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Small business owner - and struggling.

Discussion in 'Finances, Work, and Disability' started by lior, Jun 23, 2017.

  1. lior

    lior Senior Member

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    Hello all! Looking for advice on work and building my business - and finances.

    I've been struggling with chronic energy problems for 9 months. I believe it's CFS; getting some final blood tests done to double check.

    I run an annual design festival. It's heading into its 4th year - preparations are underway. I've got a small team of freelancers. I'm struggling to get a sustainable balance: I love work so end up working consecutive days when I'm aiming to just work 2 days a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then I get exhausted... and can't work.

    We run on sponsorship which hasn't come through yet. I will back pay myself for the work I've done, when we get it. That means I haven't had any income for a few months. Luckily I have savings which I'm living off. I don't think I'm eligible for any financial support from government (I'm in the UK).

    People seem to want this festival to happen every year, and ideally I'd like to grow it and take it to other countries. People want it to get increasingly higher standards. I'm not sure if I can deliver.

    Other people imagine that I could make profit out of it, even without working on it for very much time each week - but this would involve a lot of hard work for me to get it to this stage; I don't know much about making profits and business models etc. It's an exciting idea for me that I'd be able to grow this business into a place where I could make profit annually no matter how unwell I become - but is that realistic? I'm getting ideas from people that are healthy - they don't understand brain fog.

    Brain fog stops me from being able to make strategic decisions a lot of the time. I'm not even quite managing the basics of what need to be done in the business, like responding to emails. I'm scared.

    I'm concerned that running my own business is detrimental to my health. I love this job, and if I stopped making the festival happen, I'd feel really sad. I like being self employed.

    Are there any other founders out there? How did you cope - is running your own business possible when you've got CFS? The festival involves orchestrating lots and lots of people.

    I have other skills that I could make a bit of money from if I had to give up the festival, but if it's possible to continue it, I want to.

    What should I do? Risk my health and continue working? Give up something I've built and then have no income and live off savings until they run out?

    I'd really love to be able to meet up with someone that has run their own business even though they have brain fog. And I'd also love to meet someone who can help me understand what I need to do to make sustainable profit despite my health, if that is possible.

    Sorry if this is a bit unclear... struggling a bit today.
     
    Cheesus, rebar, Joh and 4 others like this.
  2. boombachi

    boombachi Senior Member

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    Hi @lior, I am sorry to hear how you are struggling at the moment. I have always been an employee so I can't offer any advice about working for yourself but I can tell you that I have limited my work to prioritise my health. There is always a bit of overstretch as in anyone's life.

    It sounds like the hardest thing for you is switching off from work before you are completely exhausted. It's great that you love what you do but the down side seems to be that you can't leave it be when you should be resting. Do you work from home? Do you have a workspace that you can tidy away when the work is done or shut the door if you have an office?

    When I leave work I have the journey home to wind down and when I get home I have to start thinking about my children and what their needs are. Could you think of an activity you can do to mark the end of work time and take your mind off things? I think you will ultimately need to be very disciplined in sticking to a schedule that keeps within your available energy. Easy for me to say.......
     
  3. lior

    lior Senior Member

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    Thanks @boombachi for your response. I do manage to switch off from work - the problem is more that my business is suffering because of the limited time I have.

    We don't have funding either at the moment, so I have to ask my team to work for free til the funding comes through. That would be a stressful position even if I wasn't unwell. It used to be that no matter what little funding we had, I could rely on my own time to make things happen. Now I can't do that.

    I don't want my health to hinder my business. The show must go on - but how?
     
  4. boombachi

    boombachi Senior Member

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    @lior What a difficult position to be in. You obviously love your business. I hope there are some other self employed people here that can share some tips with you.
     
    lior likes this.
  5. Skippa

    Skippa Anti-BS

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    Hi @lior , I'm [supposed to be] self employed too.

    I quickly realised that I just cannot work with many other people involved because deadlines become impossible with this illness, and communicating is such an energy draining nightmare.

    One idea I've just had for you is finding a "trainee" or some kind of partner who can do all the energy sapping stuff for you, kinda you're the brains and they're the brawn, except they benefit by you being their mentor and end up equal - very vague and perhaps risky I know, but hey perhaps something could be arranged?

    I've got 2 questions if you don't mind:

    1) what exactly is a "design festival"?

    2 ) what exactly do you do? Eg, it's 9am, what are you doing? 10am, what task now? Are you just on the phone all the time, or designing emails/websites? What are he various tasks?

    (Ps, no worries if you're not comfortable answering those questions, I understand :) )
     
    lior and boombachi like this.
  6. lior

    lior Senior Member

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    Thanks @Skippa . I've got a project manager on my team who can help a bit. I think I could do with another person to do the bits that I do though - someone with a similar skill set to me. I like your idea. The problem is finding that person.

    1) There's music festivals, there's food festivals, and then there's professional festivals. Design festivals are where designers launch new products and have events discussing trends and sharing methods. I run a festival which focuses on innovation in services, so it's mostly panels and workshops and talks rather than physical design work.

    2) This is what a day could be like:
    9am - answering emails from people that want to put something on in the festival
    10am - helping my team achieve their aims (answering their questions etc)
    11am - meeting with a potential partner
    12 noon - following up from the meeting with more emails (normally meetings lead to more people I should contact)
    1pm lunch
    1.30pm - update website or write blogpost or tweet
    2pm-4pm/5pm make a document with information that we need to give to people (sponsorship pack, instructions for event hosts, etc) OR prepare a talk OR go to another meeting OR figure out what the strategy needs to be for something new we're doing OR brainstorm strategy with team

    So, a lot of what I do is relationship management and strategic decision making. I also make documents with information that we need to disseminate - which requires graphic design skills, writing skills, and knowledge of what needs to be shared. There's a lot of new stuff that we're doing, so it's not Business As Usual - there's no such thing. When I was well, I could move mountains.

    The way I'm going to have to do it is introduce all the people in my network to my team. I want to be able to give event hosts the personal touch from me, but it looks like it's not going to be possible. I want people to have a consistent experience with my business... how can I make things feel reliable when my health is so unreliable?
     
    Skippa likes this.
  7. SickOfSickness

    SickOfSickness Senior Member

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    Like you said, it could be hard to find a project manager. So perhaps you should focus on outsourcing some of the design, writing, general office tasks, calls, emails, etc. Of course only the emails and calls which are easier to train someone to do. It can be hard to find someone ideal, but most people you hire for these will be competent. Then you could always do some final touchups yourself. Over time they would learn from your feedback, or you would find someone else until you had someone excellent. That way you save your energy for the parts that can't be outsourced without someone very skilled (who is paid more than someone who is just designing/writing).
     
  8. lior

    lior Senior Member

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    Thanks @SickOfSickness - I actually do have a project manager, and we call her 'Operations Octopus' because we like funny job titles :)

    I asked my friends for help over the weekend. One of them is a scout leader and she told her scout alumni that there's possible volunteer work going. So my Operations Octopus might be able to find me a do-gooder who can be the 'brawn' as @Skippa imagines.

    This work would be difficult even if I was well! I don't know much about managing people... just a bit, which I've learnt by myself. I haven't ever had formal learning support - I've always been a freelancer - so no organisation has ever trained me. Everything I've learnt, I've learnt the hard way. And I reckon I'm young at 27 to be leading the stuff I'm leading.

    I've been seriously doubting my ability to continue this business. But that has only been this week - it's been a bad week. Coming to terms with possibly being like this for a very long time, dealing with a nasty housemate (meaning I might have to move house which would mean a lot of energy being directed at moving rather than working), and falling behind on work deadlines.

    Additionally, people keep challenging me to do better, and make more suggestions... but I'm not keeping up with the basics so my to-do list keeps growing and I don't have the energy to shrink it. Oh yeah, and the two major sponsors I had last year are not helping any more because their businesses aren't doing well (not because they don't want to help).

    I'm grateful, though, for my friends being so supportive and for the Omazing Operations Octopus and for the professional network I have that do come forward with ideas and opportunities.

    Anxious this week. Not quite able to let go and rest, which is what I should be doing in order to be able to work on Tuesday. I'm stressed out about all the things I don't know and don't know how I'll be able to deal with. The exhaustion hasn't hit yet so I can't have enforced rest. I reckon the anxiety is giving me energy that's delaying the exhaustion from hitting. I can't rest!! I don't want to start work in case that makes things worse... arhghhh I'm not sure how to make things better. Make myself better.
     
    Skippa likes this.
  9. Carl

    Carl

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    Something which might be helpful is frankincense. It is meant to be helpful for memory and learning. It can also improve memory and learning problems caused by hypothyroidism. It has also been shown to improve brain chemistry in unborn animals when supplemented with frankincense.

    I only came across it a couple of days back and have not had time to look into it any further so far. It might be worth investigating as to whether it would be helpful.
     
  10. Hip

    Hip Senior Member

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  11. Little Bluestem

    Little Bluestem All Good Things Must Come to an End

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    Could you find a book on small business management that would help you use your time and energy more efficiently? If there is a university nearby, you could get a basic level textbook from it's bookstore or library. Or you might be able to find an online course. Some of them are even free. I realize that this would require more time/energy in the short term, but it might pay off in the long term.
     
  12. tudiemoore

    tudiemoore Senior Member

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    lior--sounds like a job that would be quite challenging under any circumstances, but fun!
    It's wonderful to have found something you can be so enthusiastic about--

    Do you have a mentor?
    Or someone who has had experience in similar settings, someone who you are comfortable with, who is outside of this specific work situation?

    I have found this to be a tremendous resource on so many levels.
    Sounds like this will be a wonderful event!
    Remember to breathe :wide-eyed: !
    tm
     
    lior likes this.
  13. markielock

    markielock staying independent, one day at a time

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    Firstly, don't lose hope in continuing! I know how frustrating it is to feel diminished vs. what you could do before. However, the show isn't over yet and I actually think you're in a really good position to pivot.

    It is realistic. It involves developing a business in such a way where you can a) work ON a business and not IN a business and b) profit without you having a direct time = money relationship tied to it. I wrote in depth about this and laid out all the options for making profits and business models in a previous thread here: http://forums.phoenixrising.me/index.php?threads/working-from-home.52741/#post-873555 .

    As @tudiemoore rightly pointed out, getting a mentor could be great for you to help grow the business in such a way to put you in a better position.

    You have a lot of transferable skills that you can put to good use in building a sustainable business that doesn't have this direct time = money relationship. For example, if you found a need for it: You could create online courses that teach people these skills and/or teach people about event management and creating events.

    It is difficult to rely solely on sponsorship and I think your skills can help you create new arms of business that can help fund you AND could be areas you can exist inside the business that you can manage with your symptoms whilst you delegate the more taxing jobs to others.

    Regardless of whether you're looking for a mentor, getting in touch with your audience/other audiences to find more problems you can solve for them in ways that are more 'passive' or doing something totally different: you should work on building your personal brand because that will help you succeed in any of these areas. This is the best 'guide' I've read on how to do that: https://www.quicksprout.com/the-complete-guide-to-building-your-personal-brand/. It also includes a chapter on how to find mentors.

    Also www.fizzle.co is a great website for anyone looking to learn how to build a business. They do have a pretty cheap paywall in between you and their course (which is actually good btw from personal experience) but their blog/podcast alone could be enough.

    Also, on to some other issues:

    You may be surprised! You should see if any of this applies to you: https://www.gov.uk/government/publi...versal-credit-and-self-employment-quick-guide

    This may be the biggest problem right now. Have you tried delegating more tasks to people? Perhaps, as @Skippa indirectly suggested, perhaps there is someone who you could find willing to intern to do more of the heavy leg-work tasks in exchange for your own mentor-ship? Do you have a good system for managing, prioritising and delegating tasks? This simple system might help: https://hamberg.no/gtd/. You'll be suprised how much energy you're using just keeping it all in your head.

    When you start experiencing these symptoms, it's difficult because you're fluctuating and the rules are always changing. I have found James Clear puts it best when he says you can help yourself greatly if you create a environment optimised for your health. You should read all his 'best of' articles here: www.jamesclear.com/articles. The advice is all actionable and immensely useful. It's helped me so much in my personal life for managing my symptoms.

    I know looking into all this stuff and reading all this stuff won't help with brain fog right now. But if you just focus on one small thing at a time and scratch away at pacing yourself and building a healthy environment each day you WILL get there.

    You're a very skilled and talented individual who inspires loyalty to the degree that people will work with you for free and want you to keep getting better and better each year when they always turn back up wanting more! You have built yourself a platform that has set you up in the ideal position in times of trouble like right now. All it's going to take is a bit more tweaking, networking and building some business savvy in order for it to operate without you being right in the centre to hold it together. This could be in fact seen as an exciting time to grow and become even better. You can do this and I'm here to offer more advice/go into more detail if you want!
     
  14. lior

    lior Senior Member

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    @markielock thank you so much for all those resources. I am going through them now. Thank you for your kind words and thoughtfulness, too.

    The festival has happened since I posted last on this thread.

    I did indeed find an intern. I had a great project manager, who really held it together. Unfortunately I had a sponsorship lead who left a lot to be desired, so the project was severely under funded. Overall the festival was rated 8.96 out of 10 by guests through feedback. It was a hit :)

    The negative feedback that we got was mostly because of our lack of resources - we couldn't stay on top of the detail in communication with specific stakeholders, there were delays because I was ill and there weren't enough people to do the work that needed to be done without me there, we didn't have the funding to pay more people, and the people that could work for free had limits to their skills and time. Most of the people on the team were amazing in their own right, but we still didn't have enough resources to cover what was expected of us.

    I really struggled with the trap of not being well, not having enough funding to cover for my illness, not being well enough to sort out the funding, dealing with a difficult sponsorship lead that in the end turned people off sponsoring, not being well enough/having time on the team to find a new sponsorship lead, and also having festival event hosts being demanding of us, knowing that we were working almost for free and not bothering to pay for their involvement.

    Now, I have a couple of people who are helping with the branding and strategy of the festival. I feel very lucky to have people who are so passionate about the project that I started, that they're willing to work for free.

    My intention is to find some leader type people to lead the festival without depending on me. I need to find another project manager because the one I had moved to France immediately after the festival. I also need to find someone in my industry (service design) who has contacts.

    I reckon just having someone experienced working as a sponsorship lead will make a huge difference. I'm not keen to expand more arms of the business if sponsorship can cover everything - because we don't have enough resource to diversify, and we're not doing the core of our business well enough.

    However, for my own individual earnings, I will have to look into how I can use my skills in a new way, separate from the festival work.

    I'm going to read those resources now :)
     
    markielock likes this.

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