When I was first starting out, I was very reluctant to take any feedback too seriously. As somebody with a research background, I should have known better. And yet, it took me some time to learn how to really take in feedback – the good as well as the bad! After about 3 months of looking into setting up my feminist business, I had to admit that the person who gave me the first bit of useful advice – ‘It’s not going to be easy!’ – was right! Yet, I had to learn it the hard way, rather than taking her word for it…
So here’s what I’ve learned over the now nearly year and a half of setting up Angels & Witches:
- Listen to people who’ve done it before! It is not easy admitting that you’ve been wrong. But it’s the right thing to do! The only way to move on to the next stage and to improve your idea is to take setbacks and mistakes made on board, and to learn from them, as well as the advice that experts give you. In fact, if there is one way that can make your idea a complete and utter failure is to ignore wise advice and to stick to the original plan regardless of what happens. In fact, I think it was Einstein who said that to keep trying to do things the same way and to expect a different result is pretty much a definition of madness! Don’t worry, we all do it sometimes… I don’t know if I agree with Einstein completely – I do think it can definitely drive you mad though!
- Your mentors usually know better, because they’ve been there before! So even if you don’t like the initial feedback, try to keep an open mind and listen to what they say, even if you’re not going to follow the advice, it might become useful at a later stage. Try to probe them as well. If you don’t quite get what your mentor is saying it might be because you’re too stuck on your own original plan to change your mind, rather than because their advice is bonkers! To be fair, mentors can be wrong too – nobody knows everything after all! – but it’s best to take the advice on board and then to do your own research on the back of that, if you’re not sure.
- Try to get a mentor from a completely different industry, even if it might seem counterintuitive! Perspective is your friend here. Getting a mentor from your own field might sound like a good idea to start with, but if their business is very close to yours there might be some conflict there in terms of them giving you advice based on the very specific obstacles that they met along their way, which do not have to apply to you. A good mentor from a different industry will be able to give you robust business advice that will still be applicable, but will steer away from saying anything too specific that could be misleading.
- DO get a mentor, or two if you can! A mentor is a person who has gone through a journey very similar to yours and will likely know ways around obstacles that you’re bound to meet along your way. It’s also someone who has been successful in setting up a business, and so has managed to overcome many, if not all, of the stumbling blocks that might be stopping you from achieving your goal.
- Do NOT listen to everyone who’s trying to give you advice! You will likely meet some very interesting people along your way, all of whom might be well intentioned, and all of whom might be more than willing to give you tips, but not everyone might be well suited to give you business advice! So take everything with a pinch of salt and then do your own research, and lots of it, to make sure that you don’t get misled. Take advice, but don’t let it drive you away too much from your original mission. If you listen to everyone, you could end up changing your plan 5 times a day, and eventually loose the plot!
- Network, network, and network some more! Mentors are great, but they are at a different stage in their journey than you are. They are good allies to have, even necessary on the journey, I’d say, they can be great advisors, but might not be best placed people to vent your frustrations too! If you feel like you need a venting space, best thing to do might be to meet up with a good friend or two to do that. The best business alternative I found, especially after you’ve been on your journey a while, is to find a networking space, among your peers. After a while, your friends, as well intentioned as they might be, may well get frustrated with you constantly going on about the same thing, since they can’t usually put yourself in your shoes if they haven’t set up their own business, or tried! Networking with your peers, people who are going through similar problems you are, is the best way to vent your frustrations, really be heard, and maybe even get positively steered through whatever is holding you back at the end of the conversation!
- Sign up to a free business advisory programme. You might be lucky enough to find a mentor with quite a lot of time on their hands, but they still are unlikely to sit with you for hours on end to teach you how to do a business plan, financial projections or set up a website. But there are plenty of free local business programmes that will help you learn those basics, and save you from becoming the biggest pain in the back of your mentor, who after all, probably has their own business to run! Check on your local Council website or the government website, business section.
- Find a cool local hot desking space you can work from. Hot desking spaces are everywhere nowadays, at least in London. You usually have to pay a small fee, if you want to work from them on a regular basis, but aside from a desk to work from, they will provide you with a bunch of people like you, who are likely to be going through similar difficulties you are, to talk to! Plenty of random business networking opportunities over your coffee breaks and potential lightbulb moments, for next to no cost! Most of these places will also offer events to encourage people who work there to network, build collaborations and help each other.
- Do NOT let stumbling blocks get you down! Try to see them as opportunities and learn from them instead. No one said it was going to be easy! And I don’t think anyone has ever set up a business without getting into some difficulties along the way! That’s why you need to be sure that what your about to get into is what you’re passionate about. You will be spending a lot of time doing it, so you might as well enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing! Also, once you’ve realised that you’re not the only one who gets stuck every once in a while, you will have learned a priceless lesson that will help you see those stumbling blocks as just another opportunity to learn!
- Make sure you have a dose of whatever motivates and inspires you regularly! You are setting out on a challenging journey. You will need to keep the injections of inspiration at a regular inflow to keep yourself motivated on the journey. Whatever it is that inspires you, you will need a good dose of it as often as you can manage – while not forgetting about working! – to keep your motivation at a high level in order to keep your energy levels high and to inspire other people to believe in you and your idea too! Whether it is reading about the journeys of other entrepreneurs or meeting up with them for a coffee, make sure you put a regular slot for it in your diary!
- Read stories of successful entrepreneurs! They are bound to inspire you! Even the ones that you don’t necessarily agree with, in terms of their business styles or for whatever other reason… Usually, their stories are full of similar lists of tips to this one, that should help you see that everyone goes through the same difficulties you are when first starting out! It helps to both realise that you’re not alone in what you’re going through, as well as to know that all those successful people who’ve ‘made it’ have gone through them! It has been one of the biggest reliefs for me – realising that anyone who’s trying to set up their first business, no matter what it is, goes through the same kinds of difficulties I am! To me, it was a priceless lesson. It meant that I could relax a little bit and stop being so hard on myself. More than anyone, I was the one putting unnecessary pressure on myself!
- Don’t second guess yourself all the time! Women are particularly prone to doing this, as a lot of us are still brought up in a society that often makes us think that we can’t do this or that simply because we’re women. Apparently, some people still believe that math is somehow inherently more difficult for women, for example, and so we only have less than 16% of women engineering and tech graduates in the UK, according to this documentary I watched just last night – Balancing Tech. I have heard this story of women second guessing themselves, regardless of their knowledge level or position, so many times – including from some of the most successful women I’ve ever met or read about – that I can’t even count!
- Google is your friend! They might not seem very friendly to you, or you might not like the company for whatever other reason, but in the digital age, Google can really be your best friend! Yes, there are other search engines out there, so feel free to use your preferred option instead, but the point is, if you don’t know something, the internet probably has the answer. So use it, but use it wisely. It’s always a good idea to try to use several sources, and preferably ones that are expert ones, rather than go with the first answer you can find. There are plenty of people on the internet – and they are not all experts, even though they might make themselves look like they are! That’s why the below is useful, particularly when you get really stuck.
- Join online groups and forums for people in your industry. If you really get stuck on some question, and you can’t seem to be able to find the answer using a search engine, an online support group which has basically been created for people like you, is bound to have the answer! Even if it’s not the complete answer, the people there will definitely have some useful advice on where to find it.
- Go to industry events. It might just seem like these are basically a lot of marketing squeezed into one space, but there are usually workshops led by experts, and you can learn anything from great marketing tips to how to run an event yourself! Also, remember that you don’t have to pay to attend a lot of events like that these days! Use Meetup to find your peers! A lot of the events offered by these groups will be free and organised by your peers, on Meetup and other platforms like that, so they are less likely to feel like you’re suddenly right in the middle of this big corporate world when you get to them!
There is bound to be something that I have missed off this list, but I think these are the core things. Most of them come from what I have learned from other people along the way – experts, advisors, others who have set up and run businesses in the past. And most of these people I have met through using the learning channels I’ve listed above, like events, networking and online groups, so they’re definitely worth a try!
More than anything else, it’s important to know that what you’re setting out to do is your passion. But you’ve probably already established that with a good level of certainty, since you’ve decided to change your whole life around in order to get this idea off the ground! As long as you do what you’re really passionate about, you should be alright in the end, even if the journey might get frustrating at times. Keep an open mind, as your original idea is likely to, and will most probably, change. But as long as your stick to your core mission and keep your motivation levels up, people are bound to love your idea and support it! When you do something that you’re really passionate about, people can sense it, and the idea starts to live a life of its own, with people talking about it, giving you an energy boost (and some free promotion) often without you even asking for help!