FIVE LESSONS FROM BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. It can challenge you in ways you can’t even imagine when you start out on the journey full of excitement about your ‘big idea’. And sometimes what started out as a passion can feel like purgatory. And yet…I find it hard to conceive of working for someone else now.
In honour of Global Entrepreneurs Week, I thought I’d take a look back over the past decade of my entrepreneurial journey and try and pull out five things that I’ve learnt from my experiences that might be useful to you; that might encourage you when things get tough.
FIND A MENTOR
Immediately. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect £200. Find someone right now who has more experience than you; who has done this before and who can advise you.
So far, so good, right? You’re all nodding and thinking ‘Yup, that’s a good idea.’
Now let me tell you the one KEY thing that will make the difference between a productive mentoring relationship that helps you to grow your business and achieve your goals – and one that doesn’t.
Are you ready?
You have to DO WHAT THEY SAY.
You may think you know better.
You may know yourself to be an intelligent, savvy business person.
You may believe that nobody can know your business as well as you do.
And maybe all of that is true. But here’s what a good mentor has that you don’t: distance. You’re in the weeds every day. You’re so enmeshed in your business…head down…cracking on…pushing through…that you simply aren’t objective. And that is what a mentor can give you: objectivity – combined with experience and insight. So listen to them.
CONSCIOUSLY DESIGN YOUR NETWORK
I used to think that I was a pretty good networker. I work in PR. It’s what we do. And I won’t lie – I can work a room ?
Then Dr Joanna Martin, the founder of One of Many and now an Actually Partner, explained to me that in order to be a great leader, I needed to nurture and develop every aspect of my life, not just my career, and I needed a network of support to do so. She introduced me to the concept of conscious network design – bringing attention to the four pillars that support our ‘platform of leadership’: love, money, career and health.
I had a great network of support in the area of my career: big TICK in that box. But I was operating without any support it when it came to my money, love-life and health. As a result, my health was deteriorating; I had no pension, no investments and was gradually building up an unsustainable and completely unnecessary credit card debt; and my love-life – well let’s just say that the Sahara desert has more bloom!
Being a great leader doesn’t mean you have to be in great health but it helps. It doesn’t require you to have your money situation sorted – but worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills each month will distract you and have a negative influence on your decision-making. And being happily ensconced in a loving relationship is not a guarantee of entrepreneurial success – but isn’t life just a little bit easier with the right partner? With someone by your side, supporting you and cheering you on?
So, in the same way that having a mentor for your business is a good idea – make sure you have the right support in place in every other area of your life too. I now have a nutritionist: Nicki Williams; a financial advisor: Aaron Eriskin and an accountant: Nicola Deverson. It’s no coincidence that each of these people is now an Actually Partner! They are amazing. I’m still working on the Sahara desert issue!
‘PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN’ (Napoleon Hill)
My business partner in Pagefield is a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ kind of entrepreneur. He is renowned for winging it. He has great instincts and supreme confidence. He hates plans. He hates detail. He dislikes anything that feels like a constraint. And he has business partner who knows how to develop a plan. Me.
Unusually for a creative person, I like plans. I find it reassuring to have a plan. I like to dream big and then have a step by step plan for how to get there. I don’t find it constraining. I find it liberating. I veer off the plan. I get feedback and I revise the plan. But there is always a plan of some kind.
It’s not for everyone but here’s why I think it’s important – a plan means that you won’t forget the details. A plan means you don’t turn up to the event that you’re speaking at and realise there’s no AV and your slides won’t work. A plan means that you know exactly how many people you need on your course in order to cover your costs and how much you can afford to spend on catering. Having a plan is often the difference between a fruitful and profitable business – and one that lurches from one crisis to the next.
In short, make a plan. And if you don’t like plans, find someone who does and work with them.
CHARGE WHAT YOU’RE WORTH
This is a lesson that I am still learning but it’s the reason Pagefield is a profitable business; it’s advice I give my clients all the time; and it’s the latest piece of advice that my mentor has given me. So I guess I’m going to have to take it, right?
You may resist this advice more than every other tip I am giving you here.
Maybe you think that you’re not worth more; maybe you think your clients can’t afford more; maybe you have an aversion to making money; maybe because your work is for ‘good’, it feels wrong somehow to be paid well for it. Yup. I’ve heard all the excuses. And I’ve used them all too. And here’s what I say to my clients: people value what they pay for and they question the value of anything that appears too cheap.
Besides, if you go out of business because you can’t make enough money to sustain yourself, then who will make the change that you are here to make in the world?
THE ONLY REAL FAILURE IS THE FAILURE TO LEARN
You will make a ton of mistakes. You will fail. You will mess things up and have to start all over again. Sometimes it will feel as though the whole entrepreneurial journey is one long series of mistakes punctuated by brief flurries of excitement. And when you’re in the midst of failure or tackling the latest error – you’ll look around you at all the ‘successful’ entrepreneurs and you’ll think that you’re the only one screwing it up. And you’ll be wrong.
It’s a cliché but failure is just an opportunity to learn. The only real failure comes from not paying attention to the mistakes you’re making, not learning the lessons. Make a mistake once, it’s a learning opportunity. Make it twice and you’re careless. Make it three times and I may have to pop round and give you a stern talking to!
Being an entrepreneur – particularly one with a grand, world-changing vision – can be soul-destroying at times. When it doesn’t work, when things go wrong, when this business or organisation that you’ve put your heart and soul into fails – it can feel like the end of the world.
It’s not. It’s just another step towards your eventual success.
And you will succeed. I know you will.
Because you’re going to change the world.
Let’s ACTUALLY change the world!
YOU HAVE MARKETING SUPERPOWERS®
You’re not bad at promoting your business, you’re just trying to do it in a way that doesn’t work for you.
Find out what your MARKETING SUPERPOWERS ® are and start communicating with your audience in a way that resonates with them & feels comfortable, authentic and natural for YOU.
Phew! Doesn’t that sounds awesome?
week I wrote a newsletter that caused more people to unsubscribe from my list than almost anything I have ever written before. I'm not concerned - clearly they are not my people - but I thought I'd share it here so you can tell me: would this cause YOU to unsubscribe?
"Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."
I remember the first time I heard that quote.
I was in my teens. I laughed.
Then as I began to think seriously about my career, my Mum explained to me that to be a successful career woman meant working twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good (and paid half as much).
I was in my early twenties. I thought she was exaggerating.
After I burnt out for the second time, I went to a conference and listened to a passionate and eloquent woman - who has subsequently become a great friend - explain something that should have been utterly obvious to me: that our entire cultural paradigm is based on structures set up by men and for men.
I was in my forties. And I cried.
Because it is exhausting having to don your Superwoman cape every day to ‘compete’ in the workplace.
As a single woman, I didn’t have to juggle work with family.
As a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and mainly able-bodied woman, I wasn’t dealing with the raft of intersectional prejudices beyond your average, everyday sexism.
But I was still exhausted.
And it wasn’t just because the systems that we work within weren’t designed for women but for men who had stay-at-home wives doing all of the work in the home.
It’s because for me - as for so many women - every day was and is a balancing act.
Every day is a tightrope walk between safety and danger; between being listened to and dismissed; between familiarity and harassment; between authenticity and playing the game.
Every day is a fight to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to be autonomous, to be considered, to be valued, to be safe.
In the workplace, in our social spaces, in our homes, in our politics, in our media.
This week my friend and client Harriet Waley-Cohen shared a post about this on LinkedIn. I’m going to share a section of her post here because she has put this so much more eloquently than I could:
"Sometimes it amazes me that there isn't a massive uprising.
Women are fed up of being objectified and judged on our looks, and only respected by how fu*&able we are deemed to be.
We are exhausted by feeling unsafe everywhere we go and watching our backs.
We are exasperated with not being paid the same, of our careers, choices and finances being marginalised because of caring expectations.
We are in despair about our allegations against powerful men being ignored because these men are too valuable to be held to account.
We are done with being told our tone of voice is the bloody problem, that we are too emotional.
We have had enough of not being able to trust the police or the legal system, and of people saying 'innocent until proven guilty' when the stats for prosecutions are laughably low and we all know most rapists never face any real consequences.
We are fed up of being told that it's not all men, because we never said it was, and it hurts to see so few men actively working towards making things better."
There has been an outpouring of grief, support and righteous anger in the comments on Harriet’s post. Of course there has. Because this is nearly every woman’s lived experience. And it is not OK.
I have written about these issues before in this newsletter. In the wake of the Sarah Everard murder and after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade. And there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write about this again. A part of me was concerned that you - my wonderful community - would grow bored of me ‘ranting on’ about this issue. A part of me that feared being judged or dismissed.
And that’s exhausting too, right?
The constant self-censorship. The constant voice in my head telling me that I can’t say this, shouldn’t write about that, mustn’t be too emotional, too strident, too ‘shouty’.
Well, in the nicest possible sense: f*&k that.
I am in my fifties now and as tired as some people may be of hearing me talk about these things, trust me I am WAY more tired of still having to talk about them. But until there is equity, it is up to every one of us to keep ‘banging on’.
And we need to do more than rant, we need to ACT.
Because here’s the thing, whatever your gender, you can either be an ally or you can be complicit in the problem. Please choose to be an ally. Here are three things you can do:
- Support people like Harriet when they share publicly about these issues. This kind of content often attracts trolls and the ‘not all men’ brigade - and it can be overwhelming to have to do all the rebuttal yourself. Another friend and client - the fabulous Stephanie Aitken, also did a post this week on a related topic and spent many hours having to deal with trolls in the comments. Help them.
- Call out misogyny, sexism, harassment, prejudice and bigotry when you see it - and when you feel safe to do so. I’m not advocating that you intervene when doing so would put you in real physical danger. But if a colleague makes an off-colour remark; if a family member behaves in a way that is inappropriate; if a friend displays ignorance, aggression or bias: name it. Don’t just smile and secretly roll your eyes. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t be afraid to be ‘awkward’. Have the conversation.
- Engage the next generation. Several of the commenters on Harriet’s post talked about children watching violent porn. They shared stories of how boys’ attitudes to girls are in some cases worse now than they were when I was a teen. The murder of Elianne Andam this week makes it clear just how important it is to speak to our children about these issues. Talk to the young people in your life. Find out about their experiences. Give them a safe space to explore these issues. And educate them about respect and equity. If we are going to break this cycle, this is VITAL work. Don’t shy away from it.
There is so much more that we could all be doing but this would be an amazing start!
OK. Rant over, for today.
I’m not promising I won’t come back to this again.
My most fervent wish is that there will come a day when it won’t be necessary.
I hope to see that day in my lifetime.
My biggest fear is that I will not.
I think that will do for now - I do hope it has been helpful!