In the last couple of years there has been a bit of a ‘New Business Revolution’ in the UK– more and more people are turning to self employment and starting up their own business. Not that I’m a ‘numbers guy’ but there were over 660,000 new companies established last year in the UK alone and those numbers are set to increase this year too so there is no sign of this revolution slowing down.
I totally get why that may be the case. I think people are in search of a better work-life balance maybe, or maybe they are in search of financial freedom, or a better sense of fulfillment from their career – or maybe there are other reasons. For me, I went in to business because I was running out of other options. I had got ill and was having to take days and long periods of time off sick repeatedly from my teaching job and it got to a point where I felt it was unfair for the students I was teaching to have such a lack of consistency from their English Teacher and I felt I was becoming a bit of a burden to the school I worked at, despite them being very supportive. My husband was a Police Officer at the time and due to my condition leaving me with mobility challenges, he also had to leave his work in order to support me at home. It was frustrating. Both of us had careers that we loved, doing work every day that we were passionate about but due to something outside of our control, we had to make the difficult decision to leave and embark on a whole new adventure.
We established a business that we could run together, one that would allow me to take guilt-free time off if I didn’t feel well enough to work and one that would generate enough income to keep the roof over our heads.
Once we started our first business, I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Running a business excited me. I expected it to be less stressful than teaching but that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was just as stressful but it was a different kind of stress. Three businesses later and there is still always something to stress about! We were suddenly in business without knowing an awful lot about business. All three of our businesses have been a huge learning curve – one that is never ending! Being in business and being your own boss brings with it a lot of positives – or privileges I like to call them, but it’s not all short hours and big bucks; it isn’t easy by any means.
Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the rise of terms such as ‘Girl Boss’ ‘Mum Boss’ and ‘Mumpreneur’. If there is one thing I am passionate about it is seeing women win in business. For so many years business was men dominated – across most sectors and industries and even today, there remains sectors and industries that are completely and utterly male dominated. I have come across businessmen who I have been dealing with who will ask who my manager is, or ask if they can speak to the ‘real decision maker’, or will ask for my husband despite me insisting that I am one of the company directors. So, I love that there seems to be more and more women starting up in business. Women have just as much to offer as men do and I love that the world is getting to see what businesswomen can achieve.
But I do have an issue with this ‘Be a Girl Boss’ culture or image. I have an issue with it in the sense that it glamorises the power and control that comes with being a ‘boss’. It suggests that any woman can don a formal suit (usually accessorised with big shoulder pads), pick up a laptop and be their own boss. Being your own boss isn’t and should never be portrayed as ’trendy’ but I feel like that is exactly what it’s becoming. Being your own boss brings many benefits, but it’s not all plain sailing. Deciding to become a ‘girl boss’ is not like opting to wear something different. It’s not a decision to be made lightly and it certainly doesn’t promise success or satisfaction.
I keep getting sponsored Facebook posts all the time showing an image of a family, they are usually extremely attractive looking, usually sitting on a remote beach with golden sands and crystal waters, claiming that they only have to work 4 hours a week and their business has allowed them to travel the world with their children and live a millionaire’s lifestyle. Now, I’m not saying that’s not true. But the fact that those posts usually conclude with a ‘Join my membership club and I will show you the secret to building your own successful empire’ or a ‘Don’t you want to work less and spend more time with your children? You can be just like us! Just buy this business starter kit for £99999999999 and you too can be doing what we are in just 2 hours!’ I’m exaggerating, but these guys know how to sell a lifestyle. I even find myself looking at their photo and feeling frustrated, maybe even disappointed, scratching my head whilst questioning ‘where the hell am I going wrong?!”
The truth is I don’t buy the above. I don’t believe people ‘get lucky’ in business. I believe that success in business comes as a result of an extremely strong work ethic, steely determination and a bit of passion thrown in for good measure. I think people may get lucky with opportunities that may come their way in business but I certainly don’t buy that success can be achieved working 4 hours a week or whilst topping up your tan and sipping cocktails on a beach in Thailand. Our journey as ‘entrepreneurs’ has seen us ride a full-on rollercoaster. The highs have included being nominated as female entrepreneur of the year within our region, being nominated for a Mumpreneur award, having our business visited by politicians and council officers and receiving lovely reviews and testimonials. But, just like any rollercoaster, when you hit those highs, the lows feel even lower. Low points included hitting financial difficulty due to increases in bills and expenses and decreases in trade, having a competitor attempt to sabotage our business via a string of fake negative reviews on the likes of Facebook and Tripadvisor, staff members stealing money from the business, having the money to only pay the staff but not ourselves and the general day to day challenges of running a business. See, not a single mention of a cocktail or a beach in Thailand!
One thing for sure though is that being in business has given me a new lease of life. It excites me. It gets the blood pumping and the heart pounding. Is it easy? Hell, no. But when was anything good achieved with ease? Is it less work? Nope. In fact, if anything, we have to work even harder than any job we’ve ever had before. We spent four years working 7 days a week to get us to this point. That is not something I am proud of; I feel like we missed out on 4 years of our son’s life. Now he’s 15 and becoming more and more independent, those 4 years prey on my mind. The time I should have spent with him and the memories we could have made during those 4 years haunt me. They really, really do. Was it worth it? Financially, no. It was 4 years of seven days a week, 7am-7pm work, then working on our laptops once we got home until the early hours, and for, frankly, very little return. We didn’t even get much sleep at night because the worries of whether we would make enough money that month and the doubts and concerns would creep in to our minds and keep us awake. Although we didn’t get much of a financial return from all those years of work, it was part of our journey. They were years that led us to this point with our current business and who knows where that journey will take us in the future. Things are going well but if there is one thing being in business has taught me it’s that you never know what is coming next. You can try and prepare, you can try and plan, you can even try to make arrangements for what you think is coming next, but you just never know. That’s what makes it so exciting. You can be commiserating over lost sales or a deal that hasn’t gone through on one day and literally dancing on the ceiling celebrating the biggest win of your career the next.
We’ve moved towards a business that predominantly operates between Monday and Friday which has given us our weekends back. Those weekends are like gold dust; they are pure nectar. I will never ever take for granted quality family time. Having time off work to spend with the kids is a privilege to me. And having the opportunity to zone out (of sorts) for a couple of days every week and focus on the people we love the most is good for our souls. I am happiest when I have spent some solid quality time with my kiddiwinkles and that time serves as a valuable reminder as to why I’m doing what I do. I go back to the office on a Monday morning with a renewed sense of motivation and that drives me forward. I want my business to be a legacy for my children. I want them to grow up with a strong work ethic. I want them to understand that success isn’t handed to you in life; that they have to work for it. I would love for them to share the same passion as I do for enterprise and business but it is equally Ok if they don’t. Maybe it won’t be their thing. Whatever ‘their thing’ is, I hope that they will learn from us that hard work is how you get to where you want to go in life.
My intention for this post was not to be a Debbie Downer about going in to business. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I would actively encourage any woman who was considering establishing their own business but it is one of those things that needs to be realistic. It’s not realistic to think that you can work 4 hours a week and live like a millionaire. If you are thinking about starting out in business, you could be about to embark on the most exciting adventure. Just don’t be fooled by any of these ‘Get rich quick’ schemes or ‘get rich quick’ books, audiobooks, conferences, courses, webinars or whatever else they want to sell you on those beachy themed posts. There is no question that us women have the talent required to achieve something big and it would be fantastic to see more of us out there giving these businessmen a run for their money!