Martine's Startup Story: Strategic Relationships and Networks Ltd
Before launching my own business I was a Director within a Big 4 accountancy firm working ridiculous hours. In all honesty, I felt utterly disillusioned. I loved what I did but the value I was hired to bring to the firm was diminishing – I was being pulled in so many directions, fire-fighting, navigating internal politics and it wasn’t enjoyable any more.
So in November 2017, I launched my own company: Strategic Relationships and Networks Ltd. It’s an independent consultancy business which supports organisations create mutually-beneficial communities with their ex-employees.
I started Strategic Relationships because I believe personal/professional relationships and networks are vital support systems for each and every one of us. These networks create the opportunity for organisations to continue to support individuals in their future professional/personal and career development and offer a return on investment to the organisation from brand reputation, recruitment and (potentially) revenue generation.
But the shift from full-time Big 4 employee to solo entrepreneurship wasn’t straightforward. I had spent 16 years climbing the ladder to get to my ‘dream job’ and a senior role within professional services. However, this was a ‘reality’ or ‘story’ I had created which was not supportive of branching out and trying something new. I felt scared; I felt I might let other people down, and I was genuinely worried that I might not make ends meet.
I had an idea around consulting with organisations on optimising their alumni network, but I had no idea how to start turning that idea into a functioning brand and business which I could depend on as my sole source of income. I had already tendered my resignation and was working through my notice period when a friend shared Escape’s Career Change Accelerator course details with me. I looked into it but spotted the Startup Accelerator instead and I knew straight away that I had to do it.
Without a doubt, The Accelerator is THE best thing I have done – it was an investment in myself. I found the network amazingly supportive; the structure of the course, the tools, the facilitators/coaches – all excellent in my opinion. I felt like I could conquer the world (even if it’s only in a small way)!
During the 10-weeks with Escape, I was able to hone my idea, carry out customer development, build my brand, get online and actually had revenue coming in by the time we had our demo day. Since then, I’ve been running my business full-time and I’m always looking for opportunities to engage my target audience and/or share knowledge. I’m now partnered with a tech business, I am speaking at an event in Germany in September and I am currently collaborating with two individuals I have met through my networking activities to write a research paper (or series of research papers).
I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself and also business in general. The biggest challenge being learning to say no. There are times when you are approached for a particular project and on the one hand you want to get involved because it will be good for your brand/reputation but on the other hand it doesn’t fit with where you are or your good idea criteria. Remember to check-in with yourself and remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing – if an opportunity arises that doesn’t fit, it’s absolutely ok to say no.
Secondly, I found a great accountant to work with – with finances being one of the biggest pain points for any founder, this has been extremely helpful!
Nowadays my main day-to-day priority is to have a good work/life balance. I try and keep to a 3.5 day week with clients which then provides me with the time to learn, develop, read, and have fun. The beauty is that if I want to work from 6am-10am and have the rest of the day to myself, I can!
I have been going for 9 months so far – and so far, so good. Making the leap into what felt like the unknown and starting up on my own is quite honestly the best thing I have done! I’m super excited about what the future might hold.
To anyone thinking about starting your own thing – surround yourself with people you can learn from and ask for help/advice when you need it and ultimately, feel the fear and do it anyway.
I’m speaking at the World Talent Forum in Munich on 27th September. Any startups looking to engage HR leaders – this is an event worth considering attending. I have a promo code which provides any participants with an EUR200 discount.