Starting a business is a bit like giving up smoking, according to entrepreneur Rachael Burgess: “You can be provided with all the support and advice in the world, but only you can motivate yourself to do it, and to do it successfully!”
Turning your winning idea into a thriving business is no easy ride. While it’s encouraging to see that business sentiment for the next three months hit a three-year high, according to the Federation of Small Business’ ‘Voice of Small Business Index, 2013,’ the reality for those starting-up is that getting a business off the ground poses a minefield of financial, technical and emotional challenges.
We caught up with Rachael Burgess, founder of Lifestyle Sussex, to hear about her own experiences of running a business and her top tips for other entrepreneurs.
What is your business all about and where did the idea behind it come about?
Lifestyle Sussex offers business and lifestyle personal assistant work and events coordination. I started the business just over 20 years ago, having run wedding dress shops and begun my first foray into wedding planning and event coordination work. About ten years after launching my business, I expanded it to serve the corporate market, but also took some time out to bring up my children.
What challenges did you face in starting-up your own business?
I had the benefit of youth when I first started. It was a less challenging market then; now it’s a very competitive, saturated market. The economic downturn had a large part to play in that, with many of those being made redundant deciding to launch their own thing from home.
Aside from the market challenges, working from home is not always easy. When you’re largely working alone it’s easy to feel isolated or to lack motivation. It can leave you feeling quite exposed and that’s why I dedicate a lot of time to networking and attending courses to keep myself inspired. You can’t underestimate the importance of in-person interaction with people, even if it’s just making time in your working day to have lunch with the girls!
Tell me more about your passion for inspiring women to get into business, regardless of age.
I found that my life was following a fairly straight path: I got a job I loved, got married, had children etc. But circumstances can change suddenly and unexpectedly, and you can find yourself exposed without qualifications, but needing to go back to the workplace. That’s why I’m passionate about inspiring women of my age group to get qualifications and realise that careers do not end with having children – they can be put on hold and picked up when it suits.
Today, there are so many opportunities in terms of part-time, flexible courses, and, more and more, businesses are supporting staff study. It’s certainly never too late to learn business!
Do you think there is enough support to encourage people to start-up at a later age?
I do, yes. There’s a huge amount of courses and advice available – many of which are free. Building your support network and making time to go to valuable courses and exhibitions is key to being successful from the outset.
If you had to do it all again, would you have done anything differently in building the business?
Yes! If I started again, I would ensure that I first got more relevant, industry experience. There’s real value in working within your target industry for a few years to build up that experience before diving straight in. The events industry is not easy to get into, and it’s key that you have sound people and leadership skills – skills I lacked when starting out.
What key business advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting-up a business?
Have faith in your own abilities and know where your strengths lie – don’t try and be a jack-of-all-trades!
How has technology empowered your business?
When I started my business, all I had was a fax machine and a landline – business was done very slowly! Nowadays, technology has empowered me to work around the clock, although it means that everything is faster paced. The downside for my age group is that it can be harder for us to keep up with the pace of change. But embracing new technology can mean sink or swim when it comes to business.
That’s why I have a robust IT support team in place. It is an expense, but it’s a worthy investment. If IT isn’t your thing, don’t fight it, but make sure someone qualified can support your company’s IT needs.
What’s the best perk of being your own boss?
I can walk my Labradors at lunchtime! It also enables me to fit around my children’s lifestyle, which has always been my priority. If you do it right, it can integrate into your life really well.