Published: Tuesday February 10, 2015.

The A-Team

Running a small business as a sole trader is sometimes like being The A-Team. I’ll explain.

The A-Team comprises 4 members. There’s John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, the guy in charge, who loves it when a plan comes together. There’s Bosco Albert ‘B.A.’ Baracus, the muscle man, who has a low tolerance for crazy fools. There’s Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, the social engineer, who can locate pretty much anything and is the team’s accountant. And then there’s H.M. ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock, who’s insane, has imaginary friends, and takes on a different job each week in the later episodes. Add in a good-sized portion of classic MacGyver and that’s almost a perfect analogy for how some small businesses run.

I know MacGyver wasn’t in The A-Team. Shush

The A-Team got the job done, and made for an entertaining TV show. Runnning your own bootstrapped small business is not something to be undertaken lightly, and a sense of humour is a requirement. Honesty and humility helps, too. With that in mind, please enjoy the following five moments. Get it right, and you’ll have the loot and the pretty girl. Or the handsome boy.

Hannibal moments

There are plans. There are schedules. There are promises. The estimated times of how long something will take to complete (I’m deliberately excluding the perennially unpredictable Windows Time – a minute, an hour, shrug), I’m pretty accurate most of the time. There are periods of time in the office where I’m juggling 5 or more tasks on different computers, loading, swapping, cleaning and fixing. The Hannibal moments happen when tasks all complete at the same time, without error, and on time.

I quote people fair prices on the basis that, in many cases, I can leave tasks running in the background. I’m upfront about this, and sometimes I manage to schedule enough computers to whir away at the same time that I need extra power splitters to get everything plugged in. The organisational chutzpah needs to be strong, and the reward for this is being able to call a client with good news: it’s done, on time, and to budget – as promised. That, and getting everything done before close of business so there’s nothing else to do the next day. Bliss. Cue imaginary cigar smoke puff and a toothy grin.

B.A. moments

Occasionally perilous driving skills, judicious gentle persuasion to get the job done, and heavy lifting – all vital traits for a small business. Stress, headaches and anxiety – over aeroplane flights or something else entirely – they all happen. Getting grouchy about other people from time-to-time is also, unfortunately, something else that happens.

I have some crazy fools on my roster. Client confidentiality means you won’t read about who they are, but know that I have a gradually-growing list of cranks, oddballs and completely unique customers that nobody else around here would help. I absolutely love this situation. Well, I love it until they make me a have a Murdock moment, at least.

Faceman moments

The computer wrangler’s toolkit is varied and expansive. I have, at the last count, over 50 types of screwdriver head. If you need something, I can either get it in a day or two, or know a way to find it in a week or less. I have a flawless track record in being able to locate stuff. I’ve social engineered people into doing the right/best thing, even if they were adamantly against it initially. I stress that this is always the best thing for them, not me; you should make regular backups because it’s the right thing to do – I don’t want to bill you thousands of pounds for data recovery, I’m not an ambulance chaser. This is where Faceman and I think differently.

Then there’s the accounting. Do your own accounting if you’re bootstrapping, and when you can afford to pay for a proper accountant (you’ll know when the time is right), get an established firm that HMRC know and trust. Don’t screw around with HMRC. Ever. Keep them happy, stay communicative, and they’ll pretty much leave you alone.

Murdock moments

There are Murdock moments. Oh, there are many. When the Hannibal, B.A. and Faceman moments take a wrong turn, it’s Murdock time. I’ve lost track of the occasions that I’ve been talking to myself or talking to a computer. I’ve had entire conversations with Amazon, too.

The key to a Murdock moment is accepting that it’s happening, and either having someone talk you back off the ledge or having a brain reboot to think properly. What I do is mentally hard work, and there are times when the solutions lay in wormholes. Get in, get it done, get out, get the paperwork, get the money, get them to call you again and – whatever happens – don’t tell them about your blog post where you admit you talk to computers. Ahem.

MacGyver moments

You’re in a tight spot. There’s a pile of seemingly random leads, old computers, out-of-date everything and you want to be able to do something urgently with a limited budget, finite components and on a tight timescale.

No problem. Call me. I have 50+ screwdrivers, y’know.