Shari Bryan, Operations Director, OWB Creative shares her 20 year business journey and tips for success from building a community, maintaining a resilient mind-set to developing her own personal brand. 

When I started out in business 20 years ago, for me it was more about a passion to ‘be in business’ rather than a burning desire to follow a particular industry. I certainly didn’t have a business idea and in fact had tried all sorts of things, including various jobs from working on a sheep farm to motorcycle courier, driving instructor to police officer. But all this only taught me that I couldn’t settle in a job being managed by someone else and really the only option was to do something for myself – whatever that may be.

So when the opportunity arose from a creative agency I was working in to break away and start up my own marketing business, actually the decision was really easy. That’s not to say I didn’t have my concerns, and some fears of course. But one thing I can say really helped make that decision easier was setting up with business partners that I liked and trusted. This would be one of the most important pieces of advice I could give someone starting out – that ideally you should find a business partner.

Working completely on your own is very hard and of course it’s a huge commitment, especially if you have a young family. If you work for yourself you want to take advantage of some of the benefits that being your own boss brings – which means being able to make the school meeting, the nativity play, or taking time for yourself.

But if you’re on your own trying to balance sickly kids and spreadsheets then being your own boss is no benefit at all. So ideally a) find a business partner and b) make sure you get on, so you won’t fall out the first time you disagree over an important decision. 

Ideally your business partner – if you have one – will have different skills and attributes to you too. There is no point in both having the same skill set so find what you’re good at within the business environment and how you can complement each other – and this may not be clear in the beginning, but you can learn this as you go – where your strengths lie and what you enjoy. 

image of Shari BryanIn my own experience whilst I wanted to have some control, there were definitely some aspects of running a business that I was less comfortable with. Standing up in front of a room full of people pitching for example, certainly fell into the not-so-keen bucket, but in our industry it’s a must.  This has been one of my biggest challenges to overcome and time and experience definitely help, but knowing your subject matter inside out I think is key to increasing your confidence.

It’s important to prepare well of course, I always make time to research the people and company I’m presenting to and try and pick up on any key information that will show you’ve done your homework. I will rehearse a presentation several times and run through exactly how the meeting should run, including anyone else who is involved so we leave little to chance. Anything you can do in your spare time to help build confidence is a bonus. I play drums in a band and this has definitely given me confidence in standing up and performing.

If you’re working on your own, it’s even more important to identify your skills so you can find support in the areas you need help. Running a business can be stressful enough so you need to make things easier for yourself where you can. Personally, I found my skills were more in the detail – setting up processes in the business such as management systems and introducing new technologies to help things run more effectively and efficiently, especially in the 21st century.

The HR side of the business became a key focus too – it was an area I felt very comfortable developing and I made this my domain. Whatever your key skill becomes, it’s important to find your niche and develop it, helping build your confidence and knowing you’re adding value to the business is incredibly fulfilling.

image of Shari BryanBut if you find a part of running your business you really don’t enjoy then outsource it. Outsourcing has become so easy with online freelance portals and services, there’s no point stressing over areas where you don’t have the skills. Get someone else to help so you can concentrate on what you’re good at and enjoy.

Over the years this is something I have become skilled at. I know I don’t have all the answers but I’m not afraid to reach out for help in areas where I need it. So, surround yourself with good people, whether they’re your employees or contacts. You don’t need to know everything, just find people who know what you need.

By finding good people to help, you will hopefully be able to free yourself up more to develop your own skills and take some free time. It’s easy when you run your own business to become consumed around the clock with emails and projects and never switching off. But it’s really important to find time for yourself for further development. I love to learn new skills and I believe continual learning is essential. Setting aside time to read or study online is invaluable in increasing confidence.

Shari Bryan on bikeThere are all sorts of skills needed to run a business and challenges you couldn’t imagine when you start out. Although I have learnt a great deal ‘on the job’ I also think you need to have the right sort of mind-set from the outset. Being competitive, sporty and active for me has been a definite bonus to juggling work and life. Having something completely different to lose yourself in can help when you need to clear your mind.

For me I have two types of hobbies depending on my mood. When I need quiet time to think I take to walking or kayaking, or if I need to get my energy levels up then a ride on my motorbike is the perfect tonic. As well as the obvious benefits of keeping fit or having hobbies and interests outside of your business, having a real interest in something – especially if it is a little out of the ordinary – is a definite advantage in business, especially for women.

Over the years I have found this has given me a real edge and a differentiator when I can talk about unusual interests and my passion for motorcycling. I’m not suggesting that every female entrepreneur needs to ride a motorbike but there is a lot to be said for having a unique selling point (USP) that you can be remembered for, especially if you’re in a male dominated environment.

There are times of course when for whatever reason things just don’t go right in your business. In challenging times it’s important to stay focussed and have the right mind-set. I certainly advocate having fun in your business, if you’re not enjoying it then why bother? I always try to have a positive outlook – I believe things happen for a reason and nearly always you can find something good to take from any situation.

Running a business is a constant learning curve, incredibly exciting and you can write your own script as you go, adapting to changes and responding to opportunities as they arise so much more easily than is possible in employment. After 20 years there’s always more to explore and find out. Whatever happens, you can learn from it, and if all else fails, keep a sense of humour and don’t take yourself too seriously.

If I could sum up my key takeaways for success they would be:

  1. Build a great community around you from a business partner to your ecosystem of clients, suppliers and partners.
  2. Accept challenges head-on and embrace technology and systems that will make life and work balance better.
  3. Be accepting of your own skills and excel in them and be prepared to continue learning to increase confidence.
  4. Create opportunity by being original, create your own personal USP – for me that was riding my motorbike and taking up crazy sports.
  5. Be positive by combining fun with a passion for whatever you decide to do.

While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by Bank of Scotland for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances.  Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.