In February 2016, I returned from travelling the world for a year and had no idea what to do next. Questions swirling around in my mind were:
Do I wait to re-join the publisher I worked for before travelling?
Do I take the employed proofreading job I’ve been offered at a marketing agency?
Do I keep looking fora job at a publishing house?
Do I keep freelancing and see what happens?
All of the options were risky aside from the proofreading job, so I accepted it. But something didn’t feel right, so with a last-minute call and a polite decline, I decided to carry on freelancing. The first six months were gruelling—long hours and hardly any clients. Then I worked with a New York Times bestselling author and went from scraping around for clients to fully booked to inundated with requests. I also started a freelance meetup in Birmingham to develop a network of freelancers.
In June 2018, I turned my flourishing freelance work into a business—The Book Shelf Ltd. A letter from Companies House landed on my doormat with the word “Director” next to my name. But switching from freelancer to small business owner isn’t easy. In fact, it was more difficult than switching from employee to digital nomad to full-time freelancer.
I quickly discovered that my knowledge of running a business was limited, be it business models, plans, finances, strategy, vision, or leadership. There was so much to learn, so much to do, and so many hats to wear. In fact, I was so unprepared for the challenges ahead that I spent the first year calling myself a business owner but in reality operating as a freelancer. Very little changed and I felt frustrated, clearly imagining that my business was going to grow itself by magic, and in the meantime overloaded with work and turning clients away due to lack of capacity.
In The Book Shelf’s second year of business, things had to be different. I read The E-Myth Revisited and began to understand my problems. Being a business owner means balancing your inner entrepreneur (the visionary), inner manager (the system creator), and inner employee (the doer). When you’re only doing the doing, you can’t grow the business. So, it was time to start developing my inner manager and entrepreneur.
To develop the former, I hand-picked a small group of freelancers from my network who had that special something. I created a style guide for them to follow, tested and trained them, then watched them bloom into great book editors, meaning The Book Shelf could work with more authors. I created systems documents, got an amazing virtual assistant, and wrote a business plan.
In essence, I learned that a manager needs organised systems and processes, a team (whether that’s employees or freelancers), and a map to follow.
To develop the latter, I applied for and gained a coveted place on the NatWest Accelerator programme, where I learned what entrepreneurship is all about. I started working on my mindset, building a vision for The Book Shelf, setting challenging goals, and stepping out of my comfort zone. (Note the word “started”; it’s a journey.) I also found a network of other entrepreneurs there and discovered that many of them were struggling with the same things.
In essence, I learned that an entrepreneur needs the vision to dream big, a “try me!” mindset to embrace and overcome challenges, and the focused drive to get there.
A reported 90% of female-owned businesses fail in the first 18 months, so going into my third year of business, I’m proud to have made it this far. At times, I’ve wondered whether I’m “cut out” for business or should have stayed in my freelance bubble. But when I look back, I’m glad I took this path. I have big plans for The Book Shelf and I hope you’ll join me on the journey!
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