Esi Hardy is the founder and Managing Director of Celebrating Disability who offer disability equality and inclusion training and consultancy for your business. She has was a participant of the Inspiring Enterprise Project. Here she gives her top lessons in developing business confidence:
When developing my confidence as a new business owner, what I found most helpful was the experience that came with time. As a disabled business owner, there can be added barriers to navigate; sometimes due to perceptions and attitude and other times due to the physical environment (and often, at the same time). These added barriers, along with being a new business owner have at times made it difficult to remain positive, focused and confident. If we’re not confident about our businesses, nobody else will be. So, below I have written 8 lessons picked up along the way that have helped my confidence as a business owner:
- Have a plan
The thing about a business plan is that it doesn’t need to be a specific template. It can be whatever you need it to be.
For me, I have my external business plan that I would give to potential funders, any one on the outside that needed to see it. It is a very professional looking business plan with headings, chapters, statistics, SWOT and everything else you would expect to see if you wanted to impress somebody. My internal business plan is very different. This is the one I keep to myself and is essentially a table that acts as a visual reminder of why I am doing what I’m doing. When I read an article or listen to a talk that gets me angry or passionate, I write it down on my business plan. This then fires me up on the days where I am not feeling motivated.
- Be flexible
As a new business owner, I would say the best part of the last 2 years has been about getting to understand my business and my clients. I have listened to the services clients want and sometimes this has not married up with the services I have wanted to deliver. This is not a suggestion to bin your own ideas or to take on board everyone else’s but purely to have an open mind about how your services can be adapted to work with your client’s needs.
- Watch out for unsolicited advice
I don’t know if this is a disabled thing or just a thing but I will say that the first year and a half of running Celebrating Disability, everybody wanted to share their advice. This could be helpful at times, but it was happening more often than not and became confusing, disheartening and nerve wracking. It wouldn’t just happen at appropriate times, it would happen when I introduced myself and name of my business. People felt it okay to jump in with their opinion having no idea of what I did and the experience and expertise that I held. Depending on the advice given by somebody else, it can be really counter-productive. A stranger you met once at a business meeting, has no right to give you uninvited advice on something that you are the expert in.
These days, I tend to throw it back and offer advice on how they could run their business. (their facial expressions are quite funny when I tell them how they should be running their financial service!)
The important thing is, whether you decide to take somebody’s advice or not, always understand that you are the expert and any advice you take is because you understand that it will work for you and your business.
- Know your own mind
There are oodles of free seminars you can attend (I have attended most) giving you plenty of advice on how to run your business. There is nothing wrong with these but watch how many you go to. After you have been to your 7th digital marketing seminar and received 7 different pieces of advice on how to make your Facebook Business Page work for you, you have to make a decision as to how to proceed.
My advice would be: if you attend any, test drive the advice you have been given to see if it works for you before attending more. Otherwise, you will have been to 7 without moving forwards with your Facebook page.
- Be prepared to prove yourself
I am absolutely certain that proving your worth is relevant to every new business owner regardless of disability. However, there is an extra hurdle to cross when you are a disabled business owner. Thanks to perceptions, stereotyping and attitudes, non-disabled people (and even at times disabled people themselves) do not think that we’re capable of spelling our names let alone running a business. I am not saying it is right, it certainly is not but make sure that people know you for your expertise not for your disability.
- Always have questions prepared for the end of a seminar
- Don’t be afraid to show your expertise in the room and make sure people around you hear about them
- Own those extra support needs
No matter what your disability, the majority of disabled people have access requirements. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Without your specific experiences, you probably wouldn’t be running a business, regardless of whether your business is aimed at disability or not.
As a disabled person, you cannot share your expertise as a business owner unless you have the support in place in order to do so. So whether you need a ramp to enter a building, the PowerPoint slides printed in large print, or even a chair at the back of the room in order to take regular breaks when you need to, never feel as though you cannot ask and don’t let people make you feel as though you should apologise.
- Make a plan for networking… Fast
The stereotypes that accompany disabled people create barriers to engagement because at times, people do not feel that we will be able to engage fully in the conversation. This can be quite a headache at networking events.
Obviously, we’re all there to engage with new people and to tell them about our products and services but if we are prevented from engaging, this is not possible.
- Approach people and make sure that you make the first move. Half the time, when I start engaging with people and telling them what I do, they quickly realise that I can hold a conversation and become engaged in what I’m saying.
- Scope out the room. Quite often at networking events, the room is overcrowded. Your location is very important. Ignore the bar, the coffee and the buffet and make sure you are in a place where you can maximise the amount of conversations you have as well as your visibility.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew
We all have to accept limitations. What we lack in one area, we can make up for in expertise and experience. In my first few years I worked flat-out but it paid off because now, I can relax a little bit knowing that I have a reputation and my reputation is working for me and bringing in leads.
1 or 2 tips to ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed:
- Know your limitations. There’s no point in working to the bone if it’s going to cancel you out for the next week
- Understand where you get business from. Concentrate there. Don’t waste any effort in the places that don’t bring return
- Outsource where possible. If somebody else can do it, let them
You can learn more about Celebrating Disability here