1. Sometimes sense needs to be knocked into me, quite literally
As the title of this article indicates, the biggest change has been one of pace. Attending events for other sole traders and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), I’ve been struck by how many people say that they’ve never been so busy in their life, while for me, stepping out of academia has meant a welcome relief from a never-ending to do list and demands from an ever-increasing range of people.
That said, the first few of months I still pushed myself far too hard, imposing a workload whose ridiculousness only became apparent when I fell over in the dark going to the toilet in the middle of the night and gave myself a terrible concussion. Next week will be the first in which I try the normal 8 hour day at the computer screen, and even then, I’ve got Monday off as annual leave. They said it would take 8 weeks to be able to get back to the usual amount of screentime, building from none, through 30 minutes at a time, to a few hours at a time.
Which brings me to …
2. “Failure” and “Letting People Down” is OK when it’s inevitable
I spent a decade feeling I was letting people down. Stop. Think about that for a second. Ten years. And I promise, I’m not exaggerating. Moving from being a cataloguer, with targets that were tough but achievable and a to do list that could be cleared most weeks, to being an academic – a career whose many demands are well-documented as problematic – was not a sensible move for my personality type.
It was only when I hit my head and was incapacitated and so had to let clients know I would be (very) late delivering on some things that I realised I needed some slack in my schedule to allow for unexpected things like accidents. Guess what? Most people would rather receive something late than not at all, and when you can’t use a screen, you can’t deliver on projects that are 100% online. People understand that. (Thanks, people).
3. Everyone offers advice and will tell you what to do
The trick is working out whose advice to take. Fortunately, with the Covid situation there are so many small businesses starting up that there are also lots of professionals sharing experience-based advice. In particular, I’d recommend the British Library IP Centre‘s Reset, Restart programme, which has brought together a wide range of experts to run webinars covering topics from finance and funding, through marketing and even mindset.
Apart from that, I’d say find the friends who listen to you before they speak. Setting up a new business means seeing a gap in the market, and there are many people in comfy employment happy to tell you that no-one will pay for your product. Talking to people in other industries, that seems to be a common experience. I have a couple of close friends who listen first and then offer advice, and their words have been invaluable.
4. Everyone thinks they know what success is
One of my most common questions to friends who are experiencing a setback is “What does success look like to you now?” Whether it’s failing an exam or going through a divorce, we all seem to invest a bit of ourselves in what we are doing, so if those things go wrong it’s hard not to feel like a failure. But the truth is that success not only looks different to different people, but also to individuals at different points in life.
Two statistics that really helped me were supplied by my bank. Firstly, the majority of businesses don’t turn a profit at all in their first 12 months. Secondly, the majority of businesses don’t last more than 3 years. These two things are linked – banks will extend credit to new businesses as long as they believe in them. Most people will be funded in Year 1. Many will have that credit extended in Year 2. Some will have a further extension into Year 3.
So, if you are doing it and keeping going and especially if you are turning a profit you are succeeding in the hard financial terms of high street banking. And, ultimately, they are the people who will pull the plug whenever your business ceases to be viable.
5. People (or at least librarians) will put their money where their mouth is
This is where I get to say thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. I’ve been telling people for the last 5 years that I was planning this business, so if you’re one of the people who gave me advice during that investigatory stage, thank you.
Times are tough and, especially during furlough, it was hard for people to get money for training or to commission reports. If you’ve signed up for a seminar, workshop or online course, or if you’ve commissioned me to do some ghostwriting for you or run a metadata healthcheck before a systems / discovery layer upgrade, thank you.
If you’ve signed up to the newsletter, sent us feedback on it, entered its metadata muddle competitions, sent it on to other people encouraging them to sign up, or in some other way sent cheer (especially the last few weeks when I’ve been so ill with concussion), thank you.
If you’ve postponed an in-person training to the new year because of Covid, or waited for me to finish something I started before the concussion, thank you.
Finally, if you’ve agreed to speak at one of our seminars or to be interviewed for Cataloguing Careers in our newsletter, thank you.
One thing I’ve learned in the last six months is that libraries and librarians may not have much money, but you put it where your mouths are. Everyone who has encouraged me to go ahead with this set up has signed up for a training, commissioned us to do some work, or in some other way kept this little ship afloat without my having to go to the bank and ask for credit. The Micawber Principle is alive and well in the Beginning Cataloguing office (newly-decorated and pictured above).
Next week, I have a couple of things to deliver to current course participants, and then my to do list says “Sort out writing schedule.” It’s taken six months and a very bad bump on the head, but now I can be on screen again, it’s time to get back on with the books.