In this series, I share with you some of the key learnings I have had from my first 6 months of launching my first startup (Shiageto Consulting) and how those lessons are applicable for the challenges my business is facing during this pandemic crisis (and any business at any time in fact)
The initial challenge
Last Saturday morning I spent 2 hours videoing and editing a business vlog, followed by 30 minutes on Facebook Live joined by 20 of my friends to complete day 25 of a press up challenge for mental health awareness (everyday for 25 days I had recorded myself doing wacky press ups all for charity fundraising and raising awareness of this important topic), I then spent the rest of the afternoon recording and editing a podcast. Phew, I was exhausted by the time I got to bed!
Why do all this on my day off? Well, apart from enjoying it, I've started doing more and more of these things as a way to connect more with friends, contacts and clients. Funnily enough before I started my own start-up I would never have done these.
Those who know me, know that I love being part of a community, sharing a common purpose and set of values, supporting each other through good times and bad, providing professional and personal connections. Somedays, like us all, I would prefer my own company but I am a massive advocate of strong support networks and I always took that side of working in a big company for granted.
Last summer, when I set up Shiageto Consulting, I walked away from that to a world of predominantly working on my own and it's been tough. Aside from when I'm working with clients, I no longer had people to share work-related elements with. No longer was there a team member to bounce ideas off, no-one to easily go and grab a quick coffee with when they see you are having a bad day, no-one to high five when you win a new piece of work, no regular Friday night drinks, ..., the list goes on.
Sure, you can suck it up, you can find alternatives but that takes time and effort (I mean it's not quite the same when you have to wait 3 days to get a valued contact on the phone just to sense-check an element of your proposal that you're writing). What you also don't realise is that this removal of your business network begins to chip away at your confidence, your decision making and ultimately your motivation if you're not careful. It can just feel damn lonely and this can lead to a vicious circle (imagine when you're not feeling your best and there's no-one else about, it's easy to down tools and not do any work that day, which leads to you feeling even less motivated and lonely).
The solution (for me) is simple, keep motivated, win work and that in itself creates the surrogate business network that I need as I therefore get to interact with clients more frequently. I also use friends, contacts and other startup founders as a network (it's one of the reason that I'll always arrange to meet someone for a coffee on days that I have no client work) and try to work in shared office space whenever I can. Longer-term once I start expanding the team with permanent hires at Shiageto this challenge will alleviate itself.
How has the pandemic amplified my challenge?
In some ways, the last 6 months of working on my own has been great preparation for lockdown. Emotionally, I definitely had a headstart on many others but the reality is that the pandemic has also made things tougher in this aspect.
Firstly, it's added new worries (about health, about family, about finding new work, etc.) to the mix so the vicious circle can easily get bigger. On top of that it has robbed me of lots of my client work, my ability to work in shared office space and my ability to catch up for those much-needed coffees in-person thus robbing me of opportunities to have that business support structure.
Sure, I try to replace a lot of it virtually but it's definitely been tougher to get people to commit to virtual catch ups and not having a regular team to have team calls, regular check-ins, means that now more than ever in my time as a start-up founder I feel the most alone that I have been.
So, what are my takeaways from this learning?
For me, this challenge is just one to apply my creativity to (I definitely believe that there are no problems we can not solve) and, through a bit of experimentation, I have found 3 things that help me greatly to lessen the impact of being alone:
Don't beat myself up - This is the most important aspect; I regularly ask myself how I'm feeling and when I sense I'm feeling lonely, lacking motivation or not feeling so good, I ease up on myself. [Being the boss has to have some benefits and I now know that a day stepping away from work is much better for my business than trying to plough on]. Talking about it is also incredibly helpful.
Set myself small goals - I break everything up into small tasks to help my motivation, make my decision making easier and so I can see my progress. All these contribute to defeating (and reversing) the vicious circle I mentioned.
Build my own business support network - As I mentioned, I know enough business people now that I can actually pick and choose my own dream-team support network. So I arrange those coffees, I go and work in contacts' offices, I reach out to fellow startup creators to co-locate once a week (or jump on a zoom call) - ultimately who and how is only limited by my creativity. There's also expanding the team once things pick up.
If nothing else, this situation has led to me having so much fun creating my blogs, vlogs and podcasts, which has added a whole new dimension to my virtual support network. If you enjoy them, why not check out some of the others on Linkedin or by visiting the Shiageto website, come join the fun :)
I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog, and got something useful from it. Join me next week, when I talk all about your startup story and what I've learnt about that. I'd love to hear any thoughts, comments or questions in the meantime.
P.S. Anyone that wants to watch those press up videos can do here