So, I’ll come clean: my plan to go from England to New Zealand without flying has been put on hold somewhat. This is because having arrived in Vietnam for what was supposed to be a six month stay, I actually ended up finding I quite like it here. Two and a half years later my travelling plans remain very much on ice. Rather than looking to pull up roots and move on, everything I do now seems to point in quite the opposite direction. These days I’m less the free and single disheveled traveller, and more the committed boyfriend, increasingly enthusiastic English teacher and eager language student.
And, as of very recently, I also appear to have become a young (youngish) entrepreneur. (32 is still youngish, right?)
This month has seen me finally open my own business, a language school called ACE Hanoi (who’s website can be found here, and who’s Facebook page is here), providing English classes to Vietnamese kids aged 6 and up.
We hired a shop, we built walls and windows, we bought carpets and desks and chairs and tables, and we were even lucky enough to find some students to teach. It all sounds so easy, typing it in a sentence like that, but of course the reality was slightly more stressful.
Through it all I’ve had to deal with Vietnamese standards of workmanship, which without putting too fine a point on it, often turn out to be somewhat below what I consider to be a job done well, or even finished at all. The painters who apparently completely forgot to paint an entire wall of a classroom; the guy who hung up a white board, took a two inch square chunk of plaster out of the wall, and didn’t seem to notice; the leaflet designers who didn’t see anything wrong about putting photos on leaflets stolen from the internet that still had watermarks on. They’ve all tested my patience to varying degrees.
No wonder my hair is falling out.
But we’ve got through it all one way or another. I’ve been lucky enough to first find and then employ a young and talented Vietnamese chap named Nam to work as my project manager, who’s commitment, work ethic, advice and determination to succeed are admirable. We finally opened our doors and delivered our first lessons last week. My sense of pride at the end of my first class delivered in my own language centre was deeply satisfying.
The scariest thing about running your own business, and the thing I have had to learn quickest of all, is having to make decisions. I’ve never had to do that before. Not really. In a previous life working for the Mayor of Liverpool, my job was often to prepare different suggestions for decisions, and sometimes even to think of reasons why I thought a certain decision was best. But the person who actually made each decision was ultimately the Mayor, my job simply to go away and make sure his decisions were put in place.
Thus it was something of a shock to the system when Nam first asked me for a decision on something, sometime around six months ago now.
‘What do you want to do about this?’, he asked looking at me, his boss.
‘Well… What do you think I should do?’ I remember asking, much to his obvious surprise. After all, this was supposed to be my business, my investment, right?
Since then I’ve learned to be more hard headed and single minded. I’ve learned to make decisions quickly and to trust my own judgment. I’ve learned to lead. After a lifetime of following, suddenly leading is an unnerving experience to say the least!
In this short time I’ve learned a few other things too about setting up your own business, which include what I call the three P’s (this is completely my own concept, by the way – I’ve never read a business book in my life). The three p’s run thus:
1. Be patient. Businesses usually grow slowly. Don’t expect overnight success. You’re not on The Apprentice. You’ll probably have to slog a bit before you get anywhere. If you read an article on ‘How I Built My Successful Business In One Month’ – it’s probably complete bollocks and you have nothing to learn from it.
2. Be pragmatic. If something really isn’t working, be honest, say ‘that isn’t working’, and then stop doing it. Don’t cling to an idea just because it was your idea. It’s ok to admit being wrong about stuff.
3. Be persistent. You’ll learn and you’ll improve, and mistakes will point the way to those improvements. Don’t let them discourage you. Patience, persistence, pragmatism.
The three P’s. An Adam Lewis concept for the 21st century entrepreneur. (This is when someone tells me someone else thought of it first. But whatever, I’m claiming this one as my own!) But seriously, go and look at my website! (My other website…)
Adam will probably travel somewhere soon, and he’ll write about it when he does. Despite now being the ruthless capitalist head of a global corporate monolith…