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7 mistakes women make when they set up their own business – from someone who learned the hard way

Self employment is a difficult ball game, as career psychologist Salma Shah found out. Through experience, she reveals the seven mistakes women make when working for themselves

As more and more of us are tempted by the lure of working for ourselves, and with ‘plug-and-play’ technology allowing us to work wherever we need, the reality is you no longer need huge piles of cash to start a business. According to the Harvard Business Review the number of self-employed will rise to 23 million in 2017.

Self-employment has been an emotional rollercoaster ride of stress, self-doubt and sleepless nights

I was never lured by the corner cubicle and only flirted with the idea of leaning in for a fleeting moment. Once I’d made the leap to work for myself not for one second have I been tempted to go back to being an employee. I’m officially and happily unemployable. However, the reality of self-employment has been an emotional rollercoaster ride of stress, self-doubt and sleepless nights.

Working for myself has been the equivalent of being in therapy – in a good way. It’s forced me to look at and work on myself from every perceivable angle. By far the biggest lessons came from the mistakes and hiccups along the way.

Taking rejection personally

The reality is at the beginning you will get more ‘no’ and less ‘yes’. One that sticks out was a verbal ‘yes’ from a major TV channel to pilot one of my workshops. I remember leaving their offices feeling elated and texting or calling just about everyone I knew by the time I’d reached the tube station. Despite chasing up for several weeks it came to nothing. I was crushed for months, only to find out that the person who had said yes had resigned a few weeks later and had made me a promise they couldn’t deliver on.

Move on quickly

A ‘no’ can happen for all sorts of reasons. Today I just treat it as feedback and either tweak my offering or just move on very quickly.  If someone unsubscribes from my newsletter I think that’s good – it means they are not the right audience for me but it also means that the other 99 per cent who don’t unsubscribe are interested and vested in hearing from me.


According to Nicola Mendelsohn Facebook’s VP for Europe ‘Done is better than perfect’. I couldn’t agree more. The sweeping blitz of social media is a huge opportunity to build your business. The biggest challenge I’ve had is waiting to post and share things until everything looked perfect. The perfect Tweet, Instagram picture, blog, Snapchat, Facebook etc. This for a long time translated into nothing happening at all.

Done is better than perfect

Taking the plunge has meant saying no to all-round perfection and instead being very selective and focusing. With social media I just focus on two or three channels and have a system. On Facebook, rather than create a fresh new perfect post each time, I’ve created a process. I use the same graphics and headings every week such as Monday Motivation, Soulful Sunday, Shout Out Friday and vary the content each time.

But most crucially for me, perfection isn’t just about the perfect image but the values and message behind what I am expressing with my audience. To quote Paul Klee ‘One eye sees, the other feels’.

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It is so easy to feel things are moving too slowly because they always do.  I have a love hate relationship with my impatient side. My love for being impatient means that I make things happen quickly and get on with it. The down side is when things happen too slowly, which they always do, the anxiety and stress kicks in. Especially when you look around and have that FOMO (fear on missing out) feeling too. Who knows how long someone has been working away to get to there?  And it’s a complete waste of energy to compare yourself to others anyway. One way to keep this in check is to compare where you were a year ago, six months ago and three months ago and then celebrate your progress and the small wins.

Feeling isolated and not sharing

Working for yourself can soon become a lonely experience. I know to my detriment I can so easily become absorbed with working on my business that I start refusing all invitations, going to the gym and even meeting friends. Not great as I’m a bit extrovert (ish) and then end up feeling alone and disconnected.

My saviour has been having a ‘tribe’ or groups of friends that I trust and feel connected with that serves more than one purpose. This has really worked for me and has been life changing.  It’s where I learn about a business area that’s new to me, pick up tips and tools to grow my business and meet like-minded people. Janet Murray’s Soulful PR community on Facebook fits all of these. I’ve also attended their live events too. The community is a great place to dip in with banter, learn from each other, share our wins and I’ve made a lifelong friend too.

As I have little time to network I’ve initially focused on building relationships online before meeting up. Another online community to support others who are in the same boat is ‘The Next Chapter Work and Life Hub’.

MORE: 7 common life mistakes and how to avoid them

Not self-promoting enough

Rather than wait for those perfect moments you have to create them by just doing it

It’s taken years for me to put my name in front of my business. Waiting for the right time to do it; until the book is written, the perfect website, more testimonials, landing the celebrity endorsement? A huge mistake to not have done this years ago.

Rather than wait for those perfect moments you have to create them by just doing it. It will never be a perfect time to pitch an idea, speak at an event or make a high profile connection with a thought leader. Instead, prioritise what you stand for, who your audience is and your ultimate visibility goal. Working on building an authentic personal brand is an ongoing process. Your personal brand isn’t just what people see but how you make them feel. It’s about your core values. To learn more take the 5 day Personal brand challenge.

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Trying to do everything yourself and getting overwhelmed

So graphic design isn’t my core competency.  Having spent too many painful weeks working into the early hours trying to figure out Picmonkey and Canva I just gave up. It was a complete waste of time, energy and effort. Instead I should have outsourced from the onset. There are great websites for hiring cheap talent such as Fiverr or People Per Hour. My real preference is always to go back to my community or network and ask if someone knows someone. For more tips read Tiffany Dufus’ Drop the Ball: Expect Less from Yourself, Get More from Him, and Flourish at Work & Life. It’s all about expecting less from yourself and more from others.

Not making time for self-care

Next time you have a moment, don’t fill it with tasks. Instead, just breathe.

Your body will start to tell you if you are over doing it. Don’t wait for that to happen. At the beginning of 2015, I came down with a nasty bout of tonsillitis three times in a row. It wasn’t life threatening, but a wake up call as I need my voice to do my job. Leaving me drained, washed out and exhausted. The way I was going I knew it could have been a lot worse. I’m a full-time working mum, working in and on my business seven days a week.

Three simple tweaks changed my life: regular green smoothies – I’m now addicted. My Fitbit watch made me more accountable to building in a run or just walking more in between meetings. And finally, Headspace, a digital meditation app for meditation, even if it’s just ten minutes a day.

Most importantly the next time you have a moment, don’t fill it with tasks. Instead, just breathe.

Got any tips for like-minded business women? Tweet us at @HealthistaTV and we will make your voice heard!


Salma ShahSalma Shah, 7 mistakes women make when working for themselves (from someone who learned the hard way), by is a career psychologist working with women who want to build their personal brand as they step up or step out.

Take her five day Personal Brand challenge and join The Next Chapter Work and Life Hub


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