In Start-up Stories we catch up with a TEDCO-supported enterprise to share their early experiences in business and the valuable lessons they have learnt.
Managing Director Kelly Oliver Dougall founded Cygnet Careers in 2014 with the help of TEDCO.
Having worked in the volunteer sector for over a decade, Kelly decided the time was right to launch her own business venture to help others unlock their potential and gain valuable employability skills.
Now in her second year of trading, Kelly reflects on those tricky early months in business and how the right foundations have helped her to go from start-up to established business. Despite lots of hard work and the odd up and down, she believes that the rewards of becoming self-employed have been more than worth it – and would encourage others to follow in her footsteps.
In 2014, I established Cygnet Careers to support people going through a career transition. With a background in the voluntary sector, I have helped people with personal career progression, CV building, re-training after redundancy, navigating the benefits system and overcoming barriers to work for many years, but doing it under my own banner was a new and different experience for me.
I’ve worked in the voluntary sector for most of my career supporting people with personal career progression, overcoming barriers to progress by helping people navigate benefits systems, listening to their concerns and challenging their limiting beliefs. While my work was always rewarding, I had often felt that I had more to give clients. There were too many ways that I was being held back by the sector and, after a particularly challenging time in one role, I realised it was time to go my own way.
Setting up on my own was frightening, exhilarating, rewarding, frustrating and liberating in equal measures. Being able to take full control of my work–life balance is both a blessing and a curse, as any self-employed person will tell you. There are many benefits to controlling your own destiny and there are things I am now able to do that simply aren’t possible as an employee; but there is no doubt that I have had to work harder and longer than if I was employed full time. I have to put in the effort to get the results, and my success or failure with my venture is in my own hands.
To any aspiring entrepreneur looking to start a business, I would always encourage them to go into self-employment with their eyes open. Take the time to fully understand the pros and cons, and prepare accordingly.
I began trading within 3 months of setting up, which was a huge achievement. But there was also a negative side to becoming busy quickly: it’s so much harder to put aside time for planning and developing growth strategies when your working hours are full. It also gave me a false sense of the realities of self-employment. I perhaps got too used to having enough business too soon – that can be dangerous in that it makes you lose focus on long-term business development.
Since then I have been unsuccessful in many of the contracts I have applied for but this has also been a positive experience as I am closer to knowing what steps I need to take for next time. It’s also helped me to refine what I do and develop a deeper understanding of the sector. Although it is a cliché to say that you learn more from your mistakes, I have to say that I have definitely found this to be true.
Failures and hurdles in business have driven me on to work harder and work smarter. I have attended a number of workshops on sales training and marketing to help me showcase what I can offer potential clients.
I also found during this time that it was important to have someone I could discuss these challenges with. TEDCO and the New Enterprise Allowance scheme were fundamental to me being able to launch my business, but that is just the first part of the journey. Having the business advisors on hand at the other end of the phone months later when you are juggling the realities of work is every bit as important. And this is where I think TEDCO really added value.
Often you don’t need someone else to provide the answers, just to ask the right questions and help you take an objective view of your business.
Now is an important time for the North East in terms of supporting people to transition between jobs and retrain. And I feel that my experiences have left me better placed to help others. I would certainly recommend that anyone looking for a new career path should get in touch with TEDCO to see what can be done for them. Even if you don’t eventually decide that the time is right to go self-employed, understanding the options out there is important, I think.