Dealing with the unexpected when starting up

Hazel Merlino is the co-founder of Rainbow Factory, an interactive play centre featuring well-loved characters from childhood. The different elements of the play centre make books come alive for children, and provide a stimulating and unique experience. Here Hazel talks about how to deal with unexpected disasters when starting up.

I know they always tell you that when planning your business, it never happens how you plan it. Well, let me tell you - they are ABSOLUTELY right.

Having studied psychology, I would call them confounding variables - something that upsets the method, something that is out of your control and therefore can affect the result.

My mum was struck down recently by appendicitis - which turned into septicemia, because three surgeons misdiagnosed her symptoms, and by the time she'd been sent home twice her appendix burst! This happened to be the most crucial week of the business – the week leading up to our grand opening - which meant our family-run business was, well, under a fair bit of strain, with the site project manager/engineer and chief problem-solver (my Dad) now at my mum’s bedside.

I should probably add that my mum is the business accountant and secretary as well. Yes... it really is a family - run business!

It should have been the week of concentrating on aesthetics and business finishing touches, but we ended up battling with difficult decisions. Should we still open on the 6th June - or should we postpone the business launch that we’d been working so very hard towards for the past 18 months?

But that’s not all - it wasn't the first disaster to have struck. In the week leading up to that week, my niece contracted chicken pox, which meant my sister (who's also my business partner) was now confined to the house. And my car broke down too…

So, what did we do? Well, we took a deep breath and we opened our doors - that’s what we did. After a family briefing, we called around for as much help as possible and we re-strategised. Yep, we re-strategised. The small things that had seemed important before but which weren't in the scheme of things were put to the back of our priorities for a bit. As my sister said, “It’s never going to look as bad as the day we open." And that’s my piece of advice right there.

We concentrate too much when opening a business on the small things, when really in reality they will be tackled with time. No one noticed that we didn’t have a roof on our gingerbread house (it’s still not on!) or that our Giant's cage is only temporary - or even that the walls in one of our creative rooms hadn’t been painted – or even that our stage backdrop wasn’t there because I didn’t order it in time.

Your business can still open. Focus on what’s important and remember that part of the joy of opening a business is that you can still add to it when it’s open. If anything, it gives you more to talk about when your customers return. We've heard people saying "Wow, when did you do that?” and “Gosh, so much has changed since last week, I can’t wait to see what you do by next month.” It has, and will, keep them intrigued.

I realised very quickly that actually no one notices, only you do – so don’t worry if something hasn’t arrived in time, or if a wall doesn’t look the way you want it to. Instead, focus on the enjoyment of being a successful entrepreneur and launching a new business!

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