How I took the leap from corporate top to starting my own business?

by Lyndsey Simpson

Eight years into building the perfect corporate career, Lyndsey Simpson decided to start her own business. If you want to know what the big leap is really like, you should read her story…

In 2007, I was on the fast track for one of the UK’s largest banks and all was going swimmingly. I had experienced no glass ceiling, been promoted on ability rather than age, had worked around the world and was rewarded handsomely for my efforts. Eight years into building the perfect corporate career, I decided to leave and change my business identity from “top female talent” to “female entrepreneur”.

Despite what is always harped on when the words “women and business” are mentioned, I didn’t take the leap to start a family. Was it to create a work/life balance? Ha! Anyone who has ever run their own business will know – no chance! So why?

Well, I had come from a very fixed vision in my early twenties of, “I want to be the CEO of this company.” Anything was possible, I was given a long leash to grow, make mistakes and implement my ideas and revel in their success. However, as I became more and more senior, the leash became shorter and shorter. I could no longer make decisions based on personal judgement, but needed to deal with sign-off committees and PowerPoint decks. Ideas couldn’t just be generated and implemented, as their impact was more far reaching and got bogged down in process. And mistakes… well, the ledge gets too narrow as you progress through a large corporate to make mistakes. So, I came to the conclusion in my late twenties that I still wanted to be a CEO… the difference was that I wanted to lead a company that I owned and had control over.

Along with the two greatest business partners (also both women) that you could ever wish for, I jumped from one of the largest corporates in the world to the helm of an SME business. My business partners had made equally large leaps before me and founded the business three years earlier. We had a shared vision: to become entrepreneurs who would become known for building a fantastic, profitable, fun, fast-growth company that took all the best bits from everywhere we had ever worked but none of the bits that frustrated us and clipped our wings. We also wanted to be proud. Proud of the business we had created, proud of the service we provided to our customers, proud of the people who came on the journey with us as employees and, most importantly, proud of ourselves and what we had achieved.

So, six years on from making the leap (five of which have been trading through the worst period of economic recession in living memory) I can say my vision is reality and I continue to love the challenge, excitement, freedom and pride that comes with running your own successful business.

Were there obstacles along the way? Absolutely. Some were mere pebbles in the path; such as that day in my first month as an entrepreneur when my laptop broke and out of habit I rang the IT department of the company I used to work for. Then there were surprising bumps in the road that came from a realisation of how differently people treat you when you don’t have the corporate job or powerful brand next to your name. This was one of the harder ones to come to terms with. Ex-colleagues who had worked with me for years suddenly wouldn’t return a call, fearing that I would try to “sell” them something from my new enterprise, or ask them a favour to open a door. But I developed a thicker skin. You learn how disposable you are when you are no longer of use to some people.

On the more positive side, you also learn who the true friends and associates are; who did stay in touch and supported me and the business every step of the way. In return, I have repaid that loyalty in spades.

There were course more significant mountains to navigate over and around, such as the recession that hit our business rudely unannounced and with force in September 2008. Back then, our business was 100 per cent recruitment services with significant exposure to financial services. The crisis had a profound and immediate impact.

However, this “mountain” actually resulted in the career accomplishment that I am most proud of. Within six weeks we had sized up the impact, had a plan to diversify and invested in an alternative growth strategy that saw us launching a new business to market on 1st January 2009, which signed up a Fortune 500 customer within five days of launch. This then set the path to us investing in an organic growth strategy whereby we launch a new business every 18 months. Our ability to grow at an average of 40 per cent p.a through this recession and emerge a fully diversified, stronger and fitter business than when we went in to it, is the reason I know I am right to be calling the shots, trusting my instincts and running my own business as an entrepreneur.

If you want to take the leap to entrepreneurialism yourself, here are a few things to consider.

Make sure you are going towards something you really want to do and not simply moving away from something you don’t enjoy.

Can you accept that traditional corporate structure does not apply? You will not be paid on a set day (as you will more than likely be taking dividends), you will not work set-hours, you can go to the gym whenever you feel like it without ducking and diving, your personal and professional lives will merge beyond recognition…

You will not having anyone setting you deadlines, or pushing you so you have to do this for yourself. Equally, you will not have anyone recognising your efforts, or patting you on the back – again, you will have to do this for yourself.

Really understand why you want to take the leap and be honest to yourself and others you go into business with or are close to. If the reason is to pursue something you are deeply passionate about, then great – but nine times out of ten, it isn’t this deep and meaningful, and that is just as fine too. Your reason could be to work like a maniac, become a millionaire and retire before you are 40, or to provide for your family so that they have a better start in life than you had. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, just be honest with yourself as it will make decision making so much easier when you know what the end game is.

And if you have made the decision to do it…

If you are going into business with other people, do your digging and then make it official. By digging, I mean spend time with them, proper time, late at night, over a bottle of wine debating topics, drivers, passions.

Listen to your gut instinct: you are likely to spend more time with your business partners than you are your husband or wife, so make sure you like them, respect their views, understand their motivations for doing things, and that they align with yours. When you’re happy and then diving in together, then make it official. Draw up a shareholders agreement and think of every possible awful eventuality that could disrupt your business and make provision for it. If it was anything like our session, there was a lot of laughter, quite a few tears but a sense of relief that we could deal with the unexpected and got all the difficult conversations out the way whilst we were all clear-headed and able to make them

Finally, make sure, every day, without fail, you schedule some time to laugh and have fun. Even if everything that day is going in the wrong direction, stop for two minutes to look at funny animal clips on YouTube or ask the team to share their best joke and remember your time is now your own! You’re not laughing whilst you should be serious and working on someone else’s payroll, this is your business, your culture and a little chuckle (or as I prefer, a full-on belly laugh) always reminds you why you are no longer on the corporate treadmill.

So, am I any less ambitious that my early twenties in the bank? Not a jot. In fact, I now not only feel that anything is possible, but know that it really is and I have the power to make it reality.


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