Starting a business is scary. There is no other way to put it. The days are long and they only get longer the busier you become. Do I regret starting a business? Absolutely not!
Everything I have learned over the last 6 months has taught me to expect nothing and be grateful for everything.
When I reflected on the last 6 months it amazed me how much everything has changed, including me. So below are my thoughts, the 10 things I have learned over the last 6 months. Will these still be the same in the next 6 months? Who knows, but I am ready for the ride.
We sat in the sun, drinking beers, deciding what could we do to get out of the stressful corporate world we worked in. We thought, how hard could it be? We know what we are doing, we are smart and savvy. We thought about the amazing business we would create, we could work from anywhere in the world, we were not afraid of hard work. We expected things to go to plan. It didn’t. We expected people would love our business as much as we did. We expected to be able to juggle the business with two young sons. We expected those we loved to be super supportive. We expected that we would see sales increase quickly. We expected to be good with strategy. We expected to be able to do it all ourselves. None of those things happened.
We worked long into the nights, we were tired and ratty with the kids, our families rarely asked how we were getting on (mainly because they thought this was a fad). The sales were really hard to come by and when you throw the accounting, the book keeping, the admin, the proposals, the rejection, the constant changing of goalposts and most importantly how do we pay ourselves! This was all new to us but once we realised that there was no way in hell we were going to be good at everything and manage it all, we stopped, and took a deep breath.
Slowly but surely we learned what we had to, we took one small issue at a time and fixed it. The biggest thing to fix were our expectations. We realised quickly, that expecting nothing but believing in everything was the way to go. For our sanity.
The name our business now is not what it originally was. In fact, we are two names down the line! This wasn’t because we were indecisive it was because we didn’t do our market research. Our first name was ego driven and was out two names mushed together, we ran with it until we realised it meant nothing to anyone (other than us) The second name was our Ronseal name. We did exactly what it said on the tin. This was great until we realised that it was pulling us towards an industry that we didn’t even service. We were looking to work with forward thinking digital marketing agencies and marketing managers in the know but this name made everyone think we did wedding videos. The name we have now was born from market research in the industries and businesses we wanted to attract. We wasted so much money on domain names, business cards and even branded clothing. I wish we hadn’t rushed from a financial point of view but we learned a BIG lesson and now apply market research to pretty much every decision we make.
We were that company, the one who would put up regular Instagram and Facebook quotes, be active on LinkedIn….for about a week. Then we would go off and do our shoots, spend days putting proposals together and network. A few weeks later we would realised we had let it all slip and then had to start again. We were annoying ourselves because we have history of being Judgy McJudgy when it came to other companies consistency of content and here we were being far worse! If people don’t think you are active, they assume you are not busy! Even if you are. Lesson learned and we invested in a content management system to allow us free time to do things we needed to do.
One of the biggest lessons we learned was that the people we thought were nailed on to be our champions, weren’t and those we thought would be the first to criticise us, didn’t. We both came from very good corporate jobs but we were miserable, to the point of being depressed. The day I came home from work and my eldest son told the younger one to “not hug Mummy hello for at least 10 minutes, she is clearly stressed out” was the day I knew this was not who I wanted to be and change needed to happen. Even though we knew this was for the best, those closest to us were not so keen. Why would we leave such a “good job?”. We were judged from the moment we said out loud that we started a business. Then there were those people who got excited with us as we talked through the plan, they offered to help, they were our cheerleaders. Not to the point of being unrealistic in our ambitions (dodgy X Factor contestants we were not) but they made us believe that we could do this if we worked hard enough. The dark days, of which there are many, propel those cheerleaders to the forefront of our call list, they are the ones who remind us why we are doing what we are and most importantly we deserve to be successful.
This one diagram, changed it all for us. Thank you Greg McKeown*
You can spend all day, week, month trying to get it all done. Truth is you can’t. When Greg said in his book Essentialism that you may get a little further forward in many areas but not very far in one (paraphrased of course) it really hit home. We needed to stop doing it all and as fast as we could but take one area of the business and nail it. Work really hard, pop on the tunnel vision goggles and go for it. Once that was done, on to the next. This is a very simple concept which takes a LOT of hard work to achieve. It’s amazing how addictive being super busy with not much is. The lesson here (and is Greg’s not ours) is “Less but better”.
We all know that mental health is a big deal these days but until your own comes into question you have no idea what it means.
I had suffered from Post-natal depression after having my second son so I knew what dark days actually felt like. I was aware of what ridiculous, hurtful and mean thoughts my brain was capable of conjuring up for me and from coming out of the other side of depression I was always ready for the fight should it happen again. When your partner, the love of your life, your business partner, the talent of the operation (his words) falls into dark days. It gets scary. How on earth do you know what to do? The crippling fear of failure, the imposter sydrome, the money worries, the self doubt were all too consuming. I had spent so long thinking about myself and that I may be vulnerable but here was my rock feeling the lowest he ever had. We worked hard through it and know that being outdoors is a really good healer on a dark day. Getting a dog forced us to walk every day and what a difference it made! We started to take time for ourselves, play music, have down time, have digital detox days. There are still dark days but we can almost spot them and know how to support each other. Running a business is not all rainbows and unicorns so keeping an eye on your mental health and that of those around you is key to any business survival.
This relates a little to imposter syndrome. When you hide behind a corporate brand, you can pass off failures as the company’s, you have confidence born from history, you are happy to prospect because you know people know who you work for. Running your own business makes you weirdly shy. Unless you are the uber-confident type with an application form already filled in for the next “Apprentice”. We were extremely successful sales people, why now were we feeling a little shy about what we were offering. It is bloody great. It was after a while we realised we were not selling a business service we were selling ourselves. Our true authentic selves, what WE stood for, what OUR ethics were and this was new to us. Add to that, we were pitching to well established companies….were they looking at us and thinking “what do you know about increasing sales?” and even though we knew more than most it was still a little imposter syndrome creeping in. Then one day a conversation with a friend changed it all. This lovely cheerleader pointed out that in any given meeting WE were the experts. We were in the room because that particular business needed experts and that is what we are. Once you realise that you are there because you know more about what you do that the other person in the room. Your perspective changes and the shyness drops away. I appreciate this sounds simple but it was a lesson we needed to learn.
Pride. It’s a killer.
People want to help, well, most people want to help. They will do what they can to make things better if they can. Why then, when it comes to a new business do we struggle to ask for it? We saw asking for help as a failure but the reality was that we have never run a business before. Could we make great video which helped businesses increase sales? Yep. Could we tell you how to read business accounts, or where to go to start some business contracts? Nope. We foolishly thought that Google could teach us what we needed to know but the truth is it can’t. There is only so much you can fit in a day. We realised quickly that we didn’t know a lot about running a business so we went to those that did. We got a great accountant who does all the bookkeeping and VAT returns for us, we got a business coach, who helped us through our weaknesses and taught us the basics of running a business. We can call him at any time, he has run many many successful businesses and loves to mentor newbies like us (Shout out to Ian!) This is a resource that every start-up should consider. You don’t know it all, it gets overwhelming. Ask for help.
Many people gave us pearls of wisdom when we started up. Mostly from those who had never started a business but we fell down listening to those from successful businesses.
There is no one size fits all to business:
“you should network every single day”
“you should post on Instagram twice a day”
“you should eat, sleep and breath LinkedIn”
“you should advertise in local magazines”
“you should partner with local businesses”
You should, you should, you should. This is something we heard a lot. We tried everything the successful businesses told us thinking this would make us super successful. Of course it didn’t (yet) What we realised was that all the shoulds were like ingredients to a lovely perfume. On some businesses they made them smell divine and on others it was a pig like stench. Some it really did depend which way the wind was blowing! We decided that just because some people were suited to 6am networking that for us throwing our kids out of a moving car to their Gran was causing the whole family so much stress that it wasn’t worth it. Yet some businesses credit their entire success to these super early starts. We were not going to be one of them. We tried to partner with a local business but found that unless your business ethos is complimentary it can be hell! We have tried and tested many and 6 months later feel we have a veritable Chanel No.5 on our hands now.
Cliché I know. But it’s true. There will be so many failings, so many times you question your sanity or chastise yourself for having a few beers in the sun instead of creating content but you need to let that go.
Starting and running a business is rewarding but it is bloody hard work. We all make mistakes and become impatient, wishing you were reaping the rewards now so you could book that cruise or be able to spend all day making gingerbread men with the kids whilst the business grows and grows. Those days may well come but for now take a deep breath, forgive yourself often and enjoy the ride.