Having always strived to one day run my own business, approximately 18 months ago I handed in my notice at a well-paid digital agency and took the plunge.   I had been postponing it for years as it never seemed to be quite the right time.  However, now, with our wedding just ten months’ away, I decided to go for it.

I had been in employment ever since I was 18, always tried my best and in terms of my duties, always went above and beyond. At that time, staying a little later at night, or doing the odd favour for people was the norm, but occasionally there was that underlying sense of, “Why should I? I’m not getting paid for this.”

When I started my own business 12 months ago, all my previous hard efforts for other businesses began to pay off.  Through reaching out to ex colleagues, friends and business associates of the past, I quickly managed to arrange a decent number of meetings. Within no time I gained a solid foundation of clients and was now generating good revenues.

I have been involved in the digital industry for ten years, working on design, development, pay per click ads, search engine optimisation and then onto more client facing roles and strategy. Both myself and the network of people around me know what we are doing and how to do it well.

One of the main reasons I started Feel Digital, along with many others, is that I believed I could do it better my way, although obviously this is very subjective as each person’s best might be so different to the next. We know how to improve a business online, that is a given, but what we have strived to do in addition to providing great results, is add value in another way too.

In most respects, business has an over-arching sense of corporate professionalism, and arm’s length relationship, but the heart of any business are its people. Naturally, we are always professional, but we strive to build relationships which break down that corporate, “old-school business” barrier and instead ignite ones of friendship, honesty and passion. This can only occur when the “corporate” hat comes off.

The other main reason I started my own business was to gain a better work-life balance. Yes, the hours are longer, but there is a sense of freedom, knowing that an early finish on a Friday to spend time with the kids isn’t going to be frowned upon.

So, what have I learnt over the past 12 months?

All of us strive to be the very best we can be, but above everything  the one thing I have probably learnt is that this doesn’t just have to be a financial improvement. Of course, having nice cars and other luxuries puts a huge smile on your face, but ultimately it is short lived.

I would never have thought that business successes and worries could make you a better person but personally, I have changed more in the past 12 months than in the previous five  years.

Business is tough in the first 12 months. Really tough!

We have planned huge things based on the promise of a contract which failed to materialise, had invoices which have been rejected, small claims court appearances, sleepless nights, bouts of anxiety, relationships dropped without notice and many other issues to contend with.

Those are the tough parts – but in contrast to that, we have also experienced satisfaction, happiness, joy and self-worth. The difference between the two is that the tough parts are temporary. Going home at night knowing you did you best and have instilled passion into another person and their business stays with you for a long time.

Ultimately though, whatever happens, you take those feelings home with you. Your partner,  children and others around you do also feel the brunt of your own emotions. However, as much as people tell you to leave your work at work, in a new business where every decision affects you and your family, it is almost impossible for your family not to get caught up in it.

Over time, weirdly, the good and bad things that happen at work have ultimately made my own relationships much stronger. There is a sense of doing this together, which is an incredible by-product of things that happen at work.

When you start a business you turn to others for advice and you tend to get spades full of it. Do you listen to any of it? Erm… perhaps just a little.

I didn’t really listen to much of the advice, because stubbornly I believed that I had to do things my way, even in the face of failure.  Twelve months on, you learn to listen far more.

Making sure you create space, both in your day and in your head, is crucial to a business not only being successful but also staying afloat. A business is driven by one person’s vision and dream, and as long as that vision is true to what you believe in, and you can consistently remind yourself why you took this incredibly difficult path, a path away from a secure income, 30+ holidays per year and a pension, you will succeed!

I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing person who has become a great mentor and friend. We meet each month to simply talk. We share very similar belief sets and I have huge admiration for him and his advice and counsel. Doing this has actually created space and grounded me back to building a business for what I originally set out to do.

So, has it been worth it and would I change anything?

We have won some huge clients, built some incredible relationships, moved offices three times, helped other business succeed and now have a successful business that has made it through the dreaded first 12 months.

We have also lost clients, let staff go, had cash flow problems and obviously made other mistakes.

Would I change anything? No.

We are where we are today because of the mistakes we have made, because of the ability to listen to others, but, most importantly, because of our constant passion to try and be the best we can.

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but making mistakes and not learning from them is unforgivable.

We are now entering our second year of business with a set of clients we want to work with, opportunities in the pipeline for our next growth spirt and a set of visions and beliefs that are more firmly established than when I took the plunge 12 months ago.

If you are thinking about starting your own business and new life path, just do it.

Believe in what you are doing, surround yourself with like-minded people who don’t drag you down, find a mentor, work incredibly hard and never stop! You will succeed!

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