My heart racing, my eyes snapped wide open, I leant over to grab my notebook from beside the bed. Opening it quickly, not bothering to put the light on, I scribbled the word that had woken me up before it had a chance to disappear again.
Phew. And relax. Except now I was wide awake and thinking about it. So on clicked the light, I opened my laptop and started drafting the email to ask about the colours of the elephant teethers we had placed in our order that afternoon.
There are so many things that people tell you about starting your own business. It will be hard. You will work crazy long hours. You will be on a strict budget for longer than is comfortable before you even have a glimmer of potential success. But, after a year of setting up and launching my own business - a baby and toddler gifting website (in case you hadn't guessed), there are a few other things that are a part of starting your own business that I wish someone had told me before.
- You Will Never NOT Be Working
- Decisions Are Suddenly So Much More Important
- Networking Events Are Nothing To Do With Networking
- You Will Miss The Mundane Aspects Of Corporate Life The Most
- You Will Never Be Able To Do A Normal Job Again
Long hours are an expected part of starting up any new business. From the initial idea, to building it into something that resembles a real company, the list of jobs is endless. But what nobody ever mentioned to me was that it is not possible to ever switch the work off.
Ideas and thoughts pop into my head all the time. The notes app on my phone is a long list of ideas and actions that I have just thought of - while out for dinner, in the middle of the night when I thought I was asleep, at the swimming pool (it's a bit harder to write it down from there so I have to repeat it like a mantra in my head as I swim so as not to forget it before I get back to my phone "buy snowflake inkstamp, buy snowflake inkstamp, buy...")
When you are part of a large company, there are usually certain expectations, processes and the right way to do things. Within these parameters, you may feel like you are autonomously making decisions, but in reality most of the time the dye has already been set.
When you are starting your own company, there are zero parameters (other than perhaps financial or skill gap restraints). You have to decide what your product is going to be, who you are going to sell it to, how you are going to target these people, at which stage you are going to change any or all of these decisions when it turns out they haven't quite worked out the way you expected... There is no team to bounce your ideas off, no boss to check you are on the right track, no previous project / similar workstream that you can check against.
This is all about you. And it is both extremely liberating and exceedingly scary. Prioritising is also your call - which of the 3,000 tasks on your to-do list should you really do first?
I always thought that networking was something you did at a networking event. It was the place that like-minded people could meet, bounce ideas and thoughts off each other and potentially find contacts to help with whatever issue your company is facing at this moment. And I am sure some people manage to use them for exactly that.
My experience has been rather different. The greatest gift I have got so far from these events is the ability to distill my business down into a single, very short sentence. Anything more than 10 words and I can see people's eyes start to glaze. All they want to know is - are you doing something in the same sector as me? Can you help me? Having told many 20 year old coders about my idea for a gifting service to help aunties / uncles who don't know what to buy for toddlers and babies, I can tell you that the answer to both of those questions is generally no.
Where I have had great success with networking is always somewhere I have gone with a completely different aim in mind. I met the supplier of one of my favourite products at a friend's wedding. We just happened to be sitting at the same table.
When I first left my corporate job to start Be So Baby, I thought I would miss the people I worked with the most. And it's true, I do miss working in a team every day. But the things I thought I wouldn't miss at all have turned out to be some of the things I miss the most.
Turning round to a colleague when you're stuck writing an email - "what's the word for...", asking someone to have a quick proofread of your work before you send it out, getting a nice hot cup of tea delivered to your desk when you are too busy to move, a quick celebratory / commiseratory drink after work with someone who knows exactly how you feel at this precise moment. These are the things I really miss.
Co-working spaces are a great option to get part of that team feeling again, but when you're the only one working on your specific project, it can still sometimes feel like you're totally alone.
The biggest problem of all about starting your own business, I have found, is that as hard and stressful and lonely as it can feel at times, it is also the single most exciting thing you will possibly ever do.
And though the hours can be crazy long, I only ever have to work as many as I want to. I can go to an off-peak yoga class at 10am (as I have probably been up and working since 6). I can jump at the chance to do something fun on a weekday with a friend, as I know I can just work through the weekend. And nothing beats the moment something you have designed, developed and put out there actually starts to work.
So, back to the cold light of morning. Would I swap the 4am panic wake-up for my old job? Not if I can possibly help it.