It has been a while since I wanted to share what I learned on my business journey. I completely agree with the suggestions that the greatest path to self-development is starting your business.
Early Start of the Business Journey
My business journey started very early on. Initially, it was other people’s business not my own.
As a teenager, my father tasked me with writing elaborate business letters in English as my English was so much better. Understanding how to increase the profit margins was a subsidiary outcome. My focus, however, was to command the polite asking in the letters, so that my father’s business wish could be granted and he could successfully increase his business profit margins.
As the daughter of a business owner, my approach to business was slightly different. I would still be waiting for an important business contact to show up well after the business hours because I knew they were on their way, while the regular employees were long gone from the office because it was outside their contracted office hours.
Perhaps, the greatest business accolade belongs to my mother as it was her who encouraged my father to keep the business within the family so to speak. Why seek an employee holiday cover somewhere else when your teenage daughter can do the job perfectly.
As I turned 18, I had to make an important decision. Frankly, I could not choose between a university degree in business or in law. My heart was set on EU law because at the time I had no clue what it was. I could gently convince my father that I would be able to help him so much more in business if I did study law.
Starting Own Business in London and Switzerland
Living in London was a chance not a plan. One day I randomly pointed at the map and decided that London was the place to be as I had zero knowledge or understanding of financial services and financial markets.
I landed my first London job in Mayfair in financial services and decided to stick around until I could get so good I could do everything with my eyes shut on a headstand.
The job put me right between London and Switzerland where I travelled every 6 weeks. I had to learn and compare the legal business setup, regulatory environment and private banking services between the two countries. This was a lot of fun and a dream come true.
When the time came to venture out on my own I knew perfectly well what I needed to do both in the UK and Switzerland. I have done it so many times for many different people. It was my turn now.
What are my Business Lessons?
1. Understanding Business Risks as the Business Owner
Perhaps, my greatest realisation was that you see completely different things as an employee or a business owner.
As an employee, I was always number two in business and I was able to deal with any business challenge that was thrown at me or business. In fact, as the ultimate fixer, I volunteered to help and handle complex issues. The more demanding issues were, the better business experience it was for me. I cherished the experience and thrived.
When I became a business owner, my greatest realisation was that even as the number two in business I was still significantly sheltered and did not see the full picture that was out there.
This is still my biggest surprise to date.
2. Befriend Your Regulators
As I started out, I knew the type of professional services I wanted to provide. These are legal and financial services that are heavily regulated both in Switzerland and the UK.
It was no small ambition as I needed to befriend 5 of my regulators, which I did successfully within the first 2 years in business. I passed highly demanding tests and some of the most competitive exams in the country that typically have a 25% pass rate. I could not be prouder.
What I found the most appealing was having honest conversations with my regulators and demonstrating that I was serious and I knew what I was doing.
The response was an embracing one, which was very reassuring. At times, I felt sheltered and protected even when they did not need to do this for me, but they did it anyway.
This deserves a genuine thank you from the bottom of my heart.
3. You Need a Public Accountant
If you are doing business in the UK, you need a great public accountant. I had at least two. Just in case.
Perhaps, the funniest thing that happened to me during the process was the following conversation:
A service provider: “I need to speak to your accountant.”
Me: “What do you need to know? I am a public accountant.”
Yes. Being a public accountant in my own right eased a lot of business processes when setting up my business.
For instance, how do you explain that the business that is getting to be regulated still needs to access its funds in order to meet compulsory non-regulatory business expenditure.
Depending on who you speak to, such an authorisation may be a complex one to secure.
4. Be a Lawyer
You need to be able to read the law and quote the necessary sections and passages in order to get what you want.
During the process you do not entirely know who you are dealing with and whether these people are knowledgeable and competent enough.
Therefore, you need to be on the ready.
You may need to be able to correct an administrative mistake or an oversight, point out the Court’s mistake for the appropriate judge to correct. The bonus, however, is that you will become so skillful that you will be able to catch a barrister or solicitor lying in court and thus, committing perjury.
As you shop around for your own legal advice or work with your clients’ legal advisors you will suddenly notice that regulated professional advisors are operating clearly out of their own depth and beyond their own levels of competence and expertise.
Congratulations! You became a legal expert in your chosen areas of expertise.
Despite this, even if disillusioned with lukewarm or poor textbook legal advice, you will still go through the process to ensure that you have your bases covered and do not miss the obvious.
5. Learn to Stand on Your Own Two Feet
We are usually trained to submit to hierarchy or authority. However, it is healthy to check whether they are in the right and challenge from time to time.
I learned it the hard way. I used to defer for professional advice to someone who is vastly more knowledgeable and experienced than myself or so I thought. Only to learn that this perception may be false. No one knows it all and you need to be able to check things out.
I found out that there was nothing better than to stand on your own two feet and completely own it.
6. Friends and Family May Be Your Best Customers
As I was starting my business, it felt like going on a highway for a very long and intensive journey with no foreseeable date of return.
I had very long “to do” lists and was putting in all the hours necessary. Sometimes, things felt taking far too long and I needed to exercise patience and get creative with the time I had on my hands.
I was thrilled to discover though, that my friends and family were my greatest fans. They were keen to become my first customers because I was solving their problems and they found me as someone they could trust unconditionally and who did the right thing.
I thoroughly enjoyed going far and beyond ensuring that they had the best shot at winning and getting their needs met.
I enjoyed interacting and making friends with new people. I naturally gravitated towards friendships with other business owners. You may be both quiet in the room among the other people, but you both know you are on the same page and no one else other than a business owner will understand where you are coming from.
The greatest reward of new interactions was when Members of Parliament started referring clients to me as the prospective clients were in trouble and I could help.
It all came about naturally without any agenda attached underneath. Keep the random conversations going!
7. Milk Brexit
I found Brexit very good for my business.
Isn’t it nice when the Prime Minister in the form of Theresa May is making sure you never go out of business. She was my business champion. The best part? I did not need to know her personally or pay her.
In relation to Brexit, there were two things that I felt strongly about. Firstly, the fact that the City of London is a premier global financial centre had nothing to do with the EU law or its regulations.
Perhaps, some Americans put it best: “we can take these financial services back to New York or Chicago any time.”
The second feature was the overcomplication of EU business structures. English companies won on every front. Want to do business in Europe? Set up an English company.
My personal cherry on top was apologising to my multi-millionaire presidential candidate client as I needed to go live on air for a live streaming for a news channel as an expert advisor.
It’s wonderful to feel in great demand.
8. Your Health is Your Greatest Treasure
Whether you are an employee or a business owner, you understand that your health is your greatest treasure.
As the business owner though, it hits you differently. Yes. You may go back to bed to recover, but you need to never stop earning.
9. It’s a Marathon not a Sprint
Business is a marathon and not a sprint. This is what I constantly needed to remind myself of. I needed to work out how to best spend my time and how much of it. What needs to take priority and what can wait.
As an employee, you tend to focus on a task at hand and you put all your energy into it until the task is completed.
As a business owner, you are constantly thinking about what can work while I am not working, what step can go that extra mile.
More importantly, however, you need to learn to conserve your energy, so that you are not entirely depleted and are able to deal with things that unexpectedly come up whether they are good or bad.
You cannot allow yourself to deplete yourself and your energy. Therefore, business is a marathon and not a sprint. You need to be able to keep moving many years into the future.
Your focus is building up your stamina.
10. Learn to Recognise Fraud and the Many Faces of Deception
I work in regulated business, which is both legal and financial services. Part of the training for this business is to be able to detect fraud and deception.
It is one of the most valuable skills I learned. Therefore, it enables me to see much more than meets the eye, read documents, behaviours and people.
This skill needs constant updating and learning. The greatest takeaway is that you do not need to go down the rabbit hole to prove it’s fraud or deception and in no circumstances you need to engage with criminals when it becomes clear who is who.
It is invaluable to have people around you who naturally have heightened awareness and intuition, warn you and watch your back.
It is one of the greatest gifts I came across.
11. Beware of the “Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow”
This is the extension of the previous observation. As a trained professional, you may be dealing with naive and untrained people and this may present a business risk if you are not too careful.
For ordinary people, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may represent a random business lottery win. They may feel very enthusiastic about the prospect and completely driven.
However, as a professional you need to read what it is in front of you and stand by the fact that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
We all want to hope for the best. However, we need to be able to accept the things as they are and not a hopeful illusion.
12. Go Swimming in Shark Infested Waters
Whether you may be fully aware or not, but being in business also means going swimming in shark infested waters.
Sometimes your fellow business owners may identify you as an easy prey.
Perhaps, the greatest lesson I learned was to give them enough rope to hang themselves.
Beat them at their own game.
Being in Business is the Ultimate Blessing
Certainly, being in business is the ultimate blessing. It’s a challenge like no other. It constantly stretches and invites you to identify your own power and the power in others.
You will meet the good, the bad and the ugly along the way and it is all worth it. It stretches you and teaches you to become the best version of yourself you can be. This can mean many different things in different situations.
There are no failures in business, but a great potential to learn and adapt.
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Saule Voluckyte, M.A.E.S, LL.B, FAIA
I have been working exclusively with UHNWI in Mayfair, London since January 2008. I built specialist knowledge and expertise required to serve ultra high net worth individuals investing, operating and relocating to the UK or Switzerland.
Within the industry, I am the single adviser who is able to traverse the different areas of expertise and bring a comprehensive approach across: global structuring, UK immigration, international taxation and FOREX to develop their global wealth strategy, while they build, grow and expand their wealth worldwide.
Previous experience as one of the senior advisors for the government, made me a go-to person when delicate and uncomfortable scenarios involving heads of state need to be handled with care and preserve privacy.