to be more risk averse, but in riskier environments, we are more willing to take risks. One thing is for sure, one of the most innovative and unexpected ideas I’ve heard in the last twelve months came from a Management Accountant.

In my own business, I tend to work with smaller firms– those who need the fresh perspective and support of someone with a bigger picture view, but can still help them retain their entrepreneurial spirit.  My health-check service in particular is a great opportunity for businesses to look to see how they can improve and drive greater financial value with the application of that perspective.

And for you, in your business? Recognise that some of your clients or staff have an entrepreneurial bias, even if they have lived in or been in the corporate world before. Know that they may be feeling the strain and anxiety of dealing with things on their own and would appreciate your balance, wisdom and experience. Remember you are part of their team.

Author: Russ Taplin, founder of Mmm Thoughtful Business. | [email protected]
With over 30 years’ experience in the business world, having worked in large corporates, as well as small business and start-ups, he is well-placed to providing consultancy and health-check services to your business.

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