This episode is part of my three-episode miniseries on some of the marketing issues around exiting the lockdown in the UK. It’s my own very personal story of rebuilding my business several times, and sharing some lessons from my experience that will hopefully help you.
I’m recording this at the start of May and in the UK we are likely to be in a position of gradually opening up for many weeks and months. If you are looking at your business thinking, “I cannot come back from this. The damage that has been done to the business is too great”, then I hope some of my experience will help you reassess and think about how you go forward.
Starting a business twice
I have started a business twice. The first time was in 2003. I was 29. That age is significant! I wanted to see if I could work for myself. There was little or no risk at that point. If the business had failed, I had financial stability to fall back on, which is always a great place to be. The second time I started a business was in 2012, after I had been back to work for an employer. I was a mum, I had been trying to juggle working four days a week, and I was studying for a master’s level qualification. By the time my employer was looking to restructure my team for the second time in less than 18 months, I was really ready for a break. I had had enough. I was burnt out. So I took voluntary redundancy. And I set up again on my own. I had done it before so I knew how that worked. The circumstances were different in that I was working with a small child, that’s always a bit more of a challenge. But again, the financial security was there as a backup.
Rebuilding a business
The third time I had to really work my business from the ground floor up was in 2019 when I walked away from a major client account. I did not have the financial security that I’d had in the past, and taking a financial risk was significant for me and for my family. And it is pretty scary when you’re looking at your business, and you’re doing the numbers and you’re really wondering if there is enough money there to pay the mortgage and pay the bills, and to look after the people who are relying on you. So if that’s you at this point, I know what that’s like..
In this episode, I want to think about some of the mindset issues. I thought it was really important to address this. You can have all the practical plans in the world but you aren’t feeling good, if you feel like you are at the bottom of a cliff and it’s too hard to come back then you are never going to move forward. So I think you really need to address those mental issues before you can move on to the practical stuff.
It’s really important to say here that I am not a mental health professional. If you need help with your mental health, please access that support. You could look at the Federation of Small Businesses resources in this area because they will have been written with people like us in mind.
So what are some of the things that I have found useful in all of these different scenarios when you’re trying to build and rebuild?
Listen to and read the right stuff
In 2019, when I was rebuilding my business, I took a very active decision not to engage with the news about Brexit. Whatever your political views are, it was draining and difficult and there was nothing I could do about it. So I took a very practical decision not to listen to the news and just focus on my own situation. You can look wherever you like for the positive influences you need. I listen to podcasts and I choose to listen to those that are business focused and very positive. You might find appropriate books that help you, you might find particular social media feeds very positive. So look for those positive influences, engage with those and actively disengage from those that will drain you anything at this point that will make you feel hopeless.
Those negative influences might include other businesses. At the start of this whole COVID-19 crisis, I realized I was listening to a lot of other small businesses talking about the catastrophe to their business and that made me feel worse. It took probably two or three weeks for me to realize that actually, I was spending a lot of my time absorbing other people’s angst and that really wasn’t helpful. So really choose what you put in your brain, because you are going to need to feel really strong.
I know that you do need to listen to a certain amount of the news to know how things are changing. But maybe try and keep those to official government feeds and don’t read the comments! Don’t engage in the speculation or the opinions of the rest of the world, they will not help you at this point.
Find a mentor or a coach
You might find it really useful to get yourself a mentor or a coach. That maybe an actual person, somebody that you speak to once a week or once a month. Or it may be more virtual such as a Facebook group run by a coach, where you’re getting some of that advice for free because your funds don’t allow right now. It may be useful to try and find somebody with business experience that is relevant to you. You might want to engage in some group coaching which brings you into contact with other small businesses going through similar journey.
My third step is to tell yourself what’s real. I am the queen of catastrophizing! When I find myself doing that, actually what I need to sit down and say is “what’s real here?” And what’s real is that I have over 20 years’ experience in doing this. I have a network of happy clients and their testimonials. I know what I’m doing. So if you’re struggling to move forward, just make yourself a list of what assets and experience you have. You might find a SWOT analysis format helpful. You may want to just look at the strengths and the opportunities part of the of the model at this point.
You may have a great team of people around you, or great technology. You still have those things even though the current environment is very difficult. You are an experienced business owner; you still have access to those people or to that technology. So I think it’s really helpful to remind yourself of this, write it on a post it note, put it on your laptop screen or pop it as a reminder in your phone.
Access industry and professional support
If you are a member of a professional body or trade body, this is a really good time to check out the support that they have. This will be very specifically tailored to your type of business. I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations which has put out a lot of support and guidance for PR consultancies and independent consultants. Do check what your professional body is offering, and use what is relevant.
Look after yourself
This final point is not at all about marketing! But I find if I’m getting enough sleep, if I’m eating properly and getting enough exercise, I am mentally able to deal with the challenges that the day throws at me. Scrolling through Instagram at midnight probably isn’t the best preparation for getting up and taking really strong action!
There are lots of pieces of advice about how to kind of structure your day for maximum success, but you will know how you work best. Hopefully don’t need me to tell you to get enough sleep, stay off social media, eat well and to lay off the alcohol or the caffeine. But this is going to be a challenge and you need to be mentally and physically prepared to rebuild your business.
I hope all of those points have been helpful and help to put you in the right mindset to do the most important step of all, which is to take decisive and bold action. I will talk about that in more detail in the next episode.
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