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Empowering Entrepreneurs: Author Q&A

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On the occasion of World Entrepreneurs' Day, we've asked some of our expert authors some questions about their entrepreneurial journey and to give advice to those just starting out. This is what they've told us.

What inspired you to start your entrepreneurial journey?

Simon Hayward: A desire to be independent, to make a difference and not to be controlled or stuck in a bureaucracy.

Kate Nash: The inspiration for my entrepreneurial journey was the lack of pace happening about the creation of inclusive workplace cultures for employees with disabilities. I wanted to provide assistance in building inner confidence for employees with disabilities, and I recognized that the most effective approach would involve utilizing positive messages from disability employee resource groups (ERGs). As a result, 18 years ago, I embarked on a journey to aid organizations in establishing or enhancing the effectiveness of ERGs and networks.

Katy Murray: I set up my independent coaching business 14 years ago. I was drawn to the flex and variety of running my own ‘thing’ alongside family commitments. I continued to do some work as a leadership consultant and facilitator inside other people's businesses which was great - I learnt loads, gained clarity on what I most cared about, figured out what I wanted to say and where I wanted to make my contribution to the world!

Now I’ve worked with 1000s of leaders, across 35 countries, and I focus my time resourcing change makers (including social impact entrepreneurs) to step up without burning out, and consulting with companies committed to creating inclusive, joy-filled cultures.

Carl Reader: To be honest, it was largely by accident - I discovered in my role as a trainee professional that I just didn’t ‘fit’ in the same way others did!

Sonya Barlow: Entrepreneurship started from a need to look after myself and support those around me - to ensure I was able to cover my costs and put food on the table whilst giving people the confidence they needed to build careers on their own terms. The best thing that happened to me in hindsight is that I was laid off - because that gave me the push that maybe comfort and constant income wouldn't have.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?

Jessica Barker: As an entrepreneur, it can be hard to switch off. I’m so passionate about my work empowering people with cyber security that I can find myself thinking about it all the time! I have learnt to balance this with hobbies and interests outside my field that occupy my concentration and make sure I am always learning. So, over the years, I have taken lessons in everything from ceramics to circus skills to singing.

Simon Hayward: Pursuing too many opportunities rather than focusing on doing one thing brilliantly. I learned to focus ruthlessly when I reflected on the key lessons after selling my first business as I was setting up the second.

Kate Nash: Like most entrepreneurs, in the early days I lacked funding and resources. And like many entrepreneurs, I realized that the best way through would be to create a stand-out product that got the heart of business needs. I overcame challenges by surrounding myself with people who worked purposefully towards goals - people who believed change could happen via building inner confidence. I worked hard and still do - and the best way to lead and create momentum is to find your first followers.

Katy Murray: It’s a big mindset shift from being an employee. You’re managing all the stuff in your business - winning work, client delivery, quality assurance, content creation, cash flow etc., as well as needing to work on your business - strategy, infrastructure, team development etc. There are days when I’m the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Head of People, IT helpdesk, customer services assistant, as well as CEO! You need to hold a broad bandwidth, and you need to take care of your own physical and psychological well-being along the way.

Carl Reader: There have been so, so many! Probably the biggest was overcoming stereotypes - particularly when I was younger. Being working class, tattooed and looking a little different from others in my world made it harder to win confidence. It took building a track record to overcome this.

Sonya Barlow: Lack of financing and brain fog. The brain fog I have worked on by getting an ADHD diagnosis, prioritizing my health and wellness and taking time offline. I now pause on activities, sleep on ideas and ask for help - which is key in scaling a business. The financing, well I have worked on by ensuring we have testimonials, case studies, prospect clients and a healthy pipeline of possibilities.

At the end of the day, I am bootstrapped because I believe in my work and vision. I know that female-founded businesses are the hot ticket item and yet are rarely invested in, so I have kept my costs low and prices competitive to ensure that the team and I can keep surviving and thriving.

During challenging times, what motivates you to keep going?

Jessica Barker: When I hear from someone that I’ve made a difference to them in one way or another, it really helps me stay motivated and reminds me of why I do what I do. It could be someone starting out in their cyber security career who found my book Confident Cyber Security helpful or a cyber security leader who I’ve supported with my business, but just hearing from that one person can be all the motivation I need on a tough day.

Simon Hayward: Being responsible for other people’s mortgages, fear of failure, determination to succeed and achieve meaningful goals.

Kate Nash: I believe in the power we all have to make a positive difference in the world. So, the thing that keeps me going is the fact you may hit a thousand ’nos’ but the next ‘yes’ is always round the corner - and the power of yes can inspire a million changes.

I work with an imaginative team who also believe these things - and our community of 4,000 ERG leaders also lean into this principle. Our definition of confidence is a strong expectation of a positive outcome - we are on a mission to cascade that definition to the 1 million employees that make up the PurpleSpace community - that's what motivates us.

Katy Murray: I believe that the arc of history is bending towards justice... but we have to keep bending it! We each have a role to play and I’m passionate about showing up for justice, inclusion and equity in our workplaces and wider society, resourcing leaders to love, lead and live well.

I carry significant privilege as a white, able-bodied, neuro-typical, straight, woman and if I’m not part of subverting, disrupting and co-creating new ways then I’m perpetuating the old systems of oppression. I’m here for sisterhood, solidarity, collective healing and treading lightly on the earth, and all of that gets me up in the morning. That, and my kids who're usually looking for school uniforms, homework or breakfast.

Carl Reader: Very simply, reminding myself of my bigger vision and my ‘why’.

Sonya Barlow: The fact that nothing is but a problem you can solve - the chase, the challenge and the failure to find the right idea is what drives me. There is no such thing as the RIGHT thing but I believe it's whatever the RELEVANT thing is for you, your business and your customer. Plus, I have a good support system around me - my team, family, friends and network. Their constant feedback and reassurance keep me strong.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

Simon Hayward: Badly … I have carved out time for family – things like homework, dinner with family, taking the kids to school and sports - working in partnership with my wife. But the time for friends and my own sports have taken a toll.

Kate Nash: The term ‘work-life’ balance does not resonate with me. Using the term feels to me that you have to “disconnect” or “uncouple” your working life from the rest of your life. I have many aspects of my life that are important - from friends to family, to buying second-hand jewellery, to reading and writing. Work is a big part of my life, but balance is hard to get right between all those things. I prefer to just keep a watchful eye on ensuring all boxes are ticked - not always on the same day, week or month - but overall, I juggle and never lose sight.

Katy Murray: I’ve developed and integrated a series of rhythms and habits that I call Power Practices. These are small activities that slot into my life each day, helping me to centre my wellbeing and feel good!

I put them all in my book Change Makers.

I aim to live and lead seasonally, meaning I pay attention to the ON and OUTward energy of Spring and Summer, as well as the INward energy of Autumn and the OFF energy of Winter inside my business. This helps with boundaries, what I say yes (and no!) to, and keeps me connected to what’s most important.

Carl Reader: I’ve tried so many things! Perhaps the best tip I can give anyone is to have two phones - one work, one personal - and keep them separated. Don’t download any work apps or social media on your personal phone, and use it just for things like finding great restaurants!

Sonya Barlow: I have a life phone and a content phone. I also take one day off each week, which I never used to before - but this means not touching or looking at my work phone. Additionally, I go on walks, hit the gym or sauna a few times a week, understand my energy levels, say no (set boundaries) and invest in one mega luxury wellness getaway a year - which is both for recovery and reward.

I also read a lot of fiction, take myself offline every quarter and spend time with loved ones, who ground me and keep me humble, because they care about me, not my success - which is beautiful. I would say that my work-life balance isn't the best but it's something I am actively working on - which is all that matters.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting their journey?

Jessica Barker: My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs starting their journey is to do just that – start! It can be easy to get bogged down in self-doubt or concerns about whether your first idea is good enough. The truth is, that first idea most likely isn’t the one that you will still be working on in years to come. But, if you don’t start, you can’t improve. Embrace progress over perfection and develop a learning mindset so that feedback – even failure – becomes an opportunity for growth.

Simon Hayward: Don’t do it unless you are determined and willing to sacrifice much of your time to make it work.

Kate Nash: There is never a perfect moment. Stop looking for one. There is only ever the next best step for you.

Katy Murray: Seek out people who’ll uplift and encourage you, who’ll offer you support and accountability (most likely some new people) and invest in these relationships, they’re precious. Grow a cash reserve as a buffer so that you’re not making decisions from a place of fear or scarcity. Work with a coach or mastermind group to grow your ambition, possibility thinking and capacity for holding uncertainty.

Carl Reader: Perhaps not the usual advice - be prepared for hard work! It’s not as easy or sexy as Instagram gurus might promise. Big businesses are built from unsexy small steps, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. Rather than trying to win a ‘business lottery’, focus on how you can be consistent and intentional with your activities to help make your business a success. We tend to overestimate what we can do immediately but massively underestimate the wider potential.

Sonya Barlow: Give it a go, fail fast, figure out your energy levels and enjoy the journey. No one is prepared for entrepreneurship. It's easy to start a business, but taking on the responsibility of carrying it on and scaling is the hard part, so work on your timelines, believe in yourself and give yourself the reward to celebrate the small yet significant milestones.

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