How I accidentally became a small business owner

Nearly ten years ago, I did a thing that I found very strange at the time. I joined a business management graduate scheme.

If you’d asked me at the time why I did it, my answer would’ve been this: I originally applied to the marketing scheme, because that looked fun. The recruitment people rang to say marketing was full, but business management had spaces if I wanted to transfer my application over there.

I was late for a seminar, so I said yes to get them off the phone. I somehow made it through the application process in a haze of Red Bull and Marlboro menthols and shoddy research in between essay deadlines, and they offered me an actual paid job. I was hungover and half-asleep when they phoned, and I panicked and took it.

For many, many years after that I wondered if I’d made an absolutely hideous mistake and derailed my life through a series of decisions made mostly in the interest of getting off the phone quickly. It wasn’t the most thought-out of career paths, and I wasn’t really a business-y person. I didn’t wear suits, I thought ‘touching base’ sounded kind of filthy, and I generally didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing.

It was only after I’d managed to shuffle my way sideways from what I thought of as the really businessy business stuff over into communications that I became even vaguely confident in my own abilities. But I never quite shook the idea that business wasn’t really for me.

So, when I decided to start The Woolly Badger, I didn’t really think of it as a business. I thought of it as a creative outlet, a way of reclaiming my identity after the onslaught of new motherhood, a thing to do while sitting on the playmat – but not a business. The plan was to knit some hats, put them on Etsy, and see what happened. That was it. To paraphrase Friends, it wasn’t really a plan – it was a “pl” at best.

After all, I’d never been one of those people who dreamt of owning their own business. Sure, I had a lot of respect for the people who did have that as a dream – except, generally speaking, for the ones who appeared on The Apprentice – but it did not seem like a thing that would be for me. I’d escaped from business a few years ago, so why would I be wandering back in?

It turned out I’d wandered back in without even noticing I’d done it. I was plodding along one day (literally. I do a lot of walking to try and get my son to go to sleep) thinking about what I wanted to knit next, and how I should try and market it, and what tags I should use and whether I should do a promoted post about it on Instagram, when I suddenly realised that I was coming up with a business plan. Which obviously surprised me, because in order to have a business plan, you surely first needed a business.

So I thought about it some more. I’d already ordered business cards (suspicious), and set up a business profile on Instagram (mildly alarming). I’d registered a domain, considered what I wanted the Woolly Badger to stand for (which seemed frighteningly like coming up with brand values) and had a think about where I wanted it to go (was that a vision? It seemed like a vision?)

It was then that I realised that yes, I really had started a business without actually noticing it. And I’d done all sorts of business-y things without even realising that business-y was what I was being.

Which is how I now, almost ten years after I joined that graduate scheme, have finally come to the conclusion that I’m really bloody glad I did. Because as an accidental business owner, it’s quite reassuring to have some actual experience behind me. I can write a business plan. I can set up a spreadsheet in a way that makes sense. I can have a think about long-term goals and quarterly objectives and try to come up with a plan that’ll get me there.

And I’m actually really bloody enjoying it.

Admittedly, I’ve not done a tax return yet, so you may need to come back to me around mid-January to see how badly I want to stab myself in the eye with a spoon. But for the moment, I’m actually not horrified by the sight of Excel.

Which is something I thought I’d never say.

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