Welcome to my second post in my new series on Mrs Mummypenny celebrating my small business friends. I will be showcasing people who I have worked with in my previous corporate life who have set up their own businesses. Each person will share details about things like their lightbulb moment, key learnings and proud moments. Each post will inspire you and maybe you might take that leap yourself. If you worked with me at HSBC, Tesco, Threshers or EE drop me a line on lynn@and I can feature you too!
This interview features Helen White. We worked together in the T-mobile commercial propositions team and worked on projects including big Pay As You Go changes, Christmas and big phone launches (so glad I never have to an Apple launch again!). Helen is the founder of Brilliant Together, providing help and support to start-ups and small businesses. Helping them to plan their business properly and get stuff done.
1)How long were you in the employed world and what were you doing?
I started working in the Corporate world in 1996 and left in 2015 – 19 Years in total.
During that time I worked for 4 different companies, but the last 11 years was for T-Mobile/EE, predominately I worked within a Marketing function, focused on strategic marketing (Proposition Development, Planning, Product Management etc)
2)At what point did you think, it’s time to leave and go self-employed? Was there a trigger moment?
The main factor in wanting to go self-employed was when I had children. T-Mobile had recently merged with Orange and formed EE, with that merger they moved their marketing function from Hatfield, which was local to me, to London. My children were very young (both under 3) and although I was working part time, with the commute to the London office I wouldn’t see my children on the days I was in the office. I explored the option of working from home, but at that point that wasn’t available to me. I felt like I had to make a choice between my career and my children, so I decided to take redundancy.
At that point I took a moment to enjoy being at home with my girls and to explore my options. I considered going back to Corporate life once my girls started at school or getting a different part-time role more local to home, but neither of these options really appealed.
Also, since the moment I left EE, I was really bothered about the number of brilliant Mums that also took redundancy and leave, rather than compromise their time with their children. As a natural problem solver I wanted to try and find a way to help these talented women find a way to continue to do what they do best, but without compromising their family life. So the idea of Brilliant Together started to form in my head and once it was there, I couldn’t ignore it!
There was no other choice on the table anymore for me, I had to give being self-employed a go and so I started my business.
3)What plans did you put in place before leaving, e.g. training, saving money, building customer base?
Financially, I was very lucky to leave EE with redundancy, which was enough to continue to pay my share of the bills whilst I took some time out and then to invest into my business.
As for training, a lot of the skills I needed, I’d already gained from my time working in the corporate world, for everything else I worked it out as I went along. I quickly realised that I needed to change my tone of voice when writing proposals and web content, 20 years in the corporate world had me very formal and this was not right for my new market.
4)When did you leave EE and become self-employed?
I left EE in 2015, I then took 12 months off to concentrate on my children and started to build my business in 2016.
5) Tell us about your business – Brilliant Together
Brilliant Together provides help and support to start-ups and small businesses. Helping them to plan their business properly and get stuff done.
I help people create achievable and realistic Business, Marketing and Annual Plans. So that they can build the business they dream of and achieve their ambitions, without compromising their family life.
And where other specialist support is required, we have a virtual team of experts to call upon, from Accountancy to Web design and everything in between!
6) How is your business progressing?
My business is just over 2 years old now, its been built very slowly (on purpose) as I have had family commitments that I have had to balance alongside developing it. The foundations are pretty much all in place now and I have a steady client base. However, I am still in a growth stage and am looking to launch different products to reach a more diverse mix of clients.
7) Can you share three business successes?
- I attended the Mums Enterprise Roadshow as a delegate in June 2016 with an idea for a business, but that was it. By February 2017 I had launched my business and was exhibiting at their next Roadshow in Brighton and by September 2017 I was back again at their London Roadshow and speaking on the panel during the Q&A session. All this I achieved in just 15 hours a week, whilst my children were at nursery.
- Brilliant Together was a finalist in the ‘Rising Star’ category for the 2018 National Business Awards.
- In January 2019, I was the guest speaker at SHE Means Business; I ran a session on Annual Planning, which although sounds a bit dull(!) was far from it, the feedback I received from this session was that it was fun and engaging, I followed it up with a workshop which I sold all the places!
8) Can you share three learnings
When you’re self-employed there’s no longer a team of people to help you do all the things that need to get done. Typically, you must do it all yourself, so these are my tips to survive!
- Get out and network: When you’re used to working in a Corporate environment, you are surrounded by people to support you, talk to, and a motivating hum of work going on around you. When you work for yourself you spend a lot of time on your own, it can be very isolating and lonely. So attend some networking events, even if these aren’t the right places to go to build your business in terms of sales, they might provide you with that social interaction that helps keep you motivated and stop the walls from closing in on you.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve: its very easy to think that you can launch a business and be successful overnight, especially when you’re used to the corporate machine. But it takes time to build a business and create a stable revenue stream. Make sure you know how you’re going to cover your expenses whilst your chasing those all-important first sales and make realistic to-do lists.
- Outsource where you can: I spent a lot of time and energy trying to do my branding and website myself and in the end I just felt frustrated and dis-heartened. I realised that to create the brand image I wanted I had to outsource. So, don’t try to do everything yourself, there are only so many hours in the day and you need to spend time doing the things that you do well, prioritise the important things, put on hold the things that can wait and focus your time on the stuff that brings in new revenue.
9) What things do you miss about the corporate world
I miss the people, I miss the support you get, and having someone to bounce ideas off.
10) What things are you grateful for now that you didn’t have whilst employed?
I love now being flexible, I work from my desk at home, whilst the washing is whirling in the machine – so getting the chores done at the same time as my work. Being able to drop my girls at school and still be there to pick them up at the end of the day is the best.
I also love the new people I get to meet, I am no longer greasing the corporate wheels, I am now helping people build small independent businesses that gives them the flexible lifestyle they need.
11) What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of leaving the employed world and setting up their own business
You need to really weigh up whether self-employment is right for you, it’s not for everyone:
Can you cope with working on your own/are you able to self-motivate?
Can you afford to do it, in the first couple of years your business is likely to cost you more than you make as you build the foundations, how are you going to fund this?
Don’t think that working for yourself is the easy option, its not, it is a lot of hard work and sometimes you feel like you’re going around in circles. But if you’re up for the challenge then go for it – the benefits it provides can be well worth it.
12)How do people find your business website, social media links?
Closing from Lynn at Mrs Mummypenny
Thank you Helen, what a brilliant interview, people thinking about starting a business can learn a lot from your advice and learnings. You have done so well with some incredible achievements in such a short time and best of all you are helping women like us be Brilliant Together (see what I did there!)
This is the second in my series of Corporate Life to Self Employment, read my first post from Hannah or Omorfia Home here.