This month marks Lucidity's six year anniversary. Now, according to Hitched ('Your wedding, planned to perfection'), the traditional gift for six years married is sugar. How appropriate for my sweet tooth! So, adding some demerara to my coffee and cracking open a Wispa (my pandemic treat of choice), here are six things I've learned over my first six years.
1. Don't you want me?
My first lesson, and still being learned, is that not everyone will see the value in what you do. Regular readers might remember my post from last November, which looked – warts and all – at the sheer rollercoaster that running a micro business is. That time was characterised by rejection, of multiple responses to calls for proposals and multiple times wondering why they didn't quite make the cut. Things turned around in January and, since then, it's been a busy and interesting time. But the worry of work ending and nothing else being in the pipeline is never far away. My lesson? You need to find a way to accept the rejections and move on without getting disheartened. It's a tough one, but essential for surviving.
2. Stand and deliver
I was a massive fan of Adam and the Ants when I was at primary school so maybe this has been a subconscious refrain since then! I firmly believe that you have to stand up for what you believe in. Now, like many other companies, I set out values when I started because that's what you do, right? If I'm honest with myself, I've only really interrogating these words and what they mean in reality in the last few years. And now, when I say Lucidity is about being creative, challenging and clear, I really mean it! I don't want to do things that aren't creative, so I challenge myself as much as possible to learn new skills (check out the new video I made this morning!). I don't want to just follow someone else's path, or do things the same way 'cos that's the way they've always been done. And I don't want to write reports - or posts - that people have to struggle to understand. So, set out what you stand for and stick by it!
3. (Not) Everybody wants to rule the world
People set up their own businesses for all sorts of reasons. Some want flexibility. Some want to make their fortune. Some want to see if their hobby can become a career. I wasn't in any of those camps! I needed to make a living, yes – as a single mum at the time, that was very important – but more than anything I wanted to make a difference, and firmly believed that I could use what I'd learned over the years to do that. That was the easy part. The hard bit was figuring out how to talk about what I did (something I still struggle with!). I think it was only after year 3 that I boiled this down to three definite areas – strategy, business process and communications – and I've stuck with those ever since (now with a bit of REF support thrown in, for the researchers among you!). There are other things I can do, but they don't fit into this focus. And there's been work that I've turned down, because I know I can't add value. My point here is: be clear about what you want to achieve – and why. You don't have rule the world to be successful.
4. Push it!
Working for yourself means you can be more creative with your professional development. Since going out alone, I've read more books and articles, watched more videos and generally enjoyed keeping up to date much more than I ever did back when I had a proper job. In the last couple of years, I've also carved out time and money to really invest in courses that will push me out of my comfort zone. Exploring innovation policy with SPRU at my old university and learning visual facilitation with WorkVisible have been amazing highlights, not least because I've been able to use what I learnt with different clients and in different ways. So lesson 4 is to keep pushing yourself and to make the time to continue developing your knowledge and skills.
5. I think we're alone now
Lesson number 5 has perhaps been hardest learnt, and that's how to work with other people – either as an associate or with an employee. I've had a few different experiences over the past six years. Some have worked really well, others not so much. And the ones that haven't worked have really made me reflect - on what I'm like as an employer and whether I want to go down that route again, on what it takes to make an associate relationship work, and on where you should draw the line and call it quits. This hasn't put me off working with others - I'm developing a joint tender as we speak - but it has made me ask myself some more serious questions about who, how and when. The lesson? Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and very discerning about who you work with.
6. Don't stop believin'
The last lesson I've learned is that you need to be confident in what you can do, and be able to give yourself a boost when you need it most. So, if you need constant reassurance from someone else about your professional skills, I'd say setting up your own business might not be the right path. I'm pretty secure in what I do – and have an amazing support network of friends – but there are still days when self-belief is challenged. And it doesn't help when others gloss over the realities of running a business. I read a post this morning from someone celebrating their 9th business anniversary which said that they 'had loved every minute of it'. I don't believe that for a second! I know it's been a great decision for me, but I definitely haven't loved every minute. The knock backs continue to be hard to take. Keeping busy on the quiet days is a test. And maintaining a focus on what you set out to do - rather than take any old work - can be a challenge. What keeps me going? Well, I haven't stopped believing that I can bring something of value, that my skills are useful to others and that I can make a difference.
So, as I head into my 7th year in business, I'll take these lessons with me, along with one more - for luck! And that's the determination to stay true to myself. Working with integrity is the only way to achieve real success - not beating others, not constant growth. What will follow the first half of 2020? An unanswerable question! All I know is that I'll keep on doing this as long as I can make it work, in my own way – which will always involve heavy doses of chocolate, coffee and, occasionally, some red, red, wine!