As I write this it is 5 years to the day since I left my last full time job, hopped on a plane to following day and went to Marie Forleo’s flagship event Rich Happy and Hot Live – a three-day extravaganza with 500 mainly female attendees and some of the self development and entrepreneurial industry’s finest leaders. It was a brilliant way to enter my entrepreneurial life and my words for that year had been ‘elegant change’ and ‘valuable stories’. ‘Elegant change’ because I wanted to exit a job I had long-since grown out of and ‘valuable stories’ because I had no idea what was coming next, but I did know I would make mistakes, struggle, flail, fail, make and lose money and do embarrassing things. But it would all be valuable stories that I would be telling later down the line. Teachable reflections.
I got stuck in New York for an extra week thanks to Hurricane Sandy and with the generous help of a brilliant friend and make-up artist to the stars, (those people are crucial) started my foray into the world of small biz from his apartment looking down towards the Hudson River and imagining a Pinterest existence of fresh coffee and flowers next to MacBooks. It kind of is like that. About 2% of the time. Don’t fact check that. It was running across Central Park to meet with other stranded Tokyo friends, one an artist, who would tell me magical tales of the art and the artists in the Met. It was walking along the river watching people fix their boats and walkways that had been smashed in the storm. It was imagining and planning and thinking and decompressing from a job I had chosen to stay in, which was 20% what I was interested in and good at, and 80% soul-destroyingly dull. Luckily that job had, in the early years, pointed me very much in the direction I wanted to go in and with excellent support systems, a lot of study and coaching and a huge side of courage, I finally took the step to plan my exit with my manager and was able to elegantly slip out, jump on a plane and start to be more and more useful.
Now you may think this is one of those “Take the leap of faith and follow your dreams…” kind of stories, but there were a number of practical things I put into place. First I got my Permanent Residence Visa. I took advantage of a special offer that FEW had with one of the strategic partners to get help with my application. I was President of FEW at the time, so I had built my confidence of taking leadership of an entire organisation and had a brilliant professional support network through FEW. This is crucial. I was a regular attendee of the Small Biz Salon (an iteration of the WSC) long before I left my job, so I had mentorship from people already way ahead of me. I was in coaching programmes, all introduced through FEW connections, and watched videos, read books, invested in educating myself about entrepreneurial life. I used a small inheritance to pay of 2 years of investments so in the first two years of my business I didn’t have to worry about paying my portfolio, in those months where I could barely pay my health insurance and city tax because it was based on my previous salaried year (don’t worry, it is adjusted the next year), and I focussed on networking, developing business and following every lead. Not all work out.
I had the linkedin profiles of three business women whom I admired on my wall and ended up working with two of them (get in touch and I’ll tell you who they were). I invested in becoming a practitioner in certain tools and techniques and I asked for discounts, extra time to pay, payment plans and anything else I could to just start to support myself and those companies too. Taking a leap of faith requires lining up a lot of things to make the leap as easy and safe as possible. With this structure behind me, the practical and psychological were taken care of, then I had to take the leap and let the magic happen. You really do gotta have faith. It was one of the best things I have ever done.
Fast forward 5 years and I have a thriving small business with three arms. The first is private one-to-one coaching done mostly by Skype. I work with a really diverse clientele from people setting up their own small business to people who want a bit of help getting through a tough time or changing direction, getting helped for ADHD, planning from a different perspective, career discussions, relationships, self limiting beliefs, business decisions, corporate navigation. I have a toolbox of techniques and many years of experience that help provide the right support and ask the right questions to bring people to the right action and the right decisions. People have negotiated pay rises, far beyond what they dared ask for, elegantly withdrawn from partnerships and relationships, taken a more logical, less emotional approach to work and personal issues and taken risks they wouldn’t otherwise have taken, improved family relationships, gotten the help they need with medical issues and pushed through the hard stuff. Well considered risks. Often I help people recognise what they have actually achieved. Being realistic and taking stock takes of their lives. People are very hard on themselves and often under or over estimate their achievements or contribution, so helping people recognise that they are doing OK gives them a more realistic, truthful experience from which to plan and take action. Generally people take 4-session packages and renew as needed but once a year, in February, I open the doors on a 1-year programme of coaching aimed at people who want a serious commitment to themselves. I spoil my one-yearers. And all FEW members get discounts and special offers on my packages. FEW has been such a great support system over the ten years I have been a member, I want to give back. I also do public speaking, run workshops and retreats and partner with Find Your Element and other organisations that I love.
Then the corporate arm. Working mainly through training consultancies, I have executive coaching clients, run workshops and design long-term programmes, consult HR on inclusion initiatives and culture change programmes and run recruitment initiatives. I love working in the corporate world with its structures and hierarchies and politics and connections and complexity and it also makes me more useful to my private clients who may also have to navigate complexities and structures in their lives or work. I love my executive clients – they are smart and motivated and hungry for development. I still at tables and work through the messiest, knottiest problems, complexities and fears with Presidents, VPs, Directors and Managers. Coaching to see all angles, iterations, possibilities and perceptions. You build trust over the years and these relationships become really strong.
Finally and perhaps the most fun and most important, my CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) arm. I wanted CSR to be an inherent part of the business from the start – not a nice-to-have that gets stuck on later with a donation to charity. I highly recommend anyone does this. Here, my activity with FEW and other organisations happen. I run workshops, speak at events, provide discounts and offer sponsored coaching spaces to low income members. Anyone from single Mums, to newly graduated entry-levellers to students have been though this extremely low-cost coaching. One person benefitted so much that they started paying for the full price one-year programme! So proud of her. I always charge because I think even a small investment tells you of your worth. Finally I run a mega clothing swap along with Oakwood Midtown and H&M. This event has grown and grown since it started two years ago and at the last swap we hosted 90 swappers! We have raised ¥150,000 for Resilience, sent 375kg of clothes to H&M’s recycling partner for reuse and created a lovely community of women who four-times a year get together to find sartorial treats among other people’s left overs. “One person’s trash is another ones treasure”. The more clothes we can keep out of landfill the better and the people who attend these swaps are mindful consumers who love a good treasure hunt!
Of course I do all this by having my life totally sorted out. BWAHAHAHA. Nope I do the work because I need the work and in the immortal words of Byron Katie, who’s techniques I use in my practice, “Your work IS my work”. I learn so much from my clients and my mentors and my coaches and various practitioners and therapists. All my coaches are also on their own development journey. I wouldn’t hire someone who claims to “Have it all together”. Of course you want someone who has it together professionally but everyone bar no one is a work in progress.
Having a small business is sometimes super smooth and the business just finds its way to you – other times you have to market your butt off and create new propositions to give people access to your offerings. Giving people access to what you have is crucial, and having a good, clear idea of who you are and what you offer and how you are useful is essential. I set up my webpage and my writing so that people who are not a good match for my brand of coaching and my business will very quickly move off my site and find a better fit provider. Being generic or trying to please everyone is fatal to your brand and as time goes on, you can become more and more authentic but you need to work consistently so you don’t lose momentum or get forgotten or your ides become generic. It’s tremendous fun being a small biz owner. You can choose your tribe, the groups you hang out in and who you work with and for. You can change and evolve, innovate and take midweek excursions to the beach if you wish. You can pick your kids up from school and factor family into your business. You can outsource to people you want to work with, my assistant is amazing and so is my tax consultant. We are like-minded community builds who want to do good work in the world and help people have a better experience. Sometimes your need to retrain yourself (actually all the time) to give yourself permission to do scandalous things like take midweek rests, not work 9-9 or have a scandalous nap. Laura Marushima at Full Circle consulting is basically my adult (aka assistant/COO) and my reminder brain as well as helping with strategy and technical and decisions. She keeps the wheels of my business oiled and I could not have done a lot of the things I have without her. Nor the plans I have for the future. Yasuko Mori, the tax consultant, understands her client’s needs so very well that I would recommend her to anyone and everyone. She sends little gifts to say thank you or happy birthday, which makes me feel more generous. When you have your own business you really can create the community around you that you need. The FEW start-up club is a great example, I managed that for a year but these days I prefer intimate mastermind groups where one friend and I get together and talk business. And I like groups that are not in Japan so you get diverse perspectives. You’ll find your way, from lean-in circles to paid-for masterminds, it’s so much fun finding your tribe and loving them hard (thanks Danielle LaPorte for that gem of a concept). There’s so much freedom in being your own boss too. Planning each year is fun and setting financial goals is slightly terrifying – I thought I would aim for year-on-year growth and set lofty goals, but actually I decided to slow down on that in favour of lifestyle. The irony – I earned more this year by September than all of last year. Support systems are crucial so you don’t undervalue yourself. One of my coaches said, when I was planning my first workshop as Sarah Furuya Coaching 5 years ago “Whatever price of have in your head; double it”. Scandalous. Actually what I charged that time, I should have tripled, but we falter and do our best at first, until we take ownership of our agency, our offerings, our expertise and our experience.
My biggest takeaways from 5 years in business are to have fun, get paid-for help a soon as you can, invest in yourself, learn marketing, earn sales, be honest and truthful, be naughty and irreverent, get support systems that suit you, go easy on yourself, be kind to yourself, serve your people generously but do not try to people please anyone else. Be well mannered and truthful. Once you take action on something it will very often change. Learn how to manage your own habits. You are a human and therefore absolutely stark staring mad. You will embarrass yourself and recover. You will be terrified about losing your reputation and you will recover. You will try to please people, and probably waste a lot of energy and effort on that, but eventually settle into serving your people and being your bright self. You’ll wax and wane. Slash and burn. Ignore things that people say and do that take you off track or feel bad. Keep going. Reduce and devote. Devote to your service, your usefulness and your delight. Thrill in yourself. Be mean to yourself. Pretend you’re not as good as you are (Don’t do that), overreach. Piss people off. Be disliked. May even be cruel and mean without meaning to, or get defensive at your most vulnerable, insecure or confronted. But you’ll find your tribe if you consistently devote.
You’ll change direction and something that used to work for you won’t work anymore. You’ll change. Your natural cycles and rhythms will ebb and flow. You’ll inevitably be thrown into deep grief, sadness, fury, frustration and self-doubt. This is all part of the human condition and entirely physiologically required for our survival. Be kind to yourself. Know who is who in your support system.
You may decide to go back into a salaried job. There are tremendous advantages to this. It may be that is the best place from which you can serve. I know at least two senior clients who jumped out of the corporate world for a couple of years, only to jump back in again.
Small biz life is fun and frustrating. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, and cycles just as we do. I wouldn’t have it any other way now. Now, what is 2018 going to bring…..???
Coming soon – information about the 2018 round of February is the new January (FNJ 18), my one year, one-to-one coaching programme. Registration opens in January and spaces are strictly limited. email firstname.lastname@example.org to register interest and get priority.