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How The Worst Business Decision I Ever Made Led To My Success

When I was in my 20s I was VERY naïve about business. 

My husband and I had an idea for a web based business and (even though I literally had no clue about anything) I thought it sounded ideal.

It combined my passion for wildlife and nature with allowing me to work from home. This suited my lifestyle as a mum to a very active toddler. Or so I thought.

The plan was to create a website about wildlife and nature in the UK including an interactive map listing all nature reserves and wild sites throughout the UK PLUS related events. It would be searchable by county, postcode, town and radius. It was a huge undertaking as the map (at that time) needed to be custom built.

Before we go any further just remember that this is back in the day. Sites weren’t the nice works of art we see now. Responsive, mobile friendly sites were still very rare.

Andrew already had the skills required to build the site, but he was working 40 hours a week and we needed to protect family time.

I had no relevant skills what-so-ever. I had a degree in archaeology and had, up to that point, been working in admin.

Even though money was very, very tight we decided that we would outsource the web build and went with a company on the  recommendation of a friend.

The quote was more than we were expecting but we were so confident that we would make money that we put most of it on a credit card.

I’m cringing at writing this as now, with a lot of experience under my belt, it’s so blindingly obvious that it was a disaster waiting to happen.

I’d done very little useful research or written a detailed business plan – I had no idea even how! The arrangements with the web company were made in face to face meetings with very little written evidence of what had been agreed.

As you’ve probably already worked out by now it turned into a soul crushing nightmare that just kept getting worse.

The quote received bore no resemblance to the actual final bill. The site was so buggy that it wasn’t fit for purpose and we were charged for every amendment needed in order to get it working.

Eventually, we had a working site and I could start figuring out how to do content management, write articles and collect all the information for the map.

I was quickly hit by the enormous task that lay ahead.

Writing articles took much longer than expected as each one needed thorough research. I’d spent so long checking the website for errors and dealing with the web company that I hadn’t had time to pre-write any.

I’d assumed that nationwide organisations and charities would be able to send me all their site addresses on a spreadsheet and they’d have all the event data held in one place, so adding information to the searchable map would be a simple case of importing the data. 

I was very wrong.

I had to manually enter thousands of sites and there was no way I could keep on top of the ever changing and increasing number of events.

All this whilst dealing with a toddler that didn’t want to sleep and wanted attention every minute of the day.

I was absolutely at breaking point. To cap it all off we were flat broke, struggling to pay the bills and I felt like an absolute failure.

By this time Jack was about to start primary school and I dreaded the thought that I’d have to find a full time job and miss out on the school pickups, the assemblies and the plays.

Then things turned around…

Even though it had been the biggest disaster of a business idea known to mankind I had learned new skills.

I could confidently enter text and images into websites. I could resize images for the web. I had mastered basic photoshop skills. I could now write an article in less than a couple of hours. I’d had to do extensive end-user testing for the website and this skill could be used on any website.

I mentioned I had my own website to someone and they asked me if I’d be interested in a content management job with their company.

Regardless of the terms and conditions I would have taken the job as I desperately needed the money.

I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I could work from home and the hours were flexible. Plus the money was pretty good.

It was a small team and so I learned other skills quickly and advanced from content management to end-user testing. In my own time I even taught myself how to build websites so that it complemented other areas of my work.

I started speaking to a graphic designer who’d just started working for herself. We got on well and as I wanted to grow my experience I offered to build her a website for free in return for some print work. (I no longer barter my work but in the beginning it was a good way to build a portfolio)

Over coffee I told her about my terrible experience with the company that built our website. She said she knew loads of people who’d had similar experiences with different companies.

I mused that perhaps I should set up a company so I could offer an ethical alternative to all the rip-off web designers out there.

Graphic design and building websites go hand in hand. A couple of months later and we were sharing an office.

She wasn’t wrong about the number of people who’d had similar experiences to me.

No sooner had I built one site than they’d recommended my services to other people. I never had to advertise.

All my business came through word of mouth and my client retention rate was, and still is, exceptionally high.

So, without making that terrible business decision I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.

Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve made the money back on the website disaster numerous times over.

It’s allowed me to pay for holidays, create a smallholding, pay for renovation work and to allow us to have a fun, stress free life. It also means that Andrew has been able to half his working hours.

More importantly I was able to work school hours (and only very occasionally during school holidays) throughout Jack’s time at primary school. I did the school runs, I attended assemblies, I never missed a school play.

Try to find a positive take on any business or work disaster.
You learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. 

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