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Five lessons from my first year in business

by Shannon Walsh


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It’s coming up to a year now since I made the decision to start Tile Hill and so far, it feels like the best business decision I’ve made. I’m learning all the time, doing work that’s important to me, work that I feel makes a difference, and I’m able to take the decisions I want to quickly and for the right reasons. All big drivers for me when I was deciding what my next move should be.

And, having embarked on this new direction after working in a large corporate for 10 years, there have been some key lessons I’ve learned along the way. So, I thought I’d share.

1. Work/life blend rather than work/life balance

Work/life balance when starting a new business is a bit of a pipe dream. In my experience, it’s more of a work/life blend. I’ve grabbed an hour or two of work while on the family holiday allowing us to get away. I’ve worked late nights and early mornings. I’m almost never "off" in the traditional sense. But I’ve also been able to spend more time with my family and work when, where and how is best for me, our interim managers and our clients.

When managing your own business, there are always going to be things to do, but making sure you carve out time to recharge and spend with the family is essential. Looking after yourself is an investment. If you're not looking after yourself, you're not looking after the business.

2. There's a whole new world of work out there

Going it alone has opened my eyes to the extent to which the world of work has evolved. I use a co-working space through The Office Group, which gives me access to shared workspaces across London. If I’m due to meet someone near London Bridge, I can work from an office in The Shard. If I want to base myself closer to home, I use the Kings Cross Stanley Building. It's flexible, affordable and it suits the way I work. Using cloud-based systems means I can access information and documents wherever I’m based. And I can pull from a pool of talented freelancers if I need additional support in other areas of the business. Experiencing the benefits of these new ways of working has made me passionate about ensuring this agility remains part of Tile Hill as we begin to grow.

3. People want you to be successful

Yes, there will be the odd naysayer but the vast majority of people want you to be successful and will respect that you've decided to go it alone. I've been incredibly touched by the many kind messages I've received this year from old colleagues, from the interim community and from clients past and present. It’s incredibly motivating.

4. Build the business on strong values

I’m a big believer in getting clear on your values so they can provide a strong foundation for your business. As I wrote here, when I was contemplating starting Tile Hill, I first thought of the values I wanted the business to be anchored to: ownership, passion, integrity and ambition. I'm passionate about getting the very best people into the public sector. When you get clear on your values they inform how you grow the business, the decisions you make and the culture you develop.

5. Identify your competitive advantages

Having worked in a large corporate I know that getting decisions made can be a long-winded process. My competitive advantage is that decisions can be made and implemented quickly. If a technology comes along that will perform faster and provide a better experience for my customers, I can adopt it. If I need to access specialist skills, I can quickly bring on board experienced and talented workers on a freelance basis. Competitors will usually be more established in the market, or at least have a more established brand. This is why it’s important to identify and use to your advantage the strengths you have as a start-up.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me in this first year. I look forward to continuing this journey with you all!

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