This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Ellen, I live and work in Hackney, London where I brought my first home last year and have been fighting my addiction to home furnishing purchases ever since. Happiest with friends and family, in the sun, reading, writing, and singing (not all at the same time).
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
The Ask provides coaching & content for people pursuing courageous career paths: think founders, freelancers, or anyone doing work they believe truly matters in the world.
Whilst its been on my mind for about five years, the business is just five months old – a lockdown baby.
Why? After years as a headhunter recruiting senior talent into some of the top jobs in London, I started to notice a theme. The people who were successful were successful because they knew what they wanted. At the same time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I navigated a career change. This process involved nearly a year devouring content, studying personal development and psychology as well as introspection. I genuinely believe that what I learned changed my life — I enjoyed this process as much in and of itself as I did the benefits it brought to my life. It made me want to help others do the same for themselves.
I believe everyone should spend the time and effort reflecting on these important topics instead of jumping on the treadmill of life and wondering why they feel unfulfilled years down the line – having never taken the time to truly question their career path.
I retrained as a coach because its the one profession you can truly go deep enough with people to help unlock these kinds of insights. I draw from my conversations with thousands of people about their careers and business from my previous experience, headhunting and working for a startup accelerator.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
Signing up to my coach training qualification straight after quitting a job I hated without a backup plan. Without any job security, it was risky spending thousands of pounds, but it was the move I knew I had to make to turn my dreams into a reality. From there, it was full steam ahead, and I found contract work to tide me over.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
The noise from other people was hard to drown out when starting out. Being told ‘It’s hard to run a business alone’, ‘It’s not good timing with the pandemic / Brexit / insert other crisis’, ‘Coaches struggle to make a full-time income’ etc. But these statements don’t have to define my journey, and I’ve written a more empowering narrative for myself. It took some time to learn to listen to myself, but it’s working out pretty well so far.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Signing up four coaching clients straight off the bat was a great validation point upon launching!
Did you take the investment route for your business, or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I have self-funded my business. Coming from the world of tech I’ve always associated taking investment with working for other people in a bid to get to an exit in a short time frame, make a shed load of money, and then enjoy your life. Instead, I want a lifestyle business that suits my life. I love the skills and experiences I gain from my work — why would I want to trade that in?
What has been your best investment?
Coaching…genuinely. It helped give me the right mindset to launch my business in the timespan I did. The self-belief you get from working with a coach is key — it unblocks those pesky limiting beliefs that keep many of us stuck and not doing the work we most want to. My own inner work is key to being able to take clients on that same journey.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
I began overly optimistic about the amount I could achieve in a certain time period. My faux pas was believing I could achieve 10x of what I actually can in a given week. But I’m in this for the long haul — there really is no rush.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the startup ecosystem, and what in your mind needs to change?
I partly started my business based on my experiences in the tech startup ecosystem. I met so many men starting businesses with heaps of self-belief, compared to women.
I believe empowered women empower other women. By doing the work I love and putting myself out there on a daily basis I hope is this would rub off on more women who could look at me thinking if she can do it, so can I.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
There’s no substitute for experience — you have to learn some things the hard way. There will always be programs and gurus promising you a ‘blueprint to success’, and I’ve often been tempted to believe they have the answers. But I’m learning that you must go through the process yourself, learn from your mistakes, and follow your intuition. If it was easy, everyone would do it!
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Weirdly there are two online dating coaches I would say have been my role models. I’ve spent many years dating and gravitated to their content. But as well as their advice, I also love the art of what they do. They take abstract concepts around psychology, human dynamics, and personal development and turn them into entertaining, bite-sized content that gives people genuine value, and largely for free. They have high-end paid for services too, but I have always admired their business models as much as their content and style itself.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In five years, I’d like to solidify the main pillars of my business: coaching, content, and workshops for multiple audience segments. I have some big revenue goals I’d like to hit, which would also have higher operational costs: team members, offices, higher quality content production, and so on. My north star is to bring career-related advice to the mainstream in a way that helps people understand themselves and take bigger risks along the way. Exactly what that looks like; however, I remain open.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
To hit 1k subscribers for my weekly newsletter (long-form content about commonly asked career questions) which so far has been doubling MOM.
What can our readers do to support your business?
Most coaches build their practice through word of mouth referrals. If you know anyone seeking a coach or general support with their professional life — intros are greatly appreciated!
What books, podcasts, or resources would you recommend?
How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) — Tim Urban.
Creative Rebels — a podcast for creative & entrepreneurial work
The Artists Way – Book/exercises to uncover your genius
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Try lots of stuff, see what sticks and double down on the bits you love. It’s simple in theory – hard in practice!
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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