23 May 2017

My Two Year Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster...

Almost two years ago I left the 9 to 5 behind and made a leap of faith into self-employment. After studying massage and holistic therapies in both 2005 and 2009, I found a therapy room in my home city (Newcastle). It was the right time to give it a go. I had been miserable in my office job for nine months and it was getting me down. The opportunity came up with another supportive therapist and I jumped. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t perfect but what is? 

The logo for my holistic business 
After a rocky first few weeks, where I ended up taking part in a voucher scheme to keep the clients coming though the door, I actually started to enjoy it. I love people and my clients were fascinating to me. I felt like I was actually making a difference. I seemed to get a lot of ladies who were coping with teenage kids and ill elderly parents. My situation seemed easy by comparison. I loved helping people to feel better, but I struggled to protect my own energy. I was working all hours. In the beginning it’s easy to overdo it. The problem is that you risk burning out, and then you’re no good to anyone. One of the main things that I remind my coaching clients about is self-care. Extreme self-care. You have to learn to put yourself and your health first, or there is no business. 

My first foray into entrepreneurship didn’t last last. Two months in, I was working late at the therapy room. My client, a lovely pregnant lady who was a teacher, was happy to chat so the treatment ran over (by half an hour). She left and I cleaned up the room as per usual. I was aware that I was late for the train so I quickly locked the door then dashed around the corner. I was on the second floor of a yoga studio and the only person in the building that night. I got to the bottom of a small flight of stairs, tripped, twisted in the air, then all I can remember is pain.

Me massaging at an event, the therapy room in Newcastle Centre, my broken ankle, and the therapy room in Jesmond 
Luckily I managed to call the ambulance and my parents before my phone died (I’d been using it for relaxation music during treatments). I couldn’t lift my leg more than an inch without screaming. I managed to wedge my rucksack underneath it and tried to stay calm. It was a cold December night and I started to go into shock. After thirty minutes of alternating screaming and singing ’10 Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ I heard the door on the ground floor open. My parents arrived at the same time as the ambulance. I was carried down two flights of stairs, deposited in the ambulance and given gas and air (which didn’t touch the sides). Later I found out I’d broken it in three places and needed to have an operation to pin and plate it. I was in hospital for five days and the first thing I thought of when it happened was cancelling my clients. 

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of work for at least eight weeks, and that it was time to leave that venue anyway. After a couple of weeks of binge-watching and reading, I decided to create a website. I’d been a copywriter and done social media management in a previous job, and thought it might be a good idea to have a contingency plan. So I set myself up online and joined some online networking groups. I met some people who I can only describe as my guardian angels. They sent me work when I was struggling which kept me going so I didn’t have to go back to a full-time job. 

I found another therapy room and tried to go back and continue doing holistic therapy work. It was in a lovely place in an affluent area. I realised two things - a) that I was in pain after losing strength due to the injury (especially back pain) and b) I had lost my passion for therapies. At least I tried. I managed to get a copywriting client in the US and social media clients which provided regular income. I started to get used to working from home, even though I quickly felt a bit isolated, after fifteen years of working with other people. 

My copywriting/social media business logo
When I was injured I was received sickness benefit (ESA) as I had no other form of income. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with the Job Centre and went to a place called People Plus instead. It was much nicer and they helped me out with some self-employment issues. I hadn’t had time to sort out insurance before the injury, and it’s still difficult to find self-employment insurance, which I find ridiculous and needs to change. What happens if we injure ourselves? Having nothing to fall back on is extremely stressful. After eight weeks I was able to walk again, but it took another couple of months to get fully back into the swing of things.

I managed to reduce my feelings of isolation by going to lots of networking events, but when I did my tax return I freaked out at the amount I’d spent on train journeys. I networked more for the social input (it wasn’t like I got a large amount of work from it). It also made me feel better and less guilty, like I was actually doing something to get more work, even though the reality of it wasn’t exactly perfect. Running was my lifeline for years after suffering from work-related depression due to stressful careers, and I was instructed by the Consultant that I couldn’t run for eighteen months. I was devastated and worried about how I would manage my mental health. Running kept my head clear and reduced my stress levels. I tried swimming and yoga in its place, but they didn’t help me as much as pounding the pavement.

I set up a monthly networking event at a cafe in Newcastle, which had an emphasis on wellbeing and relaxation. We met for a few months before it seemed to run out of steam. I was getting sick of corporate networking and wanted to create something a more peaceful and nurturing environment. I still like the idea and might try and revive it in the future.

My relaxation networking in Newcastle
After about eight months of marketing, I started to feel a bit empty. Managing social media was getting me down. I felt like I was doing a lot of work for relatively little pay. I also felt like I was on social media all the time, and it drained my creativity. I still enjoyed writing about yoga so over a period of time I made the decision to stop doing social media. 

At that point I’d created another website focussed on coaching. I’d been interested in coaching and helping others for years, and became passionate about the idea of helping people out of jobs they didn’t enjoy and become self-employed. I came across the term ‘Freedom Coach’ and decided that fitted the bill. I joined coaching groups and quickly became embroiled in the daily life of a coach. Designing coaching programmes and opt-ins, spilling my guts daily on social media, making online videos, recording webinars, fighting with technology to create online programmes. Trying to convince people to join me  - that I was living the dream and I knew what I was doing. Filling my head with the latest technology and coaching techniques. I can’t remember much about this time, apart from being glued to my laptop. 

First coaching logo

Second coaching logo idea 

I’d found about about an Erasmus scheme where I could work with a company abroad, and got excited about that. I would receive a monthly bursary which would mean I could stop the social media work. After a placement in Lisbon fell through, I arranged another one in Santorini. After over a year working from home, a change of scene was keeping me going. 

Just before I left, my regular writing work stopped. Which meant I would be going away without any clients. This left me uneasy but I was hopeful I could find more work. When I got to Santorini, I had a major personality clash with the host entrepreneur. I tried to compromise but it became clear that it wasn’t going to work. I entertained the idea of being a tour guide for a few days before flying back home. To no work.

During my two week trip, I completely stopped doing the marketing work for my coaching business. I expected to ease off whilst I was learning about how another business worked, but I didn’t expect to lose all motivation. I started to get inspired to focus on freelance writing whilst I was in such a beautiful place. Something shifted in me. Part of me was like, “what the hell? You’ve already changed direction three times in two years. Are you fucking crazy?” Another part of me was relieved. How long did I have to keep pushing and striving to succeed as a coach? I was feeling inauthentic. I battled with myself, wondering if I was giving up too early, if I was close to the finish line and would regret taking my foot of the gas at that point. I had to follow my intuition which was telling me to write and stop worrying. That ever since I’d started down the self-employment path, that I had been provided for, even though there were many times when I felt like giving up. The idea of doing things that I wasn’t passionate about again kept me going. 

I had developed a new kind of faith that I’d never had before in my life as an employed person. Even in the difficult times, the money had come in and I was able to keep going. After being back in the UK for nearly three weeks, my faith is currently being tested. Fear and worry have reared their ugly heads. Why should I feeling guilty for having a rest after this self-employment rollercoaster? It goes back to that feeling that if you’re not earning money, it somehow reduces your worth. That you’re not succeeding or contributing. This is bullshit, but it’s difficult to believe that when you’re in the thick of it. Since I came back I self-published my memoir on Amazon. The lack of other work is impeding on my ability to feel pride for publishing my book, which I started to write in January. I keep forgetting how traumatic it was to revisit those feelings, the breakdowns, the worry about whether I would ever get better and be able to have a ‘normal’ life, whatever that means. 

The cover of my memoir
So despite the worry, despite the fear of the unknown, and the confusion about what to do next, I choose to have compassion for myself. Writing this is helping me to do that, because I was going down the usual road of beating myself up. The failsafe stance. I could beat myself up for sacking my clients. For not making sure my placement was right. For feeling unsure of which direction to go in next. I know that sometimes everything has to fall away for the new to come in. I believe in the Law of Attraction, but I’m still unsure when to move forward and when to just allow. I have to respect my intuition about writing. Now it’s all about self-belief and looking after myself during this period of change. I need to take some of my own advice that I dole out to my coaching clients. Life is unpredictable, not just self-employment. By continuing to let go of control and listening to our intuition, we can (eventually) end up on the right path. 

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