Hey guys, I’ve had a few messages from you, asking for a bit of a backstory on how I got into business. So I thought I’d share my start-up story with you all. This is actually the talk I did at The Festival Of Innovation, so at the bottom there, it finishes with what entrepreneurship means to me. Hopefully it will inspire you in some way, or make you think about what you could do in your life when it comes to business.
Anyway, pop your feet up, here’s a very shortened version of my life story so far when it comes to business and entrepreneurship… enjoy!
My Early Influences…
Growing up I was massively lacking in confidence. I was incredibly shy and wasn’t always sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I KNEW I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and one day be my own boss.
My Dad has always been a huge role-model to me, setting up his own company from scratch when we were just kids. He started from absolutely NOTHING, had no help or support at all (aside from my wonderful Mum’s of course) but worked to the absolute bone to provide a brighter future for his family. He took a huge risk for us all, and it paid off, because it now stands as a large, highly successful, multi-million pound business. I learn a lot from my Dad and lap up all the knowledge I can!
My older brother is also in business. He has created and developed a marketing software company, again from the ground up. He literally did everything: from the concept to design and implementation. He even coded it all himself to begin with which – trust me – is not easy and he self-taught himself that! I’m pretty sure he might actually be PART-GENIUS, because what he’s developed is unreal. But now- a few years on, at just 26, he has this incredible London start-up, with staff working for him all over the world and multi-millions invested into it… Again all of this is self-made.
As Stearn’s, we don’t take any hand-outs and certainly work damn hard for our success!
Although I’ve carved my own path, I’ve kind of taken a different route, because for me, it’s all about creating the lifestyle… I don’t ever want to be clock-watching or waiting for the weekend. Instead, I want to live every day, driven by my passion, with the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere in the world, on the things that really matter to me. Financial success is important, because it gives you options in life, so that is a huge drive. But the most important thing is doing work that’s rewarding, and which doesn’t actually feel like work at all… as cliched as it sounds.
I’m so proud of how far I’ve come, and actually is a relatively short space of time. I can truly say I’m in a position that I would have once only have dreamt of. So how did I do it?
Where It All Started…
Well, I guess my entrepreneurial journey kind of began at 15. I was studying dance and really really enjoyed it. It was a way of expressing myself without needing words. My friend also had a passion for dance and one day we had an idea…
What if we took this thing we enjoyed, and used it to be able to do more of it, whilst earning some extra money?
“Why don’t we start dance lessons in local schools?”
Great idea we thought! So we created some little posters, took them to our previous primary schools and pitched them to our old head-teachers. We were charging just a couple of pounds per child, per lesson (far cheaper than external companies would charge) and offering something fun & different for kids to be able to do after-school. We won the pitch and our lessons soon started!
Because of the low-cost, we managed to round up a good group of students and I think we probably enjoyed it as much as they did! Alongside our paper-rounds and weekend jobs, we felt like we were ROLLING IT IN! We took this to a couple of different primary schools before then thinking about scaling it up…
“So what if we were to create a more premium service? Offering one-to-one dance tuition on weekends, charging a higher price for the same amount of time? How about that then?!”
So we created these leaflets again, handed them out to those we already taught, stuck them around schools and with a bit of luck- we started to get some business! It was mostly from parents and grandparents, wanting to keep their kids busy for an extra couple of hours on the weekends, particularly through winter when they had so much energy to burn! But it was amazing for us. And taught us some great lessons in business and growth.
Heading to college, I then made the decision to study business. To completely immerse myself in it in fact. It was a diploma qualification which made it all coursework based. But this for me, created opportunities! I worked and worked and worked. At an insane rate. Every-time I got an assignment- BAMN, straight back, submitted. Another one? BAMN. Back again. And over and over and over.
My tutors actually struggled to keep up with my work-rate and I did what was literally unheard of; completing my entire course in a matter of months, gaining the highest possible Ucas points both years and leaving months ahead of everyone else. I took on some extra qualifications alongside this, but also used this time to gain real-life experience… earning money through part-time jobs but also getting work experience at different companies (one which featured in Dragon’s Den – so very innovative!) This in turn led to new job opportunities… In fact, I’d soon secured a great full-time job at a new start-up company before I’d officially even left college.
I wasn’t the most qualified of applicants and still had a lack of experience but I got the job because they could see my work ethic, attitude and pure determination to succeed!
When I first started working there, the role was in a basic admin position, but I didn’t want to do just that. I pushed far beyond what was expected of me, with the mission of learning and growing as much as I possibly could. Within a matter of months I got promoted, taking on social media, digital marketing and even event management. It was amazing. I was working with great people. There was no doubt that I was really developing as a person, but the problem was,
I was getting up at the same time every morning, driving the same route to work, getting stuck in the same traffic, with everyone else doing exactly the same thing as me!
I reached a point where I just thought…
Is this it? Is this what I’ve been working so hard for?
I still had a passion for business, but I believed I was surely too young to get into that yet… Only I knew that I needed some sort of change.
I wasn’t quite on the path that I wanted to be and I knew the one that I was currently on (as good as it was for my age), wasn’t right for me. So I took the decision to leave my secure job at the start-up company (just nine months later) and headed out into the big wide world on my own! To begin with, I just went off traveling…
“It will clear my mind”, I thought. “Give me a sense of direction. A clarity around what to do next…”
So I surfed the internet, packed a backpack and flew to the other side of the world, spending a month in Australia. Yep, I couldn’t have gotten much further away! And at just 18, having never traveled anywhere on my own prior to that, it was a big shock to the system. However, it turned out to be the best possible thing I could have done, because it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow.
I was standing on my own two feet, mixing with new people I’d never met before, trying different things and really coming out of my shell like never before. It gave me the confidence to believe in myself and to push for what I wanted to do- which had always been about somehow helping other people in whatever areas I work. I wanted to earn a living doing good in the world! So, upon my return I got straight to it…
My First Proper Business Venture…
I decided I wanted to work in events, specialising in supporting charities. I’d had a little experience in my previous role and I topped up my knowledge with an accredited online events and marketing diploma qualification, so I felt fully prepared and ready to jump straight in.
I came up with this concept: a way in which I would work with charities, raising important funds, but at no cost to them, with no risk at all. Starting locally first, I approached a number of charities and non-profits and I literally said…
Look, I may not have all the experience, I may not have all the credentials but I have this BURNING PASSION inside me and I promise you, if you give me the opportunity, I will put everything I’ve got into raising as much money for your charity as I possibly can- all with no risk to you. This isn’t going to cost you anything. It’s not going to take any of your time. This is all on me. If I fail, all it will lose is my time, and okay- maybe a touch of my pride… But I can deal with that!
I remember the words like they were spoken just yesterday. And I guess well, how could you say no to that really? I made a promise and I was going to sure as hell make sure I kept it, which ended up in me raising thousands of pounds for both local and then more national charities.
The more events I did, the more known I become and the more enquiries that started to come through- not just from charities, but also from businesses. So actually one of the last business events I did was with a guy from America, who come to the UK solely for the events I had organised for him. It was a huge achievement and shows just how much you can do if you really commit to something and take those scary first steps!
A Change In Direction…
Through working in events, I also started doing more on social media. I didn’t just want to host an event and hope it would turn out okay. Me being me, I went above and beyond to populate it – to get as many people there as possible. After all, with charity events – the more people there, the more money would be raised, so I had this huge drive behind me with that. Yes, it took a lot of my time and I dread to think the hourly rate it was actually working out that I was working on. But I didn’t care. It was the results that mattered to me the most.
For this reason, I immersed myself in the online world. What worked, what didn’t – it was a lot of trial and error… but it was exciting! I eventually started developing all these techniques for conversion, and that’s when the penny suddenly started to drop. I suddenly thought:
Hold on a minute. What if I was to turn this into a business? To specialise in social media for sales (which is essentially what I’m doing right now) and offer a solution that so many businesses need? This would be an ONLINE business, which in turn open up so many more options for me. It wouldn’t have to be so dependent on me being in certain places at certain times and would actually mean I could work from anywhere in the world…
… Because I still loved traveling. That was a huge part of me and what had begun this journey in the first place. I was also very much driven by lifestyle and strived for creating freedom and flexibility.
You see, although I had loved helping so many charities, I knew that if I was being honest- it was not really sustainable. I wasn’t earning as much as I knew I could, and without financial security, I couldn’t help or reach as many people as I really wanted to. I didn’t want to struggle to survive. I wanted to thrive so that I could then freely invest my own money in important causes, or take time out to do fundraising just for fun. I also wanted to have an impact on people’s lives personally. And to do that- I had to be successful in business and have the options which financial success gives you.
So again, I took the leap and made the change; which was the start of my main business now, Blue Monkey Social Media.
My Second Business (The ‘Big’ One)…
Now to begin with, I’m not going to lie- it was like an uphill battle. As a young entrepreneur (not yet even twenty years old!) I found that I had to work a lot harder to earn the credibility and respect; to be taken seriously and be able to compete with bigger businesses than had been running for far longer.
I also found you have to have a thick skin and be able to stand your ground, because otherwise people will try to walk all over you… Foolishly mistaking you as just ‘young and naive.’ (Sorry, but that’s just not me!)
I think it’s fair to say, I had to do a lot of ground-work before I could even look at growth. By this point, I’d also moved out of my family home, had rent to pay, bills always coming out, and some months it was a case of literally just scraping by. I was earning just hundreds, not even into the thousands on some months and I felt like a massive failure. Such a huge amount of pressure, and I had so many people say to me,
Come on Ell, you’ve done well. But why don’t you get a real job now?
But it wasn’t about a job. It was about building a future. Making a success of something that I believed in so much, and that I KNEW would help me reach those long-term goals of being able to do things that positively impacted others. I couldn’t give up. Quitting wasn’t even an option.
So I worked and worked and worked. I found problems and worked on them, I created strategies and implemented them. I tried so many different campaigns and offers and constantly made changes until finally things started to pay off. I’d gradually built a credible company and created effective online sales strategies that would bring not only me in new business, month in, month out – but also my clients. Which meant they also stayed and recommended me.
Where It’s At Today…
Today Blue Monkey works with entrepreneurs and businesses both here in the UK and internationally. With a strong team to implement new plans and core tasks, it enables me to focus on the things I’m most passionate about – the strategy planning, the campaign innovation, the relationship-building with clients.
Any new enquiries that come through, I will always manage. I love that interaction with people; finding out about their business, what they want to achieve and then personally creating strategies and plans that will get them to where they want to be. It’s so rewarding, and exciting too- as every single business is different, which means work never gets boring!
Once I’ve done all of this, the rest of the day-to-day workload is taken care of by my team, which frees up a hell of a lot of time for me. I’ve really made the most of this…
So in the last couple of years I’ve written heaps of teenage self-help resources, done talks in schools, I was a school business mentor for a year, I’ve created mental health & trauma campaigns and have just generally gotten involved in as many different things as I possibly can – with the things that are close to my heart. I want to make a difference and with the business I have now: I really can.
Aside from this, I’ve also made the most of my location-independent lifestyle, taking my ‘desk’ with me all over the world. To date I have traveled to 39 different countries, across 5 different continents. And each new place gives me a fresh burst of inspiration!
So How Did This Blog Come About?
Well, I guess it’s my latest side venture away from my social media marketing company. You can read why the creation of Forgetting Fairytales happened on the about page here. But it’s all tied in with my mission.
See, the work I used to do in schools and colleges was very much driven by me not wanting other young girls to go through the same thing I did. I’ve not had the best track record when it comes to love (although I know I could have had a hell of a lot worse and I’m grateful for the joy that people have brought to my life), but my first experience with love was completely ruined by trauma and abuse. It could have made me cold, heartless, my views completely tainted, not to mention knocking me off the rails… which I guess for a short while it did.
I suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, spent a good few months just crying myself to sleep every night, I constantly had these terrible nightmares where I’d wake up screaming, I would binge drink like crazy and do stupid stuff just to try to make the pain go away. When it didn’t – I decided I couldn’t throw my life away because of it. In fact, I was determined to not let it have that much power over me. So I blocked it out, pushed it away every time it dared to try to come back into my head (with mixed success) but my new outlet became working. I worked excessively, but hey – it got me some pretty good results, like I’ve spoken about above.
Six years later, I then finally embarked on an intensive trauma therapy programme, to allow myself to truly heal and let go of the past. It’s been a long journey. But I finally feel like I’ve made it out the other side now.
Because of this, I care a lot about people, and I have very strong views when it comes to love and relationships, which is why this blog means so much to me. I want everyone to experience the love that they deserve in their life and I look forward to growing this site further, alongside my main company, to have a positive impact on more people.
Let’s Round It Up
I could talk for hours about the things I’ve done, how it came about, the lessons I’ve learnt and my vision from here. It’s my passion, my purpose and my drive. Entrepreneurship to me is so much more than just a career path. It’s this thing within you, that makes you feel alive and just completely drives everything that you do.
Entrepreneurship has not only changed my life, but also helped to shape me into me. Which is why I know, if you have a similar drive inside you, it can do the same for you too.
Today we have so many incredible opportunities. We can do and become everything we want and more. I think it’s just a case of whether you’ll take those brave first steps to achieving your dreams, and are willing to never give up – no matter how unattainable those goals may feel at times.
Life’s a journey and your path may change multiple times the more you do and try. But that’s all part of it. It’s what pushes you to where you’re ultimately meant to be. So start now… Give something a try, don’t care about failing, just care about learning, growing and developing. Push to fill your potential and see where life takes you.
I have just one warning for you though – once you take that leap and you start a project that fills your soul with passion, it kind of becomes addictive and you’ll soon find the whole world at your feet!
Lots of love,
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