How ego can cost you everything

When I set up my second business, a Virtual Assistant company called Time etc, in 2007, money was no object.

I was newly wealthy after having sold my first business in a multi-million pound deal, and immediately set about spending it on renting an incredible office, hiring a large team – all before I’d even figured out how to sell my new service to anyone. Fast-forward several months and I was losing £20k a month, I was £270k in the red, and I was miserable. It got so bad that I actually considered closing the business down. And why did I end up in that position? Because I was driven by my ego.

Think about the projects you’ve done and the money involved. Did you carefully consider where the money went? Now, the investments I made in Time etc might sound reasonable to you, but when you compare them to the £150 it cost me to start my first business, they all seem very unnecessary. The decisions I made were based purely on my ego. I wanted to be viewed as a successful entrepreneur, and as a result made decisions on how I was perceived rather than what made sense. And I’m not alone in doing this. I see so many entrepreneurs obsessed with their image. Their desire to appear successful distracts them from focusing on what their business actually needs, and like me, they end up losing their way.

I made decisions on how I was perceived rather than what made sense

After coming close to shutting the business down, the next few years were a bit of a blur for me. My team and I managed to get the business to a million pounds of revenue, but it was barely profitable. I’d hit The Wall – that one obstacle you can’t get over, no matter how hard you try. It’s something all entrepreneurs and leaders encounter at some point in their career and it can be incredibly frustrating. I desperately wanted to break through my Wall, which was getting the business past the one million-mark and making it profitable. Every day, my team and I looked at what I called the ‘big spreadsheet’ – a complex P and L spreadsheet we’d created – and produced amazing forecasts of the month ahead and obsessed over the figures. I thought the spreadsheet was the key to helping me grow my business, but it wasn’t. And so after one particularly depressing session, I decided to shut the spreadsheet and never open it again.

By doing so, I finally realised where I was going wrong. The spreadsheet made me see headcounts instead of people, salary costs instead of lives, and numbers instead of clients. I’d stopped being human. I needed to get back to the reason why I started Time etc in the first place – to help the 30% of entrepreneurs who fail and the £1.3 trillion that new mums are missing out on because of inflexible employers. As soon as this became my driving force again, the business started to grow and I quickly broke through my Wall. By shifting our purpose, we started to give clients what they really wanted and started attracting the amazing Assistants we wanted.

Jenny, one of Time etc’s incredible Assistants

The business has grown 400% since the day I shut my spreadsheet down, it’s highly profitable, ranked in the top three for Virtual Assistant companies worldwide, has a five-star rating on Glassdoor, and is in the top 1% worldwide on Gallup for employee engagement. By ignoring my ego and abandoning my spreadsheet, I was able to stop seeing business as a science that could be measured and manipulated. I was able to reflect on what really drove me, which was authenticity and a desire to help others. It made me change my entire leadership style and how I approached problems. I became more open with my team, more compassionate, more supportive, and more appreciative. All of these changes have had an immeasurable effect on the business. They’ve helped us retain the very best people, create an incredible place to work, and grow the business way beyond our expectations. So, don’t let ego destroy your business – stay true to your goals and who you are and you won’t go wrong.

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