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Startup lesson #08: You gain new appreciation for corporates

Lessons from 100 days of starting my own business

I left my old corporate environment was because it was one where I didn't thrive. I had been incredibly unhappy there: there were days when I couldn't imagine ever being happy again. After only 100 days of working for myself, it was still hard for me to accept that there was anything good about my former job and working environment. I needed time to heal before I could accept that there were aspects of it that I missed.

After 100 days, I was still in the honeymoon period with my new entrepreneurial life, but even during that time, I was beginning to recognize gaps in my life that I’d never had to tend to before, and that there were benefits of a corporate environment that I had seriously taken for granted.

One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is the loneliness. It can be very isolating. It’s hard to meet new people – or even find times to see your friends – when you’re focusing all your energy on making a business work. For me, this feeling of isolation was magnified, because my change of career coincided with moving to a new country. I didn’t know anyone there except for my partner. Not a single person.

As an entrepreneur working alone, you don’t get to have the casual conversations on the stairs or in the elevator. You don’t meet people in the corridor and stop for a chat. You don’t have face-to-face meetings.

When I was an employee, it sometimes felt like all I did was talk to people, balance priorities and negotiate situations. My days were full of meetings and I was never, ever alone. Back then, I craved days when I could work from home, just to get some peace. When I started working for myself, there were days that I would actually have paid to speak to another human and have five minutes of mindless banter.

I also underappreciated the expertise of the different departments within the companies I worked for. It is an amazing privilege and advantage to have IT support, lawyers on tap, an HR team to help with recruitment and freelancers, and senior staff who constantly coach and mentor you, whether or not you realise it.

I had no idea I would miss these things, but I do. I miss them a lot. So much, that some days it affects my productivity. Being able to switch off from work when there is nobody around to distract you is almost impossible. And that’s not healthy.

I also had no idea how important it would be for to artificially create my own network. In the first 100 days, you have to begin to create your support network from scratch, and take time and effort to establish working relationships and foster new friendships. It’s much harder and more time-consuming doing things this way than having in-house staff on hand.

And some days, you might have a really shit time (yup, that still happens). As an employee, there’s usually someone in the office who will notice and offer a kind word of support, even if they’re snowed under with work themselves. They might offer to make you a cup of tea, or go for a drink after work. That no longer happens; you lose all of it.

So my learning from this process has been to see the real value in what I left behind. As a sole founder, the only person keeping things going is you. So having a positive and optimistic mindset is everything. Sometimes, it's the only thing keeping the business alive, so you have to pay close attention to it.

Once I started noticing these things that I was missing, and attaching greater value to them, I started to re-create some of them and build them into my habits. There are ways you can replicate the good bits that you left behind. It isn't easy, and it takes time, but the first step is realising that there was goodness there after all.

I'm Claire Ransom, and I'm a writer and business owner. I founded Lazy Flora, a garden-in-a-box delivery company, in February 2017. This blog post is part of a series on things I learnt during 100 days of starting my own business.

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