I’ve learned so many things from starting my own small business this year; about life, work, health and happiness.
I wanted to share my story with you, and the key lessons I learnt about myself; in the hope it will inspire you to go for that idea you’ve had for a while, but never had the courage or time to do.
Here are 6 powerful things I learned from starting a small business this year
1. Failure and success are subjective
Six months ago, I was working a high powered and pressured sales job in London; the dream that I had been working towards for four months.
I wasn’t happy in my job but I was a graduate living and working in London exactly 12 months after graduating from uni; the epitome of what I thought everyone else saw as success.
When lockdown was announced I had already moved back in with my parents to work from home. This was great for me as I had been having mental breakdowns, and my depression spiked again because of the nature of the job and the micromanagement I had had to endure.
However, I was still having meltdowns most nights and crying three times a day. When I was told my contract would be terminated if I didn’t improve my quota, after it had already been increased, I decided I wouldn’t do this to myself anymore, so I handed in my notice the next day.
Working from home empowered me and taught me that my mental wellbeing and, quite frankly, self respect are more important than any job. Life is too short to be miserable, and no job is worth the cost of your mental health.
Following this, I made the decision to do something meaningful. I started making face masks from donated fabric (mostly old bedsheets that had been left in neighbours’ cupboards) and selling them to help provide me with some form of income, whilst looking for a new job.
I ended up loving working for myself and working my own hours. The pay was nowhere near what I had previously been earning; but I was happier and doing something more meaningful with my time than cold calling people.
From the outside looking in, society (and to be honest my graduate self, who wanted to work in London) would assume that I had failed big time; but my mental health and overall happiness saw it as a success.
I was no longer working in a toxic, high pressure environment. I was providing value. Heck, I set up a small business!
I have never experienced this level of empowerment before, and it is addictive. I took control of my power and my life; and truly learnt that not only does everything happen for a reason, but failure and success are subjective to you as a person.
2. Things I learned starting a small business: It’s okay to take time out
After setting up my business, I got a little bit obsessive and burnt myself out a few times.
I wanted to be the best, most ethical and most reliable supplier of my product.
It took a lot of burn outs and some home truths to realise that failing to meet my ridiculously high standards does not mean that I am a bad person, or a failure; nor does it mean that my business would fail.
Taking time out is one of the most important things in order to re-centre and re-focus. You can’t be your best self if you’re exhausted. Whether it be the odd afternoon, weekend, week or month off from whatever it is you’re stuck on, take that time for yourself.
I learned I’m a small business of one person, and I was not letting anyone down by taking time for myself. This is not a productivity test. You have to listen to yourself and your body and your mind to discover what is important to you.
Taking time out is part of this process; so that you can step back and look at where you are now in relation to where you were when you started, and where you want to go.
Forgive yourself and let yourself have some down time. Working for myself has forced me to realise the value of taking time out; and to understand what is important to me and give myself permission to truly switch off.
3. Done is better than perfect
Not only am I class-A procrastinator, but I am also a perfectionist; which is one of the worst combos.
The reason for this, is that you are left paralysed when it comes to making a decision because you don’t know how to start (so you procrastinate); and you’re too scared to fail and make mistakes (aka perfectionism).
But as we know, perfection is not only unattainable, but is also subjective to us as individuals.
At uni I wouldn’t start essays because I wanted to start when I knew it would be perfect. So I would put off starting until the eleventh hour, and then get sucked into another episode of Forensic Files.
With my business however, I knew people were relying on me so there was no place or time for procrastination or perfectionism; I just had to get on with it.
Business is trial and error. Feedback and mistakes are essential in order to progress.
4. Ask for help
One of the hardest things I learned starting my small business was to ask for help. Be it from friends who have set up their own business, from close friends or from family.
I don’t know why, but I have always seen asking for help as a sign of weakness; and that I should be able to do everything myself.
This is not sustainable.
Asking for help does not mean that you have failed. Asking for help means that you respect other people’s opinions, input, teamwork; and that you respect yourself and your time enough to make you a better worker, person or partner.
It makes you stronger not weaker.
I eventually gave in and accepted my mum’s offer to help cut up fabric, because demand was so high and I just couldn’t keep up. She showed me a quicker technique which doubled my productivity by simply folding the fabric and using a rotary cutter to cut around the template.
It seems so simple. but if I hadn’t accepted the help being offered, I would not have learnt a new technique, or saved so much time.
When other people know you are looking for help to expand your business, you can be surprised by the outcome. My mum in particular explored a new local zero waste shop, and asked if I could sell my products there. I ended up learning how to make invoices for the first time, negotiating on prices, and building rapport with shop owners.
This in turn ended up having a huge impact on my revenue. I couldn’t believe it!
Tell your friends and support network about your business, along with your struggles and goals. You won’t regret it.
There is a sense of camaraderie in small businesses, especially in the creative sphere; so if you know someone who is starting a small business please shout about them, like and share their posts, leave reviews, and support their products; because it really does mean everything to them.
5. Look for inspiration
Sometimes you don’t need to ask for help but rather look for help or inspiration.
Following businesses that are similar to yours, whether by age, size or product, is an excellent way to start.
I was directed by a friend to a small business which was selling tie dye t-shirts and hoodies, and asked her for advice on how to manage online orders.
It is so important to put yourself out there and just go for it to make the most of all opportunities.
The world is yours, so go play and have fun while you do it.
6. Invest in knowledge
The final takeaway I learned from starting a small business is to invest in knowledge.
For me this meant joining an online business network group, to learn more about what it means to run a business; and get advice and support from other entrepreneurial women.
While it’s always good to learn from your mistakes, it’s more efficient to learn from other people’s mistakes.
If you’re planning on starting a business, I highly recommend looking into a supportive network of likeminded entrepreneurs.
Some of the key things I learnt from this network of inspiring women were:
- Don’t try and be everywhere, and do everything at once.
- Ask yourself what you have done each day to grow your business.
- Have plans to expand your product line in the future
- Know your industry and what is going on in it
So, what can you takeaway from reading my story?
Success and failure are subjective, while your own mental wellbeing should be your priority.
No job is worth your mental health.
Take risks, because more likely than not, they will pay off. And if they don’t then you’ve learnt something.
Take time out for yourself, listen to your body and realise what is important and healthy, even when pursuing your dreams. You can’t run a car on empty.
Ask for help; it is not a weakness.
Always keep learning.
If you have had an idea or a dream of running a small business, I actively encourage you to be brave and go for it. Because you never know what could happen.