The early days of my career were some of the happiest of my life. As well as loving my job, the social life that revolved around my industry was fabulous. There were always parties and restaurants to go to with a great bunch of friends and mentors. But I always had a yearning to do something on my own - a desire to change the face of the industry and be at the forefront of its revolution.
My chance came when a colleague and good friend from my inner circle told me that he was going solo and needed a number two. We were on the same wavelength, passionate, and I thought that together we’d be a formidable, game-changing force. My then boss tried everything to keep me, even offering me a stake in his business.
But I needed a new challenge and thought this was it.
I worked relentlessly to get the new business off the ground. I brought to it a much-needed head for organisation, not to mention many past clients, and worked around the clock while juggling a young family. Before long we were thriving. But I felt very much like the woman behind the man, and was frustrated that while his wealth seemed to be growing, I wasn’t seeing any dividends from my stake as partner.
Over time those frustrations grew. Mutual contacts began to whisper that my boss was threatened by me. I found this so odd; I’d been so loyal, always keeping behind the scenes, never overstepping the mark.
Ten years passed and our relationship became what I can only describe as like a bad marriage.
I didn’t like myself for sticking with it, but it was easier to stay than face all the complications of leaving. I kept telling myself that I’d invested so much time in the business, and couldn’t imagine myself without its supposed safety net. I suppose, looking back, that I was very insecure.
It all blew up one day when I arrived at work and was called into a room where my resignation was laid out before me and I was told to sign it. All sorts of horrible accusations were levelled at me, including, most hurtfully of all, that I’d try to sabotage the business. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to the staff or even collect my belongings.
It was utterly devastating and gobsmacking. I spent two days in hysterical tears, unable to leave the house. Then the phone calls started. Previous clients reached out and said such kind and wonderful things. That gave me so much strength, and from there the hurt gave way to anger.
I had worked so hard for so long to create his business, asking for no rewards, and I was left with nothing.
My supporters brought me back to my fighting self, and I decided to turn to the courts. It was the right decision. One week before the hearing date, we agreed a settlement. But there was still the question of my next career move.
I was being offered great roles by hugely respected names in the industry, and while many were tempting, something was holding me back. Maybe there were reservations about working for someone else again, but there was also that burning desire I’d had early on, to fly solo. My supporters were urging me to do it, but there were other complications. The recession was in full swing for one, and I simply didn’t have the PR budget or the cash for premises that would allow me to compete with the big names. I was also concerned that in the short time I’d stepped out of the industry, I’d been forgotten. I was so full of self-doubt; starting my own business seemed like an insurmountable challenge.
But underneath the insecurity, I still believed in my capabilities.
I figured that I was employable, and so if my business failed, the worst that could happen would be I’d have to go and work for someone else again. Somehow, sheer will and hard work paid off and the business was born. We were off the beaten track, and there were challenges encouraging new staff into a young enterprise, but it was a start. That’s not to say there weren’t some desperate measures taken in those early days. At one point I even had to draft in friends and relatives to pose as customers to create the kind of ambience we needed to attract real customers!
Not long after we got off the ground, a brick came flying through the window. My reaction surprised me. Instead of crumbling under this next in a long line of hurdles, I realised that whatever stumbling blocks I faced along the way, I just had to get on with it. It didn’t matter how successful or otherwise competitors’ businesses were, I had to concentrate on my growth, my staff and my clients. There was room for all of us in the industry, and I was more determined than ever to make a name for myself.
I suppose one of the morals of my story might be ‘never mix friends and business’, but I’m a positive, open person and I was determined that this experience wouldn’t affect my trust in others. In some ways, I think the incident came about because of my partner’s own trust issues, and I never wanted to become that person.
Instead, I like to look at all the good that has come out of the situation.
I always remind myself that the things I learned about running someone else’s business, helped me avoid huge mistakes in my own company.
Without the push, I don’t believe I’d ever have gone solo; it would have been too easy not to. Then there’s the realisation that age should never be a factor in realising your dreams. I came to business late, but I hope my story teaches others that it’s never too late; it doesn’t matter how old or how young you are, it only matters what you can do. And like I always say to friends – age only applies to a good bottle of wine!
The everywomanIncognito series allows women to discuss personal aspects of their career development in complete anonymity. We welcome submissions from everywomanNetwork members on a range of topics. Get in touch if you'd like to find out more about Incognito or would like to suggest a story.