How to Embrace the Insecure Entrepreneur

When first starting out, virtually every entrepreneur I know has suffered from an insecurity complex of sorts.  Yes, you’re running a business, but it doesn’t feel like a real business because you find yourself staring at your CEO, board of directors and staff while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning and walk past your “world headquarters” as you make your way back to your bedroom to get dressed.

When you’re a business of one (or two or three), it’s hard to avoid that stomach churning anxiety.

Something that is really simple, quick and easy that I have found can actually make a quite big impact is gratitude.

I heard one of the best examples of why staying aware of the things we usually take for granted is so important. Has anyone hear ever heard of the concept of head winds and tail winds?

The idea should be familiar to anyone who cycles or runs for exercise. Sometimes you’re running or cycling into the wind, and it’s not pleasant. You’re aware of it the whole time. It’s retarding your progress and you can’t wait until the course changes so that you get the wind at your back. And when that happens you’re grateful for about a minute. And very quickly, you no longer notice the wind at your back that’s helping push you along. And what’s true when it comes to running or cycling is true of life generally.

So what can happen when you make the effort to show gratitude?

I try and say out loud what I am grateful for each day, usually when I am about to get home after work. I’ll say things like, “I am grateful for Furious, my dog, and the opportunity he gives me to spend time outside and clear my head.” Or “I am grateful for the network I have build around me and now can access for help and support.”

And you do that for a few days in a row, and you just see that people are happier or more satisfied with their lives. You start to really appreciate your tail winds and realise that the head winds are only temporary.

Although those who lack this confidence are often made to feel guilty and ashamed, often those with an abundance of it have unrealistic expectations about what their confidence will help them accomplish and will actually become hindered by their confidence rather than helped by it.

There are four distinct advantages of being insecure:

  1. You’re naturally more realistic. Entrepreneurs, because of their nature as risk-takers, tend to suffer from over-confidence, which can blind them to potential problems. This is the reason why 90 percent of entrepreneurial business ventures fail. Those with lower confidence have a higher ability to perceive threats and are more likely to be successful as an entrepreneur because they aren’t blindly jumping in.
  2. You work harder. While over-confident individuals do little to improve their skills or performance, those with lower confidence take preparation, training and work more seriously than their over-confident peers. Because they perceive a gap between where they want to be and where they are, they close that gap not by trying to display more confidence, but by working harder. It’s important to remember the power of positive thinking during this evolution though. Adding something simple and easy like the word “yet” to statements like, “I’m not good enough” to make it into “I’m not good enough YET” leaves room for growth and improvement.
  3. You’re more liked. Although it’s true confident people are often called “charming” or “charismatic,” being over-confident can cause others to label you as arrogant, especially when that confidence is deemed to be unwarranted
  4. You’re more likely to accept criticism. While overconfident individuals are immune to negative feedback, those who are less confident are more likely to take criticism as constructive and work hard to improve upon their weaknesses.

All of this isn’t to say that we should all be insecure all the time. Those who lack any confidence at all prevent themselves from making their goals. We still need some confidence in order to be successful, but it’s all about balance.

How My Business Saved My Life

Growing up, I was one of the lucky kids that never had to apply myself too much in order to get decent grades and perhaps this is one of the aspects of my downfall. From the age of fourteen, my view of the world took a sudden change for the worst. I was depressed, anxious and didn’t feel apart of the society that I had enjoyed during my younger years. This lead me to be diagnosed as a manic depressive, bi-polar and at one point gaining the diagnosis of border line personality disorder. None of these has stuck through my older years apart from depression and a tendency to battle with anxiety.

I’m going to point out what might be obvious here but I believe it’s important to say. When you are trying to navigate any kind of mental health issue, it becomes such a focus in your life. From seeking counselling, attending groups or just trying to get out of bed, you don’t really have much energy left for anything else. And, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to over come depression or any other problem relating to mental health (and I strongly advise you do this), when you finally do come out the other side and are finally ready to move forward with other parts of your life – time has passed. Opportunities have gone. The world has kept spinning.

By the time that I finally had a grip on myself, I found that I didn’t have a lot of options for a job and also soon discovered that the jobs I did have qualifications for had a glass ceiling and lacked a challenge. I found myself working on a street food spin off for a restaurant, in charge of the creating the menu and booking us into events. After a few months, the owner made it clear that he had a lot of other projects on at the moment and couldn’t commit to spending any more time on the project. He suggested that perhaps I should start my own street food business and without knowing it, he became a catalyst for the beginning of my adventure in entrepreneurship.

It became apparently to me early on that although the street food opportunity was making money, the downside was how time consuming preparing the food was. Long hours and physical work on your feet can make it difficult to focus working on the business rather than in the business. Overtime, with the help from my time at the Natwest Business Accelorator, I came to the realisation that I had a choice to make. I could either keep working in a business that would have limitations to scaling up or I could break apart the growing interest in the condiments and focus on a business that I could scale quickly, with less need for early stage, large investment and wouldn’t need a huge team supporting it.

I’ve found that starting The Sweet Beet, although extremely exciting and fantastically liberating, can be quite a personal journey of confidence building, growth and exploration. As the only person in my at that time, it was completely up to me to take responsibility, action and control. You find that starting out everything is new and exciting and the world really does seem like it’s your very own oyster to crack however as your success grows, the pressure you will ultimately put on yourself to continue this can at times be quite terrifying. Imposter syndrome is something that is often found among entrepreneurs as though we can’t believe our luck and I have definitely experienced my share of self-doubt.

I’ve had days where I didn’t think I could ever get up again and I’ve had nights where I’ve cried myself to sleep. I’ve worried that maybe I wasn’t good enough for the world that I was born into and I’ve judged myself harder than most other people would ever think to judge me. I also know that I’m not alone in how I have felt and the hardship I have fought against. Resilience and the ability to bounce back quickly becomes your greatest asset. Entrepreneurship requires a lot of picking yourself back up, dusting yourself off and continuing on without too much momentum lost.

I do not claim to have all the answers to become a productive and successul women but I can offer encouragement and support. I am still learning and admit to have my good days and bad but I do believe that I stand as a testiment to all women that no matter how difficult the path you have chosen may be, you are worth effort, time and patience.

I think when we first decide to cut ties with the 9 to 5, we do so with no idea about how the future will pan out. And this is part of what makes entrepreneurship so exciting, liberating and fulfilling. However, I think it’s safe to say that many of us are not prepared for how lonely the journey can be and how challenging it can become when our passion for our business starts to affect our personal life and wellbeing.

It wasn’t long before I felt completely over my head and out of my depth. I experienced what is probably common when you mix a start-up while also recovering from mental health problems for the first time; that sudden anxiety freeze, your mind swirling with all the new “to-dos”, the business plan you never expected to actually complete, feeling as though there is no good reason you aren’t working at the same level as a business that’s been around for years longer than you have, pressured to admit that you thought a pitch was a kind of throw that was made in baseball.

Being a part of entrepreneurship and the start-up space has made me seek out challenges and goals that I wouldn’t have never set for myself. It made me confront the future head on but most of all, it made me realise that I had a future in the first place. Every day I found myself inspired by another founder or start-up, their tenacity, their ideas, growth and positivity. And one day it dawned on me that others felt the same towards me.

I was asked to talk during Newcastle Start Up Week this year, in my speech, I touched on how entrepreneurship has a side of vulnerability. Your putting your hard work, ideas and plans out into the world and regardless of how amazing your product or service is – it’s a really scary process and you will not always receive the kind of response you might be expecting.

But instead of looking at how we can push that fear aside or hide it way – I want to try and empower you guys and others to embrace the worries, insecurities and doubt and learn how to use that energy for positive results.

And a big part of that is pretty simple actually. It’s the kind of lesson that transcends beyond your business, further than your day to day and forces you to come to terms with something many of us never do. Learning to accept yourself. Ideally, mastering the art of loving who you are.

I learned that being proud of your accomplishments was not the same as arrogance. I realised that trying and failing is not a mirror image of who you are as a person and I experienced the freedom of sharing my hardships with those that understood and could offer help and advice.

Celebrating the success we do achieve, reflecting on the failures in order to learn from them and having an intrinsic knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses is one of the most powerful tools you can access.

I want you to know that what’s more important than the turnover of your business – is the knowledge and confidence of your personal growth and how you harness that into a force that drives you forward each and every day.

I started this amazing journey with a street food business, no plan and a fragile view of myself and the world. I’m running a completely different business focused on the food retail industry, a scalable business model and a clear vision of where the future will take me. My products are listed in over 80 stores up and down the country as well as store like Ocado and Fenwick. I won North East Young Entrepreneur of the Year and my products have won awards for their taste and innovation.

I am so grateful to be a part of something so motivating, challenging and fun. Thank you to those for holding my hand and helping me realise my vision, my passion and my path. I wish I had discovered this sooner but perhaps, it happened at just the right time.

Taking an authentic lead

When you’re little you’re always told honest is the best policy- lies are looked down on and you are rewarded when you admit your faults.

It can be a hard lesson to learn but we believe it’s what makes us a better person. A good person. A responsible adult.

But just as we come to the painful realisation that our parents do not know the answers and we may never completely feel like adults, we learn through entrepreneurship and steering a business to success that honesty is not always the best policy; that there are different versions of you the world wants to see. Baring it all to the world is no longer seen as refreshing but as a liability.

Thinking back, I’ve always been  that person to take things too far. The only one to get caught for skipping class and pushing boundaries uncomfortably too far. Now, as a business owner and entrepreneur, I am told that I must separate “Lizzy Hodcroft” and “The Sweet Beet”. I am just a representative of the business I made. The world is watching and they may not like “me”.

But where is the line?

You told me honesty was the best policy. You said, people buy from people.

Well, I am a person! Enveloped in all my flaws, my insecurities, my passion, my ideas- my business.

I want to open myself up to the world. I want to share with the universe. Things have changed. Traditions have morphed and bent into what’s trending and why can’t I help to lead this revolution?

Why can’t I be authentically me even through my craft?

Awhile back, I used to blog about my journey of being a start-up. I wanted to articulate the worries, the dread, the fear and the tears that as entrepreneurs we all push through to make our ideas a reality. As far as I could tell, there was no one out there willing to put pen to paper in the moment of their struggle. Sure, you can find articles online about the highs and lows others have faced… But it’s all through hindsight and after they’ve moved past the fear of loosing it all and have made millions – notes and words of advice written with the security of knowing that they’ve already closed that deal, disrupted their industry and cashed their pay check.

I wanted to speak and reach out to those that needed to be reassured by someone that was truly being both shaken and elated by what was happening now – in the present.

So came along my blog Cooking with Confusion. I wrote as upfront and as a sincere as I could. Carefully crafting an emotional picture of the beautiful highs and terrifying lows of learning through experience. I was overwhelmed from the response I got from others; how I had managed to capture and put into words the feelings shared by so many in similar places. If memory serves me right, I believe I moved one or two readers to tears.

But I also received feedback in the tone of warnings. Surprisingly, mostly from my family. I was being too honest, too raw, too direct. To quote, “you might make people worry about your stability” or “people wont want to work with you” and “you can’t be that open”.

I’m sorry but where was this lesson about how to hide aspects of yourself when I was growing up? What happened to all those cliches about how I should just be myself? That people will like me for just being me?

You know what’s easy?

Telling everyone how scared you were after you defeated your competition.

You know what’s hard?

Telling everyone before you go into battle how you are shitting your pants but that you are going to be brave and do it anyway.

Why is it socially accepted to say, “I was a mess” but not okay to admit in the actually moment that, “I AM a mess”?

I can’t help but feel it’s my duty to challenge this myself. Because- well, tell me that you’ve never felt down, defeated or overwhelmed. I won’t believe it.

It seems there is a mould to be broken. It feels there is glass ceiling  that needs to be shattered. And even if I cut myself up from the fall out; at least I can be proud of me.

And perhaps… well… perhaps that means you can’t.