Working for yourself is the subject of many myths. The myth that self employment is an absolute dream, that you must be seriously loaded because you run your own business and now you have no boss to answer to, every hour of your day is fair game – do what you want, when you want, however you want to do it.
When it comes to running your own business, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes this is influenced by personal or second hand experience, other times people will literally just be talking out of their arse.
One of my favourite myths of them all is the old favourite quote…
‘Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’.
I call bullshit.
No-one begins a business to do something they don’t like (unless their drivers are purely financial) – in a lot of cases the motivation isn’t even about creating a business at all, instead we simply end up following a passion and attempting to make some sort of career out of it. Unfortunately, the ‘business’ element is the bit that comes lower down the love list, yet is the part that takes up the most time.
We send emails, build websites, watch countless webinars on how to market our business and do battle with SEO.
So yes, on the occasions that I’m doing what I love, it certainly doesn’t feel like work. The rest of the time however? It definitely can.
Cue Monday morning.
These have historically been my single worst times of the week for getting anything done at all really. As much as I try (and I do try!) I just cannot get on board with all that #MondayMotivation jazz. I spend all weekend thinking how amazingly productive this new week will be. It’s a blank canvas to create new and exciting things and with the whole week stretched ahead of me, anything could happen!
Then it actually arrives and all that sickly sweet inspiration seems to evaporate as soon as the clock ticks past Sunday.
Inspiration turns to confusion, potential turns to pressure and by 9am I’m wondering what the hell to do.
I love a bit of honestly in business (something there isn’t enough of at the moment) and so this Monday morning, instead of hitting Instagram and asking what exciting things everyone has lined up or sharing my list of plans for the week, I asked if anyone else was in the same boat and struggling to get going too?
Half expecting my question to be met with a series of motivation quotes (or painful silence…), I was pleasantly surprised to instead receive comments of understanding. Thank GOD it’s not just me.
I might not have to drag myself to my corporate job anymore, but the struggle is still real. Without a boss there to motivate me, it’s up to myself to get myself going.
You know the part I’ve come to realise though? That because I don’t have that boss anymore, it’s entirely up to me when that productivity starts. I don’t HAVE to be raring to go at the start of the week anymore. Mondays no longer have to be the starting line for that brand new week. Hell, who says I even need to work by weeks anymore? Maybe I’ll work 3 days on, one day off. Sometimes I might go for 2 weeks straight when the mood takes me, then take a 5-day break at the end if that’s what I need to maximise my productivity.
When you work for yourself, you get to create your own calendar.
I appreciate that you might be influenced by external factors – if you’re a mum, your prime working hours might be while the kids are at school, or you may need to factor in sociable hours for client meetings. Don’t force it though if it’s not working for you. Most of us are here because we wanted to create a business that could fit flexibly within the lifestyles we strive towards, so don’t sacrifice the best of yourself just to work when you think you ‘should’.
So instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace it, accepting that Monday mornings just are not happening for me. What’s the point in sitting there feeling deflated and guilty that I’ve not smashed through 30 emails, 5 blog posts and scheduled every single social media post between now and Christmas. What exactly is that going to achieve? The square root of bugger all. Except maybe making me feel like a failure as a business owner.
The conclusion? A much happier me. No, I might not have done the boring jobs I needed to tick off my list, but instead I picked the few things I knew I’d enjoy doing; I reached out to say thank you to the ladies who came to last weeks retreat day, I planned a couple of classes for this week and wrote half of this blog post. Between that, I watched 2 films on Netflix, took Roo out for a lovely long walk and made some great food.
It’s not about being lazy, it’s about being realistic.
The result? I headed into Tuesday twice as prepared, after a bloody lovely day.
With over 25 million cars on the road in the UK most of couldn’t do without those tins cans to complete the daily commute, school run or weekly shopping trip. When our cars break down, not only can it ruin our plans but also often burn a nasty hole in our pocket. We’ve all experienced the frustration of sitting on the side of the road for the arrival of the breakdown truck when something goes wrong unexpectedly, so we’re well trained in how to avoid this happening.
We take our cars in for an annual MOT and regular service to ensure they remain running smoothly. When a warning light comes on – we’ll pop the car into the garage for a once over. We know that addressing potential problems in the early stages before they turns into something catastrophic will save future inconvenience, stress and money. So why don’t we treat our health in the same way?
OK so admittedly the MOT element of car ownership is a legal requirement, but that said…it works! No-one likes heading back to the garage post-MOT to a £200 bill for some bits and bobs the mechanics had to fix, but it’s much better than the £2000 bill that would ensue when said bits flew off in the fast lane of the M25.
I love a good analogy and for once, this one isn’t too far fetched. Our body is a vehicle too and is what gets us from A to B; when it’s tired and a bit broken, we don’t get to our destination as efficiently or smoothly. We’re not just talking the physical side either, on those days where we’ve not had quite enough sleep or life is leaving us stressed and anxious, productivity often hits rock bottom.
If you’ve ever bought a brand new car, you’ll know that you’re exempt from needing an MOT for the first 3 years of ownership. This is because the car is new and shiny and in theory, things shouldn’t be dropping off or falling to pieces. Our bodies aren’t too dissimilar and that ‘initial carefree period’ lasts through most of our childhood – as kids we’re a lot more resilient both physically and emotionally. We’re in the learning phase and if things go wrong, we’re a lot more efficient at bouncing back (if you’ve ever seen little ones flying around on ski slopes, you’ll know what I mean!). Unfortunately, as we get older we don’t have those same levels of resilience and when we take a knock, it hurts. We need to be taking preventative measures constantly to ensure that when we do fall, we don’t break.
Maximum productivity requires that we’re firing on all cylinders. However much you may feel like you should be wonder woman (or superman), you’re not special enough to defy the laws of nature. Our body is inherently smarter than us and when we’re living an unsustainable lifestyle, warning signs will begin to show; unfortunately, we’re not to adept at paying attention to them. When it comes to managing our day-to-day lives, be it running a household or our business, we tend to have martyr syndrome and prefer to battle through.
When we’re not functioning at 100% time is not a consistent thing. An hour on the clock no longer means an hour of useful working time; suddenly what should be a 30-minute task takes 4 times as long. Our outputs are slower; we make mistakes and generally provide results that are under-par. We don’t have to be stricken down with a horrendous virus to be inefficient, even just a rough night’s sleep can see productivity take a dive.
The first step is always realising something is up – that niggling sore throat, an achey lower back or the sleep that didn’t feel very restful. All of this is pretty natural and to be expected when we’re busy busting our butts to create thriving businesses (as well as juggling those thousand other roles!). The key part is what you choose to do next. Do you:
Which category do you usually fall into? Most commonly, I’d say it’s mostly B with a touch of A. We don’t have time to be ill, but instead of taking steps to avoid getting to that stage in the first place we push on until the symptoms are too hard to ignore and THEN we try to do something about it.
I have huge respect and admiration for our medical system, but when it comes to physical and metal illness, unfortunately it’s there to address the symptoms, not the source and as a culture, we are guilty of this too. We mask aches with painkillers and insomnia with sleeping pills. The NHS don’t have the time or resources to spend figuring out why we need treatment, they just work to get us back on our feet as quickly as possible. When the root of the problem isn’t addressed though, it’s only a matter of time till we’re back knocking on the door of our doctor.
We’re solely responsible for our own wellbeing – you get one shot at the body you’re in, so look after it and use it well. Stay one step ahead.
Instead of waiting until you’ve put your back out, get a postural assessment and find out where your points of weakness are. If you’re not getting restful sleep, take steps to address why instead of simply popping a Nytol. Falling out of love with your business because the stress feels too overwhelming? Don’t wait until you’ve crashed and burned to then try and figure out what you need to do to get back on top of your game.
See the bigger picture; whether it’s time or money, a small investment now can save that huge (somewhat surprising and usually very inconvenient) bill in the future.
Your body, your mind and your business will thank you for it in the long run.
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When new apps and communication platforms are making the previously impossible suddenly commonplace, it’s no surprise that we’re not all that confident in using them to their full potential.
A prime example? Live. Video. Streaming.
Ah, the 3 little words that strike utter fear into the hearts of business owners across the world. Go on, admit it…the idea of being live in front of an unknown audience makes your heart rate step up a couple of notches and your throat go dry just thinking about it.
Yep, mine too.
Yet in the past 3 days have I successfully (I think!) completed 3 live video streams for both of my businesses on both Facebook and Instagram. Oh, and I survived. Unfortunately there’s no magic technique or formula (though a few drinks might help!? Probably not recommended on your business pages…) I just jumped in feet first, and if you’re ever going to try streaming live, that’s what you need to do too.
Tell people you’re going to do it
My first video adventure was on the Facebook page of my yoga studio, Warrior & Wild. We had sent out a feedback survey last month and having got plenty of responses, I felt like some of the comments needing sharing and addressing. I was all set to write them up in a blog post but realised I wished I could just talk about it to everyone – there was way more to say and certain things that I knew wouldn’t come across as well in writing.
It occurred to me that Facebook Live would be a great way to reach my students and even if they couldn’t tune in there and then, they could catch up on the video at a later date.
I'm not quite sure what came over me but before I could change my mind or think about it too much, I’d sent out a Mailchimp to our 500 subscribers to say I’d be Live on Facebook at 7pm on Wednesday. Once you’ve made that promise, you can’t back out…
Easier said than done? The key here is in what you’re talking about. The difference between standing at the front of the room and giving a speech vs being interviewed is that to share a speech, you need to have prepped and rehearsed your talk – with this comes the panic that you might fluff it or forget your words. Alternatively, when you’re interviewed you don’t know what’s coming next so you can just share what is already in your head and it flows without worrying about remembering prompts.
Instead of planning to share tips, tricks or advice, begin by simply about yourself and your business, after all – no one knows those subjects better than you.
Dive Straight In
No pre-recording. No practice runs. This is what stalled me for a long time – if this is something you do to, the following process probably sounds familiar…
Record clips. Fluff it. Record again. Watch it back. Don’t really like it. Try and re-record. Run out of storage on your phone. Accidentally delete the clip that wasn't actually that bad. Go away and think about it. Think some more. Listen to a podcast on video content and think you should really try again. Think about it for so long that Instagram won’t let you share your original clip as a story anymore. Give up completely until the following week. Repeat process.
Instagram actually has a 10 second cap on stories you share that are pre-recorded and it’s this limitation that was the finish push to go live. I originally set out attempting to share the story of my business in a series of these clips, but I spent so long watching the timing and rushing through what I thought I should say that I just gave up in the end. When you choose the live feature you can continuously stream for as long as you like (though maybe someone should’ve shut me up after the first couple of minutes!).
Have Confidence in How You Appear
So while there’s no tests films, it is advisable to open your camera and check what your audience will see. You don’t want to be faffing around with your hair, clothes or lighting half way through the stream – the least number of distractions you might encounter, the better.
If having the confidence to put yourself in front of new and unknown people means you pull all the stops out with your make up, clothes and hair then do it. Honestly, your audience won’t actually care what you look like, but if it's something that will give you a boost, get it sorted from the start.
Stop Making Excuses
I don’t have the right equipment.
I have nothing to say.
It’s too noisy.
It’s too quiet.
People might not like it.
This is you overthinking it and coming up with every tangible excuse you could possibly make up to not do it. If you haven’t heard of her already, I’d definitely recommend looking up Amy Schmittauer from Savvy, Sexy, Social – she’s the queen of video content and has a great YouTube channel with literally hundreds of tutorials on vlogging and other useful things. It was after listening to a Podcast interview with her that I decided I just needed to get the hell on with it.
Thousands of people are sharing video content every second – do you think each one of them is waiting for that perfect environment with all the fancy kit and years of training in public speaking? No. They’re just getting up there and cracking on with it; as with anything in our businesses – if you stopped to wait for the ideal circumstances you’d never get anything done.
Do It Again!
It’s not a box you tick and the requirement to be in front of a camera goes away. Video content is booming and if you’re not getting yourself on that screen, you’re doing your business no favours. Let people know you and your story – we want to connect with the face behind that beautiful website!
In fact, when you’re live through Instagram Stories it’s the fact that the video quite literally does disappear after 24 hours, so you need to be regularly putting yourself in front of your followers with fresh new content – chances are most of them will miss your first video so make sure you give them the opportunity to see you again. As clichéd as it sounds too, practice really does make perfect.
It's time to stop overthinking and start streaming!
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Self-employment is the ultimate step in independence – you get to work where you want, when you want and you structure your own day. The flip side of that however is that without a team of colleagues, working on your own can feel a bit isolating.
As productive as you can be working solo, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts and begin to go a little stir crazy with no company. To keep cabin fever at bay, we’ve come up with our top 7 tips for combatting loneliness.
1. Find an Online Community
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are absolutely bursting to the seams with small businesses and entrepreneurs. Yes, a lot of businesses have skipped the ‘social’ element of these platforms and simply use them as an advertising space, but plenty of others have a founder behind the keyboard who is in the same boat as you.
Some of my favourite free groups on Facebook are the Soulful PR Facebook Community & the Business Owners Conversation Club.
On Instagram I've found an amazing community of business owners at all stages from launch ideas to running successful enterprises. Watching their Instagram stories is a great way to get an insight into their daily lives.
Twitter is admittedly something I peak and trough with, but I’ve found the weekly #BristolBizHour on a Thursday night is a great way to connect with other businesses in the cities. Most places have them, just search online.
2. Find a Coworking Space
This year I joined the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator programme. As part of this, we have access to the co-working hub in the centre of Bristol, offering hot desks, wi-fi and printing. Not only is it great to have access to facilities like these, but you’ll be surrounded by inspiring entrepreneurs.
Co-working spaces are popping up all over the country now in all shapes and sizes. Prices vary according to space and location, but you usually have the option of booking month by month, either for occasional hot desk access or for a full time desk.
3. Make More of an Effort Outside of Your Business
When you get up in the morning, immediately start work, carry on all day and find yourself dipping into your emails after dark, the days can begin to blur into one. It’s vital that you define clear ‘work’ and ‘play’ time and make the effort to maximise your social life outside of office hours.
When we don’t socialise in an office with colleagues anymore, we could easily find ourselves going for days without speaking to anyone other than our partner. Use your down time to see friends, head to the gym or just grab a coffee out of the house.
4. Get Yourself a Furry Friend
One of the huge bonuses of leaving my corporate job at Christmas was that we could finally get a dog! We’d wanted one for so long but both worked such long hours out of the house that we never thought it would be fair.
Whilst they can definitely eat into some of your productivity (particularly during the house training phase!) it’s been so therapeutic to have ‘someone’ else in the house with me during long days. It also makes me feel a little less crazy talking to myself…
5. Take Your Meetings Outside
If you’re in the kind of business where you might be interacting with clients, suppliers or anyone else, take any excuse to get out of your home office for meetings and sessions. Face to face is a far more personal way of doing business and is a great way to break up your day.
Even if it’s not practical to leave completely, try taking a call by Skype. Allowing those you’re doing business with to see your face always makes you come across as far more trust worthy and relatable.
6. Leave the House First Thing in the Morning
Another huge bonus of leaving my job was being able to drop the 45minute commute at rush hour. Although regaining that time in my day has been a godsend, having that morning routine did help me to mentally structure my day.
Instead of just sitting in traffic, use the time to get yourself moving before your working day begins. Take the dog for a walk (see point 4!), do a morning workout or just go for a stroll yourself – it doesn’t have to be inefficient time, pop your headphones in and use the opportunity to catch up on a podcast.
There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of the day and realising you’ve walked no further than the kitchen and bathroom – by getting out of the house first thing you can be smug that you’ve done your body a favour already whilst getting your mind into the right headspace for a day at the computer.
7. Head to Events
Business and networking events and conferences come in all shapes and sizes; from morning coffee meet ups to full mini-breaks away. However much you think you can’t spare the time away from your desk, these events are worth the time ten-fold.
Not only will it get you out of the house, you’ll get to meet new people and build up relationships with others in your field. Hearing the stories and experiences of those who are building a business from their passion can ensure that you don’t feel quite so alone in those challenges you’re facing every day.
The Selfish Start Up Co. events include plenty of elements of wellbeing too so you’ll be wringing out those tired bodies that have been working all hours under the sun and allowing your mind to switch off for a while.
The events rarely stop there either, you’ll often make great connections who you can follow up with and see again in the future, allowing you to continue to build an amazing network of business relationships.
When it comes to getting out there and meeting new people to help in the growth of your business, there’s no more effective method than events where you can hang out with likeminded people who are working in the same position as you.
Networking can definitely be a bit of a dirty word (I’d love to know what comes to mind when you think of it!) but with the number of self-employed businesses in the UK growing by 84,000 just in 2016 we need a way to get to know each other!
Brands are increasingly looking for methods to improve the networking experience, but when you’re checking out a new event for the first time it can be tempting to bring a friend along as an ally. Sometimes though, it’s not always possible to find someone to come with you – you might be the only one of your friends who is self employed, the time of the occassion might not suit them or it simply might not quite be the right scene for them.
As we launch the first of our networking retreats for small business owners, we thought we’d give you a run down on the benefits of both coming with a friend or keeping the secret to yourself and going it alone!
If you’re coming with a friend and you both live in the same area, save some pennies and share a lift. It’s a great way to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while and if navigation isn’t your strong point (like me!) it helps to have someone on hand to check which way to go.
That said, one of the main luxuries of working for yourself is the freedom to come and go as you please and this is no different. With no one else to accommodate, travel in a way and at a time that suits you. Stop for as many coffees as you like at the services and set off as early or late as you please. If you’re taking the train, enjoy some stolen peace and quiet – catch up on a book or get your daily emails out of the way so you can really relax and enjoy the retreat when you arrive.
Meeting New People
This is one that definitely depends on your personality. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Are you braver with someone supportive by your side, or are you more likely to make conversation with new people when the other choice is standing on your tod?
When you’re at an event with friends, make sure you’re welcoming and approachable. Perhaps break away from each other for a little bit and engage with new people – that way if you find yourself a bit stranded and too nervous to strike up a conversation, you can always head back to your friend and join their chat! When you’re in a larger group scenario with each other, try and keep conversation to business – everyone else is in the same nervous boat and it will be impossible for someone to come and join your conversation if it’s too personal.
If you have gone it alone, use the opportunity to speak to everyone you possibly can! The groups on our retreats and events are kept purposely small to ensure everyone gets to know everyone else so don’t be afraid of being left on the side lines.
Sharing a Room
We’re staying in a beautiful 9-bedroom house in the countryside during our autumn retreat and have a variety of rooms available – these include twin, double and king sized beds that can be occupied alone or with someone else.
Booking with a friend and sharing a room is a great way to make the retreat even better value. If our twin rooms are better suited to your budget but you’re comfortable sharing with someone you know, spread the word and find a friend who is killing it in their business and could do with a treat.
If you’re coming along you get to choose how social you feel! Book one of our double or king-sized rooms and bliss out in your own private space, or if you fancy something a bit more social, why not book a spot in one of our twin rooms? Our booking form ensures that everyone who attends the event is there for the same purpose so you know you’ll be in great company.
The Post Retreat Debrief
Have you ever watched a film with someone, then come out at the end and talked about it, only to feel like you both watched two entirely different things?! We can all read the same books, watch the same films or attend the same courses yet take something unique and extraordinary from them each time.
Not only will the retreat leave you feeling blissed out, nourished and ready to take on the rest of the year, but you will have also found the time and creative headspace to discover exciting new ideas for the ways in which you can develop your business.
By attending with a friend, you will each learn & absorb different things from all of the workshops – you can then go ahead and spend time exploring these after the event in slower time. Find out which key points they picked up and spend time together in the following days or weeks considering how they best fit into each of your businesses.
Even if you come alone, we assure you you’ll leave with a great community of friends. Everyone who attends our events will be invited to join a private Facebook group where we can continue to share wellbeing ideas to ensure than you can continue to give the best of yourself to your business.
Whether you prefer to network alone or with friends, either way, you will benefit from coming along and certainly won’t be left feeling lonely!
A couple of weeks ago we hit the 9-month birthday of the opening of my yoga studio, Warrior & Wild. That’s more than 40 weeks, during which time we’ve hosted over 500 classes, events & workshops. Of those 500, I’ve probably taught near on 100 myself and attended countless others. Whilst we have an amazing range of wonderful teachers, there’s something about practicing in your own studio that is just…different.
I love my haven – it’s my little sanctuary and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to escape into such a wonderfully beautiful space whenever I need an escape from outside, but when you run your own studio, suddenly attending a class there brings with it some brand new challenges. It’s not just about your own practice anymore - is someone going to show up late? Is everyone warm enough? Are they too warm? Is it too noisy outside? Do they like the class? Is it busy enough? Without realising it – 9 months has passed and I hadn’t attended a single class without those thoughts floating through my mind.
Last week I was heading into Bristol for an event in the morning that happened to be at a venue a few doors down from Wild Wolfs, a beautiful studio (that we’re incredibly lucky will be our base for July’s preview retreat). With the universe on my side, I was lucky enough to be able to book in for a lunchtime class there. Although I admit I did spend a brief minute wondering how I’d lay the mats out for our workshop, I mostly let myself luxuriate in the bliss that is a class in someone else’s space.
I could simply smile at those around me without being concerned with whether they were enjoying themselves. Checking the temperature wasn’t my problem. I didn’t have to keep half an eye on the clock to make sure we finished on time and for the first time in almost a year, I could blissfully melt so deeply into savasana that I genuinely could have cried.
I could be anonymous.
Not only did that lunch hour stretch me out, chill me out & tire me out, but it also reminded me of exactly why I do what I do. It put me straight into the shoes of those that I teach & educate every day through their practice in classes with me. It let me see from the other side what they might be looking for & how I can offer that.
When we start a new business born from a passion for what we do, we often don’t realise that that creative ‘doing’ element will often form such a tiny part of our day-to-day work. As we get lost in the admin & background tasks required to run a business, it’s easy to fall into the trap of forgetting what drove you to share what you love in the first place. Months go by & that creativity can become functional. We also end up falling into the bad habit of guessing what our customers want & need….
Remember, when you launch a business you’re primarily problem solving. As dreamy as it would be, people rarely buy from your brand just because it’s yours or because you ask them to (unless you’re a wildly successful influencer!).
Fundamentally, you’re helping your customers make their life better in some way.
Unfortunately, we can get so lost in what we’re doing & how we think we are making things better for these customers that we forget to actually see things from their point of view.
So what’s the solution?
Go & find what you love! Reclaim your passion & step back into the shoes of your customers. Come away from being in your business & reflect on why people are looking for when the come to you in the first place.
If you’re a teacher, go take a class & enjoy the whole experience. What parts did you really connect with? What do other teachers or course leaders do differently to you?
Perhaps you’re a maker; why not book a workshop with someone new? Try a different technique or just take some time to make something all for yourself – no pressure, no customers to impress & no photos needed for social media. Just enjoy it.
If you’re a journalist, set aside a couple of hours on a beautiful evening to sit outside & take a read of your favourite publications – what is it about those articles you enjoy that really make them engaging?
Social-media marketer? Allow yourself to waste a couple of hours on Facebook watching cute animal videos, catching up with friends & sharing funny posts. Refresh your memory on why what you do works so well.
By being on the other side of that business fence, you’ll remind yourself what brings your clients to you in the first place. You can then look at your own brand a little more objectively; this will ensure you’re ticking all the boxes you would look for if you approached your company as a customer for the first time.
So when was the last time you left the business at the door & simply spent time doing what you loved?
Comment below or on our Facebook page to share what the passion was that led you to start your business & how you spend time going back to those roots (or if that's something that you've let slide since passion turned into profession!)
I had a dream the other night about an old college friend who I haven't seen since his wedding last summer. He saw my career change on LinkedIn a few weeks ago and after dropping me a quick 'we really need to catch up!' message and getting a 'hell yes we do' response, he fired over a series of dates that he and his wife were available this summer.
That was at the start of April; it's now the middle of May and we still don't have anything in the diary. I've even sent a couple of 'shit, I know I'm useless, I'll get back to you with dates ASAP' messages in the meantime, yet haven't got round to actually arranging anything.
After waking up from my dream the following morning, I immediately grabbed my phone to send an apologetic text. My go-to excuse?
'So sorry...things have been mad'.
Yes, things have been mad - in fast things have been pretty insane this year. I'm in the midst of my first year as a studio owner, I've trained as a sports massage therapist, am in the middle of training as a PT and am still finding my feet without an employer or a pay check. We've had continued renovations on the house including a bathroom fitting from hell and now have a puppy inbound next month which we need to prepare for. I launched The Selfish Start Up Co, have been managing bookings for our first retreat this autumn and this month joined the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator program.
Am I entirely on top of everything? No, not really. I have a to-do list as long as my arm and seem to come up with more new and crazy ideas every day, but can I truly, completely honestly, hand on my heart without a flicker of doubt say that I don't have time to arrange a date to catch up with one of my favourite people? Not really, no.
What's actually the truth?
To be honest, I'm just being a bit shit.
Whether we're telling it to ourselves or other people, it's about time that we were all a little more honest about what we really mean when on a daily basis we find ourselves saying 'I just don't have time'. Let's start seeing that phrase for what it actually is...an excuse.
Now what it's an excuse FOR is a different matter entirely, but one we need start getting to the bottom of. It's not a fun exercise but if we're going to up our productivity game, it's something all of us need to get on top of. This isn't to say that we're not all busy - I have projects, classes and training courses coming at me from all directions and desperately look forward to the day when I live in a house where I can actually lay my hand on what I need the first time. That said I also know that this year I've binge watched 3 seasons of Nashville, launched some exciting spin off projects that aren't part of my core business (because they've been seriously fun!) and also had some wonderful weekends away and nights out with friends. If I really want to do something, I can find time to make it happen. So why do some things that are seemingly important to me continue to slide?
It's a matter of priorities
I'm not preaching. I don't know what your priorities are, and frankly I don't actually care. That's not the aim of the game here. The aim is to be honest with YOURSELF about what really matters to you.
I love to make my ramblings vaguely relatable, so I'll give you some examples...next week I'm off on holiday (thank GOD...literally counting down the hours already). It's something that's been booked for over a year and it's the full family shebang, a beach holiday in Greece to celebrate some big birthdays across 2017.
It's not exactly something that's been sprung on me, but as the weeks tick by and the date draws closer, every time I look in the mirror I feel a little less 'beach body ready'. Before the harassment begins, no this isn't about body shaming or feminism [hello controversial Protein World advert last year?!] this is simply about me knowing that when I step foot on the beach in 2 weeks, I won't be in the best shape I could be in. Why not? Because over the last 5 months, things have slid on the training front. My workouts have gotten few and far between and my nutrition (whilst having seen a big improvement this month) still isn't what it would be had I been working towards my optimum body composition.
The easy excuse I might instinctively be guilty of reaching for straight away is definitely 'urgh I feel so crappy for not working out or eating right but things have been soooo crazy this year, I just have NOT had time!'. Oh look, here we go again.
This isn't always about saying this to other people (although my other half probably hears me generally whinging about this a lot!) sometimes it's about what you're telling yourself. The problem is, each time you let yourself believe that the reason you haven't done XYZ is because you simply can't fit it in, you don't look for an alternative solution, because 'not having time' is something that seems beyond your control...
There are ways I could make it happen if I really wanted to - I could set my alarm a couple of hours earlier each day and go to the gym before I start my day, I could squeeze a 5km jog in between classes during my week and I could meal prep at the start of the week so I knew I had healthy nutritious pre-holiday-friendly food for the days ahead when I'm not home until late. If you want to make something happen, you will always find a way.
Deep down I know that I have access to the knowledge, methods and full ability to get myself in any shape I want to for my holiday, yet still I haven't done it.
Ok so this wasn't a work based example, but I could give you 50 others that relate to my business at the drop of a hat....
Why am I not putting out blog posts as often as I'd like?
Why am I not shouting about my qualifications to try and book more clients?
Why haven't I finished and launched my teaching website?
Why haven't I taken 5 minutes to follow up yet on some lead emails I sent last month?
Why am I carrying over at least 5-10 staple tasks each week from my to-do list instead of just sitting down and clearing it out?
The list is endless. So might apply to you, others won't. You'll each have your own but when you actually tap into the real why of some of these things, some of the following reasons might resonate with you...
Fear of failure
This old favourite. Why do we avoid doing a LOT of what we know we could or should? We don't want to screw it up. Whether it's rejection from someone or something, or the results not going the way we hoped, it's easier to make the excuse that we don't even have the time to start something rather than give it a go and have it go 'wrong'.
Example? If I 'don't get round' to pitching for that TEDx talk this year before the deadline has passed, I can give a melodramatic sigh, tell myself that I probably wouldn't have had time to do it justice anyway and think maybe I'll have a go next year instead of putting myself forward with the possibility of being rejected.
An avoidance tactic - if it's something we've been putting off for a while, when we come to having to deal with it that involves facing up to the fact that it could have been sorted a long time ago. Ignorance is bliss and all that...
Example? I feel so so bad for not arranging to see my friend sooner...to get round to arranging it means confessing I've actually been pretty useless.
Lack of knowledge
We all have wonderful ideas and fantastic intentions, but sometimes we don't actually know HOW to start. The thought of taking on a steep learning curve can be too daunting to face. Sometimes breaking tasks down into the 'learning' and then 'doing' element can be a lot more manageable.
Example? I need to finalise my personal teaching website and embed a booking system into it. The reality? I probably need to figure out the best way to do that first, so it ends up growing into a much bigger task than it should be. Hello delegation!
It's just not that much of a priority...
This is a big one. How many of us have things on those mile long lists that we're not actually that fussed about. I'm not talking about the tedious jobs we have to do like bookkeeping, admin and invoices (although there's probably an argument for delegation of these too if you're in a financially able position!) but the things we think we should be doing.
Example? Back to my beach story - yes there are numerous ways I could have gotten into better shape, but when it actually came down to it I realised that I wasn't that bothered. Yes I could have hit the gym a few more times in the last few weeks but would that have fundamentally changed my happiness on holiday? Hell no. So instead I used the time to take actions to improve my business...now that does change my happiness
Poor time management
Particularly in the early days it can be a nightmare figuring out which way is up when it comes to managing your business. When you begin to get clients, you fit them in wherever you are free, or more importantly when they are free. In the past this has seen me dashing up and down the motorway numerous times in one day just to co-ordinate my busy schedule with my clients equally hectic days.
Example? This is one I'm certainly guilty of - this week I drove into the city on Wednesday morning for the Entrepreneurial Spark workshop. Straight afterwards I had to dash to the car and drive an hour up into the country to teach a private yoga class at 1.30pm. I then nipped down to the studio (another 20minutes...) to deal with admin and open up for the class that evening, after which I got back in the car for another 35miles to make it BACK into central Bristol to teach an evening class there. Since then I've attacked my planner and will be streamlining my working days. It's not just the working hours you need to manage, but the logistics of the time in between. If I'm stuck in a car for 4 hours a day, that's useful time that could be spent doing other things.
Genuinely no time!
Let's be clear, there's no magic bullet to most of the kind of problems we have (however much some of the cheesier business coach adverts make it seem like 'IT'S ALL WITHIN YOUR POWER!') and after running through all of the above, you may well come to realise that on this occasion, you actually just didn't have the time to fit that thing in.
As a general rule, we love to believe that things 'happen to us' which are beyond our control. As soon as we admit that they're our responsibility, we no longer have the right to complain. This is because we begin to realise that the circumstances we find ourselves in can often be a result of past decisions we have made or limitations we have (particularly when we start to see repeated patterns!).
So next time you go to tell yourself that something didn't happen because you didn't have time, stop and actually think about it.
Are you sure?
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A few weeks ago there was a lot of interest around one of my IG posts where I'd talked about going to an acupuncturist. This was something completely new to me but that I had been interested in trying for quite a while. Whilst I absolutely loved the session, unfortunately my bank balance is saying no to the course of treatments I'd love to have.
My reason for giving acupuncture a go in the first place was all about energy. Since leaving a full time job as a naval architect at Christmas to focus on my wellbeing career and running the studio, I have had other projects coming out of my ears and seem to be working harder than ever. This is nothing novel for those of you who work for yourself, but having suffered with Chronic Fatigue in the past it was also something I need to get into check.
As with anything like this, it's easier to preach to others about how to live and look after themselves than it is to follow your own advice - how great are we all at being martyrs when it comes to our own health and wellbeing?
As the months crept on and my diary saw no sign of letting up, I slipped into old patterns of late nights, less workouts and a diet that resembled that of my freshers year a decade ago.
During my acupuncture session, a lot of the initial consultation was focussed around me and my habits - particularly my daily food intake. My diet has never been straightforward - if I'm training hard in the gym I'll count my macros (carb, protein and fat split) to ensure I'm getting as much as I need, but this is crazy hard work and can be quite restrictive. If I'm not counting macros, it's generally because I'm too busy to train properly so food turns into convenience - I eat like a student and demolish PB by the jar, pasta with pesto and beans on toast.
If I'm going to get my life and my business in check, I need to get my food in check. Now I seriously love nutrition; it's always been a passion of mine since I started training and I adore getting creative with new flavours and dishes. It's not just how food tastes though but what it has the power to do, both positively and negatively. I would love to expand into nutrition professionally eventually, but if I suggested yet another 'project' to add to my list at the moment I think my other half would probably just look at me like this...
For me, I've decided that my food consumption will centre around a plant based diet. I'm not talking 'diet' in the traditional media-fuelled sense of the word, it literally just refers to the food I'm putting into my body. I'll probably follow a vegan based diet (in that these kind of recipes provide the amazing range of natural and whole foods I want to fuel myself with) but no, I'm not a vegan. Why? Because I bloody love steak. And cheese. Basically anything cow related apparently....yes some of my meals will still contain meat but this won't be the focus of the plate - the idea is to prepare meals where you could remove it and still have a substantial plate.
It means a colourful array of fruit and veg, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, seeds and every herb and spice you could possible dream up.
I'm not counting calories. This isn't about following a finite 6, 8 or 12 week plan to the letter and to tick that box, only to count down the days when I can return to a 'normal' diet. Instead it's about retraining my brain to WANT to make better choices.
Why am I doing it?
Good food is good fuel. You wouldn't put dirty fuel in your car and expect it to run smoothly. You wouldn't feed crap to your kids and then be surprised when they crash and burn half way through the day. So why do we do it to ourselves? Sugar makes me cranky and want to sleep at 3pm. I LOVE chocolate but my skin is not its friend. I could gorge on pasta and bread till the cows come home but will spend the rest of the day feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
Once again, it's time to be selfish.
Why is 'selfish' such a dirty word? Let's stop implying that taking time and making decisions which help YOU and only you are a negative thing. There's time to look after and care for other people, but if you're not running at full capacity yourself, you're no good to anyone.
So here's the deal. Put food on your plate that is going to spoil your body. Don't change your diet to look better for someone else on the beach, or to follow the latest trends in a glossy magazine. Eat what makes you feel good. I mean literally, what makes your body feel good.
I won't go through the benefits, they're all common sense. More energy, more focus, less stress, better skin/teeth/hair/nails etc etc you know the drill. If all of that doesn't quite do it for you, just think how bloody smug and virtuous you get to feel!
I won't be turning @theselfishstartupco into a foodie account, but I will be sharing some of the yummy things I'm eating along with the odd recipe and reflections on how it is making me feel. I'll try to share some ideas for meals you can cook in a big batch, so when you're stuck on a heavy admin day you don't have to spend hours in the kitchen but can still fuel well. I'm also hoping to support as many small businesses as possible with my food choices.
As with any journey, it's far more fun with friends. I'll be doing it anyway but if you fancy joining in, it makes for amazing motivation! A few of you loved the idea on IG but were worried you would fail. This isn't a weight loss plan and there are no 'right' or 'wrong' foods - food isn't 'good' or 'bad'. Once a day, once a week or even just for part of a meal it's about making the decision to choose food that your insides will love. I'm not going to be barraging you with requests to tell me everything you've eaten all day, but if you do fancy making wholesome feel-good choices, join in with the hashtag
Now, what shall I have to eat next?
In the last few weeks the phrase 'Instagram shadowban' has been banded about a lot - hundreds of accounts have seen a massive and sudden reduction in engagement on their posts, particularly small businesses. Since then, blogs have been popping up all over the place explaining what it is, how to find out if you've been affected and how to lift the ban. Unfortunately many of these blogs fail to mention that they're just putting forward speculative opinions; no-one actually knows what is going on and Instagram won't say any more other than we should stop relying so heavily on hashtags.
(If you are curious about any of the why/how/what if theories, I'd suggesting catching up on this post from Insta-Queen Sara Tasker [@me_and_orla] who provides a pretty well rounded opinion and some good insights on the whole topic).
As much as it seems like a scandalous admission, I'm pretty sure I was shadowbanned. I don't use an autobot, follow/unfollow or leave meaningless comments which leaves two remaining theories...
Repeated hashtags and intermittent liking.
Now, I don't copy and paste reams of hashtags, but there are a number of key ones I'll tend to use on a number of posts; when your 'target audience' is UK based small business owners there are only so many creative hashtags you can come up with (that said, if anyone has any suggestions please do share!). I'd post a few around the theme of #smallbusinessowners and #britishbrands and then freestyle a few tags based on the specific post itself. Maybe Instagram picked up some of the repeat offenders and considered them spammy?
The only other red flag I can think I raised was liking and commenting in quick succession. Instagram is a big part of the launch of my business and my favourite way to reach out to and connect with small business owners. But it is still only a part of it. I might spend a few minutes each hour responding to comments, liking pictures and sharing posts but it's not a full time job. This means that when I do log in, I'll scroll through my feed, take a look at the explore page and take a peek at some suggested users - but I'll probably do so quickly. If I like a post, I'll like it. If it resonates with me, I'll comment on it. If I've enjoyed someone's profile, I'll follow them. Just because I manage to do all of these things a number of times in a 10 minute period doesn't mean I'm spamming. It just means I'm being efficient for those minutes I'm logging on, and have other things to do for the remaining 50 minutes of that hour.
Whatever the cause, early last week I had my suspicions that the hammer had come down on my account - I'd post a photo and watch the tumbleweed roll by. To put things into perspective, I have a relatively new account and we've talking numbers in the low hundreds, not multiple thousands, but you come to expect a certain reaction from a post and when you don't get it, it's pretty clear something is up. The likes were still coming (sometimes) but at a far slower rate.
At first this was pretty frustrating and after what seemed like particularly low initial engagement on a post last week, I logged into another account to check one of the hashtags I'd used. Sure enough, my picture was nowhere to be seen. This meant that if you followed me or opened my profile, my picture would be there, but search the hashtag and it wouldn't show up.
Shit it - I'd been shadowbanned.
My initial reaction was probably more to do with a bruised ego than anything else, nothing says 'no-one likes you' more than people quite literally, not liking you. Then came mild panic - Instagram has been the main way I'd been reaching out to business owners in the past couple of months, if I couldn't hashtag them how the hell were they going to find me?! Then came simple disappointment - why the constant curveballs? I'm just trying to launch a business!
Well. It's done now, I was shadowbanned and the theories on how to get the ban lifted had even less merit than those claiming to know exactly why you were busted in the first place. They ranged from going back through every single hashtag and making sure none were 'broken' (who has time for that?!) to taking an arbitrary number of days logged out. Even then, there's no solid evidence that any of these tactics might actually work.
Having launched our retreats just days before (great timing Universe...) and become pretty emotionally invested in my IG journey over the last few months, I wasn't about to sack it all in.
It was time for a new strategy.
I say 'new' - it was nothing new, it was simply stripping Instagram back to basics. I still added some hashtags to each post just in case the ban had some funky algorithm that let the odd one slip through but each post was predominantly about just the picture and the attached caption. I wasn't looking for likes (as they probably wouldn't come!), I just had fun with creative thoughts and used the opportunity to discover more unusual hashtags for future posts.
Posting had a new sort of freedom that came with it; I wasn't expecting engagement so I didn't need to worry about optimising my posts for it. This then led to a change in my own Instagram usage - with less going on in my own account, I had time to mooch around others. I got involved with #mydirtysink and ended up with a more engaging and entertaining comment thread than I've had from any other posts.
And you know the real bonus of no hashtags? Those damn bots can't find you. Sure, my likes were down and the numbers were low, but the likes I did have were real. I knew for sure that the engagement I was getting was real interactions with real people. Scrolling through the list, I followed many of my 'likers' already; if there was anyone I didn't follow, there was a 90% chance that when I opened their profile it was going to be someone I was likely to be interested in looking at.
It's the most fun Instagram has been for me, knowing that when I opened the app to a handful of comments, they were all personalised conversations I was already a part of. It's what the app was originally intended for. Community.
Maybe it's because I took a little time out over the weekend while I was perfecting the art of tiling the bathroom, the fact that that my change in hashtag use flagged me as normal or perhaps the ban reaching a a nondescript time limit, but whatever the reason, come the end of the weekend, my shadow ban was lifted.
I should be relieved and exciting for a rush of engagement once again, but it's almost been a bit of an anti-climax. Sure, there are the likes - my first post back had a bunch of comments, but the thumbs up, high fives and delightful reminders that my grid is 'majestic', 'flawless' and 'the best of the day' fell a bit flat. I don't want 10 new followers who are simply going to be gone the next day.
Of course, the real engagement is still there, you just have to filter out the crap to find it. My whole Insta-outlook has changed though. I've always known I loved social media for the community, this was just the little reminder we all sometimes need that beneath the thumbs up and the excessive use of exclamation marks, there's nothing quite like having a real conversation.
Hopefully this is Instagram's first step towards tackling the bots and spammers out there and anything on that scale will hit a few bugs along the way. It's easy to get sucked into chasing numbers (however meaningless they might be) but I'm actually feeling quite lucky to have been forced to see how effective a platform it can be when it's used in the way it was designed for.
When you're employed for someone else and working out of their office, there's always something so cheeky and inviting about that day when you're 'working from home'. Maybe you need to be in all day for the electrician, have a midday appointment that doesn't make it worth going in or have simply scheduled in a tactical WFH day to follow a rare mid-week catch up with friends that had the potential to get messy.
The tactics were simple, prep an email to ping out to the boss at 6am (early riser...very keen), another at 8pm (working hard into the night) and make sure you never stray too far from your laptop during the day to ensure a regular wiggle of the mouse kept Skype status active.
Sadly, those methods don't fly when you're running your own business. There's no-one on the other end of Outlook you need to be accountable to, other than clients and peers. If you don't do the work, it just doesn't get done, then you don't get paid. When the pressure is on, the thrill of working from home can occasionally lose it's edge.
For the extra motivated amongst us, our home is our career haven and the breakfast bar can feel like the boardroom. Sometimes I have those days and the productivity is unstoppable (as is the boiling of the kettle...), however other times I need to escape these four walls if I stand a chance of getting anything more than the laundry done that day.
Enter....the coffee shop desk.
I know I know, it's such a cliche. A sea of lone workers, with headphones on, steaming lattes in hand & more technology than Silicon Valley....but I have to say, those peeps might just be onto something. An afternoon cosied up, plugged in and caffeinated up can see me rattle through my to-do list in no time with some delicious coffee to boot. So grab your brew and take a peek at my guide to setting up camp in your local coffee shop....
Prepare to spend
In the early days of business especially, finances can be tight and spending money on frivolous things such as coffee can seem like a luxury. Unfortunately you can't reap the benefits of planning your weeks social media calendar with a handcrafted drink in hand alongside the sound of clinking crockery and the coffee machine without a bit of investment. Sadly, making a single fruit tea & a cup of tap water last 5 hours just won't cut it. It may feel pricey, but at least you can feel smug in the knowledge that you're sat there building the foundations of your future business empire.
Check your tech
Unless it's an extended session of diary planning (who doesn't love that time sat with an old school paper diary) or creative writing, chances are you'll be relying on having Wi-fi to hand. There's nothing worse than getting your steaming coffee in hand, finding the perfect seat, unpacking the laptop, phone, headphones, diary, lovely new pens, even lovelier yet wholly unnecessary new post it notes and fancy notebook, only to log on & realise the Wi-fi is down. It's worth the 2 minute check before you order to log on & ensure technology is on your side.
Ask for your drink extra hot
Don't worry - you won't sound like a diva, but it will help keep your coffee drinkable for more than 5 minutes. Better still, bring an insulated cup of your own and as well as saving money in a lot of places it will keep your drink piping hot even when you look up after blogging for an hour and realise you haven't touched a drop.
If you're easily distracted, face a quieter corner. Easily cold? Avoid the area by the door. Likely to be in it for the long haul? Make sure there are plug sockets to hand. Also be mindful of others around you whether they are working or socialising - if you're working alone, pick a little table or if you want to spread out a bit, consider sharing a bigger table with another worker.
Don't forget to pee!
At risk of sounding like my mother in 1994, even if you don't need to go...'have a try'. More often then not you want to sit & work for a while - if you're anything like me and your life is on your laptop, you don't want to leave it left alone while you make a quick dash to the loo half an hour in! That said, if you're a regular in a local place (shout out to supporting small businesses...) you can probably entrust a lovely member of staff to keep half an eye on your stuff.
Another solution to pee-issues! Being self employed can be a lonely business. Sometimes simply being in a bustling environment can get the creative juices going, but it's also nice to bounce ideas off other people and know you're not in the same boat. Find others who love getting out & about for a morning's work & team up to grab a co-working table, just make sure you actually get some work done...