Those of you who know me or follow The Selfish Start Up Co. on Instagram will be well acquainted with Roo, my beautiful pooch – we joke that he’s half cockapoo, half teddy bear because he’s so damn soft & cuddly.
He’s been at the studio with me from day one, often chilling at the front during my classes or generally getting fussed over by everyone he meets. People constantly comment on his wonderfully friendly temperament & we couldn’t have asked for a better dog.
Until last weekend.
Across the Saturday & Sunday there were a couple of big family birthdays so Roo & I hit the road to go & visit everyone for a big birthday BBQ. Somehow the September sun held out for us all & it was a gorgeous day. Lots of family, friends, kids & other dogs. Roo is used to big crowds, kids, lots of people, loud noises etc so it didn’t even cross my mind that there might be an issue.
About halfway through the afternoon after his food had been put out, one of the other dogs approached his bowl. They had a little altercation in a ‘bugger off, this is my food’ dog kinda way, except that seemed to be the straw that broke the camels back. After that he turned into the little teddy of terror (that was the polite name...). You couldn’t approach him without being snapped at – he was making growling noises we’d never heard come from him before & he generally lost his shit at anyone that approached his corner.
This continued for the whole of the rest of the evening & to be honest was quite startling for me. Being with him all day every day we have an amazing bond & to see him flip out like this felt awful. By the following morning, he’d calmed down some & when we finally got home on Sunday evening he was back to his cuddly self (even if it did take a couple of days for me to get over it!).
A little bit shocked & alarmed, I got in touch on Monday with the fab trainers he’d been to puppy classes with & one of them got straight back to me to explain that it sounded like a case of ‘trigger stacking’. The more she explained what it was & in the time following as I dutifully Googled the topic more, the more it made sense. By the time I understood more of what had happened on Saturday, the less I felt frustrated at his sudden bout of aggression & the more guilty I felt.
At risk of turning into Dr Google & to keep this as brief as possible, trigger stacking occurs in dogs when stressful events occur in their life. On their own, these stresses are manageable for them, but piled one on top of the other, they become too much for them to handle & they hit breaking point, suddenly displaying behavioural changes that you would never normally see in them.
In hindsight, his reaction is absolutely no surprise at all to the circumstances & in fact made me realise that it’s the perfect metaphor to describe how The Selfish Start Up Co works.
Every cloud & all that…
If you’ve got children or have ever spent time with a niece or nephew, you’ve probably all experienced the overtired child on his birthday. Little Jonny was up at the crack of dawn that morning with sheer excitement. He’s dosed up on sugar through breakfast, lunch & dinner & missed his usual afternoon nap because he was too busy partying like the badass 4 year old that he now is.
In the afternoon, he desperately wants to get home but mummy & daddy are being so bloody boring, hanging out after his party talking to all the grown ups. Why can’t he go home NOW?! He’s so busy trying to drag them away that he pulls too hard, loses his grip on daddy’s hand & face plants the step. He just about holds his shit together but it’s close – at least now they’re finally leaving. He spends the next few hours going bat shit crazy running laps of the garden with his awesome new rocket & just is not ready to go to bed when he’s called. Eventually, mummy has to take the rocket off him to get him inside but as she goes to grab it, one of the wings snap off.
There’s a brief moment of quiet where time seems to stand still & no-one dares breathe…
Then Little Johnny erupts.
You’ve never heard screams like it & there’s no consoling him. He’s hit a threshold from which there is no return & nothing on God’s earth will console him. He just has to see this one out until eventually he wails himself to sleep. Odds are, he’ll be feeling a bit drained the next day & it might take a bit for him (as well as mum & dad…) to recover.
This isn’t uncommon. On their own, he would be capable of handling all of those circumstances individually. Spend the day piling them one on top of the other & something was always going to give.
Except sometimes it’s not the overtired child after a birthday party, it’s an overtired grown up who is in the midst of running a business.
To bore you with practicalities, when we’re exposed to a stressful situation, that nasty little hormone cortisol floods our system. Stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing – from a physiological point of view your body broadly reacts in the same way whether you’re faced with excitement or fear (those butterflies in your tummy don’t care whether they’re supposed to be excited or nervous).
Now, I called it nasty but that might be misleading too – it’s cortisol, along with adrenaline & norepinephrine that helps protect us too. These stress hormones force the fight, flight or freeze reaction to kick in which helps us kill that bear, run away from it as fast as we can or stand stock still & pray he doesn’t see us.
When a stressful experience occurs, these hormones flood our system. Then, when we know we’re safe, they begin to dissipate as we return to our normal happy bear-free state. Unfortunately, in situations of perceived & endured stress that both Roo & little Jonny experienced these hormones don’t have time to go back to their healthy levels. They build & build & build until we hit breaking point. Then we’re no use to anyone.
Whether in work or life, we’ve all experienced this. Except when it comes to our businesses we’re so bloody precious about ‘how much we have to do’ that we’re reluctant to face the fact that we might be getting closer & closer to that edge.
As I said before, our body doesn’t always distinguish between good & bad environments – stress is stress. Whether it’s the buzz you get from closing a massive sale or the crushing reality that you can’t actually pay your bills this month. Either way, you go into the same heightened sense of overdrive where your heart races, you get those butterflies in your stomach & you probably can’t sleep.
They’re just the short-term effects – long term, you might gain weight, suffer from sickness bugs & anxiety & feel constantly tired.
Think of what triggers you’ve had stacking up this year – good & bad? Are you able to diffuse them or do you find yourself getting more irritable, anxious & less able to cope as the year goes on? Add those triggers to the every day stresses of home life & you might just be a volcano waiting to erupt.
That’s why you need to learn to hit the reset button sometimes & let your body & your hormones find some sort of peace.
This doesn’t always mean you need to disappear on holiday. In all honesty, that might not always help the situation in the long run. Sure, you might sit on that beach, sipping your mojito & thinking ‘what cortisol?’, but if as soon as you get home you find yourself with twice as much work to catch up on, you’re going to go hurtling straight back towards the danger zone.
Worse still, you might know that’s inevitable & end up spending the holiday worrying pre-emptively.
Instead, think about what you can do to temper those stress levels in the most effective way. Take Roo for example, if I’d have whipped him straight out of the environment & tucked him away somewhere, sure he’d have felt good for a little while in the peace & quiet, but before long he’d end up getting a serious case of FOMO, itching to get back to where the fun stuff was happening.
Instead, the best solution would be to take him away from the madness for a little while, but instead of complete isolation, let him play with a few people at a time in a quieter space. He could chill out, regain his composure, bring those stress levels down but still get to have a party of his own at a pace that was more suited to him.
We’re no different. Instead of taking yourself away completely & worrying about what you’re missing or what will be waiting when you get back, take some time to find the peace & quiet that you need, but choose to work on the fun bits of your business instead.
No cortisol. No guilt.
Without realising it, Roo gave me the perfect way to explain why I created The Selfish Start Up Co in the first place – I don’t want to disappear on holiday & leave my business behind, I love working on it! But sometimes, that needs to be in a slightly more peaceful environment where I can build on the elements of it that I love to give my body (& mind!) the rest it needs to come back fighting.
Sound tempting? Follow this link to come & play...
Facebook algorithms often feel like the bane of my online life. Not only have this little buggers drastically reduced the organic reach of my posts, but they are causing my feed to constantly fill up with beautiful women with dazzling smiles telling me how I can make $1k in 7 days, $60k in 6 weeks or add 10,000 people to my Facebook group. All I need to do is follow their simple steps…
Shit the bed – here’s me hustling away all hours to build a successful business & all I needed the whole time was this little formula! As an engineer, I am ALL over that kinda stuff, you can’t beat a bloody good equation & now there’s one to make me a millionaire!!
They have THE secret!
Except there is no secret. Don’t get me wrong; there are tools, techniques & methods you can apply to your business to build it in the right direction. There are things you can learn or even buy but there is no magic solution.
You know this. I know this. But do you know what really pisses me off?
That a lot of people don’t get that.
I’m not out to name & shame particular businesses that do this – we’re all trying to make a living at the end of the day, everyone wants to make their mark. The problem is, we live in a culture where we want everything now. Right now. We don’t want to wait for it. We definitely don’t want to work for it. If there’s an easy option, we’re at it like a shot – we are all about the quick wins.
But you cannot make quick wins when it comes to business.
These posts are full of the kind of marketing buzz words guaranteed to draw people in…
‘Secret formula!’ ‘Unstoppable Success!’ ‘Business Secrets Uncovered!’
Hell, this sounds a bit tempting huh?
When you dig a little deeper, you often get to the truth – ‘this course won’t literally help you make $1k in 7 days – but it’ll give you the tools over the week to make your first $1000’. That doesn’t sound quite as flashy for marketing purposes though does it.
All you have to do is ‘learn the system’.
The ‘system’ itself isn’t always that bad….Often what you go on to be trained or advised in is tools, techniques & strategies around the business mindset, self belief, PR & marketing, running social media campaigns, the list is ENDLESS. Some of these coaches are bloody amazing too & there are countless business success stories from both men & women that have worked with them, but too many 'quick win' campaigns like this are giving business coaches a bad rap.
My issue is not necessarily with the offering & I’m not trying to imply that their service is not worthwhile (though for the thousands of pounds a year that some of them charge, I’d expect some bloody miracles!) it’s that their marketing strategies are setting unrealistic expectations for your average business owner.
My issue IS that amongst those winning smiles & colourful branding is the message that there is an easy way to make your fortune & they have the secret. They’re not even interested in what your business is offering, they’re just assuming that they can help you make it a roaring success.
Unfortunately, just because these entrepreneurs have made tens of thousands of pounds in their first months (even weeks apparently in some cases!) there’s no guarantee that you can too. The steps that they’ve taken to get them there do not apply to all businesses.
My frustration is with the desperate need for instant gratification that these adverts buy into. One popped up on my newsfeed yesterday & I took a scroll through the comments (which admittedly is probably why that bloody algorithm keeps showing me more!) to see questions like ‘I’m selling a product that’s $200, what kind of business model will help me make $60k in a day?’. People are signing up & handing over small fortunes (that they probably don’t have) expecting to be handed the golden ticket – the ‘simple’ methodology that will help even the shittest of the shit products turn over a fortune practically overnight.
Yes. These women did make these incredible amounts of money that quickly. I don’t deny that & good on them! But will you manage that too?
No. Probably not.
It’s fair to say that the majority of these ads come from business coaches who have made their fortune purely from coaching other people in how to make their fortune in their own successful business. In general, the whole coaching industry is starting to get a really bad rap, which is such a shame because there are some incredible coaches out there who genuinely get to know you & your business & help it to grow at a realistic pace. They will also speak honestly & openly from day one about the work you will need to put in & what expectations you should have.
This post explains it all fantastically…
So what do you actually need to build a successful business?
1. A shit hot ‘thing’
Let’s cut to the chase. If your business idea is shit, you ain’t gonna be making your millions in 6 years, let alone 6 weeks. You need to be offering something that people WANT. This is the missing step that these money-making programmes often overlook – the assumption is that their ‘way’ will work on ANYTHING. I guess that’s what sells their stuff…
Nailed step one? Then success might come quickly, but don’t bank on it. If you have a full time job don’t even think about throwing in the towel until your business model has been proven. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out, but creating a strong audience can take months or even years to build up. This post shares the lengthy start up stories of some of the world’s biggest household names.
You know the saying ‘build it & they will come?’. Well, that’s all bullshit. Even if your product or service is THE most bad-ass thing on the planet, you need to tell people it’s there. Your mum needs to tell people. Your dog needs to walk around with its own sandwich board telling the world about your amazing business. In time, testimonials & feedback will help you along the way, but to start with at least, expect some serious hustle-time. Stick with it, shout about it & don’t fall at the first setback.
This goes hand in hand with step 3. When you get disheartened by success taking SO BLOODY LONG to arrive, you need to be able to keep your head about you & not lose sight of what you’re working towards. Things will go wrong & if they don’t, you’re probably playing it too safe anyway. You’ll make mistakes & failures are inevitable – just make sure you learn from them.
Confidence. Passion. Determination. All of these come under the same umbrella. It’s risky business (excuse the pun) going it alone so you need to be happy putting yourself out there & sharing the best of yourself & your business. No more skulking in the shadows, you have to prepare to shine in the limelight.
So you know you’ve got to have that confidence & determination (what kind of nutter would you be to take off on this business journey if you didn’t think it was going to work out!?) but that doesn’t mean you know it all. Play it on the safe side – assume you know practically nothing. Live & work with an open mind; question everything. Never stop learning.
7. A Business Brain
This you can learn to a certain extent – but it’s not enough just to have a good idea. You need to be wired a certain way to be able to prioritise your tasks, make tough decisions when you need to & see the bigger picture. Know your weaknesses & delegate or outsource accordingly.
8. A Strong Support System
This shit is HARD & going it alone is not an option. You need financial support to ensure you can still pay your bills & feed yourself & your family. You need business support to ensure accountability & keep on the right path & you need emotional support. Founder burnout is one of the biggest threats to the success of any business – particularly in the early days, without you there would BE no business. Don’t underestimate the importance of putting yourself first.
So sorry if this post wasn't the quick winning formula you were hoping for to succeed business glory, but hopefully it might make some of you feel a little less of a failure for not having made your first £10k in just a few short weeks...
Need to get something off your chest? Join the Raw Business Facebook Group for an uncensored look at the realities of the small business world.
There are three types of blog post in this world. Wait, no...
There are four types of blog post you generally find on the internet.
Type One: The Actually Useful Post.
The kind of article or text that you actually get a strong take-away from; that you save in your bookmarks and refer back to regularly. Examples of some I have saved? 10 Professional Photography Tips Guaranteed to Make Your Photos Amazing (great blog & seriously invaluable when I got my DSLR & barely knew how to turn it on...), The Search for Your Heart Dog (FOUND HIM!!!) & Entrepreneur's, Don't Stay 'Positive' (I literally read this, sent it to everyone, shared it EVERYWHERE & let it reaffirm the basis of my business).
Type Two: The Wannbe Useful Post
These posts are usually published in the early days of a blogging career before the turning point - either the author gives up on blogging & probably didn't really have much passion for it in the first place, or it becomes pretty clear that the posts aren't actually useful...
Type Three: The Opinion Piece
These aren't so much about quantitive takeaways, but rather general thoughts around a subject. They usually have some click-baity cleverly enticing headline & when shared on Facebook end up with hundreds of comments underneath from those who spend hours either vehemently agreeing or debating the initial point. Said points tend to revolve around vaguely important topics: politics, business or Game of Thrones.
Type Four: The Blurb
This is a spin off of The Opinion Piece - it's all about self opinion but is led by the heart rather than the head. Think teenage angst & fluffy journals. It's about spilling out everything that's circling around your mind; no filter....just words.
When it comes to growing my business I know I need to make my blog posts more like Type One - offering some incredibly valuable nuggets of information that will inevitably alter the life of the reader so much so that they feel compelled to share it with the world. I need to provide some amazing life (or business) lesson that leaves the reader signing up to every opt in around my website they can find, following me on every form of social media they can find me on and running to find the nearest credit card so they can purchase whatever it is I have on offer. That's the business dream isn't it?
I haven't quite made it that far. The blogs I find come most naturally sit somewhere between Type Two & Type Four. Often, the most common themes I come up with seem more like confessionals. I feel like I have something useful I want to say, then it mostly just comes out as an epic & rambling brain dump. Beautifully curated & well researched posts take time beyond my patience at the moment & to be honest, I'm not sure I have much to say that's any more valuable than what's already available.
This is one of the huge hurdles I've been having with my business at the moment - the direction to take it in & that constant doubt that creeps in around whether what I am offering can actually be a successful business?
Ah, the honesty begins, which is mostly what this is about really. ..
Recently I ran two one day mini retreats for business owners who want a bit of time out without feeling guilty about it. During both afternoons we had a business brainstorm session - a chance to just chat as a group about various challenges everyone was facing within their business. For many people this was one of the most valuable parts of the day. Why? Because it was a space to simply talk. There was no training, no agenda, no presentation to watch or questions to answer. Someone described it afterwards as 'a comfortable environment to talk openly and vulnerably'.
Vulnerability. That's a word that came up more than once across the days & in the discussions since. Vulnerability. Authenticity. Honesty.
This is something we don't get enough (if any?!) of in business. It was one of the key motivators in creating The Selfish Start Up Co - the opportunity to offer an open & safe space where people didn't feel like they had to put on any sort of front.
I'm not very good at putting on any sort of front, in anything that I do - especially not within business. Whether I'm hosting a retreat or simply just teaching a class in my studio, what you get is the authentic me & you'll pretty much always know where you stand. Love me or hate me, what you get is the truth.
As a general rule, I've discovered that I can't usually get on board with the whole "fake it till you make it" brigade; overt positivity can work well if you're in the right frame of mind to be motivated, other times it just results in you feeling lonely, useless & like you have no-one you can be your honest-self with. If you're outwards presence is constantly radiance, positivity & a million dollar smile, it can be hard to admit that some days can be really bloody hard.
It can be even harder amongst peers - whether in person or online - to admit that you're not always keeping up. When it's 11am on a Monday & everyone else looks like they're already smashing their '7 day goals', it's near impossible to admit that you haven't even been able to face getting out of your pyjamas yet & the most productive thing you've achieved is establishing that you do in fact pronounce Primark as 'Pr-eye-mark' & not 'Pree-mark'.
Shit. If people think I'm not constantly working at my laptop productively with a beautiful piece of latte art in hand, a full face of make up & a winning smile plastered to my face, how on earth will they trust that I can run a successful business?
Yet if we can't be honest with each other - with the people in the exact same boat that we're in every day, who can we be honest with?! I'm buggered if I know. Maybe that's what life coaches are for? I don't know, I've never had one. Ooh maybe someone needs to come up with the idea of 'business therapists' - for all your self employment meltdown needs...
Or we could just start being a bit more honest with each other?
My core business is my beautiful yoga studio in the Cotswolds. We've only been open just under a year so are still finding our feet & this May we had an AWFUL month. Where the hell had everyone gone? Classes were so quiet I had to cancel a load, bookings were down & I mostly just thought 'shit...this is the start of the summer dead season, already'. Having quit my full time job at Christmas, I was convinced this was it for the business & we were never going to make enough money to be able to stay open beyond our first year lease term in September. At the time, I don't think I even let onto Chris how worried I was about finances within the business. Somehow, in the last few days of the month & throughout June it picked up enough to survive, but there were definite moments of panic & anxiety there.
Turns out I could have saved myself at least some of that stress...
A few weeks later we got a new puppy & when he first started going out for walks, he had this fascination with wanting to go into every shop doorway we walked past in town. There are some amazing local businesses along our street & having Roo was the perfect chance to dive & have a long overdue catch up with some of the business owners I knew. Being a bit too honest as I am, when asked how it was going at the studio, I couldn't help but open with 'Oh my God...May was horrendous'. Much to my surprise, more than once I got the response 'it was terrible for us too!'.
Whilst it still wasn't great for business (or the books!) this response meant that it wasn't just my business that was feeling the pain that month. It wasn't anything we'd personally done wrong. I hadn't made a terrible faux pax which had my students running for the hills & people weren't boycotting the studio, they just weren't anywhere. There was probably little I could have done to prevent it - everyone was in the same boat. Had I known that, maybe I could have toned my freak outs down just a little bit & kept my cortisol levels in a reasonable state.
The problem is, no-one wants to be the first to let on that there is a problem. We'd rather put on a brave face & struggle on through alone. It's not until someone puts their hand up first to show a little vulnerability that we might brave it enough to step forwards & admit 'me too'.
So I'm doing it. I'm putting my hand up. I'm throwing my hat into the ring & declaring that this is really fucking hard work.
I'm creating my own safe space to ramble & share all the niggly bits of what's going on at the moment & I'll be sharing these posts as a more authentic view of my business life. They will probably be a bit random, potentially very grammatically incorrect & almost definitely peppered with terrible language, but they'll be real.
They're not tied to my business (other than being hosted here as I don't have the mental capacity (or bank balance!) to manage a separate website right now..) but having seen first hand the amazing impact of holding honest & open conversations in person, I hope they'll act as a relatable & worthwhile space for some of you too.
There are already a ton of amazing & supporting business groups over on Facebook, but sometimes I just need to share things that are maybe a bit (dare I say it...) less 'professional'. When your weekly goal is 'don't eat cereal for dinner' because you haven't had time for a big shop, these groups don't always feel like the most appropriate forum...
So I thought I'd create my own instead. You can join me & my ramblings in the Raw Business Facebook group - I've literally just created it so it'll be a small party; I won't be asking you to share your top Twitter tips or hosting online networking sessions because there are plenty of groups already nailing that out there, instead it'll simply be a safe space where hopefully you can get some more off the cuff insight into the realities of the self working life. You can ever start a conversation or two...
Vent. Let it out. Scream from the rooftops (or just type furiously) & get out all those frustrations, worries & rants. Ask for help on those things you feel like you can't ask anywhere else or just take the opportunity to be yourself.
Trust me, it's cathartic.
About Raw business
This is a different kind of blog...