Creating the Future: Why Now is the Best Time to Start Up on Your Own
Judy Piatkus, founder of Piatkus Books, shares her story and explains why this is the best time to start up on your own. This feature was originally published in issue 175 of Kindred Spirit (May/June 2021)
Have you ever thought about starting your own business or working for yourself?
It’s a bit like writing a book. Most people contemplate the idea at some time during their lives. Many decide not to go for it, while others love reading about how to do it but are never quite brave enough to take the risk and get started. And it is always a risk – like so many other things in life.
But here’s what happens when you do take the risk. Firstly, you discover that you have courage. Every person who starts their own business or strikes out to work on their own has courage and each one of you is to be congratulated for that, no matter how things play out.
Secondly – and few people will tell you this – starting your own enterprise or working for yourself is one of the most exciting things that you will ever do in your life. So it’s always worth having a go, just for that experience (but not if it means mortgaging the roof over your head or risking all your worldly assets).
My own beginnings
I was 19 years old when I started my first business. A colleague and I were working in a publishing company together and started a literary agency. It was the 1970s and we had no idea what we were doing.
We didn’t know that we were supposed to research the market, write a business plan, think about how much capital we had and how long it would last or a host of other important issues. We didn’t have a mentor or an adviser. We just put an advertisement in a magazine and asked authors to send us their work – which we would try to sell on their behalf – and unpublished books and articles began to roll in.
Of course, it wasn’t long before we realised we didn’t know what we were doing. We did manage to sell a few items and were in profit, but it soon became obvious that there were major gaps in our experience. I left my job to go and work in a long-established literary agency to find out what the business was all about.
Nowadays there is so much help for you if you want to strike out on your own. There are resources on the internet telling you how to develop your idea, do market research, get capital together, learn basic marketing skills and write your business plan. You are encouraged to think about your USP – your Unique Selling Proposition – the aspect of your business that will make it stand out from all the others.
Your USP might be your lower price (or your higher price), or the originality of the package or the service you offer. There are always many reasons why we choose to give our custom to one business rather than another. As an entrepreneur, you must create an enterprise which is sufficiently different from that of everyone else. You will have complete freedom in the way you do this – it’s part of the excitement.
If you are a therapist, sole practitioner or consultant, you will be promoting yourself and your qualifications and experience. You can choose how and when you work and whether you want to specialise. Look at the competition and see whose offerings excite you. Don’t copy those who will be your competitors, but take the time to analyse why some therapists and practitioners are more successful than others. Think about your own skills and experience and what you have to offer that is unique to you.
My own career as a publisher began after working in one of the best-established London literary agencies. I learned a lot about the book business and after a couple of years I started a business with a partner who I had met through my work. Our skills complemented each other. What he didn’t know, I knew and vice versa. This time we did write a business plan and create a budget. He knew about book production and logistics, and I had learned about contracts and what kind of books we would be able to sell from my time at the agency.
After a few years working together and building a successful company, we separated and I started up on my own. There was still a lot to learn, but at least by now there was a lot of support around me. I had a good accountant and I understood my market and my customers’ needs. From that success, I was gradually able to branch out and build a beautiful company based on the knowledge and experience which I had acquired.
Eventually Piatkus Books, the publishing company I formed with my colleagues, became known for a wide range of books. We published popular non-fiction titles, including cookery by authors such as Mary Berry and commercial fiction by a range of well known novelists: Nora Roberts, J D Robb, Trisha Ashley, Julia Quinn (author of the Bridgerton series) and many others.
We were pioneers in the area of personal development and published many titles on subjects that opened people’s minds to new ways of thinking including meditation, mindfulness, feng shui, nutrition and the mind-body connection. The risk-taking had continued, but it was always a carefully managed one.
Stop waiting for ‘the right time’
When times are good, starting a business is easier. People feel more generous with their money and there are more customers about. But it is equally good to start a business when times are tough. At first, you will have to fight harder for every customer because you will be coming from a low base, but as you gradually get it right and refine what you offer for the new markets, your work will become easier. You will also know how to cut back if necessary, because business always goes in cycles.
At this moment there are huge opportunities for businesses and for people to start on their own. Mental health is finally becoming a mainstream priority. If you are a therapist of any kind, you have been preparing for this period all your life. Never have populations been in more need of comfort, succour, help and encouragement to move forwards and away from the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are going to see massive changes in the wellness industry in the next decade. Artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors, satellites, networks – all these technologies will be converging to transform business, industries and every aspect of our daily lives. People will need help as they progress through the changes to come. There are immense possibilities to get in on the ground floor of new companies and organisations and then branch out on your own.
In my local high street, I am sad for the businesses that have closed their doors. But at the same time I see new ones starting up, reflecting how markets change and how the COVID-19 pandemic will offer new opportunities to turn something which has been so sad and so difficult for so many into something better for all of us.
We have seen so much change already in so many industries. In the high street there are already new startups – an Italian delicatessen providing tasty takeaway food, an Asian restaurant where every dish is gluten free, a shop selling cannabis oil and an outlet offering lateral flow tests while you wait. Keep an eye out for motorhome showrooms instead of car showrooms and a lot more new shops selling camping gear.
Business is always changing, constantly moving with the times. That is all part of the excitement. Each one of us comes into the world with unique skills and talents, and the COVID-19 pandemic has given us time to reflect on what these are. As we all come out of this difficult period we will have gained more self-knowledge, resilience and understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We are all creating dreams of the lives we want for ourselves in the future.
If your dream is to work for yourself, I urge you to go for it. This is a wonderful time to create something new. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Do your homework thoroughly and balance out the risks and rewards of going it alone. Find a supportive community and follow your dreams. Now is the perfect time.
Find out more:
Entrepreneur Judy Piatkus founded Piatkus Books from her bedroom, growing it into a successful global publishing company before selling it to Little Brown in 2007. She now runs non-profit social network ConsciousCafe.
Ahead of Her Time: How a One-Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand by Judy Piatkus (£12.99, Watkins Publishing)
This feature was originally published in Kindred Spirit issue 175 (May/June 2021) available from 29 April, 2021. You can purchase a copy directly from our website.