A year ago today, on August 7th 2017, I opened my laptop and started She can. She did.
With next to no young, female founders in my immediate network, zero blog posts or words in general on the website and just the domain name purchased during my three months’ notice (I was a tad in denial about what was in store I think..!), I sat at my kitchen table not having a clue where to start and tentatively started trying to figure that out.
Fast forward 365 days, with 66 interviews with female founders under my belt, three sold-out events in London to my name and so many new, incredible friendships and contacts in my life, whilst I still don’t entirely know what I’m doing all the time (!), I feel pretty proud of the journey I’ve been on since then.
So (!), given that I’ve seen recurring challenges crop up throughout the year in each interview and have learnt so much from this journey and about myself along the way, as She can. She did. turns one today (yay!), I thought I’d share twelve lessons with you all that the past twelve months have taught me…
To say it’s been the most demanding yet rewarding year of my life would be an understatement so brace yourself girls because I’ve got quite a bit to say…!
(NB: I still stand by all the lessons I wrote four weeks in, thirteen weeks in, five months in, and six months in but I daren’t repeat myself in this post for fear for of sounding like a broken record (!) so have a peek at these for extra takeaways if you’re interested!)
1) Don’t underestimate how much you can fit into a week and just how quickly the tide can turn…
It dawned on me very quickly that if I wanted to turn the little idea in my head for She can. She did. into something much bigger, I’d have to lay the groundwork first and put a whole heap of effort in from day one. By its very nature therefore, part of the parcel of that has meant reaching out to people and brands along the way and either not hearing back on occasion or being rejected. A lot.
Be it potential speakers not returning emails when I’ve invited them to speak, potential sponsors wanting to see more from me before they commit, or brands simply not being interested in partnering with a one girl band; there have been a few weeks along the way where I’ve felt like all I’ve heard is, “no” and times where I’ve felt like I don’t know what to do next.
However… (and it’s a big however!)
The tide can turn so quickly when you work on your own and a day of focused emails/calls/meetings can turn things around. (The story that led to the launch of The Midweek Mingles only highlights that fact.)
Ultimately, you have control over how much work you put in. If you’re having a quiet week/ your product isn’t flying off the shelf like you’d planned/ your inbox is looking a tad lonely and sad etc… take a step back, regroup and think about what else you could try. An afternoon of focused emails/ calling to potential clients/ following up with a contact/ upping your game on social media… whatever it is that you know you need to do to make the end goal happen, don’t make excuses and simply just do it.
Within a couple of days, I can almost guarantee things will start to pick up and you’ll have worked out a way to get out of the slump.
2) It will never ever be plain sailing (but those low days make the highs feel so much more rewarding!)
I think we all wish we could get to where we wanted to quickly and easily in life but I don’t need to tell you that the likelihood of that happening is near on impossible to achieve.
From getting over rejection from investors to cash flow problems; having your bank account hacked to relationship breakdowns both in and outside of work; to struggles managing a team and customer complaints… the list of challenges that the female founders to feature on She can. She did. have faced, have tested their mental and physical strength on numerous times beyond belief. Yet at no point have each of those women allowed themselves to quit. Instead they’ve accepted and confronted the challenges they’ve had to face head on and in every case got stronger, braver and wiser as a result.
Yes, there are always going to be pressures that come with being your own boss and yes, sometimes they can feel overwhelmingly scary but learning to accept that reality rather than waste time trying to fight that fact, will help you to stay calmer when those dodgy days come around.
As Olivia Wollenberg, Founder of Livia’s Kitchen, said at the launch of The Midweek Mingles in April, the reality of being the boss means, “having to fight fires every day!”
With every day a new challenge or hiccup can arise; you just get better at putting out the flames as you go.
3) Not everyone is going to “get it” (and that’s ok!)
This is one lesson that took me a while to adjust to and there are still days now where I have to remind myself of this fact but no matter what you do or who you are, how incredible your business is or what you’ve achieved, ultimately it’s impossible to please everyone in life and some people that you come across just. won’t. get. it.
There have been days in the past year where I’ve been in conversations with one too many sly remarks or words of encouragement that sound anything but sincere and those conversations have sometimes left me questioning whether I made the right decision to leave the corporate world.
Ultimately though, once I’ve walked away from those conversations and brushed myself off, it doesn’t take long for me to work out that the people making me feel that way, are not and never will be my target audience. Not everyone wants to have their own business, not everyone gets why you’d want to work as hard as you do on your own business and not everyone understands that sometimes life is not all about the money…!
(And that’s ok!)
Today I’m so much better at taking unwanted digs with a pinch of salt. Ultimately, if the people that have a problem with what you’re trying to achieve aren’t your target audience, their opinion is genuinely irrelevant girls. So long as your decisions work for you, your customers and the people around you that you love, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
(Side note: A coffee or natter with someone that does get it, goes a long way in helping to counteract said digs!)
4) Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not!
For me this is a really important one and it’s one that I think needs to be said more often. I don’t need to tell you that audiences and customers want transparency nowadays. They want to meet the makers, know their story and see the ins and outs of what went into making the products or services they buy. But yes, whilst it’s always exciting hearing about a crazy lightbulb moment or a coincidental meet cute that sparked a business relationship like no other, if your story is quite simply that you decided you wanted a change in your life, then own that start-up story and don’t worry about added frills.
The same can be said for how you communicate said story.
As the girl that kept daily diaries from the age of twelve to eighteen, with a good page written in detail for your bog-standard day at school (so you can only imagine how much I used to write for a first date/kiss etc…!), I chat on here the way I would if it were a personal diary (albeit a slightly more grown up version) or a natter over coffee with one of the girls. Whilst of course I rein it in for meetings with potential partners (!) I still make it clear that the tone of She can. She did. isn’t going anywhere. (Hence why my events are called The Midweek Mingles…)
I’ve never been remotely cool, saying phrases like ‘boss babes’ out loud makes me cringe because of my lisp (!) and whilst I could easily litter the blog with articles like, ‘the ultimate #girlboss way to boost your engagement’ or ‘ten top tips for launching a sh*t hot brand’, I don’t because frankly, I’m no expert on either topic, there’s enough of those articles going around you don’t need me adding another into the mix and if you met me, you’d realise I couldn’t pull off saying phrases like that out loud..!
In my opinion, as cheesy as it sounds, stay true to yourself and don’t let what perceived competitors say or do sway that judgement. If you’re comfortable sharing your life story, by all means do. If the thought of that makes your knees buckle, then quite simply don’t. You’re in control of what goes out there and how much you share; my only advice is that it’s an honest representation of you.
5) Launching a business doesn’t have to be lonely! (Don’t underestimate the power of a coffee and catch up!)
If I compare how I felt in the first few weeks of the She can. She did. journey compared to how I feel today, I can safely say I feel a lot less lonely. In those first few weeks, I was so painfully aware that I no longer had a team around me, I didn’t get my morning office chit chats with the girls (which I loved!) and there was no one to go and grab lunch with at short notice and vent to about the realities of this unfamiliar self-employed life.
Fast forward twelve months and it’s a different story.
Be it from reaching out to women that I admire for the interviews, meeting up for coffee with women I’ve met through Instagram along the way to seeing recurring faces pop up at The Midweek Mingles and collaborating with so many female founders at my events; I can honestly say I’ve made some amazing friends this year, who I know I can turn to for advice and support (and vice versa). Yes we might work remotely from our laptops at home/ be hidden in a workshop in the middle of the countryside/ tucked away in the corner of a co-working space in the City but there’s no reason why working for yourself has to feel solitary and isolating, when reaching out to others and inviting them for coffee is just a phone call/email/Insta message away.
6) Finding a routine amongst the chaos and working in a comfortable space will make your life a whole lot easier on a daily basis…
Without a boss in your ear telling you what time you start and finish, the days, weeks and months suddenly mould into one blank canvas and it’s down to you to plan out how you make the most of your time. I harped on about how much I struggled adapting to this reality last September but to summarise, losing the routine I’d had day in, day out for years, really did hit me like a tonne of bricks at first.
But quite early on, I learnt to adapt to the new norm and found constants amongst the chaos that made me feel more in control of my week.
For me, simple things like escaping my flat and driving ten minutes down the road to my parents’ farm each morning, has helped to create the illusion that I’m “off to work” each day. It also means that I can attack my Dad’s coffee machine before I even contemplate looking at emails (!) and I have Hector (my Golden Retriever) on standby when I need to escape the laptop and stretch my legs. My desk is their dining room table, there’s usually a pile of washing next to me as I type away (!) but I’m more comfortable there than I was in my spare bedroom-turned-office in my flat on my own.
(And because they both work from home as well, with patients and customers rocking up throughout the day, I get my daily dose of social interaction too!)
The same can be said when I’m on the move. Because I live out in the sticks but spend so much time in London for interviews and meetings, using apps like Croissant to find space in co-working spaces (so I can work in a nice setting in-between meetings, be surrounded by like-minded people that ‘get it’ and have access to free coffee on tap throughout the day) helps to make my days a whole lot more productive when I’m out and about.
7) Finding time for self-care and allocating days to switch off is crucial if you want to be in this journey for the long haul (and enjoy it en route!)
For the first three months of She can. She did. I was travelling around the UK interviewing as many female founders as I could, writing up and sharing two interviews a week and trying to find my feet with this new way of life. Whilst it doesn’t sound like a lot, transcribing a ninety-minute chat takes a good 7-8 hours, editing it down takes a further few and adding my intro and conclusion bumps that time up again. For seven days a week, I was travelling and working around the clock, not taking any time for myself, all the while desperately trying to get those interviews out.
By the time November came around therefore, I was a stressed-out mess with square eyes and hadn’t the time nor the energy to work on anything remotely long term. By making the decision to post one interview a week however and ensuring that I now take Sundays off, not only did I immediately feel happier about the blog but I also had time to work on plans to grow this thing.
The same can be said for daily self-care and for me, finding time to exercise is a must. Be it HIIT, pilates or a run with my sister, the minute my alarm goes off I’m up and sweating and instantly feel ready to face whatever the day brings.
At the end of the day, you’re the boss so you do have the control over your diary and prioritising yourself and your health will go further than you might think…
8) Don’t underestimate the power of a well-timed quote or the motivational kick up the bum that The Greatest Showman soundtrack provides…
Now, if you’ve been following She can. She did. for a while, you’ll know by now that I bloody love a quote! It’s why I ask every female founder what their favourite quote is during each interview because I’m genuinely interested in what words people are drawn to, to spur them on. For me, anything by Veronica Dearly on a Monday morning tends to do the trick but if I do crave a bit of cheese and long for a classic, I’m a sucker for: ‘No one is you. That is your power.’
Motivational quotes do what they say on the tin in my opinion and the same can be said for a well-timed song. Back in January when I was trying to get a big She can. She did. LIVE! event up and running and returned defeated feeling a tad sorry for myself (In hindsight, they rightly turned around and said, “love the idea Fi but you need to prove yourself first”), Andy would pick me up in his van from the train station late at night and without even having to ask, would put ‘A million dreams’ from The Greatest Showman on to cheer me up.
Now if you’re not into your musicals, it can be another song I suppose (!) but just having a big sing song at the top of your lungs to anything that reminds you that it’s ok to dream big, for me at least, is always cathartic!
9) Repeat after me: “Social media is just a highlight reel…” aka. It has so much potential to enhance your business, yes, but remember to take it with a pinch of salt
Be it during the interviews with the girls, when I’ve met people at networking events that I’ve attended or when some of you have written to me in the week with your story and concerns, if there’s one issue that has cropped up time and time again in the past year, it’s that social media can cause SO. MUCH. STRESS.
Whether it’s a question of, “when do I post? What do I say? How much do I say? Why am I saying it? Why are they following them? Why aren’t they following me? Wait, so I have to talk to a camera now too?!…” The list of questions surrounding social media, in particularly Instagram, are endless and despite us all doing our best to tell ourselves that, ‘social media is just a highlight reel’, sometimes it’s hard not to look and compare.
But I really mean it when I say that behind the scenes, everyone has challenges they’re facing or worries they’re having to deal with daily behind those little squares.
Take She can. She did. for instance. I for one created this platform to provide women with more honest accounts of what it takes to launch and run a business so I’ve filled you in on my low days throughout this whole journey as frankly as I can. Yet even I’ve tended to do so a few days/weeks after the low days have hit (and in most cases, when I have a silver lining from said low point to share). Otherwise I feel like it could get a tad doom and gloom on here and the platform wouldn’t be quite as motivating as planned..!
And as for the number of social media followers you’ve got, everyone I’ve interviewed has said the same thing. It’s better to have 1000 engaged followers that support and buy from you than 50,000 who don’t give two hoots.
10) Surround yourself with a safety blanket of your closest friends and family from the outset (and as the saying goes, be wary of the ones who don’t clap when you win…)
I feel so lucky that I’ve got an amazing family, partner and a handful of best friends around me who have gone and above and beyond this year to support me as much as they can. Be it that they’ve been on hand to help at The Midweek Mingles, at the end of the phone if I need a chat or have demanded we go out for coffee if my brain is fried, I mean it when I say I don’t know what I would have done this year without them and am so grateful that I know they’re there to pick me up when I’m down.
But I’m also aware from some of my interviews, that not everyone has had it so easy.
As Alice Audley said so well, “I think you tell very quickly who your really good friends are when you launch a business… there are people out there that do have that ambition to do their own thing but they haven’t taken the leap yet, so in some ways they don’t want it to work out for you because it will reiterate to them that they made the right decision to stay in their job…”
To that I say, be very wary of how much time you spend with those people. Part of the parcel of launching your own business is that there are days where you can feel very exposed. As Lucy Chamberlain said, “it’s very public, everyone’s watching – ex colleagues, businesses, people that have worked for you…” In those moments, you want to know that you can trust the people around you to fully support you and if you don’t, you have every right to be selfish and walk away.
11) It really is a game of trial and error! (which yes, might make you look daft at times but sod it, you’ll learn from it as you go!)
When I started She can. She did. the only thing guiding me was a desire to build a network for young women that allowed them an honest insight into what launching a running a business looks like in reality; because I thought if I did that, they’d know that they too can do the same (if they’re willing to grit their teeth and work damn hard!)
However, if you’d have asked me back then if I had a plan of action laid out in full or knew at the time exactly how I’d go about doing that in the long run, the answer would have been a straight up “no!” For me, the only thing I was adamant on was making sure I laid a solid foundation first and then it became a case of trusting the process (and myself) to make something grow from that work.
Until April, there were no Midweek Mingles because I was focusing on trying to launch something bigger, up until eight weeks ago the idea I went to investors with last week didn’t exist in my head (because that idea has been shaped from witnessing recurring challenges crop up over the course of the year) and it’s only now that my actual birthday last week has been and gone that I can finally get round to launching a podcast for you all (because up until then I couldn’t afford the mic..!)
I would say out of the 60+ interviews I’ve done since last August, only a handful, if that, made a proper business plan at the start and those that did have tweaked it along the way.
As the Queen of trial and error, Hayley Southwood said so rightly back in October, “I think people that do go self-employed have to admit that it is about pivoting. It’s about making revenue from whichever stream you can and if you are one of those people that need to plan it out until it’s perfect, it’s never going to work. You’ve got to be willing to lose.”
12) This journey will test you in so many ways (but it will make you realise that you’re stronger than you think!)
I still remember how I felt when I pushed my first post live last August. I was standing in my flat and my hands were physically shaking, so much so that I had to close my laptop and walk away as soon as it went live. Be it the fear of being judged, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of failure and/or the fear of my pride suddenly being very much on the line, looking back now it seems like a bit of an over the top reaction (!) but making that initial step scared the hell out of me at the time.
The same can be said when I turned up for my first interview with Siobhan.
When I look back now however, the past year has pushed me out of my comfort zone on so many occasions that pushing a post live on the website or heading off to an interview, very quickly became the last of my concerns.
From continuously learning to juggle so many hats (Chief of Sales in meetings with potential sponsors being very much my hardest hat to wear); pushing through some crazy nerves and going to see a hypnotherapist before the launch of The Midweek Mingles (so that I could enjoy the night as much as possible and actually host the thing!); seeing my bank balance at an all-time low on a number of occasions over the past year and adapting my lifestyle drastically to accommodate that new reality; to pushing through mentally when life outside of work has been testing; this journey has pulled me in so many directions that have felt pretty overwhelming at times but taking a moment to stop and reflect on where you started, makes you realise how much you’ve achieved and overcome along the way.
For me, I feel so lucky that I get to hear first-hand what each of the women I’ve interviewed have pushed through to get to the (successful) position they’re in today because it provides me with all the motivation I need each week. If they can push through their low days, there’s no reason why we can’t too girls. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of that fact!
So there you have it! That’s my ramble over..!
In many ways it genuinely baffles me that a year has passed already and yet I also feel like last August was a lifetime ago. I really do mean it when I say I am so grateful for each and every one of you for your support over the past twelve months, for taking a chance on me before I had anything to show for myself and for helping to spread the word about what She can. She did. is all about. It goes without saying that I couldn’t have got here without your support and as always, I can’t wait to see where, together, we can take this thing!
Big hugs and speak soon!