This time last year I was just about to plunge into something entirely new. For the first time in my professional life, I was about to walk away from a regular monthly salary and strike out on my own as an independent trainer and coach.
The reactions I got from people when I told them seemed to sum up two very clear approaches to risk and change. Some people said “well done you!” and looked just a teeny bit envious. Other people said, rather less encouragingly, “ooh, you’re brave!” with a strangely confused and pitying look in their eyes.
Thing is, logically speaking, throwing away a perfectly good salary in the middle of a worldwide recession is not the most sensible thing to have done. But you know what? Sometimes in life you know that whatever anyone else says, for you the time is right.
At this point, I should explain that my leap into business ownership was the result of a lot of forward planning – since 2005, in fact, when I first decided what I wanted to do when I eventually grew up. I took the qualifications and worked the jobs that would give me the skill sets and confidence I knew I would need. I had to get strategic because this thing wasn’t going to become a reality all by itself, and it helps to break long, long journeys down into more manageable chunks.
One year on, how has it been going? Well, relatively painless so far, thanks to good legacy client relationships and a sound reputation. But much of the past year has been spent saying to people “Hello! I’m here!” and experiencing lots of ‘firsts’ – from business breakfasts to Twitter to SEO to going on the radio. So what have I learned?
- That new business owners have so many hats to wear that they are in danger of disappearing under them. When you have previously been able to pass over your accounts, IT queries, marketing development, social networking, filing and loads of other stuff to someone else, it is a shock to suddenly be doing it all yourself. Fun, but you have to manage it carefully.
- That people are remarkably generous with their support. Friends, old colleagues and new networks have been exquisitely generous with their contacts, advice, expertise, feedback and encouragement. Thank you, you beautiful people – you know who you are, and it will all come back to you one day, I promise.
- That all business owners should have coaching. It’s so important for someone neutral to say, from time to time, “and why are you doing that exactly?” My coach is my best Critical Friend and has kept me focused, enthused and practical.
- That very little beats the feeling of painting your toenails blue and leaving them to dry under the desk on the company’s time. It seems to symbolise so much about being your own boss, somehow.
Most of all, I’ve learned that if you wait for it to be ‘sensible’ to do something, you’ll be waiting for ever. You would never ask someone out, have kids, change jobs, splash out on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, move house, apply to go on ‘Bargain Hunt’, join your local amateur dramatics group, dye your hair, wear Bermuda shorts… so much fun to be had, so much ‘being sensible’ holding us back.
By all means, do your research, calculate the risks, seek advice, read up on it. But most of all, ask yourself possibly the greatest coaching question ever: “If I knew for certain that I couldn’t fail, what would my goal be?” Then get up, stand tall and work out the steps you need to take to get you there.
I’ll let you know when I’ve arrived. And, indeed, when I’ve finally grown up. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey, thank you for asking.