'I'm 49 years old and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up'
So, here’s the thing. I’m 49 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I’m Anne-Marie and I’m the new owner of Chroma Stationery, an indie business creating colour loving, personalised notebooks for brands and lovely people. Six months ago, the thought of running a stationery business hadn’t even crossed my mind but my own life has taught me that you never really know what’s around the corner.
You can spend all the time in the world planning for the future, but sometimes life throws things in your path when you least expect it, and it’s up to you to decide what you do about it. That’s exactly what happened with me and Chroma.
I was running my other business (Big Clever Marketing) at the time, providing outsourced marketing for some very techy B2B companies. I had some brilliant clients, but I’d got to a point in life when I started to wonder if there was something else I should be doing. Almost at that exact moment, I found out that Chroma was potentially for sale; I made a quick call; pleaded with the bank and that was that.
I haven’t always been that spontaneous though. In fact, for the first 20 years of my career, I was your typical corporate girl through and through. Even Big Clever Marketing came about by chance. Three years ago, I was the marketing director of a global risk firm. I was earning a good salary, had the company car, pension and all the benefits… but, to be honest, I wasn’t that happy. Then one day, out of the blue, I was made redundant. I picked up my things and walked straight out. It was a huge turning point for me - I could choose to find another job or I could go it alone.
I’d had an idea ticking over for a while about starting my own marketing agency but hadn’t been brave enough to do it. This felt like a ‘now or never’ moment. But it was scary as hell. I was a single mum; I had no savings and no-one to support me whilst I figured things out. I literally had two months to make it work or not be able to pay the bills. So I set the company up and I grafted, literally picking up the phone to all my contacts, letting them know I was available. Within a week, I’d landed my first client and I was off.
And then my world came crashing down. I’m not a natural athlete, but after my son was born, I started running as a way of keeping fit. I actually got quite hooked and even ended up competing in ultramarathons (a whole other story). As you can imagine when you run long-distance, chafed nipples become par for the course (!!) so when I had a sore one for several months it didn’t occur to me that it was anything else. It was only at a routine check-up that I got it looked at and it turned out to be breast cancer. It was early stage but a very rare type which couldn’t be treated by anything other than an immediate full-blown mastectomy.
Suddenly, I was at risk of losing everything (far more than just a boob). I had no insurance or sick pay to fall back on. If I couldn’t work, my business would go under and my prospects looked grim. I had no choice but to keep on going. I won’t sugar coat it – having the surgery and trying to recover whilst still working was hell – but I survived, and my business survived. And I haven’t looked back.
Sometimes it’s true, when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way you can go is up. I think that’s what gave me the extra spark to really assess my life and risk taking on something completely different. So, I’m now the proud owner of two very different businesses and am already in the process of setting up a third, this time with a friend.
Most experts will tell you that you need to focus on one thing to make it work but my advice is to do what makes you happy – as long as it pays the bills! And that could mean doing more than one thing.
Sometimes it takes years to figure out what you really should be doing. There’s no pressure to have it all worked out just yet. You may fall instantly into something that you love and that you can build your future on, but it could take you a lot longer. If you need to stick to the 9-5 while you work things through, then do it, but keep learning and take as many chances as you can to broaden your horizons.
My corporate career helped make me the person I am today. I learned so much about how businesses operate and the importance of developing a broad range of skills, all of which I now find invaluable in running my own businesses.
But I’m almost 50. Haven’t I left it a bit late? Hell no. Age really is just a number. Personally, I know I’m far stronger and more resilient now than I was in my 20s – and I’m in the best place mentally to do what I’m doing. But I’ve met some amazing people half my age who’ve been through far more in life than I will ever be able to comprehend - and are absolute inspirations. I look up to people for who they are, not how old they are.
Will I carry on running multiple businesses? Who knows? It’s probably not sustainable long term but I’m currently pulling together some plans that may enable me to combine two of them. It’s early days but I’m feeling really excited about it.
As to whether I see myself as entrepreneurial. Absolutely not. I’m just a girl who still hasn’t quite decided what she wants to do in life but is giving it her all while she finds her way. My advice to anyone, whatever age, is to do the same. Keep doing what you’re doing. Your time will come - probably when you least expect it.
Much love, Anne-Marie x