Starting a business comes with its own special brand of anxiety. Like learning to ski later in life: its exposing and there is a hefty fear of public humiliation. Often even your closest friends and family – those stalwart cheerleaders – stand, bewildered in fear of a painful and possibly costly crash.
So how do single-minded, self-reliant, perfectionist entrepreneurs find their cheerleader when they feel their confidence may be waning or they can’t get where they are going? And for so many female founders, years of career confidence can be whipped away when you’re starting a new venture.
I confess I didn’t really know what coaching was or what it entailed when I first spoke to Liz Ward, business coach and Founder of Slick Pivot. But I knew I didn’t like the sound of it. I don’t like talking about the inner workings of my mind, when I can find them. And it felt rather grandiose to be talking of my life plans with a start-up barely a few weeks old.
So I could see why I needed a mentor and probably a therapist (who doesn’t?) but a business coach? I spoke to Liz who gave me some business coaching of my own.
Definition of Business Coaching
The saying goes: ‘Therapy is for pulling up weeds, coaching is for planting seeds.’
So what is it? As Liz told me, ‘Coaching creates a space for someone to think through their ideas, to remove blockers or boulders in their road and give them the confidence to take action on the things that they really want to do. To create a space that is confidential, neutral. I am a secret cheerleader but also a challenger, stretching your comfort zone so you grow. We also look at what tangible things you can do to drive your growth. And mindset: things we can work on to improve happiness.’ Ah, happiness….
Looking at Happiness and Anxiety
‘How can you design your life in the way you actually want, rather than how think you should live?’
I have always liked that the fundamental American right is the ‘pursuit of happiness’. Its not a destination or a thing you find under a rock. Its a million small things you find on the way to wherever you’re going. As Liz said, ‘The trick is examining how you can design your life in the way you actually want, rather than how think you should live.’
I sleep fairly well but for some time have woken at 3am worrying about nothing. We talked about the general anxieties of parents and waking in the night. ‘We can solve that now!’ Liz cheerily breezed. And I have to say, a mini-CBT session of sorts, and it worked.
Visualisation, putting it into the universe and those neurons
‘What does success look like to you?’ My first thought was of pyjamas, wine and sleeping children. Argh. I dread these questions like introducing myself to ‘the group’. So perhaps I needed some work.
I confess I am far too English-reserved to say out loud what I want or where I imagine I’d like to be. But I do know there is great value in it and that visualisation does work. Putting it out into the universe is indeed A Thing but not, in my opinion, because of higher powers, rather due to our neurons. There is a scientifically proven shared brain action between imagining something and doing it. Ask an athlete.
That is hugely powerful news to the natural sceptic: you really can work on imagining what you want and making it happen. The huge help of the business coach is in actually creating a time for you to do it. ‘What are you worried about?’ Liz would ask. And my replies often sounded ridiculous out loud. We laughed, but this is hugely helpful. Realising that the mind-demons are often just that, rather silly and nothing to worry about.
The space to think
We feel guilty if we are not ‘doing.’ I sometimes make myself wait in restaurants without scrolling through my phone, or sit on the train and stare out of the window. There is such importance to daydreaming if we can make space. There just isn’t much time to stop and stare any more. I know people who wake at 3am to ‘do their best thinking’ simply as they don’t have the time elsewhere. Coaching gives you that space, constructively, and in daylight hours. The huge value I found speaking to Liz was in simply finding that time to inspect what I needed to be doing …and what I was very much avoiding doing.
As Liz said: ‘We need to give ourselves the time to think. Often there is little time invested in you and only you. I provide space to allow your mind to expand further than it may go on its own. Or to think if you want to change career, what you would like to do. Pivoting is constant twisting and turning and staying open to where you may end up.’
Liz can work on a moving you at pace towards The Idea. Over a period of time she is with you along the journey, setting goals. There are phone calls and homework. Classic coaching exercises and actions based on your own personal goals. And not just of course for founders but for anyone thinking of pivoting their career. It gives you accountability and undoubtedly you will make a lot more progress with a coach than on your own.
I have a lot to thank Liz for. Taking the pressure off. That it could be next week or next year. That I am someone who needs to exercise often. Gulp. Her help focussing on goals and making them happen. And not being (as) afraid to say things out loud.
I have also accepted that with two small children and two businesses, everything happens around 4 weeks after I say it will. Sometimes longer. But that’s OK.
The Slick Pivot Story
Liz launched Slick Pivot before her baby came: ‘I had seen colleagues in full-time work with panic in their eyes running home and leaving meetings to get to nursery. I knew there needed to be another way for me.’
For about 10 years she had worked in advertising running campaigns for the O2, London 2012 Olympics, Bacardi then she became a marketing consultant working with start-ups. She even ran a dating app. In her own words she burnt out in 2013. ‘I had been a workaholic lunatic since I left university. Seeking validation, people pleasing. I put everything into work, to the detriment of my health and social life. I worked quickly up the ladder and on some amazing projects but had no time for me and I just quit.’
Then as an independent consultant what she soon realised was that the founders didn’t want was telling what to do, they had their own ideas. ‘They needed someone to help them articulate what their vision was for their business and work out how to make it happen – that was a coaching approach. I recognised that was a need and went and did my training then.
‘That changed the conversation, I loved working with individuals and helping the teams come to conclusions. It was really fulfilling for me. I took huge job satisfaction in seeing a change in these people and helping them develop and make their vision happen.
- What is – or has been – your greatest struggle? I have always struggled with perfectionism. That combined with being a workaholic in my 20’s was a tricky combination. The two things together caused me to completely burnout in 2013. I quit my job and left the country in a dramatic fashion to go “find myself”. I did find myself and all is well now, but I still have to remember that trying to be perfect does not serve me. Since making this adjustment in my head, I have been so much happier and balanced.
- What did you want to be when you were growing up? A meteorologist. I wanted to be the weather girl that understood the science too.
- Best advice ever received and from whom? “If you don’t know how to do something, blag it”, my first boss told me this, four days into my first ever role. Although this may sound like flippant advice, the sentiment behind it told me to feel the fear of the unknown and do it anyway. By getting stuck in and being confident to “blag it” pushed me outside of my comfort zone regularly and as a result I learnt a lot, very quickly. My Grandfather also said, “do as you would be done by”.
- Who do you most admire? My mother. She is a total legend.
- What keeps you up at night (aside from small children!) Ideas. When I am excited about a project I struggle to stop the ideas flowing. I ride those thoughts for a while and sometimes make a note of new thoughts to make sure I’ve captured them. Somehow spending time to write them down allows me to relax and sleep.
- When were you happiest? I am currently the happiest I have ever been. I think it’s because I feel like I am in the driving seat of where I am going. I have the right balance between family and work. And my work has purpose. I love serving my coaching clients and helping them to realise their potential and create the lives, businesses and careers that they desire.
- Favourite object you possess? My Penfield Parka. It’s the warmest most snuggliest coat. Perfect for cold walks out down the river with the buggy,
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “There is no failure, only feedback”
- What is the most important lesson life has taught you? If something isn’t working for you, don’t wait for change to happen to you, read the signals, take control and take action. Things always improve when you start taking action. I waited a long time to say something about feeling unhappy in one of my corporate roles. As soon as I had that difficult conversation things improved. One action leads to another. If you don’t take a small step, you’ll never go anywhere.
- What is your guiltiest pleasure? Really gooey, melty, smelly cheese. With tawny port.
- What change do you hope for in your lifetime? I’d like more people to get comfortable with putting time into their own personal development. It’s OK to work on you. It’s not selfish, it’s essential for happiness.
- Please recommend a brilliant female-led brand or business you have used recently. The Marshmallowist. From a Portobello Road market stall to Harrods Food Hall, these gourmet marshmallows are incredible. Flavours like Blueberry and Gin and Raspberry and Champagne make them fabulously grown up. I had them at my baby shower and the toasting kits make lovely gifts. Founded by Oonagh and Jenny Simms, the sisters are my one of my Slick Pivot clients, who I am super proud of.
- Who might help you next? As I work with a lot of solo-entrepreneurs, I am regularly asked for recommendations for services such as copywriting, design, accounting, social media management, VA’s, developers, etc. I am always looking to grow my list of recommended resources. If you would like to be included, get in touch.