Or, Starting a Business in a Global Pandemic
Those of you who know me will have discovered over the years I can be impulsive, and a bit bonkers.
For bonkers think, skydiving, zip wiring over quarries, abseiling off tall buildings, and gravy wrestling. Yes, you read that right.
Fast forward to March 2020, I had been getting more and more stressed in my full-time job due to how I was being spoken to and how it made me feel. I questioned everything about myself thinking there was something seriously wrong with my brain as I could no longer think straight.
The beginning of March, something happened; I snapped. I resigned.
I resigned a decent wage, on my doorstep, with gym membership, health insurance, annual bonus, and colleagues I enjoyed working with, with NO plan.
No job to go to, and no means of earning an income.
That isn’t strictly true, I had started a little business out of office hours, working from my spare room as a Virtual Assistant. Due to one or two reactions I didn’t really promote myself. If there is one thing I have learned in all this, if you need to promote yourself, jolly well do it, so long as it is legal and not breaking any contracts with anyone. You want that second income? Don’t let anyone intimidate you out of doing it, you never know when you might need to fall back on it.
So, I resigned 9th March, left on the 19th, with lockdown ‘helpfully’ announced on the 23rd.
I was asked to reconsider my resignation but couldn’t stand the thought of going back to that on a full time, permanent basis. In the end, it was a no. Yes, in my wisdom, I had turned my back on that salary and those perks. Again.
It meant one thing, I HAD to make my VA business work, and fast!
Easier said than done in a global pandemic, so here are my tips, to navigate this new world for creating your own success. (Mine is very much a work in progress)
Find Business Support. Be warned, it will be stressful (understatement of 2020 right there!), and there will be times you question the sanity of leaving a decent wage to go it alone, whatever the circumstances you left behind. There will be sleepless nights, palpitations, and panic. Mine was in Asda when I couldn’t buy a few carrots, it was during the time of panic buying. I just needed a few bits, but none of those bits were available because the vultures had got there before me. A horrible feeling welled up inside me, stood in an empty aisle, full of empty shelves, feeling like I was in some weird film. My heart pounded, the room swam, and I wanted to cry, so I left. I don’t think it was really about the lack of fruit and veg. I think it was a culmination of my recent decision, WTF have I done? and the fear of when will things get back to normal so I can build a business to support myself.
You need to speak to people around you, if possible, get a business mentor. I find the business advisors at Boost East Lancashire and Enterprise4All are an immeasurable source of support. They are nothing short of fantastic.
They quickly moved their workshops online, gave webinars on various business topics, and provided the one to one support on my grainy laptop webcam. I vented my fears and inadequacies, they provided structure and a plan, a way to move forward. Even if you aren’t in a pandemic, get business support, but definitely do it if we ever get a repeat of 2020.
Learn as much as you can, but not too much. Suddenly life stopped, we no longer go out networking, shopping or doing any of the things we took for granted. If you are at home questioning what the heck you have done, look at what your busines needs, and learn. There is a VAST array of courses, many of them free, so take advantage.
DON’T sign up for so many of the free challenges on social media that you overwhelm yourself. I did that, and I set myself up to fail, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It was horrible. I couldn’t bear the thought of not using my time ‘constructively’ and went too far the other way.
There is immense support in these groups and challenges, social media has really come into its own these last few months, people offering freebies to help get us all through and doing it brilliantly. But…..
Cherry pick what you think will genuinely benefit you and your business and switch off notifications for anything else or leave the groups.
Join a mentor scheme specific to your industry. If funds allow, find a paid membership who can mentor you through the trials and tribulations of setting up in your chosen industry. As money is involved the advice feels more structured, and tailored; as I am paying, I work hard on the steps provided to grow my business. The support Catherine Gladwyn and her VA membership gives is worth her weight, and mine, in gold.
**If you are thinking of setting up as a VA, take a look here. Catherine helps through her website, books, and the group support on Facebook is second to none. We should be rivals, but we are a virtual, social media, based team. We celebrate life and business, ups and downs, and the collective advice and support is incredible when things are crashing. They have moved me to tears on occasion. In short, they are my virtual cheerleaders, and I hope I am theirs in return.
Control your finances as far as you can. As I was savvy enough to jump (yeah I know, not savvy at all) just as the plague hit, I was also in the incredible position of not being entitled to any Government help whatsoever! Zilch, nothing, not even a whiff. I had savings which would have lasted a couple of months, but other than that, repossession was looming and so was a nervous breakdown.
My plan didn’t include making me and my wonderful son homeless, so I cut back on every single thing which didn’t involve staying alive. Banks have treated us with absolute contempt in the past, but the mortgage holiday has been an absolute godsend, (I don’t have one of those gods, but thank you anyway, just in case). It means the wolf isn’t banging just yet.
Don’t be too proud to take whatever help you can grasp, my house would be up for sale by now without it, and don’t be afraid to live without luxuries, you won’t miss them because you are too busy building a business.
Have your down days, but don’t stay there. In a pandemic, there will be many more of those than usually involved in being an entrepreneur, many more!
Allow yourself to grieve for what feels like the biggest mistake of your life, because I think there has been a lot of grief about the situation we are in. It is allowed, it is human, it is unavoidable. Even if you can’t think of anything ‘business’ to help yourself right now, get outside, find the beauty around you, have a social distance walk, it will help immensely. If the only thing you achieve is taking a shower and eating one day, it is preferable to hiding away and letting the overwhelm win. Congratulate yourself and look forward to a new day. Seek support from friends and family, and those precious online business groups.
Speaking of which… use Social Media…Prior to the end of my contract, I shied away from social media, I did a few bits, but not nearly enough, confidence was at an all time low, and I questioned whether I would be any good for clients anyway!
End of contract came and went, and I was now free to promote myself with abandon. I almost abandoned all hope.
I had a couple of hundred connections on LinkedIn but nothing spectacular, and felt like everyone had already made it and there was no room for me. I am beginning to think I might have been wrong…
I have a page on Facebook but decided to concentrate on LinkedIn first.
I started to post a little more often, still immensely self-conscious, and genuinely worried about being judged.
I did a 5-day challenge with Georgina Chapman (look her up) and she made me show up every day, in a structured way. I had to stop being shy about sending connection requests too. That was hard.
In the last two months my connections have grown to 621 and my posts are viewed between 700 and 1000 times, a huge leap from 50-200, lowest 7. Interaction and conversation have increased, and a couple of enquiries found their way into my inbox.
My connections are human, funny, witty, wise, and wonderfully supportive people, there for the good and the spectacularly bad.
There is hope.
Even if you don’t want to post, you can comment and react, it is still engagement. I have had some fantastic conversations on other people’s posts, and it has led to amazing connections such as Anthony Dibble from Fairly Influential. He is fab and his posts are ace!
I still have a long way to go, and I really think there is no substitute for face to face networking, but when they say great things happen if you step out of your comfort zone, ‘they’ (whoever they are) are right.
I shall be working on FB in the same way in the next couple of months.
Showing up on LinkedIn is a little like skydiving…(well ok, it isn’t) but the biggest fear is just before you jump….just before you hit post.
If any of this resonates with you and you need a chat, drop me an email or a message on LI, if I can help, I will, if I can’t, I can listen.