What I wish I’d known when I started out

Posted on 23 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

Margaret Wood of ICW Ltd and the Institute of Directors with a little entrepreneurial advice

I explained in my previous blog how my journey in to manufacturing was far from traditional. By starting ICW as a relative novice I had a lot to learn and little room for mistakes. Fortunately I had tremendous support from friends and family and the hard graft, late nights, and early mornings – have resulted in me being where I am today.

However, I would be the first to admit that I made mistakes on the way. I think anyone who can say, with confidence, that every decision they have made was the right one – is operating under delusions.

These mistakes were not made through carelessness; they were made through naivety and because there just wasn’t the time to think everything though to the finite detail.

Now, I can look back and, most importantly, learn from them. Hopefully others will find these useful too, as while certain elements of our industry change, others will always stay the same.

So here are my five lessons I’ve learnt:

Don’t depend upon anyone
A few years ago I needed support from the bank I’d been with since I started my company ICW. It was just a short-term overdraft increase, but despite our good track record it was declined. I was disappointed that my loyalty to the bank counted for nothing – literally.

Don’t be afraid to question staff
In the beginning I trusted people were doing their jobs and I got too close to those I worked with. I’m still close to many of them now and refer to my team as ‘my boys’, but I try to maintain a professional distance as sometimes hard decisions have to be made and tough conversations need to take place. There was a time when financial information I’d trusted turned out to be incorrect. Now I make sure our financial information is checked on a monthly basis.

Do communicate with your staff
I don’t mean talk to them about their holidays, although that is important too. I mean communicate the business plan to them. I had a clear map of where the business was going but I kept it in my head and, as we know, people aren’t mind readers! I now know that to keep your team bought into your journey, it is vital to keep communicating the business vision.

Ask for what you want
When I founded ICW I didn’t have much business confidence – that came over time. Also, back then, being a woman in business came with greater pressure than it does today. Whereas a man would ask to borrow £2,000, a woman would ask for £1,000. This isn’t because we are the weaker sex, but because we can often lack that inherent confidence – or at least we used to. I think times are definitely changing and gender matters considerably less than it ever has. That said, there are still too few women in our industry on the whole (I feel another blog topic coming on…)

I do not, for one instance, regret the decisions I made. I learnt from them all and continue to do so. In the current environment I’m sure many new entrepreneurs will find themselves in a similar situation, with tough decisions needing to be made, and support required from as many different sources as possible. I just hope they get the opportunity to learn from their mistakes too as one thing this country really needs now is fearless innovators who stick their neck above the parapet and forge ahead, even in these tough times. Good luck to those of you doing this – I applaud you and wish you every success.

Margaret Wood, founder of specialist glazing company ICW Ltd.