The Entrepreneurial Journey of Hannah & Henry Founder Elaine Ellis

About Elaine

Hi, I’m Elaine Ellis. I first embarked on my entrepreneurial journey 8 years ago when I was postpartum with my first baby, Henry. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the catalyst was for me to start my first business.

Maybe for the first time in my whole life I had a chance to slow down and have a think about what I really wanted. Maybe it was opportunity. Maybe it was hormones, and some people might say I had lost my mind after having my first baby because starting a brand-new business 6 months after having a baby might not be the best timing…!

Elaine Ellis sitting on a couch

However, whatever your motivation, you just know when you know, and so began my story...

I am originally from Dublin, Ireland and 10 years ago, my husband & I embarked on a huge adventure together… We moved to the other side of the world, we left behind our family, our friends, our home and started a new life in Perth, Australia.

Arriving in Perth on Australia Day 2012, dressed in jeans and a jumper (it was 44 degrees!) with 2 suitcases, 10 years on we’ve built a house, renovated another house, started 4 businesses and had two amazing children, Hannah & Henry and emigrated back to Ireland…

So, What is an Entrepreneur?

What does it really mean to be an entrepreneur? It seems anyone with an Instagram account or Facebook page can start a business these days but is this entrepreneurial in the true sense of the word? The answer is yes, anyone who starts a business, takes advantage of opportunities, or risks their pride to create something new is an entrepreneur in this ever increasing digital age.

For me however, I’m an old fashioned kinda gal, born in 1982 and growing up in a time when there were no mobile phones, internet had a dial tone and not everybody had a computer in their home; I even remember queuing in the library of my university to use a computer and save my thesis to a floppy disk!

So, for me an entrepreneur was always on the front line of selling, meeting customers daily, dealing with staff issues, managing money and always thinking of new ways to grow their business. To me this meant doing business in real-time, there’s no hiding behind a phone or computer answering call or emails, the old-fashioned entrepreneur had to deal with people face-to-face, had less time to strategise and instead had to think on their feet and make decisions based on a gut feeling rather than hours or sometimes days or weeks of thinking.

This is me, constantly thinking; I can’t stand indecision; I like to make quick decisions based on my gut (these are not always the right decisions but as an entrepreneur you also earn the right to make mistakes, nothing is perfect) After all making quick decisions or over-thinking things can both cost you money in the end. I always knew that one day I would run a business I just had no idea what that would be…

Elaine Ellis reading a book on a couch

Nurture versus Nature

Are you born an entrepreneur or can you teach yourself these skills? It’s the class question, nurture versus nature… I think the answer is both.

I’m sure many people are born with an entrepreneurial spirit and are creative by nature, but the business acumen, ambition, decision-making skills and people skills required to successfully run a business are most likely learned from your family.

I grew up in a busy household, my parents ran and still run a business in Ireland. I had a younger brother and an older sister (neither of which own furniture stores or have online businesses…). For anyone who had parents who ran a family business you’ll know that from an early age you can’t help but be immersed in the day-to-day operations.

My parents worked in their supermarkets every day, the phone was always ringing in the house (before mobile phones). I remember Sunday was the only day the stores were closed, and the phone wouldn’t ring unless there was an emergency.

Growing up in this environment, by osmosis, you’ll pick up certain life skills invaluable to running a business later in life. Even when you’re too young to understand what’s being spoken about, you knew from a tone of voice or people calling to the house that you had to make yourself scarce. And when the second landline rang (which was in the front living room) then it was serious…

At home, we had business partners and bank managers visiting the house and when we weren’t in school then we were with my parents at the store, in the delivery van, at the wholesalers, the accountant’s office and the list goes on…

This was a time long before daycare or nannies ever existed, and your kids went everywhere with you. Maybe this will change how we raise future generations of entrepreneurs?

Elaine Ellis reading a book

Digitalisation

While the digital age has brought about many changes for the good, it has also, in my opinion, made business-life harder in some ways. On the plus side, digitalisation allows new business to grow at much faster rates, can open your business up to global markets and allow you share ideas with a much wider audience. On the downside, this technology can make you feel like you’re on never ending treadmill…

Once upon a time you could finish work for the day, shut up shop and head home safe in the knowledge that you had done your best for the day and nothing more could be done until the next day. Imagine no mobile phones or computers... I sometimes fantasise about what it would have been like to run a business 30 years ago when life seemed so much simpler.

Now I’m sure business men and women of 30 years ago didn’t think this was the case, but I do feel as a generation we are faced with a much faster paced environment. So, we are faced with the following problems; emails which we can check anytime of day or night meaning you can wake up in a good mood only to check your phone and find some issue that needs dealing with all before you even get out of bed.

As an entrepreneur in the digital age, I feel a sense of pressure to solve problems right away, if I see this email it will be all consuming until I’ve dealt with it. I may have planned to have a nice leisurely breakfast, play with my kids, maybe go to the gym but instead I will spend the morning thinking, problem solving and most likely distracted no matter what else I’m doing in order to get this problem solved.

What I have learned over the past 3 years is emails are NOT urgent, your perception is what makes this an urgent matter. And so, to combat this problem I now have a rule (that sometimes I let slip as I also like to check emails in bed before my family wakes so I feel like I haven’t so much to do once I hit the office and am more in control of day… plus sometimes there is good news too), but the rule is not to check emails, social media or massages before breakfast.

This is so hard, it’s like telling a smoker you can’t have a cigarette but leaving them with the cigarettes and lighter by their bed! I will implement this rule 60% of the time and I feel much better for it. I get to concentrate fully on whatever it is I am doing that morning.

The same applies to my evenings and if I can’t stop checking my phone then I need to put it in the bedroom until after dinner and until the bedtime routine is all done for our little guy. I’m not saying this is easy, but you need to remind yourself that no email is URGENT, if it were that important they should/would call you instead.

Unfortunately, digitalisation means your customers nearly expect an instant response but remember this is not your problem, your personal space is more important and later I’ll deal with how to manage your customer’s expectations.

Family

Social Media

A necessary evil in the modern-day world of business. In theory whole businesses can be built and run from your phone and across social media platforms. This thought is quite incredible when you consider less than a generation ago Facebook, Instagram and Twitter didn’t exist.

Now, social media is king when it comes to modern day business. It seems everyone has a Facebook or Instagram account. I use Facebook and Instagram daily, so these are the only channels I can comment on so here goes…

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, on one hand it has been hugely beneficial in growing awareness and sometimes sales for our company. On the other hand you can lose hours or even days thinking what content to post, what you should say, responding to user comments and sometimes negative feedback.

It can be hard not to take negative comments personally, especially in the early days when your business feels like your first-born. Even the slightest hint of a nasty comment can make you feel deflated and disheartened.

I learned that my reaction to these negative comments is just a reflection of how vulnerable and insecure you can feel as an entrepreneur. You’ve put your heart and soul into a business only to have some flippant comment on your Facebook feed, no doubt from someone who’s never ran their own business…

You can have a great week with lots of positive feedback, nice customers and yet all it takes is one nasty comment on your Facebook feed to knock you off your stride. These comments can affect you emotionally and it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that you can’t please everyone and sometimes people are just nasty for reasons you’ll never understand.

You shouldn’t waste your time analysing these comments because in the end they are adding no value to your business. Spending time worrying or wondering why someone wrote something is pointless and it takes valuable time away from running your business.

Remember, you’re not special, these comments are not directed at you personally and rather someone else’s perception of your business. So, stop worrying about what others think of you because it’s none of your business!

Copycats and Comparisons

As your business grows you will most likely encounter others trying to copy your business model. Whilst this can be annoying and sometimes just infuriating, it is also flattering. Just think there is someone out there taking the time to analyse and copy your business because they want to be as successful as you have been.

Instead of searching for new business opportunities and creating something unique, they are following you. In my experience, businesses like this don’t last and if they do, they’ll only ever be mediocre. These copycat businesses or people are not entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word, they are not taking risks based on their own ideas and business acumen but instead hanging on the coattails of an already successful business model.

I can empathise if you have a copycat business chasing you but remember YOU have made your business successful based on your decisions, your ideas and your determination. So, rest assured you have the skills to stay ahead of your competitors.

Copycats have made me more ambitious, more creative, and more determined to stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, the worst thing someone can say to me nowadays is your business is very like ‘insert copycat business name here’.  When I hear this comment, my heart sinks a little because as a business we strive to be individual and different.

It’s tempting to become consumed by copycats and try and match or better what they are doing but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was, “never mind what other people are doing they can’t help you run your business”.

Ever Changing Landscape

So, your business is finally making money, things are steady. By all accounts you should be ecstatically happy, you’ve finally achieved your goals and are living your dream! But wait, I think I want to change everything, start again?!?

This may sound like madness, but this is what defines us, what sets us entrepreneurs apart! The constant need to be moving forward is what drives me and our business every day. My mind is constantly racing and thinking of new ideas…

To find out more about my story and my continuing entrepreneurial journey, follow @elaine.ellis.business

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