For anyone, starting a business is a scary and daunting task. It takes a ballsy person to decide to go without for who knows how long and invest everything they have into an idea which at that point only they truly believe in.
Starting a business was an idea I considered and attempted quite some years ago whilst working full time. My original sideline was special occasion cakes and sweet treats. Although it earned me a bit of extra cash, I never attempted to grow it. In fact, I decided that making cakes for family and friends was one thing but the pressure of creating someone’s wedding cake was a little too much for me.
Other than that, I didn’t really have any hobbies or have any amazing skills nor a brilliant idea that I could offer or sell to people so being an employee and working up the career ladder was my only option. And I did just that. I worked for a fab Law Firm who trained me and enabled me to work my way up from Office Junior to Office Manager, and literally everything in between. I had no intention to leave. That was until my personal situation changed and I decided to give it all up to start a new life in Birmingham. Needless to say, that didn’t go quite to plan. Actually, it went so wrong I moved back to Dorset without a job, without a plan, without a direction and I felt completely lost.
For me, starting The Contemporary PA was less of a choice, more of a need. I spent around two weeks searching for jobs until I decided there had to be more. These jobs were part time, temporary, zero-hour contracts, jobs which would literally suck the life from me, and sitting around waiting for something to come up just isn’t in my nature. I needed to work, I needed to be doing something to earn my keep. And with that, I decided once again to look at my skills. Only this time I knew I had something to offer. I had been working in a city which brims with life 24/7, where anything is possible. A city where receptionists are IPads, people work remotely, and outsourcing and collaboration is the go to. I had seen a whole new world, one which was much bigger and far more advanced than the one I had grown up in, and I wanted a piece of it.
I knew it would be tough. Living in a very traditional town where I barely get phone signal was in most views a very draft place to start a virtual business which relied on a fast and reliable internet connection as well as forward thinking businesses who were open to a new way of working. But, I love my home and I love a challenge.
It took all of a weekend to have my business cards designed and my website up and live.
My first real challenge was networking. I remember driving to events and giving myself a real talking to, controlling my breathing so I wouldn’t pass out. There are two I attended which stick in my mind. The first, I was speaking with a group of women, they asked me what I did, and one responded “Well, at least you know how to do your make-up”, turned and continued the conversation with the others. The second was a breakfast meeting where a lady commented to another attendee “Why is she here. It’s not like she even eats breakfast”. Unfortunately, comments continued and do continue to be made, mainly based on the way I look and because I’m a young female. At first, I let this bother me and it was a huge set back. I tried to change the way I dressed opting for less fitted trouser suits rather than dresses, wearing flats instead of heels, and I felt myself proving why I deserved to be there. I felt like I was back at school all over again.
Now, through experience, I embrace it and I’ve changed the way I react
to these things. I wear power suits and dresses, and I love wearing my heels. More than anything, they make me feel confident. And yes, often I can be one of the only young women in the room, but that makes me memorable. On occasion, I still feel the need to prove my worth and lead with my experience as well as how many years I’ve been working, but I’ve learnt to use it to capture the attention from those I’m speaking with
rather than as a defence mechanism.
I also found that people would overlook my ideas and insist I was doing it wrong. They’d always worked this way and it worked so I should do the same. The thing is, I’m not and my business isn’t about doing it the same way, we’re about change, we’re about finding new ways, ways that work for a digital and virtual world, a modern world where more and more individuals are setting up and going it alone and looking for alternatives to traditional business and marketing methods. I always welcome guidance, support and truly believe mentoring is a great way for young businesses to move forward, but for me, it was key to find mentors that understood my vision and encouraged me to develop in a way that works towards that.
On a personal level, starting a business was tough on my social scene. While my friends were eating out, spending money on clothes and getting their nails done, I was making just enough to pay my bills. Anything extra that I did have went on eating breakfast and lunch with people in suits in a hope they’d be my next client. Everything we take for granted was hard. Filling up the car, buying food. I found myself living off 26p pasta and living pay cheque to pay cheque.
As my friends were being promoted at work, buying houses, having babies, getting on with their lives and heading in the “right direction” to 30 none of that was on the cards for me. I was told that I needed 3 years accounts before I’d even be considered for a mortgage and I could barely afford to look after myself let alone children, I felt like I was stuck. But still I knew there was more. If I just kept going, I’d make it. I knew that if I sacrificed now, I could make my own life, one where I was in control and could to some extent make sure I had everything I’ve ever wanted, and I’m not talking about the materialistic things in life, this was more the security and balance in life I craved.
Two years on some things have changed, others haven’t. My business continues to grow, and I still continue to face challenges based on my age and gender, and still not from the people you'd expect it to come from, but I do have a strong network of people who have seen how hard I’ve worked and know what I’m capable of. I am also in a much better situation financially, even having the odd holiday here and there and buying a house with only one year’s accounts, but still get the odd moment where I may lose a client or the work load may drop and results in a mini breakdown over reaching a comfortable level of income.
Running a business is stressful and hard and sometimes I think rather an insane idea, and made even more difficult by having unnecessary obstacles because of age or gender. For me, writing this blog is more than just telling my story and boosting my followers, it’s a call for change.