Starting my own business was exhilarating. It brought out my creative side and made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile with my life.
With it – also came self-doubt. Because it’s hard to know if you are making the right decisions, especially when you are going it alone. I asked myself many times if I was doing the right thing. And while it’s still early days for me, it’s always timely to spend a moment on reflection.
I must first tell you that I have never owned a business before, and I have no experience in designing a product. What I do have – is lots of motivation, dedication, and passion. But that alone is not enough. I’ve made mistakes and I will continue to do so. It is my mid-life learning journey. The question is – is a mid-life career change right for everyone?
When started my new business, in my mid-40’s, I did some things really well and there were other things that I would have done differently if I had my time again.
For those who are keen to grab some tips, here are the key things that I would have done differently in hindsight:
Firstly, I would have undertaken more research and asked more questions about what would be involved in the day-to-day operation of running of a business. I was so focused on setting up the company and developing the product that I gave little thought to how I would sell the product. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard. E-commerce is a cut-throat world, and it requires skills in many different areas, particularly if you don’t have the cash to employ experts to do it for you. Social media marketing and using influencers can be hit-or-miss. One month I posted to the Chooice NZ Facebook page (a buy local sales platform) and had the best few days of my new career! The sales came in thick and fast, and I was on top of the world! It was pure delight mixed with relief that I hadn’t made the wrong decision in changing careers. Then exactly one month later I posted on Chooice again. I prepared in advance and overstocked all my products and then waited excitedly! But alas, I made zero sales. I was devastated.
Hindsight lesson one – look beyond the start-up phase before you begin and gain a good understanding of the workload involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
There are many sayings about how everyone has million-dollar ideas, but not many are willing to take the steps to turn the idea into reality. When I was ready for a career change (because life had become too predictable), I turned to the thing I was most passionate about at the time. Something that impacted me hugely and negatively. My issue was bladder leakage. And I couldn’t find anything in NZ that was reusable and comfortable. It made me feel like I was the only one in NZ who had bladder leaks but also cared about the environment. Just think it through, a little sneeze here, a laugh there, every little dribble creates waste that will sit in landfills for 500+ years.
Long story short, my passion was to not only to create the most absorbent reusable leakproof underwear I could, but also to reduce the shame surrounding the topic of bladder leaks.
In hindsight however, I had no experience in running a small business, nor any experience in manufacturing underwear. I wonder, if I had my time again, would I choose a new career that was so different to the previous 20 years I’d had in policy and strategy.
Hindsight lesson two – it is said that you should always focus on what you are passionate about, but it wouldn’t hurt to explore other possibilities more aligned to your experience, when pondering a career change.
Another thing I would do differently is try harder to find a business partner to share this journey with. Someone who I could bounce ideas off. Someone with skills different to mine. Someone who is like-minded and has a similar work ethic/style. Small business can be a lonely journey when it’s just you.
Hindsight lesson three – before you start, attend some entrepreneurial start-up networking events to see if you could partner with anyone. Partnership is like a marriage. You need to find a good fit. But try hard because it’s worth it!
On the plus side, I have done a few things well and I would repeat if I had my time again.
- When I first established my business, I gave myself a set timeframe and certain amount of money that I was happy to spend/sink. This three-year timeframe set a clear boundary around my career change decision. Every time my dad would ask if I was going to get a real job again, or my husband would ask if I made any sales that day, I would remind myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Success doesn’t often happen overnight. For some it does! But for most, it’s something you need to be prepared to put the effort into. So I take deep breaths and try not to panic when I have a day without sales. Because I believe in myself. And I know, you can’t learn a new profession overnight.
- One more thing I did from the start has worked really well, was collect every email address I could, from people who tested my sample products through to people who gave me advice. Then every month, without fail, I would email out a newsletter that shared the highlights of my journey (good and bad). This group are now ‘my people’. They are helpful, encouraging and regular customers!
- Lastly, the thing I’ve done best, is use my time wisely. Because when I know what actions to take next, I move faster. Having a plan also removes anxiety and me keep focused. I started with a 6mth plan broken down into tasks for each month and as I waited for my products to arrive, I prepared everything I could so I could hit the ground running. I had my website ready to go. I prepared automated responses for things like ‘abandoned carts. I sorted packaging, branding and new product designs. You name it, I did it. It was a huge learning curve, but I was enthusiastically dedicated. The thing is, it’s easy to get distracted on tasks that are fun but ultimately will not progress you forward. Instead, I remind myself constantly to prioritise tasks that are most productive. I rarely aim for perfection because it’s in finishing that last 20% where I waste the most time.
Starting a new business in my mid-40’s was, and continues to be, a rollercoaster. If you feel uncomfortable learning new things, or you are not ready to put in the hard yards, then starting a new business may not be right for you. Alternatively, learn some tricks to help you change your mindset asap. Because with new business ownership, learning new things, along with highs and lows, is a daily occurrence. But in my opinion, it’s totally worth the ride!
Should you know anyone who needs these tips, or who could benefit from some amazingly comfy reusable absorbent leakproof underwear for periods and bladder leaks, then please recommend Vivo Bodywear. It simply perfect for replacing pads, liners and tampons. Allowing you to Live life with confidence, freedom and control!