An Entrepreneur’s Life: What We Learned from Starting Our Own Business (Again and Again…)

sullivan large family

 

Setting up on your own and starting a business is something that so many people consider, yet relatively few actually do. I always knew that I did not want to spend my life working for someone else. I knew that I wanted to work for myself and run my own business. Equally, I did not know how to do it, or what to do. I kept watching, learning and trying and as I did so my family kept growing and growing. Attempts at setting up have seen varying degrees of commitment and results. Most didn’t require any capital at all and only one, or perhaps two, required small business loans. By the time we managed to get on the small business unicycle and developed the skills to keep it moving and balanced, we also had 13 children in tow.

There is not a doubt at all that working for ourselves has opened up a wealth of opportunity and benefits that we would not have had were we to stay in the world of employment. Our original plan was to create a business that we could work on from home, enabling us to support ourselves once we had achieved our long-held dream of moving to a smallholding in Ireland. We worked on this dream for over a decade but, when the house was finally on the market and it came to the crunch, we pulled out. Why? Because during the period it took for us to get to the point that we were finally on the cusp of realising the dream we had worked for for so long, we had discovered a great love of travel.

As we realised, we had created a business that offered us flexibility to work from anywhere we wanted, any time we wanted to. This method of working, together with home educating the children, provided us with freedom to up and leave any time we wanted, taking our work and education commitments with us. We were not prepared to commit ourselves to a smallholding and take away this freedom that we were so fortunate to have created for ourselves.

En route to establishing ourselves to the point whereby we could leave behind all employment was a tremendous learning curve. Starting your own business is not an easy feat, especially when you have a family to support, but it can definitely be done. Here are a few things that we learned along the way over the last (almost) couple of decades:

 

You can start at any age

My first experience of successful entrepreneurship was selling Grolsch bottletops at middle school during the height of Bros-mania. I had tried a few different things until that point such as making and selling handmade badges, which didn’t work out, but this was the first thing that did and taught me a lot about filling a gap in the market brought out of demand. It also meant I returned home from school every afternoon with a jingling pocketful of coins, which made 12-year-old me very happy. I also learned about buying, selling, profit and loss by volunteering to run the book shop.

 

You can learn new skills anywhere

If I had the internet as a child I reckon I would have aced my exams. No, not through cheating! Children today won’t know what it’s like to have to put your name down for one of three library books that 28 other kids are also waiting for, before you can finally do your homework. They don’t know how privileged they are to be able to find an answer at a keystroke, or to learn an instrument through YouTube lessons or to follow a how-to tutorial on a blog.

We did not have that privilege growing up, but we have it now. Make the most of it. I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer when we purchased our first one back in 1998. I freaked out and shut it down in a panic when I heard the ‘dial-up’ trying to ‘connect’ to ‘The Internet’ (all new terms), and freaked out even more when I did connect and ended up discovering a ‘Chat Room’ for the first time.

What I did know was that I was capable of learning how to use it, if I really wanted to. The first thing I did was pay £3 for a Typing Tutor disc from the Macro Cash’n’Carry bargain bin. I remember typing painfully slow and being thrilled to reach 12 words per minute when I began. Over the years and a lot of practice, my touch typing increased to a flighty 90wpm average, enabling me to outsource the skills as a transcriber a few years later, which then developed into my own business for a while. In turn, this opportunity improved my grammar and writing as a whole, later enabling me to market those skills also. The short tip here is that opportunities are everywhere. Look out for them and make the most of them. You never know where they will lead.

 

You can turn any idea into a success

idea lightbulb in chalk cloud

As I got older and had two young children to support but no childcare or practical help to do so, I had to work out the skills I had that could bring in a little extra. Ironing it was, except I didn’t have an ironing board so I laid out a couple of towels on the floor and did it that way. People laugh when I share that now, but you know what? It worked. Start small if you have to. Just start.

 

You need to put 1000 times more in than you think you do

And that is an understatement as it is usually much, much more. What’s the saying? ‘The harder I worked, the luckier I got.’ Setting up your own business is definitely where this applies!

 

Sometimes even the best ideas won’t work out

ball of paper

Since my kid-entrepreneurial days I’ve tried dozens of different ideas and ventures. Some worked, some didn’t. Some were short-term successes, others hit the wall pretty much immediately. Most of them were failures. Don’t sweat it and don’t give up. Carry on until you find the thing that works because, eventually, something will. And you’ll always have discovered some more knowledge or expanded your skills in some way that will help you with the next thing.

 

You are in control

Starting your own business is like driving a car; you are in complete control of it. You need to put a lot of time and effort into but only you can control how much you actually devote to making your plan a reality.

 

You will face criticism

mask anonymous

Oh, the number of times I was told that I couldn’t do something. The reason, to begin with, was a lack of knowledge. But anyone can learn anything, so I didn’t see that as a problem. Then, the reason was that I had a couple of kids and, you know, you can’t really do stuff when you’ve got kids. Except I realised that you can, so I did. And then I had more kids and, well, you’ve so many kids that you can’t….

Actually, I can.

And I have.

Don’t let people tell you what you are capable of doing. Only you can find out what you are capable of and, the truth is, you probably don’t even believe that you can yourself – until you have actually done it.

 

It is not easy

rolling ball uphill

If you want to experience every emotion humanly possible in the shortest of timeframes, start your own business. You will experience doubt, fear, worry, happiness, pride, influxes of money, scarcity of money, confidence and apprehension as you sit on the responsibility rollercoaster that never ends. You discover that you are a far harsher boss to yourself than any employer ever was and that dream of working fewer hours and freeing up time is actually not a reality. Often, you work more hours for less, but on the upside, you have the flexibility to do so. It is not always easy. In fact, it rarely is. But, despite its ups and downs that are still incredible for us even after all this time, running our own business is not something we would ever now give up.

 

 

 

 

 

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