Business development · 19 August 2016

Developing a business bucket list

bucket list
Small business owners shoudl nurture bucket lists, and keep striving to tick things off of it

A business bucket list is not a million miles from a good old-fashioned business plan, but it has more to do with magical, punch-the-air moments than looking down at a spreadsheet and quietly nodding. Our NatWest expert explains why you need one.

Over the past decade, the British public has been subliminally educated in the art of setting up a business.

Thanks in no small part to Dragons’ Den, talk of pricing strategy and gross margins is no longer only heard on the lawns of London Business School – anyone with a bright idea and a £500 startup fund now knows that if they want their new business to succeed, good planning is essential.

Beyond clearly defined goals and a strong business plan, there are other professional targets – meaningful milestones, if you will – that can help you get there.

“So many people set up a business and don’t have proper targets – they’re basically giving themselves a job,” said business coach Stuart Allan. “What I always tell clients is that they should set a minimum of three years’ targets and work back from there.”

Personal targets

Those targets don’t all have to be run of the mill – they can be things that inspire you to get out of bed each morning. Jonathan Pfahl, managing director of the Rockstar Mentoring Group, said he can certainly see a value in keeping your targets personal.

“Running a small business is not easy,” he explained. “You’ve got to have a reason why you’re doing it. Goals that involve you personally, which you can visualise yourself doing, will help give you a reason as to why you are slaving away.”

He cited things like dream holidays and seeing yourself in a position of success as good bucket list items, but more tangible things like hiring a full-time PR manager work, too, especially if they’re important to you. “Aim high,” he said. “Having goals can help you become more profitable, improve your customer base, motivate the team and help you grow your brand.”

Allan pointed out that a very common phenomenon is for small businesses to grow to an annual turnover of between £500,000 and £1m and then hit a brick wall. In many cases, he suggested, that’s because the daily grind has become so complex that owners become bogged down. Having a bucket list with key things to aim for could provide inspiration in dark moments like these.

Keep striving

Nurture your bucket list, and keep striving to tick things off it. It’s exactly what Cathy Hayward did soon after setting up her small PR company Magenta Associates in 2011. She quickly realised that she needed to formalise her “rather random” plans and make them big and shiny. Now she has things like “grow the firm into a £1m business in 2018” on her list, and she has also identified new markets that she is determined to tap into. Without clear bucket list items like these, she said, her business may well have stopped growing.

Likewise, Sean Mallon, founder of Leeds-based start-up Bizdaq – an online marketplace for people buying and selling small businesses – takes his bucket list seriously.

One of the main things he wanted to accomplish was taking his idea to the US. “The thought of spending the occasional week on business in New York or San Francisco for work is seen as a reward for the current hard work our team is putting into establishing the business in the UK,” he said.

Also on his bucket list is becoming a spokesman for small firms in the media. “It could be seen as a vanity item, but it’s a real goal of mine,” Sean said. Then there’s achieving an IPO. “It’s not a concrete goal, but it would be a great experience,” he added. “Ringing the bell on the first day of trading would be a crowning moment in our journey.”

These are just the kind of things that make a great business bucket list – personal challenges with a professional slant. As Mellon said: “Purely being in business to make money is extremely limiting – I think it’s better to have milestones that are symbolic of success.”

Three small businesses owners share their business bucket lists

Alison Steed – founder of the Business Powerhouse, a website designed to help SMEs get good deals on everything from insurance to phone systems, launched December 2015:

  • Help more than 100,000 UK businesses by the end of 2017
  • Make a profit in 2018
  • Expand into other countries by 2019

Moneeb Awan – managing director at WorkMobile, a cloud and mobile data capture service that creates bespoke workflow solutions to replace paper forms:

  • To triple turnover from £1.2m to £4m by next year
  • To double the workforce to 36 by 2017
  • To build a highly profitable business with 30% EBITDA through the sale of recurring licence fees and support income by 2018

Nicki Boyd – co-founder at Starling by VersaMe, the world’s first wearable tech designed to boost language development in babies and young children.

  • Sell 100,000 Starlings within 12 months
  • Break even within 24 months
  • Get Starlings to as many disadvantaged kids as advantaged families within three years (à la TOMS shoes)

The UK is still flying the flag for overseas startups despite Brexit uncertainty. 

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Marcelino Castrillo is MD of business banking at RBS in September 2015.   Prior to to that, Castrillo was MD of SME banking at Santander, where he was responsible for leading the challenge of scaling Santander’s business bank and managed the business through a period of significant change.


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