What it’s really like to start your own business

- November 18, 2016 4 MIN READ

I didn’t realise it was so easy to run and cry at the same time.

It was super early and I couldn’t sleep so I went for a run. As I turned for home, the tears started flowing, mingling with the rivers of sweat already trickling down my face. That’s why it’s easy, you see—people you pass don’t realise you’re sobbing when you are already sweating and looking red in the face from running in the early morning humidity. Sunglasses help, but now you have both sweat and tears seeping into your eyes.

I tried to run faster. The tears kept up with me.

There are times when owning your own business can be overwhelming, suffocating even. You become obsessed with it and the pressure is relentless, especially—oh, so especially—when business is unexpectedly slow. On this particular morning, with sales having slowed beyond what had ever happened before, I was suddenly slammed with the enormity of my situation: the realisation that there is absolutely no one but me who knows the whole picture, the extent of what is happening, and no one but me who can devise a strategy to fix it or face failure. Yes, I might have staff, a team of experts, and supportive family and friends around me, but they only know bits of my business and they are certainly not responsible for any of it. I alone am responsible and I am responsible for it all. At its most basic level, I need to keep getting the dollars in every day so I can pay my bills and have enough left over to support myself.

The professional just got very, very personal. There are no safety nets—just me.

And that’s why I love it. It’s unbelievably liberating, amazingly exciting, damn challenging, always exhilarating, constantly evolving and impossibly scary, but you have this incredible opportunity to create an entity that represents you at your very best. You’re tested on so many things at so many levels and so frequently because suddenly, like in a game of tag, you’re ‘it’.

Nobody else gets a turn because there is no one else.


This book is about how I left a successful 23-year career in journalism, PR and fundraising to open my own longer sized, women’s shoe shop, and my first four years of being a proud solo business woman. I have no experience in shoes or in business; I have completed no degrees, subjects or courses in business; I have never worked in a shoe shop; and I have no flair for finances (words were my thing, numbers terrified me). Looking back, the things I didn’t know were vast and astounding.

But what I did know was what it was like to have size 12 feet and not be able to find shoes that fit, let alone were fabulous. That, I knew all too well.

This is the book I wish I could have read before I started my own business.

I like to think I’ve moved beyond the theory and have dived deep into the everyday, grassroots reality of owning and running a business, sharing with you everything that I have learned these past four years: all the mistakes I have made and the things I have got right, too, even if sometimes by accident!

This is not your typical book about business. I’m not telling you what to do; just sharing what I did and hopefully giving an entertaining insight into what it has been like. It’s very honest.

I want to explain the emotional journey of taking a giant leap into the unknown from the relative safety of being an employee to the rollercoaster of being self-employed.

I will also be giving you a peek inside the shoe industry. So often when I tell people what I do, women will remark: ‘Oh, that must be heaven!’ Lots of people have tried to define why so many women adore and worship shoes. All I know is that if you have a longer foot, you are especially in awe of gorgeous shoes.

It took me four hours one day to decide to open my own shoe shop, and a little over five months later I proudly opened the front door of The Shoe Garden. Ironically, given my former profession as a journalist, it took much longer to decide to write this book. Was my journey into small business of value to others, I wondered. I actually had to figure out if I was worthy. That may sound dramatic but it’s true. I am clearly not a celebrity or a well-known identity; I am an everyday person. Then the obvious occurred to me: most readers of this book will be everyday people and most small business people are everyday people, too, and that is what we all have in common.

This book doesn’t promise the secrets to being successful in business like many other books. I’m still figuring that out, but I can share what’s happened in the past four years and all that I have learned. I reckon the first four years are crucial … you experience a lot of highs and a lot of lows during this time. To get beyond that period, you have to learn a few things, and to some degree I have developed my own way of doing business to help me move forward in a model that I think is empowering, interesting and relevant.

I don’t want more Shoe Gardens in Brisbane, interstate or overseas. I used to feel guilty saying that; not anymore. I’m proud to be small. I want to be the face of my business. I want to work in my business and I want to work on my business. I want to be at the centre of my business, just like the bud of a flower and, with a strong formation around me, I believe I can be as successful and happy as I want to be by purposefully staying small.

This is an edited extract from In My Shoes by Carol Haffke