My Entrepreneurial Journey

October 2018 by Carrie Birmingham

When I left a full-time, permanent role to become an independent consultant, I had limited understanding of the journey of entrepreneurship.  The draw was the flexibility and choices it offered me: to walk my dogs in the morning, to turn down work I didn’t believe in and time to research new approaches.  So after a short break, I enthusiastically dived into getting going, with limited consideration of how it might  actually work out (not usual for me!).   My journey is by no means unique, but I wanted to share the patterns I started to notice.  

The initial sense of excitement was quickly replaced with a growing sense of discomfort.  There were so many questions that needed answering  that I felt woefully unqualified to answer. I also  started to understand the downsides of my choice, as the rose tinted spectacles slipped.    

The first thing was how consciously incompetent I felt to answer the practical questions my web designer was asking me; what was I was selling, to whom was I selling and why would  these potential clients buy from me?  A good website designer makes you think hard about you, your business and your clients.  As HR Director, I gave little, if any thought, to how I ‘marketed’ myself. People came to me as an when I was needed. On multiple occasions, my designer heard the thud as my head hit the desk as I muttered ‘I don’t know’.  As someone who likes to do things ‘right’, creating a website that was ‘good enough for now’ was deeply uncomfortable. I noticed how vulnerable I felt and how this made me doubt my abilities.  

Where is my tribe?

This was coupled with being lonely.  Whilst I was out drinking multiple coffees, having networking  lunches and dinners with people, I lacked the depth of real connections who I could really talk to about my business.  I love my husband and long ago accepted his active disinterest in my work.  Also as an extrovert, I needed people who could help me make sense of my sales pitch, how I priced myself and the work I wanted to do and how to go about doing it.  I had a few mates who offered me the potential for this, but that meant overcoming my discomfort with asking for help.  

I did look to fellow consultants for guidance and advice.  In doing so, I was often (but not always) struck by the superficial questions that formed the basis of the conversation (e.g. are you busy? got much in the diary?).  These conversations seemed more focused on gauging who had the most work and hence was winning.  I also noticed my habitual response to this, which was to present an illusion of busyness and competence.  A response that rarely got me the help or connection I was desperately seeking. Also, the busyness in others fed my insecurities about my own competence: “How can I be any good, if they are busier than me?”.  

Imposter Syndrome 

I also started to truly feel the financial insecurity of being an entrepreneur.  As someone who enjoys things that are hard, my habit to go harder and faster kicked in and so I focused on doing more. Not surprisingly, this meant meeting lots of people, getting excited about multiple possibilities and having to work late into the night to do what I had promised.  This scattergun approach wasn’t giving me the flexibility and choice I had wanted.   I was also feeling the grip of imposter syndrome; as insecurities about my competence started at the point when I needed to feel confident to sell my services to potential clients.  

Power of Retrospectives 

Having looked for ways to get help, I joined a retrospectives group who were able to give me the connections I needed and build my capacity to see patterns and habits that were helping (or not!). I had to change how I was  presenting myself to the world, by finding spaces where I could feel safe and show my vulnerability to ultimately get the connections and support I required.  

My entrepreneurial journey continues, and the insights are invaluable as I support entrepreneurs and start-ups on their journeys.  I find a consistent pattern that start-ups will ask for help to articulate their product or develop their marketing strategy, as that seems a safe thing to ask for help for.  But we need to also talk about how it feels to go it alone and ask for help with the emotional rollercoaster.  Otherwise our fears and doubts slow us down and cause us to hesitate.  After all success and failure are intertwined, and if we can’t talk about failure, how can we succeed? 

Call me if you want to have a conversation about the support you can get for your entrepreneurial journey.