Running a business is a bit like riding a rollercoaster. There are moments when you feel untouchable, and other moments when you feel like you’re at rock bottom. However, amongst the whirl-wind of emotions is the scaffolding and structure of the ride keeping you focused. For me that scaffolding has always been the purpose behind my business.
In particular, my passion was supporting others; helping others grow and providing a platform of opportunities that would enrich and impact the lives of others. With every class that I teach, workshop I host or training programme that I successfully run I am creating moments and memories for young and not so young dancers.
So how does FEAR fit into all of this?
When I first started the Company one of my close friends gave me this canvas. At the time I just thought it was a nice gift- a thoughtful collection of sayings. Two years later those few sentences resonate so clearly with running a business and has been the stimulus behind this talk. I’ve structured this blog post using these statements as headings because I think FEAR (as well as other emotions) interweave between these statements.
Take dreams seriously
When we are little we have so many dreams and ambitions of things we’d like to be and jobs we’d like to have. I can remember for a long time wanting to be in the army because I liked PE in school and thought climbing through muddy puddles was really cool!
Unfortunately, as we grow up our dreams and ambitions are sometimes molded into smaller more ‘society-approving’ packages. We often choose our A levels based on what degree we want to study at University and we choose our jobs and university degrees based on what will make us the most money.
I think as adults we often suppress the ‘crazy’ ideas and dreams because we fear what others may think. We fear failure, ridicule and we fear making the wrong decision. For me fear played such a huge part in the journey of Body Politic, and if I’m completely honest it still does.
However, what I have learned over the past four years is that you can’t avoid failure or making mistakes. In fact, the majority of my learning has come from making royally huge mistakes and saying ‘well I won’t let that happen again’. So in accepting that these things can’t be avoided, I made peace with fear, and I let that little bit of crazy surface and blossom into what is now Body Politic.
Take little steps
I think when people start a business they have this sense of urgency and impatience. We are often too focused on the end goal that we forget the numerous steps in between. I think it’s that fear again of ‘if I don’t make X amount of money people will think I’m a failure’. To be honest if I had a pound every time my Nan still asks me ‘when am I going to get a proper job?’ I’m pretty sure I would have made a few thousand pounds! What my Nan is failing to understand is that building a successful business takes time and patience.
My advice to anyone starting a business is that your foundations are fundamental. Huge skyscrapers are built from the ground up. The amount of concrete used for the foundations and planning taken before construction even begins is vast. (I recently watched the film Locke featuring Tom Hardy and now feel I know everything there is to know about concrete apparently!) However, the principle is still the same. Foundations are fundamental.
I am still a massive culprit of falling into the trap of comparing myself to others. DON’T! Easier said than done. I have wasted countless hours mulling over thoughts, observing people’s behaviour and doing unnecessary market research on my competitors that is neither constructive or healthy. I would be lying if I said I no longer participate in this. However, the fear and anxiety that is attached to this constant comparison can be crippling. Worse, it can throw you off the track from your own purpose. My purpose is the thing that has made my company unique and it is deep rooted in my journey.
From that experience I learned that ‘good business’ isn’t comparable to other companies. This term is and should be exclusive to your own company. Yes, you need to check your competition at times, but the bottom line is that we should all try to focus on our own journeys and lace each transaction or decision with purpose.
Learn from your mistakes (and make mistakes!)
Mistakes are wonderful! I mean, possibly not when you make them. But I guarantee you will NEVER make the same mistake again, and that in itself is pretty wonderful.
As human beings, we make mistakes daily. We forget to feed the cat in the morning, or forget to call Granny to wish her happy birthday. So why then, when we start a business are we expected to be miraculously free from error?! I think that there is a lot of pressure on Company Directors to be perfect and detached emotionally from running a business, so we tend to build walls around ourselves so that our common daily mistakes are hidden from everyone else.
What I have learned is that as dancers, and I think as business men and women, we are conditioned not to trust one another. We are encouraged to work independently and not allow others to know of our struggles, failures and mistakes. However, what we are failing to grasp is that we are strongest and most creative when we are collaborating and sharing our passion with others. However, in order to collaborate it takes trust, and in order to trust it means showing your vulnerability.
I had some feedback recently from someone who said to me “You shouldn’t take it so personally when people give you feedback about the Company.” I understood where this feedback was coming from but ultimately; you’re going to take things personally. Your company is your ‘baby’. The responsibility of keeping it alive lies with you. It’s a tricky balance to achieve- not being a robot vs. having a melt down every time something goes wrong. In all honesty I have been at both ends of the scale, both robot and emotional wreck.
For the first year of running Body Politic, I found it really difficult to label myself as a business woman. I was building this incredible business that had such a positive impact on the lives of so many young people but I was often too embarrassed to tell others about it. Running a ‘dance company’ that was focused on self-confidence and supporting young people didn’t strike me as being the ‘norm’, it didn’t fit the stereotype I had created in my mind. I didn’t wear a suit and I didn’t make much money! So I spent the first year not really talking about Body Politic much and not celebrating its achievements.
It was only in my meetings with Jennings Business Mentors that they encouraged me to start talking about purpose and passion and feeling proud that I had something different, something exciting and unique. They opened a whole can of vulnerability and insecurities and it was horrible! But I think that it’s in those moments when your strip everything back and lose the fake bravado that you get a greater understanding not only of what your business represents but also the true value of your business and what it means to you.
Don’t say can’t
I used to hate it when my teachers at school used to say this phrase to me. It really used to get under my skin. I mean how dare they have the right to tell me what I can and ‘can’t’ say! Outrageous! Fifteen years later I have to say this phrase to myself on a daily basis. We are born with the unique gift of logic, emotion and intelligence, (some more than others!) However at times our logical and emotional brain kick in and tell us ‘we can’t do it’. Other times it is other people telling us we can’t do it.
It’s true, we can’t do everything! Asking for help is an essential part of growth. But it’s not until we reach out to others that we learn to trust, and again share our insecurities. For me, reaching out to others had a surprising effect. It took me a long time before I had the confidence to trust and ask for help, but I found that so many individuals that I worked with wanted to be more involved in the company. They truly valued what the company was providing them and wanted to give something back.
So never say ‘can’t’, there are always options. If it’s not within your own capacity, chances are you will know someone who can alleviate that pressure and more than likely make them feel good for having been asked.
Finally, my favourite.
Make your own rules (or throw the rule book out the window)
One of the definite perks of running your own business is that you make all the rules
For me personally the excitement of making my own rules has never been what you might expect from running your own business. I haven’t taken lavish holidays or brought an expensive car. It’s has been having the absolute rights to create and deliver whatever it is you want!
I think that that’s why people set up their own businesses in the first place. This idea of freedom. Suddenly you are in a position where you have the freedom to shape and mould your ideas, and it’s refreshing, invigorating and… bloody scary! But without taking that leap of faith you will always be wondering ‘what if’…
What I am hoping that you’ll take away from this post is the idea that fear is a good thing IF we share and talk about it. It’s ok to show vulnerability and insecurities because in doing so it enables trust.
My viewpoint on running a business has changed dramatically over the past four years. It’s not about wearing a smart suit and carrying a briefcase, it’s about creating something of value that others want to invest their time, energy and passion into. I think that if you can do that and stay true to the purpose behind your business, the rest will follow.
-Emma-Jane Greig, Founder and Director of Body Politic