HOW I STARTED MY BUSINESS (PART 1)
I'm back from the beach, and raring to getting writing my blog again! Over the summer, I read scores of stories about (mainly female) entrepreneurs who've started their business from the kitchen table, and overcome the challenges we all face, to set up successful businesses on their terms.
I read these stories because in October, I'm launching a podcast show, in which I'll be interviewing business friends. But I also wanted to uncover new stories of how budding entrepreneurs have turned their pipe dream into a thriving start-up and going concern. My hope is that by sharing these stories, this will inspire you during those moments of doubt when we wonder 'will it happen?' and help you believe in your ability to 'make it happen.'
In planning my podcast show, it occurred to me that I've never answered many of the questions I'll be putting to my guests in a public forum. So this is the first in a series of articles where I turn the spotlight on my own business, starting with the story of how I got started.
What prompted you to start your own business?
I never set out to be an entrepreneur. For years, I was very happy in my corporate career, and enjoyed all the benefits which come with being an employee - a regular monthly salary, pension, learning and development and the opportunity to work with some very talented people. But after 5 years or so in my last job as a Chief Executive, I started to get itchy feet and think about what was next. I looked at other CEO roles; and it dawned on me that I would much rather take the blood, sweat and tears that comes with being a CEO, and invest that energy in something of my own creation. The opportunity to be creative, on my terms, was a huge driver in my decision to start my own business. The next decisions were how was I going to make this happen and what type of business did I want to run.
What did you do next?
At the time, I was working 12 hour days and often took work home with me. I also had a 2.5 hour a day commute across London and back which frequently left me feeling exhausted. Weekends were for recovering, catching up on chores and keeping up with friends. So I focused on creating my 'financial freedom plan' which basically boiled down to working out how to structure my finances in such a way as to create a big enough financial cushion to fund a sabbatical and my first eighteen months in business.
It took me about 18 months to implement my 'financial freedom plan.' As part of that plan, I decided to move from Stoke Newington, which I loved, to an 'up and coming' neighbourhood, Walthamstow. The move meant I could be mortgage free, and have a garden for the first time ever. Once I 'd put the finances in place to see me through the next couple of years and seen through a big project at work, I handed in my notice and flew to Spain for the start of a sabbatical year.
How did you spend your sabbatical year?
I was tired, in capital letters, so I spent some time travelling around Spain, and a blissful couple of weeks lying on the beach near Cadiz. The house I'd bought in Walthamstow was a renovation project so I spent quite a lot of time working on that; the garden was a project all of its own.
A keen yoga practitioner, my original intention was to set up a yoga studio. I'd bought a children's yoga franchise as I thought this would give me valuable experience and credibility within the industry. As it turned out, the children's yoga franchise delivered a lot less than it promised, and I, along with a number of other franchisees, decided to bail out.
Meanwhile, a friend and I ran yoga classes for a year or so while we looked for premises in up and coming areas where there was a high footfall. We also explored the option of delivering yoga classes online. As we struggled to find suitable premises, we came to the conclusion that third party investment would be needed to make our yoga business dream a viable reality. And neither of us wanted to go down that route.
What was the 'lightbulb moment' when launching your business?
When it became apparent that my yoga business dream wasn't viable, I started to look at other business ideas. I'd been attending networking events in order to meet and get to know other business owners. There I'd met a number of people who called themselves business coaches, but who as far as I could tell, had no real experience of running a business. As I explored the online world of content marketing and social media marketing, this experience was replicated. I met internet marketers who similarly claimed to be business coaches when they were nothing of the sort.
I was appalled, and decided that with my background as a CEO, I could do better.
I took a course in business mentoring at the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, and worked with six small business owners pro bono to gain my accreditation. I loved coaching this small group of women. Our conversations gave me a brilliant insight into the daily challenges of running a business, and formed part of my market research.
How did you launch?
I didn't do a 'formal launch' as such. My focus was very much on getting my first paying clients.
The best way to do this I decided was to join a business referral group. I checked out the options, and decided to go with BNI. I knew that 'word of mouth recommendation' is the holy grail of marketing, and felt that BNI offered a structured, positive, and professional 'word-of-mouth' programme that enables members to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with other quality business professionals.
When starting up, what are the most important elements to get right?
You'll hear lots of people say that writing a business plan is a waste of time, and I couldn't disagree more. A business plan sets out your 'best thinking' about your strategy, brand, potential customer base and marketing plan. It also contains your financial forecasts. What a business plan isn't is an action plan. That's set out in your operational and marketing plans.
Over time your business plan will evolve and change as you learn more about your chosen industry, your customer base and the overall marketplace. So your business plan should be a working document which you refer to and update periodically.
The purpose of your business plan is to help you chart your course before you set sail. You wouldn't set sail on a long voyage without knowing where you're going, and having checked out the weather, wind and tides first. It gives you a direction to aim for, and something to measure your results against as you build up a body of sales, marketing and financial information. Periodically you should review your business plan and 'course correct' as your business evolves.
In many ways my own business plan looks nothing like the one I started with 3.5 years ago. But like I said, it helped me to plot a course before I set sail, rather than head off into uncharted territories without a proper plan and not knowing what I was doing.
In Friday's article, I continue the story to look at those early days in business. Meanwhile do check in with me over on my Facebook business page where I'll be taking you behind the scenes of my business in the run up to the launch of a new regular weekly Facebook Live show.
Join The Conversation
Question: What prompted you to start your business? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.
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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.
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