Sebastian St. …
Meet our customer: female founder of Collab Associates
May 4th, 2018
Claire Sanders spent the first 20 years of her career working in the corporate world doing marketing. Having taken 6 months off after voluntary redundancy and spending time on a co-working retreat in Bali, she came back and decided to launch her own business, Collab Associates.
What is your background?
After university, I really wanted to get in to marketing and started, as many do, within marketing and advertising agencies. I then moved to in-house marketing, latterly 6 years with a bank. It doesn’t get more corporate than that.
What made you want to change?
The restraints and formalities of big business really don’t suit my style I would say. Slow and what sometimes felt like endless processes, office politics, inefficiencies and a lack of creativity – it was like I never got anything done yet at the same time felt terribly overworked. It felt like I wasn’t achieving anything. There were several restructures and various opportunities for voluntary redundancy and eventually I took it.
What happened in Bali?
After redundancy I took the summer off as I felt unsettled and went on a co-working retreat there. It was a structured programme of activities for a month created solely for the individual, which included various workshops for both personal and professional development. I knew I wanted to start something on my own.
It gave me the freedom and space to think about what exactly it was I wanted to do – whether to go freelance or start some consultancy work.
How did you start up the business?
I actually started some consultancy work while in Bali working pro bono for a charity to see how it all went – a trial run in effect. I came home and started working with a career coach, took some more time to think and decide my exact strategy and went with doing both consultancy and freelance.
I looked at the skills I felt I had, what type of clients I’d worked with and therefore what type of projects I wanted to start on. I set up my website and then using my contacts and network I had built up over the years, went live.
What are you most proud of so far?
I really want to help smaller companies; I guess the complete opposite to what I was used to in my previous career although I have ended up doing a bit of a mixture, which actually suits me. I helped a life coach launch a new product mainly regarding the strategy but also the messaging. I found it so rewarding working with an individual and having the freedom to properly express myself.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Firstly, actually setting up the business. Getting a Limited Company, all the tax and legal implications, I found it really hard to get my head around. I took advice and thoroughly recommend anyone in this situation do the same.
Next would definitely be the loneliness. It can be very hard to motivate yourself when it is just you and psychologically, I found it difficult. I made sure I went to co-working spaces to get out of the house and meet other people in my situation. I lived my life also, was kinder to myself taking days off if I felt I needed them and having less restrictions generally in the workplace. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I was off.
What important lessons have you learnt?
Trust your instincts. I’ve chatted to people who could have been potential clients but sometimes not got a good feeling and decided not to take the work. When starting out on your own you tend to want to take everything as you feel you have to, to get things going but it has been the right decision to do this. It really doesn’t matter if you say no. Be brave, sit with your fear and turn it into positivity.
What advice would you give to people looking to take the leap and start their own business?
The biggest challenge for me and I would say for most is the financial side of things. I made sure I budgeted well and reduced my outgoings considerably, months before I even started the business. It was hard initially but you soon get used to it and I saved a lot, which stood me in good stead when I went live.
Talk to the people that know you about where they see your strengths, think big and don’t underplay yourself. Go for it, what is the worst that can happen?
What challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur?
I feel many women suffer from what I would call ‘imposter syndrome’, basically not feeling worthy or good enough in the workplace. Women should no longer doubt themselves – we are all the same. Find your tribe, find groups and like-minded women. I am part of female-only Facebook and LinkedIn groups on both a formal and informal basis, which I recommend.
What are your future plans?
I want to move to Cornwall where my boyfriend is from. I love the place and having your own business allows you the freedom to do something like this. There are plenty of small businesses down there too to complement my ethos. There is a huge art scene there especially around St. Ives. Art is a keen interest of mine so I’d love to get involved in this industry somehow.
Discover more about Collab Associates (external link).
Read more in our female founder series:
Female founder of Snap Fashion, a fashion tech company
Female founder of Fearless Futures, a social justice training agency
Female founder of Availexe, a recruitment agency
Female founder of Stage & the City, a performing arts school
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