2017 – on a personal level – will go down as the year I started She can. She did.
In truth though, I didn’t start working on this until August 7th…
For the first half of the year, I’d travelled to Switzerland, America and Italy with work, I produced four pretty successful conferences around the world, I had the money to go on a fair few holidays with family and friends, I’d done a huge charity walk that meant I was on my feet for 28 hours straight and for a good few months I was naïve to the fact that I was about to walk away from my corporate career…
In short, a lot can happen in a year.
From the incredible women I’ve met along the way that have left me recalling their stories to anyone in my vicinity that will listen (!) to the numerous times I’ve had to force myself out of my comfort zone and question what exactly I’m doing with my life; the past five months have been the most exciting, volatile and enlightening chapter so far and yet I’m so aware that it’s only just begun.
With this in mind, given that a few of you have shared with me your plans for 2018 and many New Year’s Resolutions sound a whole lot like “I’m going to prioritise my career this year”, with a brand spanking new slate ahead of us in the form of a new year; here are four key lessons for anyone that wants to set up their own business, that I’ve learnt since launching She can. She did.
- Don’t underestimate the power of that oh so shiny light bulb moment!
Now I know what you’re thinking… that bloody light bulb again (!) but it’s recently been made clear to me that I’ve never shared with you mine.
For me, that light bulb moment came on April 26th 2017. I woke up in a hotel room somewhere in Boston after running one of my foreign exchange conferences the previous day. Pumped on adrenaline from a morning workout in my hotel room and jetlagged from the five hour time difference between here and there, I opened an email I didn’t want to see, forwarded it to my big sister saying: “I don’t know if I can do this anymore” and in an instant she replied saying: “it’s time to leave.”
In that split second, I knew I was going to hand in my notice and just like that a huge, metaphorical weight was lifted off my shoulders. I spent the rest of the day walking around Harvard University in the torrential rain (pretending that I was Elle Woods in my head) whilst simultaneously trying to conjure up what I was going to do on my own. When Mum picked me up from Heathrow the following morning, I filled her in on my plans for She can. She did. and with her immediate support, the decision was made.
Now I’m not saying you have to fly across the Atlantic to find that all important inspiration…
Tessa’s came when she ran around her old neighbourhood, unable to find someone to give the leftover food in her fridge to; Georgia’s came from a moment of reflection whilst munching her way through a bowl of stew in Hyde Park; and Jess’s hit her whilst sunbathing topless abroad…!
It can catch you at any time on any day of the week but when it finds you, it’s genuinely so hard to ignore. Be it frustrations from your current career, a stagnant period in your life that you’re no longer willing to tolerate, or just a good old fashioned desire to start something new, as cliché as it sounds, when you know you know and just like that it’s time to begin.
2. Don’t let the fancy pants business jargon associated with start-ups intimidate you…
This one is really important to me and it’s probably the one that if I were writing this down, would be the perfect excuse to crack out the highlighters and do some serious underlining, so that it etches for evermore in that visual memory of mine.
I was at an event in early December surrounded by female entrepreneurs and the conversation of how to encourage more women to start their own business came up. Within seconds, phrases like “raising rounds of investment”, “crowd funding” and “attracting venture capital” were thrown in to the mix – as it seems they are in most literature about self-employed women in business – and before I knew it I piped up with, “yes BUT….” (I couldn’t help myself!)
In my opinion, if you don’t have a finance background or didn’t study economics at school, finance terminology can sound seriously intimidating and often makes the whole process sound more complex than it actually is. Take it from the girl that gave up maths after GCSE and then landed a job post-degree specialising in the production of finance conferences. When my boss asked me to produce their FX conference portfolio, I genuinely thought FX referred to ‘special effects’…it actually refers to foreign exchange.
What I’m trying to say is – decorative terminology aside – there are hundreds (and I really do mean hundreds) of young women out there who have set up a business without external input (otherwise known as, dare I say it, bootstrapping). Be it savings, moving back in with parents to avoid paying rent, or just putting themselves out there to secure their first client; sometimes it really doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. This is especially true if your idea is service based. If you have a phone, a laptop and a hefty dose of courage on your shoulders, sometimes there’s really not much else you need.
As Kehinde Akinnawo, Co-Founder of Dot PR and Events, said when I interviewed her and Grace Cooper back in September, “Grace’s Dad simply said “you don’t need money to start this, just go and get a client…”
(If your business idea does require external investment though, once you breakdown what the terminology means in practise, the whole process is a lot less complicated than it sounds!)
3. When in doubt, Google. (You don’t need to know it all from the outset!)
Part of the parcel of being self-employed is the countless lessons that you learn along the way.
Be it tax returns, how to prepare a pitch to investors, where to get your business cards printed, what a well-worded invoice looks like, how you go about setting up a website, the list goes on…. there’s not a single woman that I’ve interviewed so far who admitted to knowing everything from the start. (And if they had, I would have picked them up on it because to be frank, let’s face it, they’d be telling porkies!)
What all successful, self-employed women have in common however is that they’re all willing to seek advice, put their hands up and ask for help! In the majority of cases, friends and family have gone on to assist or have at least known someone who knows someone that will provide support. If you know deep down that won’t be the case for you though, our trusty friend Google will have your back.
Overthinking and analysing every minor detail before you’ve even begun is likely to put you off from starting in the first place. Take it from the girl who had only vague ideas of where she would take this thing in August but is now planning She can. She did. LIVE! events for 2018…
There’s a whole host of experts out there looking to share their knowledge and willing mentors who can help you figure out your path along the way. It’s just a case of reaching out.
4. Not every idea is going to make you the next Holly Tucker/Richard Branson/ Jo Malone of the world (and that’s ok!)
One of the main reasons I started She can. She did. was because I was well aware that there were young girls out there who had founded their own businesses but I couldn’t access their stories because they didn’t fit the classic ‘entrepreneur’ mould.
The word entrepreneur makes us think of the Richard Branson’s of the world who have gone on to make their millions from their initial idea(s)… Now whilst it is true that oh my gosh yes do they deserve the recognition, it doesn’t mean that what other entrepreneurs have created is any less worthy of praise.
Though not all business models are designed to go global and not all ideas are going to turn over millions, it is possible that those businesses are still destined for greatness and that those ideas are very much still worthy of pursuit. (Especially if those ideas conquer a niche area of the market or allow you to lead a life that you’d love)
Every woman I’ve interviewed in the past five months has created a business to varying levels of financial success but there are so many elements to their individual stories that have filled me with inspiration and a great deal of respect. Some are in the process of building an empire; others have created a company where there is no need to expand.
Put simply, it’s about finding an idea that works but on top of that finding an idea that works for you.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here girls, is this.
If you’re willing to work damn hard, use that all important voice of yours every once in a while and know how to use a search engine, then there’s no reason why you can’t set up a business in today’s day and age.
With 365 days to sink your teeth into this year, it takes just one of those to make a difference.
Dream big, take some inspiration from the women that have done it, work harder than you’ve ever worked before and when that light bulb moment comes round and bites you on the bum, do your future self a favour and don’t ignore it.
If you need any words of encouragement along the way (or want me to clarify what some of that fancy pants terminology involves), you know where I am!
See you on the flipside girls- let’s make it a good’un.