Kate Percival on starting a business: ‘My ten moves for success’
Employ or partner with the best finance director you can find or afford
August 21, 2013 | By:
When we met the co-founder of Grace Belgravia, we were so impressed by the boldness of her vision and depth of her experience, we asked the 53-year-old to share her advice for olderprenuers
Business start-up_Kate Percival_chess pieces-620 Corbis

Planning, analysis and mentors: crucial elements in the game. Photo by Corbis

Kate Percival You may have thought about setting up your own business. It seems to be a favourite daydream and coping mechanism for many women, but few of us have made the leap without a push.

That push may be cajoling by partners and family or it may be a redundancy notice. Whatever the motivation, most female entrepreneurs will tell you that starting is harder than doing.

I have set up three businesses over the past 20 years, the first at the end of a recession in 1994, and today the doing is harder than I have ever known it.

Every major aspect of business is tougher and more competitive: access to capital, regulation on many fronts; taxes, especially business rates; employment law; competition for good staff and clients; and so on.

I share this with you not as a discouragement but a reassurance that, if you have a good plan and you are disciplined about following it – while regularly questioning your assumptions – I think today is a propitious time to make the leap.

As high50 readers will know, my latest venture is a women-only club, with an emphasis on healthy living. And I can honestly say that I have never worked as hard as I have in the last year, nor met as many interesting and inspirational people.

In snapshot, the planning took three years, including a year out to do a master’s degree, with a thesis on the convergence of medicine and the global spa industry


This became the foundation for a carefully researched and meticulously structured strategy to fill a gap in the market and capitalise on the ‘first mover advantage’.

But being first into a gap is not the be-all and end-all. One has to keep up to speed, and that’s how I want to help here.

My ten shortcuts to start-up success

Some of my tips may be blindingly obvious, but they’re worth stressing. If you take these shortcuts, you can reduce risk while increasing the speed of making things happen. This allows you to achieve more before you hit the daily exhaustion point that seems to be an intrinsic part of setting up a business (however young you are).

1. Answer the question: What business am I in? Take as many words as you like to answer this, to be sure you have a foundation for all the analysis and planning that will flow from your articulation of your fundamental business idea.

2. Analyse, with the help of trusted friends and ex-colleagues if necessary, your personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to tip one. This will help you find and choose any partners that are necessary to reduce the risk of failure and increase the returns from success.

3. If that is the route you go down, plan for the worst and have a shareholder or partnership agreement to deal with the ‘what if’ should people fall out, get sick, die, etc.

4. Find a mentor, guardian angel or professional advisor who will protect you from both your own optimism and your self doubts; a mentor who occupies that position because they have been successful in their own right.

5. In creating the financial model for your business, continually question the assumptions behind the metrics, and try to fund working capital on worse-case scenarios rather than best.

6. These scenarios will be more valuable the better researched the business plan is and the more you understand your competitors.

7. Employ or partner with the best finance director you can find or afford.

8. Always hire the best people you can find or afford. Hire slow, fire fast.

9. Don’t confuse marketing and selling.

10. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and learn how to calculate risk. Being in business is inherently a risk, and without it there will be little or no success or outperformance.

Of course, you can follow all my advice and still face challenges. But remember the value of your accumulated wisdom. Know that there are fewer failed start-ups among our generation than any other. So in one sense, at least, the odds already favour the olderpreneur!