The Story So Far: What I’ve Learned from 37 Years of Working for Myself

calculate winningsAfter only four unsatisfactory years in employment between 1973 and 1977, I accidentally started my own first business. And despite struggling with maths as a teenager, this only turned out to be an accountancy business. Although I knew by then that I wanted to be self-employed, what I didn’t know was that I was not really an accountant, more an entrepreneur and later a serial business owner.

The cross which the creative entrepreneur has to bear is waking up every day with a new idea for a business, each more exciting and compelling than the last. But focus and follow through is the secret to financial success; there’s no money in ideas alone, sorry chums, Creators and Scanners.

So I set to and spent twenty years building up my accountancy business and then I sold it. I didn’t fall out of love with accounting per se; there’s nothing I love more to this day than reaching for my calculator. But I did fall out of love with my six staff and my 250 clients and it wasn’t their fault. When I eventually read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber I discovered what I had done wrong as the business owner, how I could have re-shaped the business and kept it for my profit turning it into the franchise prototype. However, no regrets. No, really. All mistakes inform your future success and change your life and all change turns out – in the end – to be for the best.

By the time I came to sell that business in 1997, I had also created a catering business with my mother, been an partner in a cafe on Clapham Common and opened a travel agency and those were just the successes; the failures are too many to list. I am proud to say that my accountancy business and my travel agency still sit side by side in a street in South London and they have been taken on to greater heights by those who acquired them from me. Starting a business is one skill I have.

Managing and growing a business, stickability and longevity are other skills which those newer owners have demonstrated in the intervening seventeen years. But those two real-world businesses are definitely my babies, I gave birth to them and they have gone on to live a life independent of their creator. Surely that’s the very definition of small business success?

Exhausted I took a sabbatical for five years while I kept my hand in with a little accountancy work including being Heston Blumenthal’s accountant at The Fat Duck, proud to be part of his start-up team. I spent a lot of time exploring new possibilities for my next career. I started a stress management consultancy with my aromatherapist, Jane, but found that far too stressful! We teach what we most need to learn and the previous twenty years had been stressful indeed.

I eventually alighted on coaching and spent the next decade building my own coaching business and being a partner in another at the same time as growing The Cleaning Biz and licensing it across the UK and multiple web-based businesses and ideas and blogs. I rediscovered another teenage love, writing. Initially, I resisted my niche as a coach, allowing it instead to find me. Now I teach clients that we must turn round and offer our life experience and our CV to our clients in order to be really useful to them.

What is that for me? Its how to start, run, manage, market and grow your own small business which may be just working at home alone, or you may have staff and premises and big ambitions, or you may be an entrepreneur full of ideas, or a hybrid – at times – of all three. I’ve certainly done all three in my career to date and it ain’t over yet.

My raison d’etre is to make business mentoring affordable to all and to find a way to help those of us who feel minded to work for ourselves. To this work I bring my tales of doing it for myself over and over, my two decades of personal development training, my accountancy experience, my understanding of how money works and thirty seven years of experience of working with hundreds – if not thousands – of self-employed people, creative types, and small business owners as their accountant, supporter, friend and cheerleader.

Having enjoyed another 2.5 years off, a second mini retirement as Tim Ferriss would call it, and writing today from this place of 37 years in the wonderful world of entrepreneurship, what have I learned? What are my secrets of small business success?

  • First, find a way to get yourself into financial integrity, getting your bills paid reliably each month, without fail.
  • From that place you can grow, you can tweak, measure and improve, you can make life and business more how you want it to be.
  • Follow your passions and your dreams, cultivate an inner knowing, follow that guidance system as it’s very reliable. You always know what feels right and what feels wrong according to your values.
  • Everything is a compromise whether its working on your own or with others, nothing’s perfect but you can refine it and get pretty close to an optimum way of working – optimum for you, comparisons are irrelevant.
  • Learn everything you need to know from others who’ve done it and then put that wisdom into practice, personalising it to suit you and your business and your life. No excuses, just bending to fit.
  • Create an asset you can sell because it works without you. That’s your ultimate wealth creation/pension goal.
  • Learn to embrace marketing, learn how to ask for what you are worth and how to say no.
  • Do only what you love and find others to do the rest.
  • Lady Luck plays her part, we are not in control of everything.
  • Extreme self-care is vital, imperative for the solopreneur. Without your health you have no business and no income.

There’s much more besides, of course there is, it’s only taken me since 1977 to learn what little I do know and how to profit by it, and also to know I’ll always be learning because the business climate changes constantly too.

Do get in touch or share where you are on your journey towards successful self-employment and effortless business ownership. Or why not leave a comment and share your best learning tips to date?

Your Biz Your Way

If you have enjoyed reading my words here, you might also enjoy my book - Your Biz Your Way: Learning to Trust Yourself. Relax! You've Got This. Find out how to buy the book here Read My Book

2 Responses to “The Story So Far: What I’ve Learned from 37 Years of Working for Myself”

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  1. Judith Morgan says:

    That’s kind of you, Dave.
    Let’s compare notes when you get to 37 years!

  2. Dave Delaney says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Judith. Thank you for sharing the lessons you have learned.
    I am less than two years into my own business and I found this to be helpful and inspiring.

    The line that struck me most is, “All mistakes inform your future success and change your life and all change turns out – in the end – to be for the best.”