A couple of weeks ago I went to ‘How She Got There’, a panel discussion held by GA London in collaboration with Creative Equals. The panel was made up of 5 female entrepreneurs who each started up their own companies, including Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals; Coralie Sleap, co-founder of Drink Shop & Do; Lu Li, founder of Blooming Founders; Megan Thomas, co-founder of Full Fat & Flock Global; and Lucy Hackshaw, founder and managing director of Seen Displays.
The evening was incredibly inspiring and interesting, with all the panellists bringing their own unique insight and sense of humour to an absorbing, informative, humorous, and refreshingly real conversation. Each woman clearly came with the intention of being as honest, vulnerable and helpful as possible, open to sharing their experiences and giving the audience a genuine account of why and how they’ve been working, and will continue to work, to establish and grow a successful business.
While the whole evening was clearly aimed towards encouraging and helping women in the marketing industry (something both Ali Hanan and Lu Li’s companies explicitly strive to do) the topics that were raised, and the pearls of wisdom shared, were entirely relevant to any ambitious, driven individual looking to start up their own company, regardless of gender.
The panellists were each asked a series of questions along the lines of why they chose to start their own businesses, the problems they’ve faced, the lessons learned, and what they wish someone had told them.
Here is some of the key advice I took away from the evening:
- Find a co-founder. Starting your own business is incredibly hard and you CANNOT do it alone, no matter how strongly you believe you can. Find someone to share the load with, bounce ideas off, and look to for help and reassurance when times get tough.
- Sign a contract with your co-founder. Even if it’s your best child-hood friend who you’ve known forever and trust with your life, you never know how things will turn out. Starting a business with a friend changes the dynamic of your relationship and you need to clearly set boundaries and lay out your obligations to one another.
- Communicate everything clearly with your co-founder. Verbalising all of your thoughts is absolutely key – never assume or take for granted that you’re on the same page with an idea, or that you have the same vision for something. Hash out all the details on everything before you move forward, this will prevent any confusion or tension in the future.
- Network! Go to as many events, talk, conferences etc. as possible and makes as many connections as you can. You never know which relationships will come in handy, and where you’ll find support when you need it in the future.
- Use these connections whenever you need help or advice. If you have any questions about anything, or you’re not sure what the best way to do something is, the average price you should be paying for a service etc. then ask! The more problems you come to a person with, the more willing they will be to help. Use their advice and past experiences to learn and gather as much information as possible. Never underestimate how helpful people are willing to be, and you’ll never know unless you ask.
- Plan your finances THOROUGHLY. Work out exactly what you can afford, and how much time you have before you’ll need to move on if it isn’t working out. Do all your research before you start so you know exactly what your costs will be. One of the speakers made the point that she was totally unprepared for, and shocked by, all the things that are taxed on a business. You need to factor in things you don’t even know exist, so do your research before you make the leap.
- Be prepared to be the ‘fixer’. As a founder, you have final responsibility for everything, which means you’re expected to deal with every little problem that comes along. All of your employees and clients will come to YOU to deal with all their issues, and expect you to always have to answer and be able to fix everything; as Megan Thomas eloquently put it, ‘As an entrepreneur you’re basically a glorified fixer, because you’ll have to fix shit’. So make sure you’re able to fix shit, constantly.
- Think about scalability. When doing your initial plans, think about how you can grow your company in the future, otherwise a year or two in, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise when you realise there is no where to go.
- Be prepared to give your entire life over to your business. You have to be 100% willing to give everything you have – all your time, money, attention, focus, energy, and most likely sanity – to the business. It will take over your life, especially at the beginning, and if you aren’t willing to let that happen, don’t even think about starting anything up. As the person whose neck is on the line, you’ll constantly be thinking about the business, at all hours of the day and all weekend. There is no switching off, it will consume you, and you’ll be terrified to stop in case someone else messes it up. So be willing to make your job your life, and your life your job.
- And finally, lean on your friends and family on the days when you feel like giving up. Use your support system as much as possible, relying on those closest to you to keep you sane.
A massive thank you to all the speakers for the great advice, and for the organisers for putting on such great event.