Getting yourself in to deep debt to start a business tends to be the traditional way to do it. And while it can be nice to be able to walk into a fully set-up, fully-funded environment, surely there’s a way to do it without all the grovelling to the bank manager.
When we’re starting a new business, it’s tempting to go to a bank, get tonnes of money and buy the very best of everything to skip the queue and get a shiny fit-out or stock up all the stock we could possibly need. But debt, on top of rent, outgoings like electricity, water and marketing costs, can make a difficult journey even harder to navigate. You may find that, before you’ve earned a single cent for yourself, that you need to pay out thousands per week just to open the doors.
Another approach to growing a business is called a “Lean” method. It’s where you start with an idea, and then develop the most lean and simple way of delivering that business to the market without laying out too much before you’ve made your first dollar.
Let’s say, for example, that you make scented candles. You could commit to a five year rental agreement at the local shopping centre, fit out that shop with a beautiful theme, and then stock literally thousands of different scented candles. Or, for much less up-front money, you could stock a few dozen candles, buy a trestle table and small marquee, and get a stand at your local market. Apart from being cheaper, going this more lean route allows you to test your idea out on a small scale, with far less outgoings, and see, over a period of time, if there is an appetite for what you’re selling. This method of testing and then scaling up a business idea has been really popular in Silicon Valley where tech companies have started an idea small and contained to see if it has the potential to succeed. Then when the concept is proven, they either slowly scale it up, or they seek venture funding and loans to take the idea to the next level and reach a broader audience – or even develop spin-off products.
This Lean approach has even spurred a movement around it. In most major cities there are “Lean Coffee” and “Lean Meetup” gatherings where lean business practitioners get together to discuss and compare notes on what things they’ve been able to do to get their ideas of the ground for the least amount of outlay as possible. In fact, this movement has expanded to include those who wish to continue the Lean approach right through their organisations whether they are growing or just running at “business as usual” pace. This has brought on another industry of training, certification and qualification of so-called “Lean professionals” who have titles such as Green Belt, Blue Belt, etc, as part of a framework called “Lean Six Sigma.” However, very few people ever require any such qualifications as the “lean” approach is meant to be simple and easy to understand, and even easier to apply to a business.