When visual impairment was stopping her getting a job, Steph Cutler decided to employ herself. Ten years on, Steph has grown and developed with the business. To celebrate the milestone she has brought together what she has learned into a short eBook.
I was working as a fashion designer when I realised that the sight in one of my eyes wasn’t very good. I was on holiday at the time and pretty unconcerned, but when I went to the optician they told me to go straight to the eye hospital. I found out soon after that I had a hereditary eye condition which meant I would soon lose my central vision.
When my sight started to deteriorate I relocated to be with my family as I needed support. I very quickly realised that sitting at home learning to live with sight loss was never going to help me to live with my sight loss. At this time I set myself some goals. My short-term goal was to become employable again and my long-term goal was to get my life back to how it had been.
Turning a challenge into an opportunity
I experienced many of the barriers many disabled people face while taking steps to reach these goals with my newly acquired disability. I felt there was a strong legal, social and commercial case for organisations to make their services more accessible.
I saw this as a business opportunity and an entrepreneurial spark was lit! It also presented an opportunity to solve my employment difficulties as I was finding employment disproportionately difficult to come by as a visually impaired applicant. I made a decision to stick a big two fingers up to those employers who seemed to be regarding me less favourably and employed myself!
I had no experience of running a business so I attended a Business Link start-up course. I also began researching my idea to determine whether it was viable.
I didn’t need much start-up capital, which was fortunate as I didn’t have much money! The other thing I didn’t have, which proved to be a bigger challenge was contacts. I had to work hard initially to raise my profile as no one had ever heard of me in my new field.
I originally set up a consultancy that offered disability services and awareness training. But so many disabled people got in touch who were struggling to adapt or to find work, that I started up another business to meet the demand. I work predominantly, but not exclusively with disabled people who are looking for work, who want to be self-employed or want to become more confident and move on in their lives.
I have become a qualified coach and personal development trainer. I facilitate personal leadership and business start-up workshops and deliver motivating speeches at various events.
Most of the opportunities I’ve created started with networking
My recommendation to someone starting out would be to dedicate time to networking in the early days and continue networking thereafter. Connecting with people and maintaining contact with them has underpinned most of the opportunities I have created.
I found networking difficult initially as I did not have any previous experience and my sight loss made it hard. I persevered and learned how to network effectively and it has stood me in good stead ever since, particularly through the tough economic times.
Having supportive people around you is also extremely beneficial. By supportive, I mean people who are going to encourage you to try things even though you might fail. Not everything will work but I do think you need to be prepared to give things a go and to dust yourself down and try again if they don’t. Even the most supportive network of people can’t do it for you, you have to do it for yourself so you need to really want it.
I feel that as a business owner you need a degree of patience. This has never been my natural strength, and I explore in my eBook how I strive to get the balance right. I think that sometimes patience is vital and sometimes being impatient can be what is required. I also talk about stepping out of what I call your ‘comfort circle’ and I think this is essential when starting or growing a business.
Finding positive inspirations
The other thing I cite as important is feeding yourself positive messages and keeping positive company. My dad has always been an inspiration to me largely because he has a real positive outlook. The other person who inspired me in the beginning was Liz Jackson. She is a successful entrepreneur in her own right, but she happens to be blind and so when I heard her speak at an event I was really encouraged. I left feeling that if she could do it so could I and I knew then I was committed to my new venture.
All of these things and more influence the work I do and the experiences and approaches that I share with my clients. My business is called Making Lemonade because I believe if life deals you lemons then you should make lemonade! Within my business I support people to turn their lemons into lemonade and to be successful and feel fulfilled.
I describe in my eBook that I choose to consider my sight loss a gift. It has given me lots of things that I wouldn’t be without, and my business is definitely one of those things.
Download Steph’s eBook from http://making-lemonade.co.uk/ebook/
Follow Steph on Twitter @Steph_Cutler
Check out her business at www.making-lemonade.co.uk