So it’s 9pm on a Tuesday night and I’m currently writing this from a very cosy sofa inside a villa tucked away, high up in the Tuscan hills- my home for the next few days. I paid for this holiday when I still had my trusty monthly salary to look forward to each month. At the time that we booked it, it was to be a holiday where I completely switched off from the world of work. Speaker deadlines and demands, office antics and the world of foreign exchange that I was expected to keep on top of day in day out for three years would all go to the very back of my mind to be replaced with three of Italy’s finest- good wine, good coffee and a whole lotta carbs.
Whilst the wine, coffee and carbs have been a constant theme this week, the whole switching off thing…. not so much. Sunbathing by the pool has doubled up as an opportunity to respond to emails, car journeys through the sweeping vineyards have been filled with mental to do lists waiting for me when I get home and tennis matches with the boyfriend have been a good chance to bat away the little voice in my head that seems to have made an unwelcomed home there since the idea of She can. She did. cropped up a few months back.
Safe to say, the ‘open all hours’ aspect of starting your own business that I was warned about at the start has well and truly kicked in.
Despite what it might sound like however, this post isn’t supposed to be a sob story. In fact, I’ve decided to put a little pause on the interviews this week and check in to share the four main lessons for starting a business that the past four weeks have taught me and why rather than making me run back to the securities of a 9-5, I’m embracing the new realities of the start-up life.
Lesson 1: Create a routine amongst the chaos
If there’s one thing that I learnt as early as week one, it’s that the 9-5 culture (or 8-4 in my old case) is well and truly a thing of the past when you start your own business. For three years, my routine had been a constant in my life that I could rely upon day in, day out. Monday to Friday, my alarm had gone off at 5.30am, I’d catch the train to London at 6.40am, I’d been at my desk at 7.30am returning home at 5.50pm, finished a workout by 7pm, showered and eaten by 8pm and in bed by 10.30pm…11pm if I was pushing the boat out. The weekends would creep around soon enough, I’d switch off for 48 hours and come Sunday night I’d gear myself up to do it all over again.
When you decide to work for yourself, that routine is tipped on end in an instant and without a boss in your ear deciding these things for you, the days you work and your start and finish times all fall down to you to decide. As someone that loves structure, it took some getting used to. My first ever interview started at 5pm on a Friday night, Saturdays have become a day (and night) to write up Sunday’s post, and here I am on holiday typing away now.
But already I’m learning to adapt, finding constants amongst the chaos. If I have an afternoon interview or as of next week, networking events that start post 7pm, I’ll lie in a little later and make the hours up that evening. On the contrary, if I know my weekend will be full of caffeine-fuelled interview write-ups, I’ll start a little earlier on the Friday to make the most of my evenings with friends and family.
It’s a constant juggle yes, but be disciplined, allocate your time appropriately and it quickly becomes the norm.
Lesson 2: Surround yourself with the good-eggs
When I was about 14 years old, I remember getting a certificate in an end of year assembly for being ‘an all-round good egg’. At the time I thought it was such a weird phrase- I still do to be honest- but my form teacher went on to explain that I was one of their ‘constants’; one of the students that they could rely upon to show up on time, who showed ambition, took part in class discussions, you know the drill.
Nowadays I take it to mean your best ones. The ones that are constantly there to support you, that don’t look at you like you’re a complete idiot when you try and explain the ideas in your head and if they do look at you like you’re a complete idiot, you know that even if they don’t quite understand what’s going on up there, they’re fully behind you regardless, no questions asked. They pick you up when it all looks a bit pear shaped and pour the prosecco when it doesn’t.
Every interview so far has said it. The first few months are a very volatile and at times lonely place where sometimes it feels like no one but you really and truly understands what’s going on in that brain of yours and what you truly want your business to become.
Given that I’m in the midst of these stages right about now, take it from me. The opinions of your best friends, family, boyfriend – whoever it is in your life that you trust – are the only ones that matter right now. Value their opinions and weigh those up with whatever your gut instincts are telling you. The ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that come from anyone else- of which there will be many- forget them. As one of my favourite quotes says, ‘No one is you. That is your power.’
Lesson 3: Yes that 24/7 voice can be a pain in the arse but once you filter out the ‘you’re an idiot’, ‘go and get a proper job’ etc etc… it can often surprise you with the occasional lightbulb moment worth noting
Not the most eloquently put lesson admittedly but I stand by it nonetheless. If you’ve read my interviews so far, you would have seen that Siobhan, Georgia, Jess and Lucy all warned me about this one but it’s something that I really did underestimate before starting this. That voice is there when I wake up, when I go for a run, if I’m out for coffee with friends, it even cropped up when I was in full on tourist mode earlier today.
Sometimes it can be a real pain, telling you everything that you really don’t want to hear- “your idea is a load of rubbish… everyone’s going to think you’re an idiot… you should go and get a proper job” etc etc…. But then all of a sudden, it surprises you with an idea that triggers others and before you know it you’re planning ways to grow, new initiatives to add on, and different people to reach out to.
And those moments make it all worth it. My only advice is to just make sure that when those ideas come to you, you write them down. Lucy kept a notebook by her bed, Jess wakes up in the middle of the night for a mini brainstorming session…. And me? I just jot down any ideas on my phone as and when they come to me. Nothing fancy. Just me, my phone and I.
Lesson 4: Learn to ride the wave
I ended my last interview stating that Lucy Smith’s favourite quote (Pressure is a privilege) stuck with me long after we said our goodbyes and I’ll use this opportunity to tell you why.
The first two weeks of this project were pretty straightforward. I spent my days reaching out to various female founders pitching SC.SD. and inviting them to feature on the blog. I celebrated when they said yes and quickly booked a space in their overflowing diaries. I felt in control, I had my plan and I was sticking to it.
By the time week three and four came though, I actually had to go and meet those women, interview them and write blog posts that did their stories justice all the while staying on top of the social media platforms that let’s face it, have to be spic and span nowadays if they want to catch on. Additionally, various women had started to email me and private message me on Instagram to share their start-up stories and friends from university and school who I hadn’t spoken to in months, sometimes years, got in touch to recommend other women to reach out to.
All of a sudden my little idea was well and truly out there for the world to see, She can. She did. was starting to catch on and whilst I was and am still sooo grateful for that, between you and me I had a little wobble. Out of nowhere, I felt really out of control and responsible for sharing these stories and panicked that little old me wouldn’t be able to do this project justice.
In typical me fashion though, a quick chat with my sister and boyfriend made me realise that the pressure I was feeling was coming from no one but myself and all of the opportunities and women responding to my emails were to be wholeheartedly embraced. The next day, I brushed myself off and went to interview Lucy. When she came out with that quote, I remember saying how much I needed to hear it. Start-ups are a crazy journey with highs, lows and everything else in between. You quickly learn to ride the wave.
So on that note, I’ll leave it there. There’s a glass of red waiting for me, work is done for the day and I’m definitely ready to switch back into holiday mode!
Whilst it’s not the all singing, all dancing, shiny, seamless blog that we all expect to see nowadays, it has to start somewhere; and with these lessons fixed firmly in my head, and ideas coming in left, right and centre from not just me but from some of you lovely lot too, I’m excited to see where together, we can take this thing.
I hope you’re enjoying the ride, I know I am. xx
Any questions along the way, you know where I am. Say hi here.