HOW I STARTED MY BUSINESS (PART 2)

Lessons From My Early Days In Business

In my last article, I explained how I left a successful corporate career as a CEO and mustered up the courage to become self-employed. My original business dream was to open a yoga studio, and scale from there.

he Story Of How I Started My Business (Part 2)

But I struggled to find suitable premises and realised my ‘yoga studio dream’ wasn’t viable without third party investment. I considered a range of other business ideas before settling on business consulting and coaching. I tested and validated my initial ideas, took a life changing trip to India which reminded me of my brand values, and opened my business consulting and coaching practice for business in January 2014.

Let’s pick up the story there.

What sort of market research did you do?

Effectively I did three types of market research. Firstly I coached six female entrepreneurs pro bono as part of a business mentoring course I had undertaken with the IOEE. This gave me direct insight into the challenges they were experiencing in their business, and their gaps in knowledge and skill set. Secondly I did desktop research to find out who the key competitors in my industry were, and glean from their websites and social media who their target customers were and which routes to market they were using. And thirdly, I met lots of business owners while networking – both offline and online – and listened to the questions they were asking.

Starting out, what was your biggest challenge?

I’ve had many! But I’d have to say that sales was probably the area I initially found most challenging because, aside from a Saturday job in retail, I’d never had to sell myself before.

There’s a saying that your business is only as successful as your weakest skill allows. And clearly if your weakest skill is sales, then your business will hit the skids fast! As luck would have it, I came across Catherine Watkin and her Selling From The Heart online course. I worked my way through Catherine’s ‘7 Steps To Yes’ process, and have felt confident about the sales process ever since.

(Catherine has recently set up a free Facebook group where she is very generous with her business wisdom, and has created a super friendly community. If you run a service based business and are struggling with sales, I’d encourage you to check Catherine out).

What was the biggest change from your previous working life?

Initially I was relieved to be relieved of the responsibility that comes with being a CEO, and enjoyed all the changes that came with my new life. The two biggest changes have been:

  • Going from having a PA who acted as a gate keeper to doing everything myself. I hadn’t answered the phone, set up my own meetings or dealt with email that hadn’t already been filtered in years. All the routine tasks that take up so much time if you have to do them yourself.
  • Going from being at the top of my field to being a complete unknown in my chosen industry. I don’t consider myself particularly egotistical, but that’s taken some getting used to.

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

That’s easy! The freedom to take my business in whatever direction I see fit and chart my own course. As a CEO, I had to go through all sorts of checks and balances to get decisions on strategy agreed. Now I can moved more swiftly.

I also love being able to work in a way that suits me. Taking a mini sabbatical over August. Working on a Sunday when it’s raining (as I did when I wrote the first draft for this article) and taking half a day off later in the week to catch the last of the summer sunshine.

What’s the most difficult thing about being your own boss?

Not having a team to bounce ideas off. Sometimes you can feel like you’re plugging away endlessly and nobody knows you exist. That’s one of the downsides. I have a business buddy, Hilary Robinson, who I speak to a couple of times a month. We bounce ideas off one another, share our frustrations and help one another problem solve. We also hold each others’ feet to the fire so that if we’ve said we’re going to do something, we check the other has done so.

(You’ll find Hilary over in The Snapdragon Society helping us to become more polished professionals).

How do you overcome difficulties?

A wise mentor shared  this analogy with me many years ago, and it’s always stuck with me.

Running a business is like surfing. In the early days when you’re learning, you keep falling off your board. You just have to get straight back on it, paddle back out and go again and again and again.  Sometimes the wave is bigger than you’ve ever paddled into, and you have to breathe, fully commit, dig in and trust that it will work out okay. Other times the waves have a mind of their own and decide to come in their own good time. You can get upset and frustrated that they aren’t coming – which won’t change a thing. Or you can accept it, enjoy the scenery and nature around you, feel the wind in your hair, and fully take in the moment and opportunity.

Entrepreneurship  requires focus and discipline, ultimate confidence in yourself as well as trust in the process. As an entrepreneur, there are times when you have no idea what the next step is or how you will get through. You just have to have unwavering discipline, belief and commitment that by trusting  and taking the next step, everything will work out for the best.

What was your biggest mistake in the early days?

I listened to people who said that brand was not important, and to focus on sales and marketing. As a result I didn’t pay enough attention to my own brand identity, and hated its early incarnations.

By the time I belatedly started thinking more seriously about my brand identity, the start-up industry was dominated by very feminine, in many cases girly, branding. Pinks, golds, peonies and the use of (to my mind) vapid inspirational quotes. This is SO not me. I struggled to see how I could compete, if this was what appealed to one of my key target customer groups. When I decided to just be me, everything started to change.

I made the mistake of listening to those who said brand was unimportant because I believed that they were running successful 6 and 7 figure businesses and knew better. In some instances they were, but in many cases the truth belied the reality. The moral of this story? Check the credentials of those you’re considering taking advice from.

I don’t recommend you spend money on styling your brand until you’ve properly validated your idea and put together a robust business plan. But I I do believe you should set aside a realistic budget so that when the time does come to style your brand, your investment pays off in terms of attracting the right type of customers and showing the world just how serious you are.

What was your best decision?

I was very intentional about how I spent my money, and eked out the pot of money I’d set aside to fund my start up activities. I kept my overheads low by working from home, using Skype, coffee shops and hotels for meetings. For months, I used LinkedIn as an alternative to having a website. And I bought the Get Noticed theme, which was designed by Michael Hyatt for people building a platform, which reduced the costs of my website build.

This wasn’t hard for me because I had been used to running a bootstrapped company as a CEO, and had had to be frugal with our meagre resources. While I don’t have to be so thrifty now, I make a point of keeping my overheads as low as possible so that (i) I can pay myself properly (ii) have a decent budget to invest in sales and marketing and (iii) create (net) profits.

Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome?

When I started out, there was a very established group of business coaches who appeared to be a close knit community from the outside. Coming from a CEO background, I often felt like an outsider because I talked about business plans and cash flow forecasts while they believe running a business was an intuitive process. Over time, I realised that not feeling like I belonged was nothing more than my own insecurities coming to the fore.

In my next article, I discuss how you can tackle imposter syndrome and tackle its debilitating consequences head on.

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Question: What prompted you to start your business? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.

I’d love to start a conversation about whether we’re a good fit to work together. Simply use this link to arrange an informal Skype coffee chat. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching (or business consultancy) would be right for you.

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