Mum of four Erica Wolfe-Murray has spent decades working with businesses to help them grow, make money and outsmart their competition.
In her years working with hundreds of business founders, she’s seen real life examples of how people changed their lives and turned their business ideas into winners.
In fact, she’s even been called “The Delia of business”.
But, for her, the joy is in the people she’s met.
“I’m so lucky to be doing what I do, because I get to work with all these fabulous small companies,” Erica told Mirror Money.
And while not every business can be a winner, that doesn’t mean you can’t end up one in the end.
The secret? Understanding yourself first.
How to find an idea
“People don’t realise that they have a huge amount of experience already, even in their early 20s,” Erica explained.
That means the key to success is to use what you already have. “People are the heart of business,” Erica said.
“Your life is unique – why not use it. No one can ever compete with that.”
But the first thing is to understand what your goal is in starting your business.
It might be that you need additional financial security, it might be that you have a passion that is withering beneath the grind of the nine-to-five, or it might be that you want to change the world.
That means you need to ask yourself, honestly: “What are my hopes and dreams?”
If you don’t understand where you’re going, it’s impossible to make a plan to get there, after all.
The next step is to ask: “What else can I do with what I know.”
“People underestimate what they know”
Many people underestimate themselves when it comes to working out what to do next, Erica said.
A plumber might think of starting their own plumbing business to escape the boss – but they have more skills than they think. From metalwork to wide contacts inside the industry, to construction, to organisational skills and logistics.
They’ve also met and dealt with hundreds of people, seen which products people are asking for, what they buy, what bothers them most about existing products, how they want them installed and been in more homes than most estate agents.
That can all be used as part of a business – and it doesn’t need to be about plumbing.
Perhaps you’ve seen metal sculptures you know you could make yourself – as a plumber you would already know where to find the metal, might well own the tools and also know what people are buying and have ideas about how to make them better.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, you have your future within who you are now.”
Making a plan
Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you need to make a plan to get there.
Erica advises splitting you plan in half – an internal section and an external section.
The first should include your background, passions, skills, talents, as well as what you’ve been paid to do before and any customers or clients you already have.
The second should look at the market – who’s already offering similar services or products, trends in the marketplace, where you could position your business, and any recent developments.
Erica recommends getting together several big sheets of paper or a roll or brown paper or magic whiteboard that you mount to a wall horizontally.
Draw a line along it and put your the first internal section at the top and the second external section at the bottom.
“Big is best,” she advises.
It can help to get someone to do this with you – and include everything. From languages, to your childhood, your passions, your skills and your qualifications too.
“Really understand the intellectual assets you have within you and without doubt you will be able to find some really interesting things to do,” Erica said.
Once you’ve finished it’s time to work out what to do.
For this you need to do a “SWOT” analysis. That stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats”.
“One of the main points in developing a kick-arse SWOT analysis is to recognise that your strengths and weaknesses come from the top, ‘internal’, section of your map, and only the top section – whereas the opportunities and threats can only be driven by the bottom ‘external’ section,” she writes.
The next step is to encapsulate everything you’ve learnt into a vision for what your company will do.
“It can be one big statement or several statements – and remember, it’s for internal consumption only,” Erica said.
Once you have it, put it up on a wall, walk away, then come back to it later and revisit it several times making changes as you see fit. “Nothing is written in stone,” she added.
And when you’ve got as close as you think you can.. relish it, love it. It’s time to get started.
Remember – small is beautiful
One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking things will happen overnight with their new venture, Erica told Mirror Money.
“It takes longer than anyone ever anticipates,” she said. “That’s why a side hustle is a good thing.”
Keeping your existing job while working on your side idea might sound like a lot of work, but it has benefits too.
Starting small and allowing time for a business to build is key. Not only does it give space for your idea to grow and your business to get a reputation, it also means you have the ability to change fast too.
“You can be smarter than any big company,” Erica said.
Big companies have money and staff tied up doing what they are doing now. That means making changes is like turning an oil tanker around.
A small business, by contrast, has incredible flexibility to move into new areas, change what it’s doing and adapt to new trends.
But that does mean having patience and working at it. You might make almost nothing in the first year as reputation builds, but then find yourself wildly successful in the third.
It’s also a lesson she has lived. “I started my company Lola as a side hustle,” Erica said.
There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes
It’s also worth emphasising that just because one idea doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean all of your ideas will fall flat.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with failing,” Erica said.
“It hurts to say goodbye, both emotionally and potentially financially, but sometimes you have to a accept that that chapter has finished.”
Dust yourself off, and have a look at what parts of the business did succeed. What can you build on from there.
And if you can’t see, go back to the start and ask yourself what your hopes and dreams are, and what do you know about already that can help you get there.
As Erica puts it – you have the key to your future inside you now, you just have to look for it.
Erica has is author of the book, Simple Tips, Smart Ideas on how you can start then grow a business.