Running your own business….sounds so appealing when you first begin. Thoughts flash through your mind such as, ‘No more making money for other people’, or ‘I can manage my own schedule and work in a way that suits me’. A feeling of immense freedom ripples through our body and we feel a sudden surge of energy to make our dreams a reality and row our own boat.
I opened my first company at the age of just 22. A keen and enthusiastic young lady, I felt that nothing would be too much for me. After all, it’s just offering a service and charging for it right? How hard can it be?
Fast forward 9 years, 3 businesses later and I can tell you it is a whole different story. I look at this picture of me cutting the ribbon at my new studio just 4 years ago and think, how much you’ve learnt my girl! What I will say, is I do not regret starting my businesses, and I thrive off the idea that self development and learning new things everyday is what will put me in good stead for my future.
I worked as a school teacher for 3 years whilst running my businesses, and although I adored the job, I couldn’t do both, and I still chose self employment over the money I could have earned staying in teaching. There are certainly a lot of advantages to running your own business, but that said, it can be really tough on your mental health, and you have to have a very thick skin to stay the long haul.
Statistically, the are 5.4 million small businesses in the UK today, so with so many people entering the territory of ‘self employment’, I wanted to use my own experience to try and help others maintain good mental health at all times, so that the 2am finishes and the 16 hour days that crop up all too often are manageable.
I am no Alan Sugar, and if there is one thing running a business has taught me, it’s how very little I know and how much I still (and will always) have to learn. But, as someone who just started her businesses purely from simple ideas and a passion, I feel that I can offer some insight into what I have learnt along the way, and how these 7 strategies have helped me stay the long haul through some very dark and difficult days. I hope you find them helpful.
Build a Network
Now, funnily enough, I am not actually talking about network meetings here. There are a small number of businesses that really can benefit from 6am network meetings, the type that cater for everything, such as a Virtual Assistant. However, in my opinion, for my area of work these sessions are generally time that could be spent on other things, including rest so I can work smart during the rest of my day achieving a lot in a small space of time. I do believe it is really important to have a small (and I say small deliberately) network of people you can go to for advice within your business. Mine consists of my Dad, who has run businesses since he was also in his 20’s and mastered enough successes and fuck ups in his time to be able to take one look at something and say ‘ It ain’t gunna work Kelly’. My accountant, Holly, who knows me inside out. I believe this is an important thing to seek out in an accountant. She doesn’t just see the numbers on the page, she sees my journey and what makes me tick, and that allows her to guide me on the right path when it comes to making tough decisions involving the figures. My last is Kevin, my boyfriend. For reasons other than how to run a business, he sees the back end of it all, the part that nobody else really sees, and is there to take work out of my hands and put it to one side when the urge to complete too much at once takes over.
A message received after an 8 day stint of late finishes
In my 20’s, I would often seek out advice from too many people, unsure of myself and lacking trust in my judgement. The issue with that was, none of those people really knew me, my business or in fact had any other credible experience to talk of other than what they had heard. This often led me to make rooky mistakes based on advice rather than my gut instinct. By keeping my circle close, I know I can trust that I have all the information I need and can then make decisions based on what feels right for me. They are my business ‘home team’. This would be my number one golden piece of advice before anything else.
Know Your Numbers
Guess work is just not good enough when you are self employed, because before you know it, a tax bill, or rates increase will be slung your way and you won’t have a contingency in place to cover it. This is one I learnt the hard way. An artist by nature, numbers have always made business hard work for me. I am an able enough mathematician to run a business, but it just bores me and I find it hard to focus. It was only when moving into a leased premises with my dance schools that I really had to get my shit together, because I was going to need firm projections for each year based on solid information about the current status of my business at that point. Every penny had to be accounted for to make it happen. I could no longer run on passion alone! By not knowing your numbers, it becomes very difficult to narrow your focus, and build work in the areas you need it. In terms of our health, this can create a viscous cycle where we work all the hours god sends, however never really see the benefits on the bank balance. Holly and I have always done projections a particular way. We have a simple spreadsheet with regular expenses, and regular sales broken down. This is based on my current situation. We then map out a projection for a dream scenario (I must add this is always thought out and achievable), and then we create one right down the middle of the two. What this does is it gives me a visual to see what ‘the dream’ could be, and how I can achieve it, but it also provides me with a stepping stone to get there. In turn, this then allows me time to focus on specific areas of work, maximising on my chances of growth and providing me with that all important ‘satisfaction’ at the end of the working day all gained due to exercising control, something I would lack without projection, most likely leaving me with a feeling of helplessness.
Know Your Weaknesses
Delegate or die as they say! A sure quickfire way to fail in business is to be so arrogant to think you know it all and can do it all. Think about it. The majority of the most successful businesses in the world have an army of people behind the scenes all focusing on their area of expertise in detail to ensure the business succeeds. Now this one can be difficult, because again, as I pointed out in my first tip, too many cooks can spoil the broth, and actually, sometimes finding the staff can be difficult, not to mention finding the money to pay for them. It is a balance, 100%. However, you do have to speculate to accumulate and often paying someone to do a job really well, that you do, let’s be honest, for free, pretty poorly, will benefit your business in the right way eventually. I am crap at systems and operations. My mind does not work in a linear way. At all! I’ve always been creative and have therefore fall short when it comes to saving myself time on creating systems that work within my businesses. Through my time trying to ‘handle it all’ I was unknowingly preventing my businesses from growing to their potential. Spreading myself too thin could be the best term for it. So I enlisted the help of others. Again, Holly has worked alongside me to help educate me in how to use projections and cash flow to my advantage, and created it in ways that are colour coded and make it interesting and engaging for me (see my point about having an accountant who just ‘gets you’).
I have recently taken the plunge and appointed one of my dance instructors to complete revamp all the systems within my dance school, to help make everything flow easier, and communication between the customer and I better. I can feel in my gut that whilst this was a bold move (and a brave one at a time when we are financially stretched), it was the right one. This now leaves me free to focus on what I am good at, growing the company. My accountant is now more free to monitor cash flow and projections. All areas we are expert in.
This transcends to my other businesses, like this one right here, LYL and my education business selling curriculums and dance training to primary schools. With LYL, I quickly appointed Chris, @that.fitness.guy, to develop the fitness programme with me, as I knew that his expertise greatly outweighed my own, and this would allow me time to focus on helping women with the other areas of their health, mental, spiritual and emotional.
I also recently out sourced my shipping to Diamond PA Services, again, as the time I was spending on this, was drawing away from my time spent engaging with leans beans on a one to one more personal basis. There is nothing weak in knowing your weaknesses, it is only smart. Our mental health suffers when we try to battle with things that aren’t our forte, as we internally criticise ourselves for not doing it well enough, and often stress ourselves out trying to fit it all in feeling like we are not getting anywhere.
Invest time in finding someone amazing for your business, and invest in them. Your health will thank you for it further down the line. Change is not always easy, but more often than not the best thing for your business. There is a little book called ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ which is readable in around half an hour which explains this concept really well.
Link here to purchase it.
What would Alan Sugar say?
This is a saying I ask myself a lot. It can appear from the outside to those who know me, or follow my businesses, that I live a fairly affluent lifestyle and have soared into great business success. However, the reality is, this is far from the truth. Particularly with my first business, Anneli Dance Studios, where I have constantly had to battle to make ends meet, often taking a pay cut, or not pay myself at all to keep it going. This is partly to do with the fact that this was my first go at business, and I have had to learn so many lessons the hard way as the years have gone by. The other part is that being a dance teacher is very much a labour of love, and I don’t know any dance teachers living it up on unlimited income! Because dancing is such a passion of mine, it’s been really important for me to step back at times, look at the figures in black and white, write down the pros and cons of remaining open or closing the door. I write it all down and ask myself, ‘What would Alan Sugar say?’. In this moment I have to completely detach myself from what my heart says, and focus on the statistics and information in front of me. When we have poured our heart and soul into a business, mentally and emotionally is can destroy us to think of it falling apart. However, in the same token, if we don’t learn to find the resilience to step back and look objectively at the plan in front of us, we prevent ourselves from ever being healthy, as we become so attached to our business that it begins to form our identity. I know you love your business, but you existed before it, and you will exist after it, so only ever stick with it if it is going to benefit you in the long run.
Think Like A Customer
Everyone always says ‘the customer is always right’, but the truth is, if you take care of your customers well enough, they will be the ones who bring you more business and keep your company alive. If you run your own business and are yet to read a book called ‘The Disney Way’ then buy it now. It’s great.
Link here to grab a copy.
It gives a behind the scene look at the strategies that served to build Disney and tells us how they can help our business ‘soar beyond the limits of traditional management’.
Walt Disney’s dreams and beliefs were based on providing business models of excellence, where the customer has a magical experience at all times when coming into contact with Disney, and this empire still lives on today with the very same premise and is felt all around the world; a testament to his business model. We all have customers who make life difficult at times, but by adopting ‘The Disney Way’ we set ourselves up to build nothing but a fantastic reputation that will serve the longevity of our business.
Never Forget Your Gratitude
There are days when running your own business that self love goes completely out the window…. well any kind of self love with thought behind it that is. You might squeeze a shower in before bed and pop some clean pyjamas on and call it self love but that’s about as far as it is going to go! This is ok, because everything is about perspective, and as long as you don’t allow this to be a hamster wheel situation, the odd day is basically, reality! However, the one thing you must always hold onto in business; the thing that will keep those feet firmly on the ground, is gratitude. Being thankful for what you DO have, whilst you work hard for what you don’t is a really important part of maintaining good mental health. I recently invested in the YesMum Boss cards. A range of cards with affirmations each day to help me remain grateful, and focused.
You can get these here
What this does, is it takes the pressure off me having to think all the time, but gives me a little boost of positivity first thing in the morning as I turn my card over. I then write in my journal before bed, what I was grateful for that day, even if I manage little else. If you let go of this, it can be easy to become consumed by your work and lose sight of what is around you. Always make time for this as it takes a matter of minutes.
This is perhaps the most important step you can take once the rest is in place. I talk a lot about ‘taking action’ whether it be in personal circumstances or business, but taking action is something that seems so blindingly obvious but that so many don’t do. I believe sometimes this can be due to point one, about networking. At times, I have seen people spend some much time talking about what needs to happen, and mulling over the pros and cons, that they are still allowing their business to slip from their fingers. All the time you talk about what needs to happen, it is time you are not making it happen. Business does require long days sometimes, and unsociable hours, and often the financial gain is not instant. Unlike working for a company, where you get given your workload and you know at the end of the month your pay cheque is coming, self employment requires you to go out and hunt for your work every single day in order to make sure you get paid at the end of the month. Overtime, holidays, sick days and maternity are all unpaid when you work for yourself, so you have to be able to forge forward to make things happen, and this will always require a great deal of strength mentally and often physically too. By putting all my above tips in place, I believe that this point becomes much more achievable as clear goals are in place, a small team that work on the things you can not and a support network to help you maintain a level of reality whilst doing it. The thing about everything in life is, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always have what you’ve always had. Sounds so obvious, but quite often we don’t realise that.
Running your own business is hard, and there are days when you have to dig really deep to find the answer to why you do it, but if nothing else, it teaches you that the world doesn’t owe you anything, and that you must constantly focus, reflect, self develop and push forward if you want to get results, and that in turn benefits all areas of your health.
I hope that these few tips I’ve learned along the way can help you develop your businesses and take back a level of control when it comes to your health and happiness. It’s been a very rocky road as far as business goes for me, but I am grateful for all I have learned and can now implement these strategies into my personal life too.