Running your own business and following your dreams – my story and tips

Business

Running your own business and following your dreams – my story and tips

Business

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A while ago I asked you guys what you would like me to blog about, one of the popular answers was my business! Although I’ve shared a lot about what’s going on with Uniquely Healthy, I haven’t talked about how I got to be running my own business and what it’s like now that I approach being able to do it full time. Quick warning – this is a wordy one!

First of all, I don’t come from a business background, not one bit. My Mam and Dad have worked extremely hard in their normal jobs (my Dad in a factory environment and then moving on to a rental firm and my Mam working for the Child Benefit Agency). I can remember when I was younger and I’d read magazine interviews with entrepreneurs, they all seemed to come from more privileged backgrounds or formerly high powdered jobs. At that point in time the idea of me being able to run a business seemed laughable. 

Fast forward a few years and I had been to University, got my art and design degree, spilt up with my then long term boyfriend, moved home to the North East and got a job working with a local authority in a community building. I actually loved this work, even being in some of the ‘roughest’ areas of Newcastle was awesome. I eventually ended up at a different local authority feeling fat, sick and fed up because the job was office based and boring as hell. I started doing an MA in Community and Youth Work with the hope that could lead to an escape into more traditional youth work. It was then that a project manager job came up with a charity and I jumped at the chance for a move, even though some of my family and friends thought I was crazy leaving my ’safe’ job at the council for a temporary contract in the voluntary sector.

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Of course, that move was the best thing I ever did. I learned a lot about myself in that job, completed my MA and started my weight loss journey. I think that being in a job I enjoyed meant I could devote the mental energy needed to lose weight. I also got a lot of support to develop my confidence, skills and spirituality in that job, because I had the most amazing manager – Gillian. She is one in a million!

At this time I had started blogging with absolutely no idea where it was going, all I knew was that I loved writing about healthy living, it made me feel fulfilled in ways I never had before. I am a naturally creative person and blogging was the perfect outlet for that too. I started to contemplate the idea of changing careers, but without a serious amount of money behind me it seemed like an impossible dream. After a few years my temporary contract was almost up and due to some big changes in the voluntary sector in County Durham, things were looking pretty unstable with my charity job. The idea of going to work for the local authority again filled me with dread, and I couldn’t imagine working for another organisation.

My manager Gillian was starting her own business on the side, and that was when I started to think that perhaps this is something I could think about more seriously. Why not? The worst thing that can happen is that you fail, and I’d rather live a life of trying. I knew I already had a lot of skills in areas such as project management, design, community work, NLP, events management, setting up and registering not for profit companies, financial management etc. I also loved the idea of melding my community work skills with my experiences and knowledge of nutrition and healthy living, I could also see a huge gap in the market for this within the community. The blog was also growing really well too which added to my confidence. I decided to do a Diet and Nutrition Advisors qualification then I came across the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. It seemed to be the perfect answer to what I was looking for, and it was. Doing the IIN Health Coach training gave me the confidence to go for it. I did have to put myself into some debt to do those courses, but I felt that it would be worth it in the long run.

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I spent a long time thinking of names for my business but I’m happy I settled on Uniquely Healthy as I think it really encapsulates my ethos and what I’m all about. The day before my 30th Birthday I registered Uniquely Healthy as a limited company with Companies House and I was all set! A few months later Gillian and I decided to join forces – she has skills and expertise around the mental wellbeing side of things so what we do complements each other perfectly. We set up the Feel Good Factory North East as a Community Interest Company so we could work more directly with communities and community organisations.

I went part time in my charity job and some time soon I’ll be leaving that behind. I’ll still be working with them, but on a more flexible basis. I also rent office space from them for storage for Uniquely Healthy as well.

Setting up and developing Uniquely Healthy has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve learned so much in the process and sometimes I need to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t all a dream. It has been challenging at times, especially the financial vulnerability aspect of it, and as much as I know that sitting behind a computer writing, working with clients or delivering a community workshop sounds easy, it can be challenging. I have worked my arse off, but because I love what I do so much, it has never really felt like work, apart from the times I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Now that I have pushed myself outside that comfort zone, I’m so much more confident and happy, it was well worth it!

Here are a few of my tips for anyone setting up in business based on what I’ve learned…

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Have a financial cushion

I have a very supportive husband, but he is not a rich solicitor or doctor, and could not support me financially. I couldn’t just pack in work and dedicate all my time to study and developing things.  I did have the benefit of working full time, and then part time while I found my feet, and that was very valuable because it enabled me to save up a financial cushion which gives me peace of mind and reduces my stress, although it was very hard work doing two jobs at once! I have managed to save up 6 months of what I need to live on, and that has really helped. 

Feel the fear and do it anyway

There have often been times in the past two years where I’ve thought to myself ‘what the actual fuck are you doing’. I had to learn to push past the fear of doing something wrong and just do it. If you worry about everything being perfect, you will never get anywhere. For example, I knew that when I launched the Uniquely Healthy website the copy could be better, but I just needed to get it launched and put out there. I also know I’ve probably made mistakes in some of the paid for content I’ve posted here on the blog, but it’s all been part of a process of me figuring out what the hell I’m doing. This is also similar with pushing outside your comfort zone. It might be scary and stressful to start with, but it’s the only way you will grow, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to feel confident.

Be prepared to ditch any idea of work / life balance

Work / life balance just doesn’t exist when you run a business – or at least when you are running a business right in my opinion! When what you are doing is your passion it is part of your life, and not ‘work’. I read a great article in The Simple Things Magazine about this and it made so much sense. Instead of striving for work / life balance strive to be doing work that you don’t feel the need to escape from. Of course you need time for family, friends and other pleasures, but running a business you love should fit in well with your life, something I’ll be testing out when peanut arrives!

Hone your organisation skills

I know some people who have zero organisation skills that run great businesses but they are few and far between. I try and be organised to the highest level I possibly can be. I have lots of lists – including a to do list of things that need to be done every week and every month. I do my accounts every single month without fail. I schedule ahead in my calendar as much as possible. I use Evernote like a crazy person. I’ve learned when my most productive hours of the day are and I work to that advantage. 

Hussle

You always need to have a bit of hussle in business – theres a saying up here in the North East – ‘shy bairns get nowt’ which basically means if you don’t ask you don’t get. 

Don’t give up

If you have a dream, don’t give up on it. You might need to tweak it a little bit, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Don’t let the naysayers put you off either!

Be you

Be you, please don’t try and be someone else. There’s no point in being a second rate version of another person, develop your own voice, brand and creative expression. Think about the things that make you ‘you’ and play to your strengths. We are all unique – I can tell you now that there will be no other health coaches out there like me. No one else has the same range of skills and experience that I do, and yes I’m going to blow my own trumpet here, I know I’m damn good at what I do because of that. You can’t just do a course and come out the end of it good at that job, it takes a lot more than that, and often more training and development. Plus there is no replacement for life lived experience.

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In setting up and running my business I have discovered some great people on line. Ash from The Middle Finger Project is awesome, Marie Forleo is fabulous and I love the Green Room posts from Rock n Roll Bride

Right now my income into the business comes from three main areas: health coaching and products (like the Super Conscious Living Programme and 12 Weeks to Feeling Fabulous Course), community projects, and blog and writing related income. I’m currently studying Clinical Nutrition and next week I’m off to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course. I’ll be finishing up the amazing project I’ve been doing with girls around body image and well being at the end of the month and then starting on several new projects including one with young people leaving care and going into independent living, a healthy living club for parents at a school and a project working with people with disabilities and their carers. Awesome right? The downside to all of this is that we are trying to get a mortgage and that whole thing is looking a bit dodgy because of my soon to be self employed status. I still feel the pro’s outweigh the con’s though. I’m making a reasonable living doing something I love, and I’m the only person in charge of me. With a little one on the way, it’s the perfect scenario too. 

If you run your own business what have you learned? Would you ever consider starting your own business?

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48 Comments

  1. kezia

    This is so good – just what i needed this morning! Starting a business is HARD but amazing at the same time – plus I love the revelation about work/life balance – so good. I think I need to give myself a break on that because my work is slowly becoming one of my biggest passions and joys and life – but in a good way:) (Plus I am a evernote lover – how did we survive before…??)

    Reply
    • Laura

      I found that ditching the concept of work / life balance was really freeing! I could not live without Evernote!

      Reply
  2. Mary

    Thanks for sharing Laura. I love hearing stories of how people got to where they are. Doing something you enjoy for a living is so much more worthwhile than sitting in a boring mundane job that you’re not enjoying and I’m so glad that you’re able to look to begin working for yourself full time.

    Reply
  3. PoPpy @ Persistence Over Perfection

    This is so lovely – it’s always nice to read about how someone has got to where they are :) I’m sure your tips and lessons will be very helpful for anyone thinking about starting their own business, and I love how you’ve gone out and got the qualifications you needed to be able to back you up. Not that qualifications are the be-all and end-all, but I think in this area it they lend some credibility. You sounds so happy and centred right now – I hope it all works out lovely when peanut arrives, it sounds like it will though!

    Reply
    • Laura

      I think there is definitely a balance between qualifications and experience – as you say I think qualifications offer that added credibility!

      Reply
  4. Karina

    You’re spot-on Laura(that’s the ‘secret’ doing what you love & hardgraft:)! Love that ur ‘baby’ is ethical & feel you really deserve this as your website is a gr8 resource in it’s own right, kuddos to you!

    I’ve always dreamt of creating a ethical Xbiz(lack of resources is my excuse:( ) & even attended a Princes’ trust event at one point(watch this
    space;)too.

    X

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Karina! Good look with your ideas, you just go for it!

      Reply
  5. Jess

    This was a great topic and a very interesting post to read – I’m not surprised at all that people have been asking how to succeed at starting your own business, because I think it’s a dream a lot of us have whether overtly or secretly.

    I’ve never wanted to have my own business per se, but I have always wanted to be able to work freelance, and from home. In hindsight, I did completely the wrong degree…qualifications may not be the be all and end all, but considering my interests would have been in sports science, nutrition (though I could never advise on this without limiting myself to vegan diets only, and therefore there would be too small of a client base to be viable) and illustration. The problem with group fitness for me is that I can interact reasonably well one-to-one if I need to, but throw more people into the mix and I’m a mess. I’d dread having to get up and teach in front of a group of people every day, but all of the career options I wouldn’t dread seem completely closed off to me. Obviously I want to do something with my life (!) and I’m feeling totally worthless since being basically unemployed since last November, but there’s nothing I can do with qualifications in English and Creative Writing with no experience, and psychologically I can’t cope with being in an environment with other people where I’m constantly exposed/’on show.’ Physically I can’t face being in constant pain from being forced to sit for long periods with no breaks…I can get a good amount of work done, but I need to be able to make my own schedule…as it is I worry I have no prospects at all and I don’t know what to do with myself.

    I absolutely agree that work/life balance doesn’t matter so much when you’re doing something you love. I only wish I could be half as successful as you have been.

    xxx

    Reply
    • Laura

      Can you not get any freelance writing opportunities? Would that not perhaps fit with your qualifications and I might add, talents? You’d be great at that and it would fit well with your needs, which you should never feel guilty for, it’s not your fault that you experience pain. I still think you’d do amazing work offering your paintings for sale as well, honestly Jess you have so many talents and are far from worthless xxx

      Reply
      • Jess

        Thanks so much Laura – I never realised how much I actually relied on doing the PhD for validation that I was worth something to myself, society, my parents…without it as a certainty and/or focus I am having quite a few not-so-good days…I would absolutely love to explore some freelance writing opportunities! I was writing for Routledge ABES for a while, but they closed their online database so that didn’t really go anywhere. I honestly wouldn’t know where to start with looking for freelance gigs though – I’m not sure what I’d use as a portfolio, so to speak, given that my blog content is…ah, unconventional to say the least.

        Reply
        • Laura

          That’s the thing, it’s where to find them. I guess you could start by approaching some sites or publications you enjoy and offering to write an article for free, just to get started? How about one of the vegan magazines or are there any literary sites where you could write about your favourite authors? x

          Reply
          • Jess

            I must admit I haven’t investigated literary sites – definitely something for me to think about. Around 18 months ago I did e-mail The Vegan Society, VIVA and some other websites and related publications about writing articles, even if it was initially for free, but sadly there were no openings and they all already had writing teams. Perhaps I should try again though, given that a reasonable amount of time has passed!

            xxx

        • Rosie @1manbandaccts

          You’d be surprised how many vegans there are out there. There is a vegan group on Meetup with over a thousand members and there are plenty of vegans at the networking events I go to. There are also lots of people who also hate doing group work and have worked a business (they call it freelance) around doing one to one. There can be a lot of ways of doing that that aren’t necessarily face to face paid only for your time.

          Reply
  6. Cat

    I love reading about your experiences with being a businesswoman! It’s a constant inspiration. I’m just about a year in to my freelance career and I can vouch for how true and useful the tips you give here are – a recent one (that I struggle with) is the ‘hussle’ point! Will have to keep that great northern phrase in my head now!

    Not giving up is another key one – things seem to take a turn at the last minute sometimes! That said, knowing when to accept help, or take a different direction are also important skills I’m working on. Wishing you, the biz and the babby the best!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Cat, I have to admit the hussle didn’t come naturally and it’s something I had to work on but it’s a good skill to have, I guess sometimes you just have to be a bit cheeky!

      Reply
  7. zoetcm

    Fab post Laura! I would love to work in the food industry – run a cafe or community baking classes etc. But I wouldn’t know where to start. This post is useful and inspiring :-) x

    Reply
    • Laura

      As we chatted when we met, I think that would be so awesome, the community baking classes would be fab! Have you heard of Food Nation? I’m sure they are a Newcastle based charity that do stuff around food, maybe check them out and make some links?

      Reply
      • zoetcm

        Thanks Laura. Yes i’ve heard of them – they’re linked to Jamie Oliver. My cousin has been attending their courses. I know you can volunteer with them so i think that could be a good thing to do :-)

        Reply
  8. Claire @ Flake and Cake

    This is such an interesting and inspirational post Laura! I loved reading how you reached where you are now – so exciting to think where it will take you too. My dad runs his own business and I know how rewarding/difficult it has been for him, though he wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Claire! Good for your Dad running his own biz :-)

      Reply
  9. Rachel

    Thanks for sharing your story – always interesting to see how it’s worked (or not worked!) for people – and I’m looking forward to seeing where your business goes next. Good to know there are ‘normal northerners’ doing exciting stuff around healthy living – it’s not just for posh people! There’s often a magical point where your passions and skills cross over with what is touching a nerve for many people, and the buzz around the business can grow. I’ve often wanted to have my own business but I think I haven’t found that magic point yet – or my passion. I work in an office part time which I love as I can just get on with my job and forget about it when I leave, but I also do freelance environmental education at the charity I used to work for, which gives me the chance to use my skills and love of teaching kids about nature & the environment a bit more. It’s a good balance which is working well for me at the moment.

    I used to live in Newcastle and my boss there always used to say ‘shy bairns get nowt’!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Haha thanks Rachel, I am definitely a normal northerner! It sounds like you have a great balance at the moment and I sometimes think that your passion takes a bit of time to become apparent :-)

      Reply
  10. Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    It is so true about giving up on the idea of a work/life balance. I gave up on that idea a while ago. But, when you love the work you do, like we both do, then it is all worth it I think :)

    Reply
  11. Anna @AnnaTheApple

    So pleased that it’s all happening for you :) I think you’re amazing and what you’ve achieved through your own hard work and sheer nerve is incredible.
    I wish I could have done something different in university (I did psychology) because I never went into psychology (scared me too much) and now I’m working in an office doing a job that I do enjoy but I’m not passionate about. I dream of having a café and selling delicious cakes but honestly it’s a pipe dream – brought on by having too many afternoon teas I think! I too much enjoy the life that Ben and me have at the moment where things in terms of money and lifestyle are quite nice. I know that might sound terrible but until I find a real direction for myself (if I ever do) I will tootle along just like I am.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Anna :-) I think there’s nothing wrong with ‘tootling’ along if you are happy and it clearly sounds like you are. I always think that you should define your own version of what it is to be successful and I know for many people it has nothing to do with running a business and everything to do with being contented :-) You clearly have an outlet for your running passion too! :-)

      Reply
    • Rosie @1manbandaccts

      Hey Anna, you’d be surprised what pops out of the woodwork at the right time :)

      I also did psychology at university, have been baking since I was 3, and combined that with my passion for helping people with practical money management into what I do now.

      I don’t talk about it but I regularly use psychology theory, practice, and psychological research methods in what I do. Instead of it being focused into the usual application of research, I use it to help one man bands look over their money while they’re doing their receipts (and cake too, must have the cake :) )

      Reply
      • Anna @AnnaTheApple

        That sounds brilliant Rosie! I definitely know what you mean about certain aspects of the degree helping. The research and analysing side of the degree has really helped me.
        Exactly like you said, who knows what will happen in the future. My degree wasn’t a waste of time, just not focused on what I’m doing now I guess.

        Reply
  12. Nicky

    LOVE this post Laura! What you have done has been amazing because you’re right in that most people with a business have come from fortunate backgrounds, maybe because they do provide that financial cushion that is important. I love that you are proof that you don’t have to settle into one career after university. Obviously I’m finishing uni this summer and fashion is not a career that I want to go into so I’d like to hope that I have room to move around in the future too. I’ve just sort out set up the basics of my company at the moment, starting off with my book but the rest is quite daunting and I don’t know where to start with it. I am fortunate in that I do come from a business family so my Dad will help me out which I am forever grateful for – but then he came from the poorest of poor families and started from nothing to be a huge success so he’s again another proof that it can be done and if you really want it, it definitely can be done :)

    Reply
    • Laura

      Thanks Nicky! I can remember being so scared that I was trapped doing something I didn’t want to do, but then I started seeing the transferable skills instead of just the qualification – I bet there is loads of stuff you’ve learned in Uni than can be transferred to your new business – so excited to hear more about it all, and your book!

      Reply
  13. AnnaA

    You’re completely right – shy bairns get nowt! Love that saying. I’ve been working freelance for 10 years now and working part time in another job. I really want to be 100% self employed but it feels like a catch 22 situation of time to do more designing and money from my part time work. I really need a kick up the bum!

    Reply
    • Laura

      I think it’s easy to do what you’ve been doing and it is easy to get caught in a catch 22 situation, but when the time is right it will happen I’m sure! While I’m here as well, I was wondering if you have an online portfolio?

      Reply
      • AnnaA

        No i don’t have an online portfolio at the moment but that is something i’m working towards. At the moment all the work i do for my agent can’t be shown on my own website in case competitors see designs that companies have bought before they put them in to production. So i need to come up with a whole new body of work. I am doing an online course at the moment to try come up with more work. Positive thinking!

        Reply
  14. Fran

    great post Laura,
    I am currently trying to set up my own business but am often put off by other peoples attitudes and scepticism. To be fair they probably don’t always feel the way I think they do but I probably assume others will think I have made the wrong decision because I still sometimes wonder the same thing having just given up my more ‘secure’ job to ‘experiment’ and take a risk! I think ultimately it’s me that needs to keep positive and focused now I have made the decision to give this a go and once I am fully confident in the decision I have made it wont matter to me what others think or what i think they think (if that makes sense!)

    Reply
    • Laura

      That makes complete sense, and you are right, once you start and feel more confident you won’t care! Use that scepticism as a driver to keep going :-)

      Reply
  15. Emma @ Stripes and Snapshots

    What a great inspiring post, it’s amazing to think how far you’ve come and I’ve loved reading your journey. My Grandad was self employed and I know first hand just how hard it is, working 7 days a week, evenings, giving up holidays etc, but at the end of the day he was doing something he loved and lived for, and that’s what made him happy. Good luck with applying for a mortgage, I’m nowhere near at that stage yet, but I’ve had a few friends go through it and it sounds tricky!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Oh the mortgage thing is a nightmare, I’m trying my best to get something sorted but we might have to wait until after the baby comes and when I have two years of accounts before we can get anything decent!

      Reply
  16. Jan

    Hi Laura. It made me laugh when I read the work/life balance. No one tells you when your setting up your own business there is no balance!!! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve just set up my own Travel Business & am loving it. I loved this post it made me think ‘Yes I can do this!!’ Thank You x

    Reply
    • Laura

      Haha I know, just keeping it real ;-) Best of luck with your travel business, that sounds wonderful!

      Reply
  17. Emma

    Thanks for sharing Laura. I hope you’re proud of how far you’ve come, in so many respects.
    You’ve really worked hard at this so I’m so pleased it’s paying off :)
    I really don’t know how my career is going to pan out and am not sure what I want to do just yet… When I do decide I’ll be sure to throw everything into it, just like you have.

    Reply
  18. Amanda @ .running with spoons.

    Thanks so much for the great post, Laura. I’m currently on my own journey towards setting up my own business, and seeing your successes has been wonderfully inspirational. And I love that bit about striving to do work that you love so that you don’t feel the need to get away from it… It definitely takes a lot of time and dedication, but at the end of the day, you’re doing something that you love so it doesn’t -really- feel like work.

    Reply
    • Laura

      You are going to be awesome Amanda! Can’t wait to hear more about your business and your approach, it’s all so exciting and I’m sure it’s going to be a brilliant journey for you :-)

      Reply
  19. Maria @ runningcupcake

    What a great post Laura- and some great tips too.
    Starting my own business is one of those things I discuss with my friends sometimes- one of my other friends is an amazing baker so we always talk about having our own tea room/ book shop combo but I don’t think it is realistic!

    Reply
    • Laura

      That sounds so lovely! Hey, if you find the right location that would be a great business!

      Reply
  20. Lauren (@PoweredbyPB)

    Great post Laura, you’ve worked so hard, and totally deserve all the success that will come your way!

    Reply
  21. Sarahf

    This is a great post, I’m so glad your hard work is paying off. I think the fact that you made such big changes in your own life, plus your sensible approach, is why you are such a fantastic health coach.

    Reply
  22. Theresa

    Hi Laura wow! Such an inspirational post, loved it! I am at a crossroads in my life and I really connected to the words you wrote. You’ve done an amazing job of getting what you want and are a true inspiration, you’ve definitely given me food for thought for my own future including dreams and what I’m passionate about. A massive thank you and good luck for your fab business to grow and prosper. T

    Reply
  23. Christina

    I absolutely love this post!! So inspiring. You’re amazing. Even as someone who doesn’t run their own business, but am still trying to juggle full-time work, freelance work and blogging with everything else in life, this helped so much. You’re completely right about forgetting the work/life balance and remembering that this is your life. I try to remember that whenever I get stressed – that I really wouldn’t have this any other way! It sounds stupid, but it’s a bit like when I catch myself saying, ‘I can’t eat that, it’s not vegan’ – when actually what I mean is, ‘I choose not to eat that, because I’m vegan’. It’s so easy to feel like everything is getting on top of me sometimes, but they’re all things that I choose to do in my life – which is why I feel much happier when I choose to turn things down that aren’t making me happy. xx

    Reply
  24. Joanne

    Hi Laura
    I found your post very informative. I am a current student with the IIN and loving the course which makes me excited about the future possibilities. Great to read your tips as you have already gone through the stage that I am currently on.

    Reply

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