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Feed the overdraft, feed the soul

Microsoft's Andrew Munro on how to keep sight of why you started up

With five hundred new businesses created each day, recent years have seen something of an explosion in "going solo".

But why would anyone give up the security of a regular salary, career path, paid holidays and predictability? Presumably, a robust retort is already on your lips but all too often the attractions of going solo - the freedom, the being-your-own-boss-ness, the ability to do the work you really enjoy - drift away on an aspirational cloud as you become mired in the swamp of survival. Rather than lovingly crafting custom paint jobs on hot-rods, you service a stream of crash-damaged Nissan Micras; rather than coaching the world's finest guitar-playing talent, your ears cramp and struggle through days of turgid, choked Em7's (one finger, one string - how hard can it be?).

Over the next few columns, we'll explore how you can feed your soul as well as your overdraft.

Feeding the overdraft

Even the cash-happy can't avoid this. Working hard is cool, but let's ensure you get the maximum return for your efforts. Time, as the clich� goes, is money and in a small business you and your time are the single most valuable asset. Protect it well.

Question all of your activities. Keep a log for a week to really understand how your time divides across the key tasks.

Good administration is essential (it's hard to run on a Tesco bag full of receipts and a table - or dashboard - full of post-its), but keep it lean and focused.

Use technology to help: Microsoft's Outlook and Business Contact Manager can help you track customers and appointments. An accounting package, even just a spreadsheet will help you track your finances. Work with your accountant to understand how you can reduce your time and his bills

Peaks and troughs: every business has these. Analyse yours (go back through the diary) and understand where they are. What can you do to manage them?

Feeding the soul

Quote�So, why did you give up that cosy life as a wage-slave?�End Quote

So, why did you give up that cosy life as a wage-slave? Think back to your earliest vision. In your mind's eye, what were you seeing? Where were you spending your time? Where were you getting your buzz? Make a list and compare it to reality: hot-rods versus Nissan Micras; virtuosi against recalcitrant, raw fingered beginners.

Understand your customer base. Create a survey to understand all the relevant differentiators. Capture and analyse the responses.

Where are the opportunities to introduce those customers to the work you really excel at, the work which really feeds the soul?

Research the available market. The web is a great source of data. Spend time understanding where the market exists, beyond your existing customers, for the work which you want to do.

Look for opportunities to showcase and develop your future business. Consider donating your time to get a great case-study. Remember that the best form of marketing is word of mouth.

It is possible to run a business that keeps your heart happy and your wallet full (or at least not empty). But you need to work at it. Keep an eye on this column and I'll try and show you how.

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Andrew MunroAndrew Munro works on competitive strategy for Microsoft in the Europe, Middle-East and Africa region. Prior to this, he ran his own micro-business and has a background in the small and medium-sized business arena ranging from telecoms and IT to catering and car-rental. Outside of business, he divides his time between his small son and his smaller guitar-playing talent: "neither is particularly easy to master but the former is definitely easier on the ear".

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