Thought of the day

Working for yourself - Warts and all

I still remember the day I told my parents (who I still shamelessly try to please) that I no longer wanted to work in finance but instead wanted start a new business in macarons.

Obviously the first question was ‘what the hell are macarOONs?’ quickly followed by a total disbelief that I could possibly want to go into something as completely different (and random) as baking. In fairness I could see their point. As a second-generation Chinese I was programmed from an early age to be ambitious, carve a name for myself in the corporate world and bring in the big bucks. However, once I’d achieved that in finance I became disillusioned and realised the dream I worked so hard for was no longer the goal I wanted in life. I was unfilled. incomplete.

So I took the plunge…

Excited by the romance of starting a new business, of ‘being your own boss’ and in charge of your own destiny, the prospect of Yipsy was so exciting that I struggled to sleep in the early months. Admittedly, this was mainly because of all the things I still had to do (packaging, branding, website, social media just to name a few) but also the idea of a whole new life, a new beginning and something I was really passionate about kept me going. Sure, there were certain financial sacrifices to be made. I rented out my beautiful house and moved in with my parents and I raided my life savings to purchase commercial baking equipment, but the marked difference was that I was happy to do this. From that feeling, I knew that I was on the right path.

When the glitter settles and reality kicks in, life can be tough for a new business and I suppose this is the stuff people generally keep out of social media and instead project a rose-tinted version of life. This is the wisdom I wished someone had bestowed on me when I first started. Not because it would’ve changed my mind but I’d have felt more prepared. For starters you can forget about weekends. You live for the present and every day is a business day because if you don’t work you don’t eat. Whilst all your friends are living for the weekend you’re living for each day, and every minute you’re awake you have to be alert and thinking about strategic planning, new ideas and inspiration. I can’t eat in a restaurant without looking at their branding, food ideas and packaging. I’m literally living my dream!

Next is the haphazard working hours. This has often meant working through the night. You plan your non-existent social life around client orders and you start letting your friends and family down last minute. You become the manager, baker, finance, procurement, PR, marketing, strategy and IT department all at once. Your to-do lists stretches over two pages and every day is a learning day where you can make silly mistakes and trip up along the way. At this stage its imperative to have people there to understand, support and encourage you. My family and friends have been invaluable while I’ve had to learn how to smile, dust myself off during the bumps and carry on. It’s all part of the exciting journey. Their encouragement and support have been my biggest motivation, especially seeing the doubt and worry from my parents dissipate with every little Yipsy victory. It’s been truly heart warming for me.

The biggest challenge of all? It comes from inside. It’s the little monkey in your brain that sporadically wakes up and whispers negative thoughts such as ‘What the hell have you done?’ and ‘Will this be successful?’. When you leave the comfort and security of a job where you have a monthly salary, health cover and pension for a hand-to-mouth existence, you can really feel the pinch. Gone were the days where I could shop at Selfridges, take long weekends away or watch TV box sets. You have to be on form all the time as you’re now your own brand, 24/7. The danger is allowing this little monkey to come in and take over, steering your thoughts and spiralling down into a place of self-doubt and low confidence.

This is when you have to remember all those powerful reasons that inspired you to risk everything in the first place; to acknowledge how far you’ve come and know that these are just fleeting thoughts which will eventually pass. This is the biggest challenge I’ve found during my deepest darkest moments and again where I’m most grateful for those who, when I look for support, I find standing right beside me.

So would I change my new (literally) back breaking, anti-social multi-tasking life? Hell no. Nothing can substitute the buzz you get from opening an oven door and seeing multiple trays of perfectly formed macarons, receiving lovely feedback from a client or the reaction of a macaron virgin after eating a Yipsy mac for the first time. We’ve popped many cherries (an accolade I’m quite proud about.) What you realise is that when you love what you do, work no longer feels like work. You happily accept the long hours as you know this is all for you and not some conglomerate. The reward is immensely gratifying as you know you’ve achieved this yourself through sheer grit and hard determination. It takes a lot of courage to take the initial step but also an iron will to keep yourself motivated and going. To break free from the shackles of life to pursue something you’re passionate about is no small feat I can tell you. It’s only been 18 months for Yipsy and I know there’s still a lot more to be learnt but now I truly understand and admire self-starters and independent business owners.

A few weeks ago I noticed a young city worker grabbing a coffee on the way to work. The sexy corporate world was screaming out again – sharp suits, high heels, after-work drinks, hotels and room service, but also I remembered the depressing rush hour traffic and how much I hated Monday mornings. Was I tempted? Nope! I was too busy munching through my leftover macarons :)

What do you wish you’d known before starting your own business? Or, if you’re thinking of it, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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