How I Took a Step Forward on my Enterprise Journey
This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week – a week that aims to support entrepreneurs and, ultimately, create new ventures.
Thousands of business owners and budding entrepreneurs from around the world are coming together to share their advice and experiences, inspiring each other to develop and grow.
As an entrepreneur myself, this is a subject that’s close to my heart. I’ve learnt a lot on my enterprise journey and feel passionately about sharing my story with others.
After working for many years supporting and advising entrepreneurs and business start-ups, my first plunge into real-life entrepreneurship began three years ago when I received the dreaded redundancy letter. After the initial shock and worry, I decided to positively reframe my situation. Rather than telling people I was unemployed or ‘between jobs’, I became self-employed as a consultant. But I soon learnt that, although you can change who you are and what you do, you can’t change the security that comes with a monthly salary. I needed to bring in some business, and quickly.
Starting out in business can be lonely and intimidating; even if, like me, theoretically you know what you should be doing. This is where the networks I had developed in my previous job really came into their own. I networked like crazy, arranged meetings with old contacts and took on a pro-bono project to keep me busy and start building my client portfolio. It was hard work. At times, I found it difficult to remain motivated and focussed but, within a couple of months, I’d bought in my first contract and secured free desk space in a busy office for myself and an ex-colleague in the same situation. I was back in an office, but this time it was on my own terms.
One of the key things I learnt in those first few months was to be flexible – your great idea hasn’t yet been tried and tested so accept that clients may want something slightly different. You need to be pretty resilient too as you’ll have to deal with knock backs and disappointments without taking it personally. Believing in yourself isn’t always easy, particularly, as research shows, for us women. But if you don’t believe in yourself then who will?
The theme for this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week is ‘take a step forward’, encouraging entrepreneurs to seize new opportunities and take their plans to the next level. A big step for me came when a colleague and I decided to jointly pitch for a large contract. We knew that it meant changing the way we both worked and bringing in sub-contractors as we couldn’t do all of the work ourselves. Also, the project was to begin immediately and had a fixed deadline so we had to find the right people quickly and put a bunch of processes in place, while at the same time defining our own roles within what was soon to be our new company, Venn Street. Winning this contract was a real turning point.
During this time I had a lot of sleepless nights and self-doubt. I really relied on other entrepreneurs in my network as a sounding board. For me, it’s crucial to have people to talk to who understand what you’re going through. They may have different types of businesses or be at different stages, but they know what it’s like to be in your position and face tricky situations like waiting for clients to pay invoices before you can pay staff, let alone yourself. You need people who will remind you why you’re doing this.
Three years on and I’m proud to say I now have two businesses; Venn Street with my business partner and Alex Ritchie Consulting. Both are small but both are growing and there are definitely exciting times ahead. Of course, I still have doubts from time to time and there are still challenges to overcome but, for me, the pros most definitely outweigh the cons. And that contract that was my turning point? It was winning the project management and delivery of the Global Entrepreneurship Week campaign in the UK. But that’s not the only reason why the week is important to me. I strongly believe in the week’s ethos of entrepreneurs coming together to share what they’ve learnt and encourage others to take a step forward in their ventures, just like I did.
Alex Ritchie is founder of Alex Ritchie Consulting – which specialises in women’s entrepreneurship – and co-founder of the enterprise consultancy, Venn Street. She is the author of ‘Starting a business in seven simple steps’, due to be published by Harper Collins in May 2014. Global Entrepreneurship Week runs from 18-24 November and is hosted in the UK by Youth Business International, with support from Barclays.