Becoming an Entrepreneur
"Starting your own business is a bit like being a parent, challenging at times, rewarding at others and not predictable. Only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK are women, this is my story 3 years on."

So somehow March is already here, a new decade, IWD2020, and as well a personal birthday coming up, it is also Birdsoup’s 3rd anniversary, so lots of reasons for some reflection.

Whilst becoming an entrepreneur in your 50’s is apparently a trend (whoever came up with the phrase “olderpreneur” hang your head in shame) only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK is female. We work every day with talented, capable, impressive women who feel their careers are limited in some way and lack the confidence to take the step to start their own business even though many of them have quite a well thought out idea. 

So I thought about what my motivation was to make the leap and realised that it wasn’t one factor and it wasn’t a eureka moment it was an aligning of circumstances and growing frustration of the confines of corporate slavey. I was working really hard to make “part-time” succeed in a full time, 24/7, “visibility” culture and frankly, it (I)  was set up to fail. I had a supportive manager and there was a flexible working policy but in reality, there wasn’t any real desire to make it work on behalf of the organisation. So confidence dented I took a different path and re-trained. 

I’d loved having a team, coaching, mentoring, educating etc so moving into training and coaching made sense. After a couple of years of working with organisations and individuals, the themes around women’s leadership were appearing more and more and the need to provide women the right support in their careers was obvious and poorly served. My friend, ex-colleague and fellow escapee from corporate slavery became my business partner. She’d been coaching for a few years and had already identified, designed and delivered specific maternity coaching for women.

As we started to explore what Birdsoup would be the conversation around women’s leadership in the media got louder. Pre #MeToo the story of Kevin Roberts resigning confirmed the need for action and what we knew was happening in many organisations. The gender pay gap legislation also contributed to getting the conversation on the agenda at board level.

Four years on from our decision to start Birdsoup, the conversation is still happening, but not enough has changed (that’s another blog!)

One of my other motivations to start my own business was having enough energy to devote to being a Mum to my son. I knew that he would need different support as he became a teenager, not that either of us really knew what that was but it was obvious that what worked when he was 9 didn’t cut it anymore. 

So having started work on the conception of our new baby Birdsoup in 2016 building our fledgeling business coincided with the build-up to GCSE’s in 2018 and this year brings A-levels.

There are some definite parallels to being a parent and starting a business:

  • Everyone has an opinion
  • There’s lots of advice 
  • Your “baby” needs different things at different stages
  • You need to ask for help
  • It’s a rollercoaster
  • There isn’t a handbook
  • You have to make sacrifices
  • You won’t get everything right
  • Boundaries are important
  • Communication is key….and patience! 

There are two pieces of advice on parenting that also really resonated to running a business.

The first from a very good friend of mine who already had children when I had my darling boy, she said whatever stage he’s at (teething, not sleeping, etc) it’s just a phase it won’t last forever. The same is true for your business, it may seem like that phase is going to last, whether it’s positive or negative but being complacent or defeatist won’t change anything.

The other is an old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” and that is really true when you start a business, your network, people you meet, people you hadn’t realised you know or need will really help your business to grow and flourish and evolve. Building, appreciating and providing support for your network is crucial to succeeding.

So here’s what I’ve learnt in the first few years of running a business:

The Challenges

Taking things too personally

 It’s your business and so being rejected can be tough to take. Worse than straight rejection is the “ghosting” when a potential client has asked for a proposal or more information and then never replies to your calls or emails.

Giving away ideas / IP

Getting the balance right between giving enough detail in a proposal vs too much is a tough call. We probably got that wrong early on and know of a couple of occasions where what we sent in good faith to a client was shared with a competitor who didn’t even bother to change the language we used when they promoted their innovative new programme!

Not chasing the wrong opportunities

When you’re starting out even though you have a clear view of your target customer and the what your product range is, the desire to say yes to business is difficult to resist. Similarly not asking the right questions upfront can waste time. 

Knowing your worth

Agonising about what to charge is one of the toughest challenges. It gets easier with experience and it’s important not to be distracted by the noise of what other people charge whether that’s higher than lower.

Positives

The support of others

The biggest positive has been the support of other people, our network, friends, old colleagues and people we’ve been introduced to along the way. Invaluable and 95% of people have been fantastic. Having a fantastic co-parent for our business is crucial, so thanks Alison!

Asking for help

Working out what specific help we have needed at each stage has been really important and when to outsource something that we’re not specialists in that someone else can do better and quicker!

Remembering why you’re doing it

We’re in the fortunate position where we are able to see the effect of the work we do, as people progress, overcome challenges, or take on a new role. Getting that feedback and recognition is really important.

Parenting a teenager and a 3-year-old business is a demanding combination,though having re-read my own advice, many of the challenges and positives are similar. So even if I might not feel ready for what’s next, I am, so bring on the A-levels and no going back to corporate slavery!

Happy IWD2020!