I’m 3+ months in as I sit down to write this.

After leaving a job I’d worked years for and spending most of lockdown doing every bit of prep possible, reading any and every book I could find, and listening to hours of podcasts on my daily walks, nothing quite prepares you for Day 1.

Filled with anticipation I sat down at a blank screen on August 3rd.

This was it then.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far (and some useful people, books and tips).

#1. MINDSET IS 100% THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.

I spent years being successful ‘by chance’ as I saw it. As long as I roughly stayed on the right path, things happened – the promotion, client win, pay rise. I never set goals that I held myself accountable to, professionally or personally.

But winging it isn’t enough when you’re in charge. Recognising how, and why my mindset was getting in my own way has been one of the biggest wins for me.

Even more so in the current climate. For every negative news story, I sought out stories of others’ success instead.

Book Recommendation: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

#2. PEOPLE WANT TO HELP. YES REALLY.

But you have to ask.

This was critical, and something I’m still trying to fully embrace.

It doesn’t come naturally to most of us to ask for help. What will old colleagues, that client I worked with 5+ years ago or a friend of a friend who’s got a useful contact, think. I can’t do it alone? I’ve tried and failed?

The thing is, the majority of people are delighted when you ask, flattered in fact. We all love being needed.

Getting over this block has done wonders. It opens up doors, gives you perspectives that can move you forward much quicker, and contacts you’d never have made otherwise.

Embrace the helping hands, the leg-ups, and the ‘co-incidences’.

#3. YOU’VE GOT A BETTER NETWORK THAN YOU THINK.

My network was quite limited. Or so I thought.

It turns out there are people you’ve forgotten you met, or that pop-up just at the right time. People you don’t perceive as ‘a business contact’.

Do a first pass of everyone you know, and everyone they know. Ask them all to spread the word for you. (Remember, people like to help but you need to ask).

Then go back through your network again. Look for the less obvious opportunities.

Ask for testimonials, references, referrals. Any opportunity so far has come via word-of-mouth recommendations.  

A tip I first heard from Harriet Minter: Approach every networking opportunity from the perspective of ‘how can I help them’.

You’ll bank credit for when you need a favour and it’s much more enjoyable.

#4. DO SOMETHING ‘MAD’ EVERYDAY.

This was a concept introduced to me by Caroline Britton.

Note. We’re defining ‘mad’ as something that doesn’t make total logical business sense, that you can’t see ‘how’ it might happen or come about, but you’ve got a pull to do.

Everyday do one thing. Take a bit of a risk. Email that person, share that idea, ask for that opportunity, go to that event or apply to be on that panel.

Sometimes, nothing comes back. Sometimes, you’ll hit on an opportunity.

(PS: A random message one morning on LinkedIn led me to a collaboration – just because I liked the sound of what they were doing!)

#5. IT’S GOING TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE.

There are days when I sit at my desk and cringe at whatever needs doing. That email request, LinkedIn post, or cold call I need to make. This is my ‘icky’ stuff; we all have it.

I’ve learnt it’s a sign you’re moving out of your comfort zone and it never goes away. So, embrace it as a sign of growth – personally and professionally.

Tip: Do the uncomfortable task first thing in the morning.

#6. TAKE EVERY NO AS A RE-DIRECTION TO A YES.

As a fairly resilient person and having worked in advertising where you lose pitches without an explanation, or see a client leave overnight, I thought I was prepared for this.

Every hurdle, ‘no’ and silence can be disheartening. More than disheartening, it can make you question your ability.

I take every no as a re-direction towards the right thing. The right client, conversation, project.

Something where my efforts will be better rewarded down the line.

#7. BUILDING YOUR ‘PERSONAL BOARD’ IS IMPORTANT.

I first came across the concept of a ‘personal board’ via Working Wonder.

When we’re in a corporate role, you’ve a line manager, a team and a wider support network round you. You can build yourself a ‘personal board’ of people who’ve got your development in their interest, and whom you can lean on for direction, wisdom and as a sounding board when you’re stuck.

As a founder, you’re often a company of one. You need to re-create a ‘personal board’. I’ve found the following instrumental:

  • Mentors (there are tonnes of programmes and charities set-up)
  • Via Government-funded initiatives such as the Business Growth Hub
  • An accountability buddy (someone you speak to every week, who holds you accountable to your objectives)
  • A good accountant
  • Networks like Found & Flourish
  • A business coach (at the right time and with the right person, this investment can be transformational).

#8. FIND A WAY TO HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE.

There’ve been mornings I’ve sat and wondered what to spend my day doing.

When there’s no one there asking you for something, or deadlines looming, it can be hard to be productive.

  • Weekly accountability calls with someone in a similar situation holds you to your actions
  • Setting monthly goals and putting them somewhere you see them every single day
  • Working in 90-day sprints has given me a better sense of oversight of the business, and forces prioritisation

Book recommendation: Atomic Habits by James Clear.

And always, ask yourself, is what I am spending time doing getting me closer to my vision? If it’s not, or it doesn’t feel right in your gut, chances are it’s not.

Where you can find me

Website | LinkedIn | Instagram

Sarah Fleming

Sarah Fleming

About your author

Sarah is a marketing and communications planner, and the Founding Director of The Right + The Left – a consultancy that helps brands build marketing and communication strategies that combine the power of creativity (the right brain thinking) with the logic of planning and data (the left) – to solve business problems and help brands be seen.

You can find out more about Sarah and her business here.

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