Setting up a small business is not for the fainthearted. If you ask me whether I would do it all over again, the answer is yes but I would do it very differently. One of the most challenging things in business, certainly for me, is confidence. At times I was super confident that I was producing product that people would love. At other times I was totally despondent that I couldn’t do it. But I guess a key factor is that I love what I do. Nothing beats hearing someone coming into my store and telling me that they love my shop and they love my pyjamas. It is this affirmation on the darker days that keeps me going.

If I had to give advice on what I would do differently if I started a business today, I would say it has to be people. The people you surround yourself with. Not just staff, in that department, I have been extremely lucky. But in the things that you outsource. My strengths lie in design and fabric technology. Understanding what will work in a particular fabric and what wont. It is more of a gut feeling that you can’t really teach. You either have it or you don’t. The key thing is to outsource what you can’t do, but in my experience, it is the outsourcing that can trip you up and erode your confidence big time.

It is sort of a life lesson and one that I have tried to teach my sons, though oddly, I did not apply it to myself in business. I have always told my boys to find “their people”. People that will support their endeavours, not be intimidated by them or negative. To me the cup is always half full and I try to surround myself with half full cup people rather than the half empty cup scenario.

And yet, when it came to the accounting function in my business, I outsourced to a friends’ company who weren’t really accountants but tax experts who were assisting me in the accounting function to “help me”. What transpired was that they didn’t really want to do it and therefore it became a grudge job for them and the relationship ultimately broke down. In the process I felt stupid when it came to the accounting function and they found my questions irritating as I tried to grapple with understanding the financial side of my business. I now have a proper dedicated accounting firm which is more expensive but they are interested in my business – actually they are fascinated by it and they ask me as many questions as I ask them. In our very first meeting, our main accountant said to me “our function is to take over the accounting so you can focus on what you do best”. Music to my ears and I have never looked back. Yes it is more expensive which is always a concern, but the value they have added to my business is inconceivable. And they have taught me about finance along the way and I can now read and totally understand the monthly and annual financial accounts and we meet regularly where my opinion is valued. All of a sudden I feel very grown up and fully understand the importance of the accounting function and the ability to be able to read the financial statements and management accounts. And I now actually enjoy it! I no longer feel stupid.

Being an older entrepreneur, one thing that can trip you up is the fast pace of the ever changing world of social media and marketing and reaching the consumer with the right message. Here too, I outsourced and got lucky second time around with the most fabulous company who have an interest in what I do.

A very important note here, is to not be afraid of changing if you feel something is not quite right. Find “your people” – people who within their organization have a vested interest in making your company great. People who compliment your ability with what they bring to the table. Do not stick with someone who intimidates you and is not on your page. I remember having a coffee with a friend of mine who said she couldn’t stay long as she was going to her dreaded social media meeting and the woman who was running the campaign didn’t listen to her and wasn’t providing the results. I was bewildered – I said to her but “you are paying her to manage this function for your business. I absolutely love my social media meetings as they inspire me and show me what products may be missing in my business and what people are looking for in the market. I get bi monthly analysis on how my marketing is performing and we have a good laugh along the way. I look forward to my meetings”.

The key thing for me is that business must be fun and the interaction with the outsourced components of the business need to be treated as if they are a working part of your business and the personalities must gel. Each part must support the other in function and respect.

And here comes the most important aspect of all the people you manage in your business; Respect. From your internal staff to your outsourced staff, there must be a mutual respect and a dash of good humour. You don’t need to be mates, but you need to work with them in a harmonious environment. I love my little team at the shop and factory, and I respect the work they do for me. I also love my accountants and no longer dread the meetings (because in part I couldn’t really understand the documents they produced which  made me feel stupid) and I love my social media meetings as they inspire me.

So yes, it is one thing to love what you do, but it is also important to surround yourself with support companies who also love what they do, who share a healthy mutual respect and have a vested interest to make your company as great as you know it can be. This will give you the confidence to take your business to whatever level you want with the right advice.

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