Libby: I’m being joined today by Michelle.
Michelle: Hello, everyone, and thank you for having me today. My name is Michelle and I am setting up a company, a forward-thinking leadership. Specifically trying to work out if there’s a way to do good business. We can teach skills to give people the confidence to behave in the right manner and not just be about profit. It should be about purpose and people, too.
Libby: Yeah, it’s a good approach. It’s about ethics as much as anything, isn’t it?
Michelle: Yeah, definitely.
Libby: Which is nice. I’m a big believer in that. I’ve always liked to work with like-minded people and I think part of that is if people don’t resonate, if you don’t gel with the people that you work with, it’s very hard to do the job that you’re wanting to do properly.
I think that and I think corporate are the worst for, you know, just get the job done.
Michelle: I was in consultancy for years internationally and half the reason things wouldn’t succeed in the end. It’s because the alignment of what somebody wants to achieve and what’s successful to them and how you actually need to go about to get to that success is a different path unless you see it from the same point of view or understand that it’s not as simple as I think people think. It can’t be just about the money that needs to be an outcome. That’s when things get tricky.
Libby: Absolutely and marrying it all up inside your own head when you’re self-employed. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, is it?
Michelle: Yeah, no, I am learning.
Libby: Absolutely. I was really interested in talking to you today because you have relatively recently set up your business. These interviews I’ve been doing for the last few months have been really about the resilience of us self-employed folks during a pandemic and what’s been good, what’s been bad, what’s worked, what hasn’t, particularly around marketing and using social media. I’m really interested in talking to you to find out, why you decided to start a business in a pandemic.
How you’ve gone about launching it and marketing yourself and those kind of things. So what’s the story? Why did you decide? Because when did you start it?
Michelle: Well, really officially probably last May time, but didn’t really get going until October.
Libby: I thought it was the autumn. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So what prompted you? We all have a catalyst for giving up the giving up the day job and going it alone. What was yours?
Michelle: I worked for the same company for sixteen years and we’ve grown and they’ve been bought out by a much bigger company. I think I thought it was now or never. I had done an organisational strategy course with London Business School, and they did loads on this concept of a hundred year working life – all three stage of your work life, which before was education, work, retire, isn’t going to happen anymore and needs to be multi stage.
It like how our family units are formed. There’s so many different elements. That probably really opened my eyes to go, OK, if I do want to test something out and try something that lights me up makes me really excited. I’m forty three now. Whereas when you’re younger you think maybe forty three is an older age actually you realise this the exciting part, because you’ve got the wisdom of the mistakes you’ve made, you’ve got the knowledge of the things that excite you and you really realise I’ve got loads of time in front of me. So it’s now or never. I made that decision that I was going to do that. It was a big thing for our company as well, because I was number two in the company.
Libby: Well, at 16 years, it’s a hell of a wrench for you and for them really. You become slightly institutionalised and you’re part of the furniture to them. It’s a big decision around really.
Michelle: They were massively supportive, they just want me to do it and then the pandemic. My last day was April 2nd, just as we had been told.
Libby: Excellent timing.
Michelle: I know, I was like, what have you done. They became something different that had nothing to do with the type of influence or character or journey I would have taken them on. If anything, it was probably a benefit for everyone. It felt like that at the time. For me it was more of, OK, the rule book’s been ripped up.
Now you’re completely lost, you’re drowning, floating, whichever way you look at it and there needs to be a way to move forward. Social media has probably been a life support system for me to be able to have something to do. When you’re growing a business and you don’t actually have clients yet and you’re still working out exactly who you want to be – there’s massive benefits.
Libby: I agree with that completely because it’s ten years this year since I left my nice cushy management job – seven weeks a year annual leave and a pension, local government pension and all of that. It’s a long time ago that I that I did it, but not entirely dissimilar in that I liked what I’d been doing, but it wasn’t making me happy, I guess.
I wanted to take elements of it and do them for myself. I started off with no real plan particularly. I took to Twitter – I mean, that was kind of the big thing back then. I built relationships with local businesses on Twitter that have become friendships now – those people I got started talking to start with, they were at my wedding last year. That’s how it can develop and grow.
I mean, social media was a very different place. It’s a place that you can take to, a place that you can go and just say, all right, here I am. Here’s what I want to do. But that might change. What do you think about that? And that’s that how it starts and grows, isn’t it, really?
Michelle: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s for me, it’s comforting to hear like you’re ten years on and of course that world has changed massively, though in so many ways it hasn’t, whether it’s Club House, Twitter, Instagram, you’re just talking to people. You know,
Libby: The principles are the same, the platforms are different.
Michelle: Yeah. There’s sort of a safety to it that you and I think the way the generations or the way the world’s moved on. It’s not just a generational thing – the speed in which we need things. If we want to watch something, we get it on Netflix, with social media, you’ve got room to grow. I think as long as you’re really honest about where you are, what you’re doing and who you are. I think people will find you to grow and develop.
I’m pretty brutally honest as a person anyway. I do not know how people who are putting on a facade do it – even if that’s a filter, I do not know how they do it.
Libby: It’s so exhausting. It’s the single best marketing tool that exists in the world. Bar none. Well, it is my business, but in itself, it’s a tool to market the business and the business is something else. I think that people lose sight of that and can get sort of, oh, I must do this and that, particularly when you’re starting out. It can be so overwhelming because you’re comparing yourself to people who are pretty long in the tooth or have teams who do it. You just can’t do that at all. And if you keep the thought in mind that you said that basically you just building relationships and talking to people, that’s what’s going to bring you success.
Michelle: That’s what I think. I’ve been constant because you’re right, you start seeing all of these courses that you could go on, all these adverts – this is what you need. Then you start kind of going oh no, I’m nowhere near where I need to be. I just need to take action each day and if I’m doing fairly small actions, it will move forward in some way or another, whatever that might be.
Libby: No, you’re absolutely right. It’s my mission in life to educate the world about that. 2009 I first ran my first round of Facebook and Twitter course and it is different, but it’s my absolute mission now to stop this overwhelm of people thinking that they have to do this and they have to do that and they have to do everything. Someone has just commented it’s what she terms a shiny shite.
It is. I love that expression and if you’re spending time on social media because you’ve got a new business that you want to launch and you want to get out there, you’re following people in the social media realm because you think they’re going to teach you. If you follow ten people, then they’re all telling you something different and you must do that. This is the way to do it. It can absolutely fry your brain and be counterproductive.
I think one thing that you said as well is that feeling that you’re not good enough. Comparing yourself to so many others is a dangerous, dangerous game. That’s not just social media related. That’s anybody in business networking or wherever you meet people.
You’ve got to find your own path.
I think because you’ve got so many people offering advice or trying to sell you advice, at one point you think to yourself, oh, no, I’m doing fine. It’s going exactly at the pace I need to, I shouldn’t be worried about what I’m doing. Then somebody else said something to you and you go, Oh, because I haven’t really started doing a hard sell yet. I’m trying to build a community. I’m too late and they’ll only get used to it being a community and they’ll never actually want to buy.
That’s when I’m pretty good at going, no, you’ve got to trust your intuition. You’ve got to trust what I believe in. That isn’t a worry. I don’t 100 percent with my hands on my heart believe in what I’m trying to help people be.
The one thing I have learnt in the last ten years in business is that nobody knows what they’re doing and that’s alright. Because we all will go along one route and then think maybe this would be better. That’s how self-employed businesses grow, evolve, develop. That’s not just necessarily related to the marketing that you’re doing it’s about how you run your business as a whole, and that’s okay. It’s okay to say, you know, I’m not really sure about this.
You don’t have to be perfect and polished and shiny. That’s what makes people want to work with us because we’re ordinary, extraordinary, obviously. But we’re ordinary, too, you know, and we’re working from home because we choose to work from home. It’s all about being relatable and it’s all about empathy. So when you’re working with people, coaching them and training them in the skills that you that you teach, it comes from your heart as well.
Not to get to kind of woo-woo about it, but it does have to. You have to believe in the very fabric of what you’re teaching, even if the method with which you’re using is not quite stuck yet.
Michelle: I know exactly. It’s interesting as well how people try to, give you advice. I’ve run an international company for many, many years. I was still me. Now all of a sudden, because somebody, heard that I’m aiming at younger young women to give them the tools from the mistakes I’ve made and the reality of the world they’re going into, then he goes oh but the corporate world might not like you and I wouldn’t talk any different in a corporate environment. I know my business.
I understand the world has its own curves but I think sometimes when people say, you know, you have to know who you’re selling to marketing wise. That doesn’t mean that it stops, at them two people take from you what they want to take from you, not because somebody told me that’s how I should be or it doesn’t suit that world and that’s how I’m going to do it and hopefully it’ll work.
Libby: Yeah, it’s a big suck it and see but it’s a strategy. I think all these courses and all these people that we can learn from, I have put myself into that camp because I’m a social media expert and I put out advice left, right and centre. But it it’s very much find what works for you.
I don’t agree with these done for you templates – here is the exact thing that you need to follow and you’ll be a success because that doesn’t, everybody’s business is different and everybody is different as a person. Saying, right here’s 20 things, four of those are going to work for you is a much more honest way of promoting any kind of kind of services. It’s always been a real bugbear of mine.
I’ve been teaching social media for a long, long time now, and it’s always been a real bugbear of mine that well, there’s a lot of charlatans basically, you know.
Michelle: That’s the bit you’re trying to manoeuvre through, aren’t you? Because there is such a lot on there and you’re a bit like who’s telling you the truth, who’s not? Which ones you’re supposed to follow?
I think you just have to try things out and then go, actually, I’m not feeling them and I’ve had a little look.
Libby: To me, it’s whoever you choose to work with. You’ve got to feel a certain amount of empathy with it or feel that they have empathy with you and that’s whatever business you know, if I was coming to you for coaching or you coming to me for social media training and support, it’s about really genuinely believing that they’ve been there in your shoes and done that. If you want to work with the shiny expert in your industry and pay ten thousand dollars a week, that’s fine.
But there is a possibility that they’ve lost sight of when they were at the stage you were at and perhaps it doesn’t fit. It’s about staying true to your audience. When you’re starting out on social media and you said about starting out, you said wanting to make conversations and get to know people and all of that, that’s what you do. Then you multiply it by that. Your content becomes this beautiful place to kind of be and then the sales come – it’s as simple as that. Selling is something…I’ve done my darkest days of telemarketing on the phone when I was younger, and I absolutely hated it. But I like talking to people, connecting with people and helping people. That is sales. But not, under the banner of sales to me.
Michelle: It’s like that thing somebody said to me the other thing about starting your own businesses – you realise you have to have hats. You need to become a social media guru, you need to know how you’re going to do all your finances and the marketing part. I was thinking, oh, God, no clue how to do that. Then I just realised you just share what you believe in learning as you go along from other people coming in.
That’s really what they’re buying into. If they like that, I assume they’ll buy in the end or why people are buying at the moment, you know.
Libby: Absolutely. I mean, it’s a bit more strategy and a bit more science than that but pretty much. I guess, talking about self-employment – what’s been the kind of biggest learning curve that you’ve been through since you started on this this journey? The number of hats that we wear, even if we have an accountant and outsource stuff, you still get to know things and understand it.
What would you say has been your biggest learning curve.
Michelle: YouTube? I go everywhere for. I think inquisitiveness and curiosity. That’s been my biggest learning curve. Understanding straight away, I don’t know how to do something and realising that through social media, through YouTube, through Googling, everybody is happy to share the information with you to a point. Then you need further to buy help to get the actual expertise in things. I think the biggest learning curve is not to feel overwhelmed by what you don’t know and have faith in.
Curiosity will lead you to what you need to find out. Actually, like yesterday I decided that I was only doing filing once a month. I thought, I want to do a second one, but I want to make it really nifty and swift and really easy. I thought I just want to do like a voice note fundamentally to somebody that was less than two minutes and a bit of a hug from me come in to the founding members and that was it.
I went on my Teams audacity. I recorded a little note. I managed to cut it pretty easily. I went on another thing and found out how to get SoundCloud put in – I think self-teaching is probably the biggest thing about working on your own and I’ve enjoyed it just pushes you, doesn’t it? I’ve enjoyed that the answer is there if you have a look.
Libby: Oh, no, absolutely. The danger with that is that you waste a lot of time and you get overwhelmed because like we said before, someone saying one thing, someone saying another and all of that. That’s when having an expert and saying, actually, do you know what I need some help. I think you’re right. It’s I’m exactly the same – I am a sponge.
Every day I didn’t know I could do that. Whatever it is to do in life, absolutely love it. I’m really useful in terms of business development and in pub quizzes because it’s amazing what I’ve Googled today. I would say that is the freedom to diversify, even if it’s just a slight mental diversification. I think being self-employed allows you to have interest in things that are perhaps not part of your core offering, but can become useful in the overall package.
Michelle: I probably spend too much time on Canva designing stuff, but it’s a fun part of my day. You’re right though. I learnt that as well. I started trying to develop the website and then I just went you’re just wasting time, I’ll give it to somebody who knows what they’re doing and get it done by somebody else then thinking I’m just going to end up losing money by not actually giving it on to somebody else
Libby: And it will be rubbish in the end. There’s some things, experts are there for a reason. We’re all experts in what we do. We all exist for a reason and pick your battles for self-learning. I mean, I know some basic coding, but no way I’m designing an entire website. It’s a skill that I don’t need to have for my job.
I can dabble a little bit and that keeps me satisfied. But, you know, give that to someone else. I’ve had an accountant since I started up in my business. In that first month, I invoice one hundred and twenty seven pounds. But I’ve always had one because tax returns and this that and the other it’s easier to give it to someone else how who knows what they’re doing.
Michelle: Yeah, and do what you enjoy. I always believe that. I think people excel in the things they’re good at and they enjoy. They’re good at forcing people always to do things that they think actually benefits anyone really. In the end, people lose engagement.
Libby: That comes back to what you said before as well, about building a community, sharing content, as if you’re kind of talking to friends that that sort of thing. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you talk with enthusiasm that just makes such a huge difference. I know a lot of that comes with experience and confidence.
If you’ve had a career of talking to people and doing presentations and stuff like this becomes way less daunting, so I know confidence is sometimes a stumbling block people have. If you just think, do you know I can make a difference to your day that’s the way, I’m going to do it. That’s a great way to build a business.
Michelle: Yeah. There was somebody I was listening to on Club House the other day and said about help one person each day. The thing is at the moment, if somebody messages you or repost something for you they have no idea at the moment in time that the impact that, I am cartwheeling and they don’t realise that what they did to impact and support.
Libby: I don’t know when that wears off, really. I guess when your business grows to 500000 followers and you then have a team and you lose the personalisation of it.
Someone saying that was really useful. It’s just the best feeling in the world. So that was really helpful. Thank you for sharing.
Michelle: I think you know, we had a massive team and it was all different people. If I’m being really honest, the ego-side of me misses an applause. I can do a presentations, nail a pitch when you’ve got audiences in front of you with guests and things like that. That been a learning curve looking at yourself in the mirror and go, OK, no one is applauding and it’s fine. That’s been a reality conversation I’ve had to have with myself just applauding myself.
Libby: Well, that’s so funny, I hadn’t really thought about that. But I guess at the end of not all but the majority of training courses I’ve run over the years. Certainly, when you get big presentations at conferences and stuff people do always clap and I haven’t really thought about that. Even if I’m doing live Zoom training, there will often be applause at the end. When you’re doing things like this,
Michelle: Even my mum and dad now are like ‘good’, and they’ve got to the word good. I’m like, is there another word we could use? You know. That’s the bit I have to go, it’ll come. You’ll get there. I miss that side of it, it being a team.
Doing it together. I’m pretty energetic person and I love laughing and I love understanding people, you know. So that fits. That’s why I need social media because if I didn’t have that, this would seem very isolated.
Libby: Yeah. I think, you’ve said a lot about how the last year has been fun and interesting and all aspect of the business but I think the kind of stressful side of it can be the isolation. I’m so used to working on my own because I’ve done it for years and years and years. But sometimes there are just I want someone to just say, right, just tell me this… It’s that and there are lots of people that we can draw on at. But having someone who’s actually as invested in it as you. I would agree that’s the hardest thing about being self-employed. I guess you get used to it to a certain extent and you end up having this conversation with your cat.
Michelle: Yes, need to get a cat.
Libby: What would you say is the one thing that you’ve learnt this year overall from setting up a business or using social media and pandemic or not, that would be really useful to another business?
Michelle: I think, having a structure and a strategy. A structure of a day, I start at eight, I do an hour and a half of creativity up front, you know, I try and leave to do things till the afternoon. I have the massive passion about the power of time and how you can create more time if you control time, not the other way around.
I think having a structure has been key and having a strategy. I’ve got a rhythm to follow, especially with social media. First of all, it’s all a bit overwhelming – what content are you supposed to do? Everyone’s saying you’re supposed to do it frequently and I worked that out pretty quickly. I do three posts a week, Monday’s a lesson Wednesdays about what we do and Fridays, about, the people and the rest of it’s talked about on stories.
Michelle: Weirdly, I can talk to it on a video non-stop. It’s totally cool. I have no problem talking on video. I can’t stand a photo being taken on social. I find it really hard – I’d rather just do a video of myself. No shame, no worry, don’t mind judgement. You like me. You don’t like me. I totally get it. But put a picture up. It would take me hours.
Libby: It’s weird isn’t it. I think because when it’s video like this you’re moving and so you see the personality, it’s just the photo that it’s like oh my gosh, look at that photo.
Michelle: Yeah, I’m not. People think she’s so self-absorbed because there’s video everywhere. But that’s more of an insecurity. Weirdly contradictory.
Libby: Video is great. Video is essential in any kind of marketing strategy because it shows us the personality. It shows who’s behind the business. You can hear their voice. You can decide whether you like the language or all those things is absolutely essential these days. In order to be able to be able to market your business at all. Don’t apologise for doing lots of video because it’s an absolutely superb marketing tool. The thing with video you’ve already mentioned the importance of having is having a strategy when you’re doing videos as well. That needs to be the strategy of the video as well rather than I am rambling like I was rambling yesterday.
You have your content points to follow. Like today we’ve sort of vaguely followed. I sent you a list of questions that we would follow through and we sort of have. There is a flow to the conversation, which makes a big difference. I think in an interview or a conversation setting, that’s perhaps easier because somebody is guiding it when it’s you talking to camera and we all do it, you know, without any kind of note.
Michelle: You’re right, you know, it’s just having them bullet points. I have a content book that I create and it has some puts down of what it’s going to cover and it doesn’t well, I think you don’t want to confuse people.
Libby: You need to stick to it. You need to stick to your message and keep reframing, repeating, reframing, repeating that message. Absolutely. And that’s like we’ve talked about, you know, using social media to kind of get to the sales at the end. But that’s thing. If you’re always repeating that same kind of message, content, then that’s how it happens as you’re guiding people towards a decision.
Michelle: The whole point of it is that they learn to trust what are going to do is to help them, which is definitely what I wanted – there are simple skills to be taught that can make everybody be happy, go to work by people being better managers. I think I think if we can do that and everyone goes to work happy, whichever situation they’re in, however they work, then they get to come home happy family and friends.
Life is easier. It just helps everybody in the end.
Libby: No, you’re absolutely right. I think that’s you know, that’s kind of the life lesson of today that really.
It’s all about the way we approach things, isn’t it? No matter how awful things can be, we can see positives in everything. That’s one thing that I’ve noticed about this series of interviews that I’ve been doing, even businesses that have been shut for seven of the last 12 months. There are real positives that have come out of the experience. I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s heart-warming.
It restores your faith in humanity. It’s just such a nice thing to hear. So this year it’s obviously been good for you starting your business. I think that’s okay to say that you shouldn’t feel guilty for saying, oh, well, yeah, but it’s been terrible for some people. It has. However, we don’t have to. We don’t have to look at it with that. You’re absolutely right.
Michelle: It’s given, I think, what some call it the great cause, which I loved. You know, you really have time to reflect. I forgot how much I loved learning, and I think that’s the thing of going into your own business. It’s a constant learning. There’s always going to be something else. We’ve had the time to be able to do that because life is so simple – there is a lot of this simplicity of life that I’m going to carry on.
Libby: Agree completely. I do need to stop signing up for so many courses though. I need to take a dose of the advice that I give to the people. You don’t need it, stop it, stop it and walk away from it.
Michelle: Thank you. And thank you for being my hope. It’s all going to work out.
Libby: Of course it’s all going to work out. Starting a business is hard. That first year is like no idea. But once you pass that, you’ve got a bit of a rhythm and routine and you’ve got a bit of confidence in running the business.
Stick with it and do everything that you do and keep with the social media, keep with the honesty and constructive videos and absolutely superb. You’ve certainly got the right attitude.
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