The business lessons I learned from moving across the country and starting a PhD ⋆ Emma Weatherall - Digital Marketing Consultant

The business lessons I learned from moving across the country and starting a PhD

Since starting my first business venture in 2012, I’ve experienced a roller-coaster of a ride.

Last year I uprooted my family and moved across the country to pursue something completely different, in the belief that it would improve our lives.

Oh boy was I wrong!

In this post, I’d like to share with you the game-changing business lessons I learned on this journey.


In 2014, I decided that to further my career, I needed to be more conventionally qualified.  So I did what I’m sure many have done before me – what some saw at the time as a sensible move, and what left others incredulous.

I wound down my thriving, growing, beloved holistic community events business, and I enrolled at a university to finish the degree I had abandoned 6 years before.

Now, this was my no means a snap decision – Let me take you back a moment:

Between 2012 and 2014, the business that had started as a one-off, passion and frustration driven, community focused event, had gone from strength to strength.  In that time I’d collaborated with over 180 people supporting the conscious parenting movement – from home-crafters, small to medium business owners, creative entrepreneurs and local charities, to national franchises, renowned speakers and international companies.  I’d been invited to speak at conferences, was growing events around the country, taking on team members and even  being asked to host events in Australia and the USA.

From an onlooker’s perspective, it seemed as though I was on a roll and looking success straight in the eye.

And I was.

This was the most satisfying venture I had ever taken on in my career.  I was working for myself, supporting people, connecting people, sharing knowledge and conceiving innovative events that hadn’t existed before.

The problem was, it was growing faster than I could manage.

What people didn’t realise, was that I was running EVERYTHING.

By myself.

Although, I think that many people did know that I was a one man band, they just saw that as an incredible achievement and testament to my abilities, rather than comprehending why it was a disaster waiting to happen.

For each of the events that coordinated sponsors, exhibitors, workshop speakers, activities, online marketing, print advertising, customer enquiries and exhibitor demands, venue booking, event design, sourcing of fittings and decor, compiling goody bags, and basically organising all the multiple elements that mean an event or festival can actually happen and, on top of that, drew in upwards of 2,000 people in footfall, I had no team.

 

Let that sink in for a second.

 

I had no customer service support, no bookings handler, no event organiser, no venue coordinator, no fittings sourcer, no marketing manager, no social media manager, no VA, no copy writer, no graphics or web designer, no runners . . . no assistance whatsoever.

When I write that list now, and think of all the other things on top of what I’ve articulated here that were involved, it sounds crazy!

Effectively, I was singlehandedly running what an entire events company needs a dedicated team to manage properly, and still be rushed of their feet.

To top it all off?

I was a single parent with a toddler and I consciously chose to work only when my son was asleep or with the nanny that we had briefly (she moved back to America after she got married and I was resistant to believing anyone else could be as wonderful as she’d been!)

For one event that was on the other side of the country, I did hire an assistant a few weeks beforehand, and we recruited some volunteers for carting around equipment over one day, but that was very short-term.

So of course, disaster did strike.

In March 2014, just before a major event, I developed a really severe chest and lung infection.  I carried on working as much as I could, splitting my focus between my son and juggling phone calls and event organisation.  But eventually, I had to accept that it had become too much.  My body had had enough, and was telling me to stop. Now.

Because I had never budgeted for taking on team members, I wasn’t in a position to outsource without breaking my bank account.

I’d known for a while that in order not just to continue, but to grow and develop my business the way it was heading, I needed to take on staff.  But to do that, I would have needed to slow down – to take a step back and put in the time to translate my systems and processes in a way that could be documented and then handed over to someone else to manage alongside me.

If I’d just stepped on the brakes long enough to look at the big picture and fully realise the advantages of putting time and energy into taking on support, even if it meant in the short term I’d have to put some projects on hold (and really, this probably wouldn’t have been the case), I could have saved years of frustration, developed a business and lifestyle I loved and really fulfilled my passion sooner.

So I packed it all in.  It sounds ridiculous now, and I sometimes still get annoyed at the person I was then for choosing a different path, but the reality is that at the time, I was under so much pressure, I couldn’t see further than the problems directly in front of me.

My son was getting older and needed a different kind of involved attention.

I wanted to fully support myself and bring in the kind of income that could allow us to live the life I envisioned, without working myself into the ground (or all through the night!).

I knew without a doubt, that I’d developed systems and practices that were deeply effective and highly profitable, I just needed to push past this barrier that I was feeling.  (ie, not having a team).

 

At this point, I had a decision to make, with what I saw as two options:

 

1.  Hire a team!

This seems like a no-brainer, but being that I had nothing in my budget to accommodate taking anyone on, I was looking at almost a full year of taking no profit in order to take things to that next level.

2.  Get a job.

As anyone who’s ever been presented with the possibility of surrendering being your own boss and the business you’ve built from the ground up will testify, the thought of this almost broke my heart.  And I knew that if I went with this option, I’d only settle for something that lit me up just as much as entrepreneurship did.  Any job I was willing to take would also have to allow me to live my family life as closely as possible to how I desired, including travel and flexible working hours, and would come with a comparable income to that which I was looking at working for myself.  Now you tell how many jobs do that?!  I’d have to be in a position to land a pretty high-level corporate job straight off the bat to check those boxes.  And although I felt successful and had a tonne of experience in the relevant fields, on paper, I didn’t feel confident at selling myself.  As you can imagine, this option wasn’t looking too great.

But the power of conventional-ism to sway the mind is surprisingly strong!

I looked at my parents and the secure, satisfied life they’d provided for us as kids.

I listened to my family who had always been proud of what I’d achieved, but still saw my business as a hobby and thought I could ‘do more with my life’.

I looked at my university friends who by now all had letters after their names, were working in Finance and HR, getting married and having the 2.1 children.

 

I ignored the fact that office spaces make me feel nauseated and that every single time I’ve tried to work in a company I ended up wishing I were somewhere else and never doing anywhere near a good enough job.

I forgot that I’d stepped into another, loving, supportive group of friends who had taken similar control over their lives, and ‘got’ what I was doing.  Friends who  understood the need for alternative ways of living that aligned with our values and purpose, because they too were on this entrepreneurial journey.

I overlooked the fact that I was a wildly accomplished, independent, deeply skilled woman with a happy, connected child.  A woman who’d been supporting herself as self-employed pretty much from the moment she took a ‘sabbatical’ from university to the present day.

 

The thought of that first option and taking no profit for a year, with rent to pay and a child to support, resigned me to believing it wasn’t viable.  But what truly filled me with fear?  What would happen if I made it work.

I put no effort into finding a way to actually make a year of growth and team on-boarding happen financially, because it seemed like too big of a leap – because I found it so difficult to conceive of the massive possibilities if and when my business really did become the success could see for the future.

My decision?

I decided that if I could get a degree that would allow me to access the ‘normal’ job market, and then take a masters to enable me to take an upper-level position, all would be right in the world.

And so I dived into the world of academic study.

I turned my back on my business and forged ahead with the new plan – finish the final 2 years of uni, apply for a masters degree course at a top university, complete masters, apply for high level positions, be happy.

Which brings us to the present day.

Nearly 3 years on from making that decision, and not a week has gone by when I haven’t thought about what I could be doing with my own business, about where I would be if I’d taken that leap.

Almost every day I had an idea and jotted it down, putting it to the back of my mind and disciplining myself to stay focused on the current path.

Funnily enough, I still told people I ran my own business, and continued working with 1:1 clients for  income, as I enjoyed so much consulting on online business and marketing strategy and seeing the transformation I helped to enact on their results.

And I watched people I knew and followed, become influencers in their fields and do with their businesses what I had wished for mine.

If I’m honest, I was constantly making notes because some part of me was always looking down line and thinking about when I could put these ideas into action – I was storing them for after I graduated.

The reason I couldn’t stop working with clients is because it is what I felt called to do.  And once you have a taste of success doing what you truly love – and are good at – it is incredibly hard to put that to one side.

So after turning away from my dream out of fear, I was now effectively planning how to not take that job I said I wanted but really didn’t!

A bizarre double self-sabotage.

When I got accepted on a highly competitive masters degree at a prestigious university in London last year, I moved us across the country to be able to take it on.

I convinced myself that I could go into academics, pursue another passion of mine (literature) and make a good living that fits in with school term times.  I got accepted as a PhD candidate and suddenly found myself looking at 3 more years of study and low-paid work, albeit in a field I love.

Our experience living in London has not been as pleasurable and as full of potential as I imagined; We feel cooped up, constantly rushed, disconnected from those around us and energetically impacted by the noise, pollution, experiences with crime and limited access to nature.  Plus, the cost of living is so high that it restricts our spending capacity outside of day to day costs.

While being here, I gradually realised that, over the past couple of years, I have taken us down a path that lead to the very lifestyle I had sought to avoid, by creating the life I desired, my way, supported by my own business!

It suddenly hit me that this is not what I ever wanted for us, and that I had a way out.

In fact, I never had to be here in the first place.

I had the resources, the skills, the knowledge, the experience – the desire – to put us firmly back in the position of living the life we love.

I am now in a position to take that leap, this time, without the fear.

This journey has been transformational.

It could be said that I made the wrong decision back in 2014, that I should have continued on in my business and pushed past the problems and reservations.  And in some respects, that may be right.

However, I’ve realised, that had I continued on at that point in time, I may still not have reached the understanding that I have now.

I’ve had a lot of experiences over the past couple of years and learned a lot about myself that has brought me to the mindset that I have now.

Sometimes, we have to go down an alternate path, explore other aspects of our self, and experience what we then find we don’t want, in order to force out a full comprehension of our true desires.

To finish off this long ass story (and thank you for sticking with me to the end!), I’d like to share the core lessons that I’ve learned through this journey.

 

Lesson #1

On the other side of fear, is greatness.

There’s a famous image of a circle representing our comfort zone and a dot just outside of its boundaries, indicating ‘where the magic happens’.  I believe that this is also true of fear – Often we feel fear as resistance, just before something great is about to happen, or we’re about to break through a ceiling to go for or achieve something bigger than we could have conceived of previously.  This is called growth!  I’m sure it relates back to our ancient animal instincts, where anything new or unknown had the potential to represent danger, and so our mind and body would resist change in order to protect itself.

(Have you seen The Croods?  Grug’s mantra ‘Change is BAD’ always reminds me of this!)

 

Lesson #2

Listen to your gut!

Every step that I’ve taken on this journey, my head turned to see what it would look like if I stepped back into entrepreneurship.  That should have been a sign of how important it was to me, and how I was resistant to the path I was making myself take instead.  I could be 3 years further along in my business journey at this point, and who knows what I would have achieved!  Your passions, your intuitions, are there for a reason – they guide us to our purpose and I absolutely believe that when we are passionate about something, we have the ability to pour positive energy from our heart and soul into it.  Which means that work done on a ‘passion project’ is always going to be that much greater than that which feels mundane to us.

 

Lesson #3

Plan to grow

If you believe in the potential success of your business – or even if you don’t (but you should!), sit down and note down aspects of your business that could be handled by someone other than you with the right training.  The truth is, that’s usually most things!

As you go about your business in the day-to-day, note down how you do things and document systems or procedures you have in place.  That way, when the time comes to bring someone on board to support your business, you won’t have to go through every single thing you do in one go, and you’ll already have a basis upon which to begin transferring your processes for them to manage.

 

I hope you’ll be able to take something from my story.

Don’t put off your dreams.  Lean into the fear.  Do what you are called to do.  Believe in your abilities.  Go at it all in.

And never be afraid to embrace your passions.

 

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