In 2015, I was a University lecturer at a UK institution.
I had completed a PhD, three postdocs, and was in my first permanent academic job. I was also being discriminated against by my employer and ultimately left academia with a settlement that I’m not legally permitted to discuss.
In the period leading up to my exit from the academy I had a lot of choices to make about my life.
One important one was about how to do work that was fulfilling, joyful and would pay the bills. I thought about my values, desires and talents and narrowed it down to two fields: law and therapy.
Since I have the travel bug and wanted to be geographically mobile, the law wasn’t a good fit, so I embarked upon the journey to becoming a therapist. Fortunately for me, I had a decade of experience of teaching and coaching, and even facilitating support groups. I had run workshops in multiple countries on sex, sexuality and kink. In many ways, my journey had begun years earlier.
Nevertheless, I still lacked some of the skills and the support network to embark on a career as a coach or therapist. It is a mere three years later and I now have a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling and a full coaching and therapy practice.
Here are 5 things that helped me to build my business.
1) Hiring the best mentor I could afford to help me build my business
I asked for recommendations and I paid for the best supervisor that I could afford (which is actually not saying there is a better one out there if I paid more!). He is well connected, experienced and generous with his advice. He is effective at directing me to useful resources and was invaluable in the period before I had clients or much of a business.
He helped me to consider what I already had and what I needed to achieve in order to be an effective therapist. His support gave me the confidence to interrogate what I really needed before launching my business in terms of accreditation, training, insurance and experience.
I certainly made more informed decisions about my future because of his help – and as a result got off the ground with a great start to build my business.
2) Building a network of supportive working relationships
I have a friend of many years who is a marketing training specialist. She and I have a mutually supportive relationship which helped me to make the work plan, get the website up and to keep up my momentum when times were tough. I provided her with a case study for her fledgeling business and help to refocus and getting back on track.
Other people have supported me in choosing the right degree course, finding the best hosting service, choosing my email provider, and grappling with GDPR. I am grateful for these relationships because they provide important stimulation and growth.
The reciprocal nature of them is really important too, because it reinforces my own competence as I build my business.
3) Acknowledging and accepting that imposter syndrome happens
Academia gave me a lot of experience with imposter syndrome. As someone that is dyslexic and dyspraxic, and for whom names are often difficult, academic writing has always been a challenge. I often thought someone might realise my limitations and realise they should never have given me the PhD in the first place.
Fortunately, I also knew that I was a gifted researcher who research subjects opened up to easily.
Within the context of running a brand new coaching and therapy business, imposter syndrome can arise in all kinds of sneaky ways. It can accompany worries about the aspects I’m less confident about, the client I am struggling to connect with, the no-show, the accounting.
Sharing my experience with others, and seeing their insecurities reflected has been invaluable to me. To reap the peak benefits of this I have set up a peer supervision group with others at a similar point in their careers, and it is a wonderful support resource as I build my business.
4) Finding ways around the ‘impossible task’
The ‘impossible task’ is that thing that gets impossibly difficult for no good reason. It is the task that you know that you have to do, and that isn’t that practically difficult, but that is paralyzing right at this moment.
For me, the impossible task is often about completing expenses or accounting or making a phone call. That’s right, I spend hours every day talking to people online, hearing their stuff, but making a phone call to a doctor, airline or employer gets impossible sometimes. It makes no sense, but it is my reality – and apparently the reality for plenty of other people too.
Before I knew about the ‘impossible task’ I could spend days fixated on the fact I wasn’t doing it. I didn’t get anything else productive done. I just focused on the fact I couldn’t do the thing.
Since I recognised that I have this occasional temporary paralysis, I have learned to handle it differently. I’ve learned that it isn’t something I can just ‘push through’ and that in order to get to it I need to have some successes first. I need to do a few other tasks that give me a sense of accomplishment or joy.
With that in mind, I have created a ‘happy leaves’ exercise of tasks that I know will make me feel either accomplished or joyful. I have written one idea on the back of each leaf postcard and included how long it takes and how difficult it is for me when life is hard. Doing one or two of the exercises on my leaves makes me feel better, usually better enough that the ‘impossible task’ is no longer impossible.
You may need to find your own route, but recognising if you have impossible tasks is a good way to start working out how to make them possible again rather than getting stuck.
5) Finding ‘good enough’ as I build my business
Part of what I do is put together blog posts. I write a lot of these.
Working out when to stop working in a particular piece of writing is a skill. Sometimes I get it wrong, and there are still spelling errors, or my meaning isn’t clear enough in a post, but that happens rarely.
More often I hold onto something far too long, and I should just have posted it. My website doesn’t have to be perfect, my writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Even my business plan doesn’t have to be impeccable.
What it does have to be is functional and fit for purpose. Learning the difference between those ideas has been absolutely essential to learning when to stop ‘improving’ something and to just press POST.
My therapy practice is now full.
I have a client base that I generally connect well with – and I am grateful that I really only attract the kind of clients that I want to work with. Clients that like coaching as much as counselling, that are quirky in all kinds of ways and that need to work with someone open to the idea that there are many healthy ways to be a person in the world.
If you’re interested in knowing more about what I write about (generally sex, relationships, self consent and mental health), or just more about my quirky brain, please pop over to my site and take a look.