Seven years and seven lessons I've learnt at The Oxfordshire Project
Today I saw on LinkedIn that it is 7 years since I created The Oxfordshire Project. 7 years ago, I had no idea the impact it would have on me and ALL aspects of my life.
So, I thought I’d write a blog and share 7 lessons I’ve learnt during the time, one for each year in business. In truth the lessons I have learnt are countless and could fill a book. That is one of the wonders of running your own business, it is so rich in the learnings available to you.
I’ll start at the beginning; the first lesson was an experiment that turned out rather well!
Lesson 1: Follow your gut feelings and acknowledge your intuition
There was something bubbling up inside of me back then. I had a strong desire to make a difference in the world but had a family and a mortgage and an established business in photography, which I loved and was very proud of. Leaving the security of a steady income, a successful business and heading into the unknown because my intuition told me I needed to was a BIG decision.
I decided to allow myself the first few steps of this journey to see how it felt, allowing myself the luxury of turning back should the need arise.
The first few steps were exciting, successful and I never looked back -well almost never!
Following my gut instinct on every decision was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It allows me to be bold, selfish, selfless, exciting, innovative, dynamic and means I could move quickly into new markets.
Lesson 2: Establish your values and shout them from the rooftop
In the second year of The Oxfordshire Project I met two men would have a long-lasting impact on me, Mike Jennings and Carlos Dean. Both of them coached me and spoke of the need to understand my values and bring them to the foreground of my business. Values can change so it is good practice to review and question them regularly. At the start of my journey community, support, education, collaboration, sustainability and sound business ethics were the values that drove me. Since then I have added challenge as one of my core values. I need challenge in my life and in my work to keep me growing as an individual.
Once I had understood my values, I was encouraged to share them, through my actions, through my communications, through The Oxfordshire Project website and through public speaking.
This had the major impact of putting The Oxfordshire Project firmly on the map for local Business Networking communities that stood for something different. Other networks stood for financial growth, referrals, business success, wealth and exclusivity.
Through our messages we attracted people that felt the same as us, they were attracted to support, community and friendship. This made our network strong and word of mouth spread fast and helped us establish ourselves locally.
Lesson 3: If you don’t have the answers, find someone who does
Three years had passed, The Oxfordshire Project had grown to seven groups and still I hadn’t personally taken a penny from it. It felt like the right thing to do, I was loving it and learning loads but I couldn’t find a way to make the numbers stack up. My intuition told me to put my faith in someone else who I employed to find the way that we could remodel The Oxfordshire Project in order for me to take a full-time wage for the full-time work I was putting in.
After a couple of months of research, I was presented with a plan and our membership package was launched. I needed that outside perspective and input of ideas. The membership package has been successful and I wouldn’t have come up with the idea on my own.
Lesson 4: Set the expectations before you begin collaborating with someone
I had been guilty of starting a new venture with someone and not establishing our expectations from the outset. I was swept up by the possibilities and the excitement new ideas without really understanding what my co-collaborator hoped to gain from the joint venture. This resulted in unsatisfactory results after a period of time. Things may be working out as I imagined they would and I was quite happy, but from the other person’s viewpoint their expectations had not been met, unknown to me until the damage had already been done. This was a painful lesson and thankfully one I haven’t repeated since truly understanding it.
Lesson 5: Innovate
In year five we decided that The Oxfordshire Project would come up with at least one new product every year. A new idea we’d trial in order to keep us ahead of our competition. This added challenge, excitement and momentum to our work.
One idea led to another and we gave them life with time and energy and investment. Our Networking Focus Groups, a halfway house between workshops and networking, were unsuccessful but gave us the idea of our evening Focus groups. From their success the idea of Mahwe was born and continues to evolve. Without our philosophy to innovate our future would look very different.
Lesson 6: Get the numbers right before you start
When I had started previous businesses, I had always pitched myself too cheaply in order to establish myself, build a brand and reputation and confidence. When we launched Mahwe last year we started at a sustainable price that would allow us to build and grow. By starting at the right price, we knew that our members would be committed and understand and appreciate the value of what we are building. Things are often harder than we anticipate and cost more money and take longer. It is good to factor this in and be realistic in business planning.
Lesson 7: Learn to let go and look at what you’ve learnt
Not everything that once worked will continue to work. Not every idea will be a success. Sometimes it’s the timing that’s wrong or the location or the team you’ve built. Sometimes you’ll never know why, or it is just bad luck. But let go of what isn’t working or change your approach but don’t keep flogging a dead horse.
I saw groups we had established and were really successful for years start to decline and lose momentum. There is only one of me and my time is a great resource. In year six I learnt to be bold in what I started and be bold in what I let go. I had to be cold to the emotions behind the work I had done and past achievements of certain projects. This lesson is liberating and rich in its lessons because if you take the time to analyse why something is working you take this knowledge with you to your next project.
Those are my lessons I’d like to share with you. There are of course many more that I have learnt along my journey. For me the key to business is to keep on exploring how and why you do the things you do and keep building on your success and see where it leads.