#LoveTheBoss: Systems Superwoman Kerry Anne Orr

Kerry Anne OrrHi Kerry Anne, welcome to this series of interviews by female business owners, called Love The Boss. Do tell us something about you by way of introduction

My name is Kerry Anne Orr, and I have been my own boss since 2005. Looking back, working for myself is always been something I wanted to do, but it can seem such a scarily big step when you have a nice monthly income coming in from an employer, and it took a pregnancy and an ‘unsympathetic boss’ for me to finally realise it was time to move on and start working for me. It’s amazing the motivation to take action and put up with less crap you have when there is a small person growing inside you.

For me, it’s been a heady journey so far, ups, downs and roundabouts. I feel I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in the last 8 years, I’ve made a lot of money, I’ve lost a lot of money, and I’ve had a blast along the way, and met some fabulous people with remarkable stories. Finally, now, I’ve found my sweet spot, and I’m happy.

And about your business…

I started off my business life as a Virtual Assistant – it seemed a safe option for me, I was a training consultant for a web collaboration software firm, it meant a lot of travel, which wasn’t conducive to life with a small child, and the idea of being a VA meant I could take in work as and when it suited me to fit in around my baby.

Only it grew.

It grew to become quite a major operation – I had no issues making sales or getting new clients on board, I aimed my sights high and the first firm I took on was a major global bank in London. I quickly made a great name for the business and took on associates to cover the workload so I could continue to market and network. Eventually, I franchised the business. I sold three franchises in the UK, and at the same time exhibited in The Business Start Up Exhibition in Olympia, where I started my public speaking journey.

Up until this point, I was really enjoying the ride. Although I started out working from home, I had offices by this time and employed one full time member of staff and two part time employees. My son spent most of the day in daycare, whilst I worked every hour I could. I was building a business, but I’d pretty much lost sight of the very reasons I’d started in the first place.

The franchise quickly became a millstone around my neck, mainly because I was too involved, my selection process wasn’t good enough and I gave too much away. One day, after leaving the office at dawn, in a stupendous attempt to catch up with everything, I woke up and realised I had created a monster. It wasn’t the business I had created and fallen in love with. I’d made a couple of bad choices in advice investment, and where I had spent so much time on the franchisees businesses, my own business was suffering.

Coupled with the fact I felt I was seriously missing out on my son growing up, I took the long hard decision to pull the plug. Not being able to part with it completely, I kept the business name, and sold the ‘business’. I don’t regret any of it, and better than anything they will tell you in your MBA, I look back on this period as my ‘expensive education’.

So, what next? Well for me, I took it all right back to basics. The simple life. I drew a chart detailing what I liked best about working: I liked the coaching, training and mentoring, and I liked organising businesses from a big picture point of view. Creating systems and processes. I’ve always had a knack for thinking in flow charts. I like taking complex situations and committing them to diagrams so they are clearer, simpler. I’d been doing it for my clients for a long time, with my team of VAs taking care of the detail.

I then created a product of this work, and I set about making my new business simple, with the emphasis in being a small but great business where I can work the hours to suit and spend really good quality time with my son and family. I only really have three products now where I work directly with clients, and for me, it works very well. I live the laptop lifestyle, so can literally take my business anywhere, which is great as I have a motorhome and in the summer, my son and I like to take off for long periods of time to travel.

I’m really happy now, with my life and with my business. I feel I have finally cracked the nut. I’m not out to make millions, just enough to fund our lifestyle here in Spain and spend time with each other. I’ve gone full circle with working for myself, I’m proud of all I achieved and how far I’ve come.

I’ve lots of ideas for growth and for the future, and I’m excited by them, but I’m also reining myself in as I know what’s important to me now.

What tips would you share with other business owners? 

It sounds really obvious, but I think the most important thing is to be clear on your reason why. Your reason why is the thing that gets you up in the morning, it keeps you going, keeps you striding forward, it’s very easy to get lost in ‘bright shiny object syndrome’ and take a different direction, but as long as you are clear on the reason why you are in business, and what being in business means for you, you will be able to stay focused and on track.

Another top tip is to keep it simple. Don’t be distracted by what others are doing, you are on a different journey. Know yourself, your business and trust your gut. You could spend a small fortune funding other people’s lifestyle businesses. Don’t be fooled into buying stuff you don’t need because you are feeling left behind. Keep an eye on your business spending, have a budget and stick to it.

What did you struggle with at the beginning and how did you solve that?

I can’t really remember struggling in start up, I found lots of people wanted to beat me down in price with offers of future work etc, and I quickly learned if they pay less, they won’t value it any more. Stick to your guns and know your worth.

What have you learned about yourself while working solo?

So very much! I am such a different person to who I was eight years ago. Considerably poorer, but considerably richer!

I think the thing that surprises me is how resilient I am. I’m not defined by my past and I don’t consider my previous business a failure, even though I gave up on it. I had so many plans and dreams for it, it wasn’t easy to let go, but I knew I had to, for my own health and wellbeing. I was working myself into the ground and would if I had been my boss, I’d have sacked me!

Any regrets?

No regrets ever.

What one thought sums it all up?

Bizarrely enough, when I read this question, the first thought that came into my head was ‘it’s all a big game’. And it is, really. You can make your business and your life anything you want it to be. The power is there within you. You can take it to great heights, or not. The important thing is to have fun along the way. Enjoy it.

Do you have a project you would like readers to know about? 

I’ve a planning program coming up, but it’s not ready yet! In the meantime, Systems Sorted is my most popular ‘product’:

Do you feel lonely and isolated when working for yourself? How do you connect?

I don’t feel lonely, I have the radio on in the day, so I don’t really notice I’m alone and there is always social media. I would love to be able to attend more events in the UK, but it gets expensive keep flying over, so unless I have a client to see, I tend to rein myself in.

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