Last night I was one of the key guest speakers at The Festival of Innovation: Start-Up Stories event. The speaker line-up? Well it was as followed:
That’s right… that’s me on the end there! Now I didn’t do this speech by a script, nor did I use a powerpoint or any other supporting material (nope, had some disasters trying to utilise these in the past, I was steering WELL CLEAR!) It was just me and the stage, speaking up there from the heart. But I thought I’d share the base of how it went. This was my draft when I was putting my thoughts into words, so the talk pretty much went as followed…. Grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy!
“So when I first got asked to speak at the Festival of Innovation, I thought WOW- what an amazing opportunity. I checked my diary, saw that I was just about free and jumped at the chance, saying yes straight away. When I then had a look online and saw the line-up of the other speakers with Claire and Jeff, I thought… Okay. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea! Their credentials and experience are incredible (seriously impressive guys! **speaking to them in the audience), but how on earth am I going to be able to follow that?!
I’m just a 22 year old in business; in the early stages of a lifelong journey. But then I figured as this event is all about ‘the trials & tribulations of being an entrepreneur’ – maybe I could give you a different angle.
Growing up I was massively lacking in confidence. I was incredibly shy and wasn’t always sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I KNEW I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and one day be my own boss. My Dad has always been a huge role-model to me, setting up his own company from scratch, when we were just kids. He started from absolutely NOTHING, had no help or support at all (aside from my Mum’s of course) but worked to the absolute bone to provide a brighter future for his family; which he has since grown it into a successful multi-million pound business. My older brother is also in business; creating and developing a marketing software company, again from the ground up. He literally did everything: from the concept to design and implementation. He even learnt to code himself which trust me- is not easy! I actually think he might be PART-GENIUS, because what he’s developed is unreal, but now- a few years on, at just 25, he has this incredible London start-up, with staff working for him all over the world and at least a million pounds invested into it. And again: all of this is self-made. As Stearn’s, we don’t take any hand-outs and certainly work hard for our success!
I on the other-hand have taken a different route. For me, it’s all about creating a lifestyle you don’t need to escape from; and why wait? I can now confidently say I run a successful online business which gives me the freedom to work on other projects I’m passionate about; all whilst traveling the world. I now earn far more than I would ever be working in any graduate job (yep, Uni is not ALWAYS the answer!), but more importantly than that- it’s created the freedom and flexibility that I would have once only ever otherwise dreamed of. So how did I get here?
Well, I guess my entrepreneurial journey kind of began at 15. I was currently studying dance and really really enjoyed it. It was a way of expressing myself without needing words and it helped me through an incredibly difficult time in my life. (FOR READERS NOW, YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ MY POST “FROM BROKEN TEEN TO BUSINESS WOMAN”) My friend also had a passion for dance and one day we had an idea…
What if we took this thing we enjoyed, and used it to be able to do more of it, whilst earning some extra money?
“Why don’t we start dance lessons in local schools?”
Great idea we thought! So we created some little posters, took them to our previous primary schools and pitched them to our old head-teachers. We were charging just a couple of pounds per child, per lesson (far cheaper than external companies would charge) and offering something fun & different for kids to be able to do after-school. We won the pitch and our lessons soon started! Because of the low-cost, we managed to round up a good group of kids and I think we probably enjoyed it as much as they did! Alongside our paper-rounds and weekend jobs, we felt like we were ROLLING IT IN! We took this to a couple of different primary schools before then thinking about scaling it up…
“So what if we were to create a more premium service? Offering one-to-one dance tuition on weekends, charging a higher price for the same amount of time? How about that then?!”
So we created these leaflets again, handed them out to those we already taught, stuck them around schools and with a bit of luck- we started to get some business! It was mostly from parents and grandparents, wanting to keep their kids busy for an extra couple of hours on the weekends, particularly through winter when they had so much energy to burn! But it was amazing for us. And taught us some great lessons in business and growth.
Heading to college, I then made the decision to study business. To completely immerse myself in it in fact. It was a diploma qualification which made it all coursework based. But this for me, created opportunities! I worked and worked and worked. At an insane rate. Every-time I got an assignment- BAMN, straight back, submitted. Another one? BAMN. Back again. And over and over and over. My tutors actually struggled to keep up with my work-rate and I did what was literally unheard of; completing my entire course in a matter of months, gaining the highest possible Ucas points both years and leaving months ahead of everyone else. I took on some extra qualifications alongside this, but also used this time to gain real-life experience… earning money through part-time jobs but also getting work experience at different companies, which led to new job opportunities. In fact, I’d soon secured a great full-time job at a new start-up company.
I wasn’t the most qualified of applicants and still had a lack of experience but I got the job because they could see my work ethic, attitude and pure determination to succeed! When I first started working here the role was in a basic admin position, but I didn’t want to do just that. I pushed far beyond what was expected of me, with the mission of learning and growing as much as I possibly could. Within a matter of months I got promoted, taking on social media, digital marketing and even event management. It was amazing. I was working with great people. I was really developing as a person, but the problem was,
I was getting up at the same time every morning,
driving the same route to work,
getting stuck in the same traffic,
with everyone else doing exactly the same thing as me!
I reached a point where I just thought…
Is this it?
Is this what I’ve been working so hard for?
Because I still had a passion for business, but I believed I was surely to young to get into that yet. Only I knew that I needed some sort of change. I wasn’t quite on the path that I wanted to be. So I took the decision to leave my secure job at the start-up company and head out into the big wide world on my own! To begin with, I just went off traveling…
It will clear my mind, I thought. Give me a sense of direction. A clarity around what to do next.
So I surfed the internet, packed a backpack and flew to the other side of the world, spending a month in Australia. Yep, I couldn’t have gotten much further away. And at just 18, having never traveled anywhere on my own prior to that, it was a big shock to the system! But, in actual fact it turned out to be the best possible thing I could have done, because it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow. I was standing on my own two feet, mixing with new people I’d never met before, trying different things and really coming out of my shell like never before. It gave me the confidence to believe in myself and to push for what I wanted to do- which had always been about somehow helping other people in whatever work I do. I was incredibly passionate about charities and causes, and I’d wanted to earn a living doing good in the world!
So, upon my return I got straight to it! I decided I wanted to work in events, specialising in working with charities. I came up with this concept: a way in which I would work with them, raising important funds, but at no cost to them, with no risk at all. I did this by first starting locally. I approached a number of charities and non-profits and pretty much said,
Look, I may not have all the experience, I may not have all the credentials but I have this BURNING PASSION inside me and I promise you, if you give me the opportunity, I will put everything I’ve got into raising as much money for your charity as I possibly can- all with no risk to you. This isn’t going to cost you anything. It’s not going to take any of your time. This is all on me. If I fail, all it will lose is my time, and okay- maybe a touch of my pride! But I can deal with that!
And I guess well, how could you say no to that really? I made a promise and I was going to sure as hell make sure I kept it, which ended up in me raising thousands of pounds for both local and national charities. The more events I did, the more known I become and the more enquiries that started to come through- not just from charities, but also from businesses. So actually one of the last business events I did was with a guy from America, who come to the UK solely for the events I had organised for him. It was a huge achievement and shows just how much you can do if you really commit to something and take those scary first steps!
Through working in events, I also started doing more social media. I didn’t just want to host an event and hope it would turn out okay. I also wanted to populate it- to get as many people there as possible, because particularly for charity events- that meant more money would be raised, which was always a huge drive for me. I immersed myself in the online world. What worked, what didn’t; it was a lot of trial and error, but it was exciting! I eventually started developing all these techniques for conversion, and that’s when the penny suddenly started to drop. I suddenly thought…
Hold on a minute. What if I was to turn this into a business? To specialise in social media for sales (which is essentially what I’m doing now) and offer a solution that so many people need? This would be an ONLINE business, which in turn could create so many opportunities. It wouldn’t have to be so dependent on me being in certain places at certain times and would actually mean I could work from anywhere in the world.
… Because I still loved traveling. That was a huge part of me and what had begun this journey in the first place. I was also very much driven by lifestyle and strived for creating freedom and flexibility. Although I had loved helping so many charities, I knew that really- it was not sustainable. I wasn’t earning as much as I knew I could, and without financial security, I couldn’t help or reach as many people as I really wanted to. I personally wanted to have an impact on people’s lives, to get involved more, and to do that- I had to be successful in business and secure in my work. So again, I took the leap and made the change; which was the start of my main business now, Blue Monkey Social Media.
Now to begin with, I’m not going to lie- it was like an uphill battle. As a young entrepreneur I found you had to work a lot hard to earn the credibility and respect; to be taken seriously and be able to compete with bigger businesses than had been running far longer than you. I also found you have to have a thick skin and be able to stand your ground, because otherwise people will try to walk all over you; foolishly mistaking you as just ‘young and naive’ so I had to do a lot of ground-work before I could even look at growth. By this point, I’d also moved out of my family home, had rent to pay, bills always coming out, and some months it was a case of literally just scraping by. I was earning just hundreds, not even into the thousands at that point and it was so so hard. Such a huge amount of pressure, and I had so many people say to me,
Come on, you’ve done well. But why don’t you get a job now?
But it wasn’t about a job. It was about building a future. Making a success of something that I believed in so much, and that I KNEW would help me reach those long-term goals of being able to do things that positively impacted others. I couldn’t give up; quitting really wasn’t even an option. So I worked and worked and worked. I found problems and worked on them. I created strategies and implemented them. I tried so many different campaigns and offers and constantly made changes until finally things started to pay off. I’d gradually built a credible company and created effective online sales strategies that would bring me new business in, month in, month out.
Today Blue Monkey works with entrepreneurs and businesses all over the country. I had a team of people who do the groundwork of my social media work, but I am still able to drive my business forward in the way that I really want. Any new enquiries, I will always deal with. I love that interaction with people; finding out about their business, what they want to achieve and then creating strategies and plans that will get them to where they want to be. It’s so incredibly rewarding, and exciting too- as every single business is different, which means work never gets boring! With a great business model and a strong team, it also gives me the time to work on other projects. So in the last couple of years I’ve written a teenage self-help book, done talks and mentoring in schools, created mental health & trauma campaigns and got involved in as many different things as I possibly can. I want to make a difference and with the business I have now: I really can.
Aside from this I also have the freedom to travel the world, because I can take my desk with me anywhere! Last month for example, I was working through six different countries, and hit a new milestone of thirty different countries visited. I absolutely love it and it always gives me a fresh burst of inspiration! Because of this, this month I’ve launched a new travel blog with the purpose of inspiring others to not only get out there and see the world, but also show them that it’s possible to create a business like I have that can take them anywhere they want to go and more! Through a Digital Nomad Course, I’m starting to work with entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams; and there’s no greater feeling than that.
Entrepreneurship to me is so much more than just a career path. It’s this thing within you, that makes you feel alive and just completely drives everything that you do. On a personal level, entrepreneurship has not only changed my life, but also helped to shape me into me. Today we have so many incredible opportunities. We can do and become everything we want and more. I think it’s just a case of whether you’ll take those brave first steps to achieving your dreams and goals. But I’ve got to warn you, once you do- it kind of becomes addictive and you’ll soon find the whole world at your feet!
Thanks for listening to my talk. It’s honestly been a real pleasure to be here.”
There was a roaring round of applause to finish (they were a very kind crowd and the theatre-style venue certainly helped it to echo!) and I had so many touching comments and conversations with people afterwards. It was hands-down the best event I had spoken at to date and I can’t wait for the next ones to come!
What’s your start-up story? Or what would you like it to be?