Even You Can Start a Business: Chris Dale

My next guest started like many, working for others and was doing well as a director of a fast-paced company. But also like many, he wanted more; more freedom, more joy, more autonomy. After many sleepless nights and a leap of faith, he established himself as a small business owner and never looked back.

Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and today, I’m joined by author Chris Dale, who is here to talk about his new book called Even You Can Start a Business. Let’s flip through it.

Hello friends, welcome back to Author Hour. I’m super excited to have my friend Chris Dale with me today. He’s the author of a new and amazing book and I got the opportunity to sort of flip through it in the last 24 hours or so and I got to say, Chris, it’s amazing. Thank you for coming on the show, I’m really excited to get to know you today and talk about this amazing book that you penned out.

Chris Dale: Thanks, Hussein. Yeah, unbelievable to be on here and a real pleasure too, and be given this opportunity to talk through it and hope people learn a thing or two.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, absolutely. Chris, before we jump into the book, I always like to ask my guest to give us a little bit of a background, perhaps where you grew up and what was it like, you know, were you in a family of entrepreneurs per se? Was there somebody that perhaps inspired you to be on the path that you’re on now? What was it like for you growing up? I love hearing those stories because I feel like they sort of formulate what we end up doing anyways but I’m just interested in kind of give you a little bit of a spotlight about that.

Chris Dale: Sure, that’s great. To be honest, there’s nothing special about me.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I doubt that but that’s okay.

Chris Dale: No, but it’s important. It’s important because the book represents normal people and I was one of those. I’d class myself as slap bang in the middle average, come from divorced parents, both of which didn’t go to higher education outside of secondary school. I was the first to go to university.

I did a university degree I hated, and I’ve got a law degree and I don’t use it at all, I couldn’t wait to drop it and then I fell into my first job and committed to it. I lasted sort of, 11 years in that job and then got the craving to kind of start something of my own.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Where do you think that craving started?

Chris Dale: I’ve always been super competitive. I think anyone that knows me would say that but I think, you just look at the world and my generation and there’s also we’ve had COVID as well since I set up the business, you start to appreciate your time more and being in control of your own destiny rather than reporting into necessarily a boss, a hierarchy, a multi-national company, where you’re judged on the number of hours and you become a number in a spreadsheet rather than the individual that you are.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s very powerful. I think a lot of that has a lot to do with why people choose to try to do something especially even like side hustles, that’s where it kind of starts. I mean, I know it did for me when I was in college and starting, I didn’t even know that I was starting a business, you know what I mean?

Like, I had this gift to do art and I just started painting T-shirts and then I put it on eBay. Next thing you know, I was selling about a couple of T-shirts a week and it was paying for gas and it was paying for my meals and stuff while I was going to college and then it just tumbles into creating a business.

However, there’s always that beginning, right? This urge, this itch, to say, you know, people who enjoy their jobs or enjoy their roles, there’s this always innate feeling that comes with this idea of starting a business. You talk a little bit about it in your book but what was it for you that really enticed you to want to make that leap?

Why Make the Change?

Chris Dale: So there’s two areas, going back to what you said about yours and the two areas to start is either finding someone you absolutely love and you just want to go out into the world would do it or finding something you’re really good at. It doesn’t have to be something you love but you get satisfaction from being one of the best at it.

I mean, fill that, you could expand that even further under your own roof so to speak, you know, under your…with your name above the door and just want that little bit more. I think for me, that’s what it was. I found something I was good at. I was in a very fortunate position at my old company where I was exposed to a lot of different areas of an industry and then I outgrew it and felt that itch to just do something better, that’s what it came down to.

I felt I could do it better on my own or in a smaller offering and offer a better service or product to the marketplace and when you’ve got that kind of splinter in your mind, you just can’t get rid of it.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right. Yeah, I agree man. I got that splinter in my mind and it wasn’t until I started taking action that I was feeling so much more fulfilled doing those types of tasks as opposed to the… I was working at a bowling alley, right? And it was great. You know, paid a little bit of money here and there but there was a week where I made like, a thousand bucks from like a little T-shirt job that I did.

Chris Dale: Wow.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: And I was like, “Wow, I just made more than I did in the last two weeks working at this bowling alley” you know what I mean? And so that got my engines going and started going down that path for sure but you really bring up some interesting points throughout your book, you know? And the idea that when we’re…especially when we’re young and we’re starting our… You don’t even have to be young but I’m saying like, young in starting a business, right? And trying to figure out how those things work.

There are so…there’s so much content and so many books about you know, you mentioned that you’ve read them all and most young entrepreneurs have to, in a way, to kind of stay ahead. In the sense of you know, there’s so many books about big business and how the big guys, whether it be formulate their businesses or you know, whether it’s Palo Alto and their tech companies and you know, a lot of what they say sort of resonates and it’s good and it’s good advice. However, you know, it’s different when you’re just trying to carve out a little niche, something a little bit more.

Where does someone start? If they’re trying to make this bridge and get out of that day-to-day sort of grind, I mean, starting a business is a grid but where do we start? How do we navigate? You mentioned that there aren’t really many books around these topics and if there are, there’s very limited in the small business arena. So I love that you tapped into that but where can we start? If I’m here, I’m stuck in my, you know, nine to five and I’m trying to figure out a way out of it, what’s the first step I should think about?

Chris Dale: So it’s really tough for people. If you think most small businesses, they do run-of-the-mill things and then they…some get lucky and they diversify or they find a niche that grows and the business can grow exponentially but most small businesses in most countries that underwrite the country, don’t do anything that is reinventing. They’re not inventing Facebook or Search or you know, electric cars.

They’re doing something that they’ve been good at and found a niche in an area or through the Internet. So I’ve always had an interest in those sort of books and what makes people tick. Even in my job now, I love finding the reason why people are doing things. So I read a lot of those books. My wife laughed at me when we go on holiday, again, they’re called self-help books, et cetera.

You know, biographies and books about founding of big companies such as the recent one with all the Vigrant, Disney, et cetera but deep down, I’d come from a big company. I didn’t want 200 employees, 400 employees. You know, you just have levels of bureaucracy and you lose the creativity. So I did start looking around because I was… I wanted to set up a company and my startup wasn’t orthodox.

It was an absolute mess, which we can talk about later. So I started doing some research and then you look on the Internet as well and everyone has got great tips but none of them are really that worthwhile trying to find a cohesive plan and what I found is, a lot of people especially after COVID, you know, they all…some people made baked, you know, banana bread, some people did yoga, some people took up cycling.

Some people you know, were doing alt work on the Internet and they thought, “Oh, I’d love to probably take that a bit further” but either the intimidation, the unknown or just where to start, probably is put off 99% of those people. I used to fly a lot with work and spent hours upon hours of night flights to and from Asia. I wrote a lot because I couldn’t sleep because my body clock was all over the shop.

So I kept notes and so when I setup this company, someone actually challenged me because of the reason how I came to setting up and the speed that I did it said, “You should just keep a log of what you did.” It’s kind of along the way in the background of just kind of noted things down and when I had a bad day or something good happened, like why it happened and then before I knew it, I’m five, six years down the line with close to like a hundred chapters worth of quirky stories or you know, information worthwhile having.

So with all my traveling, when I came to setting up the company, because it was such an unorthodox startup for me in the time I did it, someone said to me, “You should keep a log of all the information you had, how you did it and just for your record because you set your business to be quite sentimental” and then as I went along, I collected tidbits and stories and you know, every time I had a good day or bad day, I’d note something down to look back on in case I’ve made the same mistake again and before I knew it, I had sort of like a hundred chapter titles and tidbits and things to work from and that’s kind of where the book came from over lockdown.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that. So, as you started your startup, what were the things that you would say really helped advise that direction? What did you lean on in sort of the learning of that, you know, as you were working this job, how did you change your mindset and say, “You know what? There are so many things here that I can learn from.” Did you start a business still kind of around that industry or something completely different?

Chris Dale: So I come from the background that I love people but I’m good in my industry, so hopefully try and combine them. I wanted to stay in that industry because I thought I could offer a better product and service that was available in the marketplace. That gave me obviously, the initial direction but then the argument is, if you’re going to setup a company, you’re going to need to be…do something better or slightly different than what’s out there, otherwise, what’s the point?

You’re earning less money, so I then probably, 85% less than I earned at my previous company in the first two years. My bill, my salary in the first year didn’t even cover my mortgage, let alone all the other bills, et cetera. Setting up the company, I was…I had just under 26,000 pounds worth of debt on credit cards, which I used to kind of cover my bills while I was starting up from the ground.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Sure.

Chris Dale: But if you have some direction, a lot of belief, consistency and like to lean on the right people, it’s amazing how quickly you can pull it together when you got bills to pay.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: This is great man. I really appreciate this perspective because you know, in your book, you mentioned the importance of trusting one’s gut instinct and having a mentor in the business journey. Can you expand on why you believe these are crucial factors for success in business?

Crucial Factors for Success

Chris Dale: So hopefully over time, you have kind of honed your craft and honed your understanding of what’s right, what’s wrong, good decisions, bad decisions but when it’s your money and your employees and you know, your clients, there’s going to be times where it doesn’t really make sense. Most startups are built, successful startups, are built on that bit of craziness, that it doesn’t makes sense but I’m going to do it anyway because I think I believe in what I’m doing.

So you can always make the easy decision, if you trust your head and it goes right, great. If you trust your head and it goes wrong, you can say, “I’ll still…I trusted my head, the sensible head.” There’s nothing worse than going against your gut instinct and it going wrong. It eats you up because deep, deep down, you knew you should have done it and it’s much better to regret going for it than not going for it and that’s the same with the startup in itself.

They always say, you know, at the end of your life, most people regret the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes.

Chris Dale: And I believe, since COVID, more and more people believe that they would just like something for their own, even if it was just for a couple of years to give it a go, just say, “You know what? I gave it a shot. It didn’t work out, I’m in a worse financial position, you know, potentially but I gave it a shot and I put myself out there” and that applies to a lot of elements of in life now especially in younger generations.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, I mean, that’s how I felt starting my business in college. I felt like, “What do I really have to lose? Like, it’s…here is something I know I can do but I’m going to learn how to do this.” It’s earning me enough money to like, live on. I wasn’t trying to earn, you know, crazy money but I was like, “I just need to get through college” and so after that I was like, “Okay, cool. Well, not only can I get through college, I could probably get through the next few years doing this” and then it just kept expanding from there and building from there and I love that because at first, we tend to think like, “Okay, how am I going to build this ginormous company?” When in reality, it is not about building a huge company or—and that those are great ambitions, there is nothing wrong with that of course.

Chris Dale: Sure.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: But the idea is like what little slice can I take that I can manage and then slowly add more slices to that and I think, you know, you articulate that so well in your book and so many entrepreneurs, so I mean I know I did, they struggled with finding a balance between work and personal life particularly in those early years. I mean, you talk about stress, right? Not being able to pay off everything on time or your bills, all those kinds of things.

So how do you address this not only in your book, what advice would you give for new business owners in this regard and perhaps, how did you deal with that, you know, the finding of the balance if you will?

Chris Dale: I think the brutally honest answer is there isn’t balance for the first year or two. You have to accept that in order to get it off the ground and make it a success like with anything, in sports, your studies, writing, you have to commit to it and be consistent with it and accept that you’re going to have to go the extra mile to take it to the next level.

It’s always helpful to be honest if you have a partner or family and explain before you’re going to take the leap and communicate those things because there is a lot of sacrifice on both parts and sometimes that can have a detrimental effect in a relationship but if you have an understanding partner and they believe in it as well, you know, you can start to find balance.

Years ago, I worked all the time, so I am always being…worked really hard. I worked in planes whenever I travelled, I went to Asia 87 times in seven years in economy with my work because strictly, that’s where the business was in my previous company. I learned more and met more people there than I ever would in probably 35 years in London.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right.

Chris Dale: It was beneficial but sacrifice. I was flying every Wednesday coming back every Sunday, going into the office on a Monday back on a plane Wednesday night. It was seasonal, so to give you an example, I did 10 economies to Hong Kong or Singapore and back in a row, normally between September and December. So you know what I thought, I’m going to make it up to my wife, we’ll go on a holiday.

What a great idea after ten flight journeys, getting on another one, another plane but anyway, so I landed on a Monday morning, swapped suitcases, we went to the airport and we flew to the Maldives. My wife is saying, “You know what? Thank you for your hard work, sticking by” you know, we have family, animals, you know, this is our break just for a week. So we’re in Maldives, the ideal paradise.

Beautiful beach huts and I’m on my iPad because I’ve been on ten flights and doing work, I’ve got Internet and my wife said to me, “You’re meant to be relaxing, you’ve done ten weeks, is it necessary?” and she’s really understanding and I was like, “You know what? First day off to all these trips, understand this fall out from the weekends” et cetera, “Go deal with it.” By about day three, she just went, “What are you doing? Where is enough?” and it is completely the most annoying thing she’s completely right.

I hate it when she’s right and we had a bit of a heated debate to say the least about it because I was, you know, I couldn’t ever put it down. I might lose a deal or lose business and not be on the ball and then it was like, “Well, if you can’t let go of it, it’s not healthy. It’s probably not for the right reasons and always used to use the reasons, “You know, it is going to be good for us in five years the money I’m earning and the progress” but it is never enough.

You just keep going in a vicious cycle. So after that, we had came to an agreement, which we still abide by now. So when we go on holiday, we go away one week a year just us two, Caribbean or somewhere really hot where we can just all-inclusive drink, relax and the rule is I get sort of half, because of the time difference, half an hour in the morning to check my emails, half an hour—15 minutes at lunch time just to quickly check in, see if anything is happened.

Then I get an hour of my own time while we’re getting ready for dinner, et cetera, pairing down from the day to just, you know, make sure, manage my stress and things, what’s going on and that’s our agreement. Other than that, phones are away, laptops are away because you’ve got to find balance. The amazing thing I found doing it with my own company was when you have a really well-run business, you don’t actually need to check it that much.

If people, great staff are looking after it, great team, my colleagues, they’re brilliant. I don’t need to be checking. I only come back to ten emails, all positive things not, “Oh, we’ve got a problem here” or a problem there but yeah, balance truthfully is hard to find in the first two years.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that you know? And it’s the idea is being intentional about it, right? It may not be achieved at every single time, every single turn, however, it’s the intention behind it. It is making an agreement, it’s being communicative, it’s being honest and raw about what you are trying to do. However, your limit is obviously different than perhaps your spouse or your partner or whatever. Everybody has a different dynamic and a different limit.

Chris Dale: Sure.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: But if no one is communicating that, of course, you’re going to bump heads, of course, there is going to be heated arguments and I feel like even when there is agreements, you know, there are times where we as humans beings, just being humans test those limits anyways, you know what I mean?

Chris Dale: Yeah, of course.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Which can throw the balance out of whack but I think it’s, you know, many amazing people and I know you agree with this too, it’s a balancing act, right? It’s a continuous effort to trust yourself, trust in the abilities that you, you know, have coached the team and built a team that can carry out the task and do all of these things without you interfering too much but I get that connection, that urge especially as a young business or a business that’s growing.

When you have, you know, a handful of employees and those kinds of things, managing things, so very powerful because I definitely went through that stage of, “Wow, this is consuming my entire life. I need to figure something out” and I work very hard, you know, day and night, most entrepreneurs especially young ones do that, right? For me, I think the most important thing was to realize how important my physical health was.

Chris Dale: Absolutely.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Which of course, led to mental health. Once I started really taking a little bit more initiative and being a little bit more intentional, those things got much better overtime of course. So I love these topics because they are very true, they are very raw and they’re real and honestly, I feel like not a whole lot of business owners’ talk about that aspect of running a business, right?

We all want to hit the goals, hit the milestones, hire more people, grow, scale, all of these amazing things, however, addressing the core causes of what actually helps growth is health and your personal health, right? And creating those balancing efforts. What would you say your favorite part of pulling this book together has been? What did you learn from that journey of really sitting down and writing this book out?

Experience Writing the Book

Chris Dale: So one that how far I’ve come along in this, so we’re just about to hit year seven in my business and it’s growing it year-on-year, 20% or more, which has been fantastic but more importantly, I look back at the team who worked with me, not for me, completely with me there exceptional, the culture we’ve built. You know, I always believe culture is the most important thing.

It is so hard to find and create, you can’t fake it and it goes in an instant if you don’t want to see or believe in what you are offering and my colleagues are, you know, they believe in the mission. We’re not necessarily changing the world or running a business but they absolutely believe in what we’re offering to the marketplace and to our clients and seven years in, absolute pride in what we do.

We still have the small business mentality, we are still small. You know, I’ve got 30 employees, which is ten more than I ever thought I’d have but each of them absolutely cares, absolutely cares and you know, they will go the extra mile no matter what because they believe and that’s so hard to find. That’s the bit I am most proud of.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing man, I love that so much. We all have hopes and dreams for when our books actually land in the hands of our readers, you know, especially the ones that we are trying to get this message across too. What do you hope that feeling that your book provokes when your reader puts it down after having gone through it?

Chris Dale: I would hope it humanizes the startup system procedure because you only ever hear the good stories, the success stories like you said, the people, the, you know, were amazing from day one and made loads of money and it was just natural to them. It wasn’t natural to me at all and I talk about a lot of the pitfalls and funny stories, about the, you know, the big deal where you do one deal and you make all these money and run off into the sunset, it just doesn’t exist

I’d love to say it does, I’d love to paint your story of, you know, me sitting in, for example, France with a Ferrari parked outside while my business runs itself. It doesn’t happen, you have to grind every day.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It just doesn’t.

Chris Dale: Yeah but I think my—I’m really honest in the book. Like I said, there is nothing special about me. I’ve made so many mistakes, mistakes that you know, I try not to make again from staffing to finances to you know, how you win clients to just trying to grow the business.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah.

Chris Dale: But if you go in it trying to make money, you’ll fail. Money is a byproduct of successful happy business that you’re good at what you do. Once you work, so when you love the money isn’t a bigger driving factor, as long as you cover your bills and have a healthy lifestyle, there isn’t a lot of difference between, as I talk in the book, you know, from sort of 75,000 pounds and 150,000 pounds.

It sounds ridiculous and people laugh because you know, the average salary in UK is 28,000 pounds but once taxes, you know, the bits and bobs deducted, you know, you’re shopping in better places, going on better holidays and have a better car but if you’re still in a job you hate, you can’t replace that, you can’t cover for that fact and also, you can work a nine to five job for a salary and you’re working 40 hours a week.

In a startup, you are working 80, 90, a hundred in the first couple of years. You don’t get paid for those hours. Pro rata, you’re earning much less than you would have, even if your salary seems a lot higher and it’s just things that I think are really helpful because I didn’t have it. I kind of learned on the job, learned from very successful people in different marketplaces I told about but could never find someone just having a brutally honest run-of-the-mill business, talk about their successes and failures.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s so beautiful and you did such a great job of really laying out these stories, the pain points and everything that you’ve learned thus far and really teaching the person who will pick up this book. You know for me, it reminded me a lot of when I was running my business and honestly, what led me to sell it eventually in 2020 was I really got very intentional about my own health, my own mental health and I realized, you know, at the end of the day, what am I trying to do? I want freedom but now I’m seriously…I feel like I lock myself into this business, right?

Chris Dale: Sure.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So if things, you know, and that’s just like an experience that I think has taught me so much. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just, it was a learning experience, all of it and so you know, to a degree, you know, as I still sort of startup this new side work that I’m doing, I’m very cautious about how to take that on in my workday, right?

Chris Dale: Absolutely.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Because again, I don’t want to get pulled in. You know, after 4:00, I’m like, you know, that was my non-negotiable is try to be done with what I call work, 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. at the absolute latest and so it’s like doing those things. It’s going through that process that actually teaches you who you actually want to be as a business owners because it’s not just a one-way street or a one type of personality trait, right? That gets you there.

It’s really, how you want to live and you know, creating the freedoms and what actually brings you the joy. I love I that you talk about it so beautifully in your new book. It’s raw, it’s authentic. It’s actually extremely real, which is why I felt so connected to it. So Chris, thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences with our audience today and of course, myself. The book is called Even You Can Start a Business From Startup to Success: A Step-By-Step Guide. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Chris?

Chris Dale: Usual spots, Amazon is the safest bet.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah.

Chris Dale: And that will be on the normal channels.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Lovely. Thank you so much, Chris, I appreciate your time today. It’s been wonderful getting to know you, buddy.

Chris Dale: Hussein, thanks so much, it’s been a pleasure. Have a great one.