Chasing your dreams: women starting out in business

by Rachel Codrington-Hopkins

Have you ever wanted to set up a business but have no idea how you’d make it work for you and your family?  

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I’m drawing on the experiences and expertise of Helen at Tillyanna to help you vanquish your fears and chase those career dreams you’ve been putting off.

I look at successful businesswomen like Helen in admiration, wondering how they make everything work; the truth is probably not what you’d imagine.  

The definition of success is truly a personal thing, so it’s important to consider what you want to gain from starting your own business.   As Helen has found out, it’s important not to compare yourself to others, but to measure your success based on your own progress and how much you’ve stayed aligned with your values and vision.  

Whilst there are instances where businesses take off quickly, generally this is the exception rather than the rule. Whilst there’s excitement and nerves along the way, the real process of starting anything new is often mundane; requiring years of consistency, trial and error and a certain amount of trust that things will work out.  Whilst clear goals and values are important when starting your business, the day-to-day effort will require you to put one front in front of the other and trust that you’re heading in the right direction (if you’re following your values then chances are you will be).  

But enough from me; this is Helen’s story and she tells it much better than I do, so here’s what she had to say when I asked her just how she manages to do it all:

Like most women, I feel that my progression in business has been slow. I constantly feel that I am only just at the beginning of our business journey, when in reality we have been working away at this for over ten years now. 

But I also need to remember that progression is very different to success; how do you even define success? 

My main aim when I started Tillyanna was to be able to drop and collect the children from school, something which I have been able to achieve almost every day. When I look at it this way, I am very successful. However, I do get frustrated that the business is not growing quickly enough, or that not enough is being done to move in the right direction. 

The reason, I think, we as women do this is because we are quick to compare ourselves to others. There are many hugely successful women out there (and often much younger!) who have grown very successful businesses and at times I can ask myself why I haven’t seen as much growth or wonder if I’ve been on the wrong path the whole time. But comparison holds you back and I believe this is why many women don’t even start, they are scared of comparison and also failure. 

I have listened to many business stories and podcasts and nearly all business owners/founders talk about ‘joining the dots’ and looking back at what has happened in their lives to fetch them to where they are right now; I am no different. 

I left school at 18 and decided not to go onto further education.  Instead, I knew that I wanted to earn money and be at home, so I started to work within my Dad’s building company and of course I learnt so much about the ups and downs of business there. I then went on to work for my Dad’s accountant, where I learnt how to do double-entry book-keeping, how to read a balance sheet and what a profit and loss account tells you. I also had a go at being a shopkeeper for a while, this only lasted a year and I learnt a huge lesson with regards to the importance of having a lease and getting plans in writing. Looking back, all of these times in my life have brought me to where I am now; the dots join together. 

We have made mistakes along the way, just like all businesses, but we have a strong core which enables us to adapt easily. I can sometimes feel like we are not going anywhere, but when I look back to the start of our journey, I think it is fair to say we have moved on so much more than we sometimes realise. 

So how do I make it work being a mum? My children were only young when I started, my youngest was about to start school. They have grown alongside the business and they don’t know any different. They don’t see me as a working mum as I am around quite a lot for them. Yes, I have wanted to fall into the chair and cry during their Christmas concerts as I can feel guilt for not being around much when this is our busiest period (and mostly because I just wanted to sleep!) but I always made it. I think the myth is that you will be away from your family if you run a business, but the whole point of having a business is to make it work for you and I think that is how you know if you have been successful or not. 

It’s not easy by any means. You have many nights where you don’t sleep, you have to dig deep to find the motivation to keep going some days, most people don’t understand what you do and where you are heading, but I promise you it is worth it if you really love your business.

Helen’s trajectory has been so inspiring to me.  It’s clear that progression in business will be far from linear; there may be false starts; times when you need to backtrack or detour; at times you might not be able to see where the path will take you, but the only way to find out is to carry on. 

If you keep your values and your personal definition of success in mind, you can make sure you’re heading in the right direction.  

I read somewhere recently that we’re far more likely to overestimate what we can achieve in a year, but underestimate what we can achieve in ten.  Recognising that achieving our goals will take time can help maintain motivation when things get tough.  

If you love your business idea then don’t wait for the perfect moment to start because there isn’t one.  But don’t’ worry, you can learn and adjust as you go.  Keeping our immediate goals small and achievable can help beat the overwhelm we might feel when we think about our long-term goals, whilst helping us work towards them.  Just take it one step at a time.  Ten years from now look back and join the dots, you may be surprised just where those steps have taken you.


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