SUCCESS OR FAILURE? The Cycle Sprog experiment draws to a close

Long term readers of Cycle Sprog may recall that about a year ago I gave up my day job to see if I could realise my dream of turning our little website about family cycling into a business capable of supporting a family of four. Our new life started with a blog I composed sitting bathed in sunshine out in our back yard. In it I explained that we’d saved up enough funds to support our family of four for 12 months. There were a huge number of “What if’s” going around in my head about whether it would succeed, but these were not as big as the “What if I don’t try and regret it for the rest of my life” that had been growing louder as each year passed.

When I nervously hit the “Publish” button we were overwhelmed by the amount of support that came back – family, friends, colleagues were so encouraging, but what was totally unexpected was the level of support from Cycle Sprog readers. Over the past 12 months we’ve had so many people keep us motivated. It’s especially satisfying when we receive emails telling us we’ve inspired families to start cycling together, or when someone sends in a “Sprog Blog” about their adventures on two wheels or shares a photo of their weekend ride.

Time moves on apace, and this evening is equally warm and sunny and I’m composing another blog post. This time I’m not in my back yard, instead I’m on a Virgin Train. I’ve just waved goodbye to Chris, N and T and am hurtling down the tracks towards London. 50 weeks have passed since I followed my dream, and just 2 weeks short of a full year I’m heading back to corporate life.

London Skyline

It seems that I’ve failed in my mission. I haven’t been able to make our little website generate enough money to support our family.

I could end things there, but it wouldn’t be the full story.

The experiment certainly hasn’t been a total failure. In some ways I’m heading back to London because it’s been too much of a success. Yes, there’s a way to go before we’re fully self supporting, but we’re currently slightly ahead of our turnover target.

Visitor numbers have almost reached the holy grail of 100k page views per month (we were on 91k last month!) and we’re working with some of the best-known brands in the industry (and some not quite so well known ones that will be soon enough!)

“So Karen, why”, I hear you ask “are you going back to your day job?”

This may sound weird, but I’m actually going back to corporate life to free me up to work more on Cycle Sprog.

I’ll try and explain…..

The first 8 or 9 months of our experiment were brilliant. We had a plan, which was that I was going to work as hard on Cycle Sprog as I had in my previous roles. Early mornings and late nights were the order of the day for me, whilst Chris had a lot more work coming his way because as Technical Editor he’s responsible for the technical writing, photography and proof reading. We were really busy and I’ve never loved working so much! Yes, I was putting in the hours but when you’re doing something you love, time flies. OK, there was the inevitable admin that comes with any role, but the rest of the time I was living my dream.

Then something happened.

Suddenly, as the visitor numbers increased I found myself doing more and more routine tasks just to keep the website going as updating existing articles and keeping our social media channels populated with fresh content is never ending. Responding to emails, raising invoices, doing the accounts, responding to potential new business partners all demand time and energy.

I started to feel that the raison d’être for running Cycle Sprog was starting to vanish, as the wheels needed to be turned month after month. Where was the time to write inspirational posts, research in-depth articles, work with new clients on exciting projects, attend conferences, or get out on bike rides and review bikes? After all, I’d set up Cycle Sprog to share information with others and I could see that was starting to suffer.

I was supposed to be an entrepreneur with a growing business, but had no time to stop and think, let alone act on those thoughts. The dream was quite rapidly turning into a nightmare.

We’d entered what entrepreneur guru Daniel Priestly terms “The Wilderness”. It’s the stage all small businesses are at risk of getting stuck in, when the heady early days are over and the growing business needs more and more of your time.

It felt like we’d created some kind of beast, that needed feeding and stroking all the time to keep it happy!

Escape from The Wilderness

Priestly explains how to get out of The Wilderness in his books. It’s quite simple – if you’re going to continue to grow, you need to get help!!! You need a team of people, each of whom is expert in their own role. Most importantly, you need to stop trying (and failing) to do everything yourself.

His advice is that we’re now at the point where we need at least four people working in our business. Someone with the technical knowledge (that’s Chris), someone working on growing the business and who is the public face of the organisation (that’s me), someone to keep everything running (oh, that’s me too) and someone to do marketing (me again!).

It’s clear I’ve been trying to do too much – but how to resolve it?

In a strange twist of fate, my old corporate life reared its head again with an offer of a 6 month contract working 2-3 days a week. A few months earlier I would have said “No” but perhaps this was meant to be? The more I thought about it, the more the vision became clearer – if I took myself away from Cycle Sprog, then I would have to let others take over. I had to step back and delegate if Cycle Sprog was to survive. The decision had been made.

So I started to get the ball rolling. Thankfully I’ve discovered Penny – a Virtual Assistant (VA) who also happens to live near us in Kendal. She too is on her own entrepreneurial journey, having left her corporate job as a support manager to set up as a VA earlier this year. She’s just the person to take responsibility for some of the day to day tasks that are so crucial in keeping things running smoothly. From now on Penny is the person you’ll have first contact with if you get in touch with us via email or through the website.

I met Penny just a couple of days after I met Grace. Grace is also on the same journey, having left her job to set up her own social media marketing consultancy. She moved to Kendal last year – obviously there’s something in the water here that creates and attracts entrepreneurial women! Grace is currently working on building up our woefully low Instagram following and generating engaging content (our 13 year old Sprog is incredibly impressed with the IG polls and stories, so I guess it’s working!)

So, dear reader, my thought process is that with Penny and Grace taking care of two of my three roles I can concentrate on doing what I’m good at!

That’s the theory anyway. What isn’t in doubt is that we’re on the next, exciting step on the Cycle Sprog journey and I really hope you’ll share it with us.

So perhaps I haven’t failed in my dream but succeeded after all. Only time will tell……..

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Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

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