The idea of an incubator conveys a sense of protection; it suggests a warm, safe place where something fragile is made strong enough to survive in the outside world.
And, in many ways, a business incubator does provide a protective cover for a few months if you’ve got a business idea to bring to life. However, it isn’t a place to sleep. The best business incubators are demanding, engaging and sometimes a little daunting.
I set up Turn of Phrase with my co-founder Francesca Wilding in 2014. We provide education and business training on presentation skills and gender equality. In the past three years we've grown the business and now we have a team of 15 full-time and freelance staff, and clients including the Labour Party, Grant Thornton and Movement for Change.
It all started with a business incubator. Turn of Phrase was part of the Creative Entrepreneurs Scheme run by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Cause4. Having both trained as actors, the scheme seemed a natural fit for us. It offered a programme of workshops taught by industry professionals and was essentially like doing an MBA in a year.
So was it worth it? The key thing with any business incubator is to keep an open mind. These are some of the key lessons that we have learned in the past three years:
1. Perfect the plan. The first three years have been invigorating but not without challenges. Drawing up a good business plan is integral to determine your goals, structure your work and plan how to invest your time and budget.
2. Practise the pitch. Incubators offer workshops and courses to help you hone the skills of interacting and selling your business. You’ll need to practise your elevator pitch in many different settings, being clear about what you offer and tailoring your pitch as needed.
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Be realistic about the gaps in your knowledge and experience. You can’t hope to do it all yourself and you’ll need to bring in experts now and then. Determine the amount of cash you’ll need, who you’ll have to pay to cover any gaps in your own knowledge and work out how long it will take to get paying customers.
4. Build a business network. A business incubator provides a ready-made network that you can draw on for support. That’s a good starting point but you’ll need to keep expanding your network; it’s going to be one of the fundamentals of running your business.
5. Keep a level head. Don’t give up too soon. You need to give your business time to succeed. Be adaptable to how the business is growing and go where the work is.
Actors need considerable stamina to cope with long working hours, rejection and often months of not working. Starting a business requires the same stamina as well as passion and single-mindedness. With or without a business incubator, you’ll need that.
Copyright © 2017 Tim Allsop, director and founder of Turn of Phrase.