Transform Lives Company is a Liverpool based social enterprise that works to offer support, work experience and life-changing results for people in need. We sat down with Tracy Fishwick, the Founder and Managing Director of Transform Lives Company to learn more about her journey as a female founder.
Having worked in the local government, before moving into her leadership role at Transform Lives Company, Tracy has had over 25 years of experience in creating change and opportunities for those in need. Her passion for helping others led to her being awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Year Honours, for her services to unemployed people.
From starting by herself to recognising that sometimes you can’t do it all on your own, Tracy shared her advice for anyone who’s looking to start their own company.
1. Which three skills would you say are crucial to being a founder?
Being clear about what need you’re fulfilling with your business. You need to be able to fulfil a need that people want to pay you for. If you haven’t got anyone who’s willing to pay you for your work then you haven’t got a business. I don’t think that finding the right business idea is something that you hit on straight away – where you start isn’t necessarily where you finish.
Being compelling about what you’re doing: The way that you put across your passion for your business to someone is a skill that you have to have. You need to be able to get across why there’s a need for your business in a compelling way.
Valuing yourself: Working out what your work is worth and having the confidence to not undervalue yourself is so important. You need to understand what the true cost of something is and how to price yourself based on that. Ask yourself the question ‘am I underselling myself?’.
I think this is an issue that seems to happen a lot more with women. I see so many women underselling themselves and underpricing themselves for their work. Being able to talk about money is a skill – and it’s hard!
2. What is your favourite thing about being a business owner?
The deep sense of knowing that I can do it. When I compare where I’m at now, knowing that I can do it, to a few years ago when I didn’t know if I’d be able to do what I’m doing now, it made me realise that I can adapt and change and still be okay. Seeing how I’ve grown and developed personally, and how my confidence has built since I started has been great as well.
3. What have you found challenging about starting your business?
The lack of structure and the element of freedom that comes from starting your own business were something to get used to at first. Coming from a background in the council where everything was structured and there was a department for everything meant that starting my own business was so different. Especially when it came to all of the extra jobs that came with running your own business.
For example, if there were any technical issues, in my previous jobs there would be an IT department who would be able to solve the issue. Or if you had to travel for work, the train tickets would be booked by a specific department at the company. When you’re working for yourself you have to do all of those things yourself – but when you don’t have the capacity to do it all you need to look outside for help. The challenge is finding the right people to help you like good accountants, HR and IT support. Also finding people who understand what you’re doing and the challenges that come with it.
4. What are the biggest barriers you face when it comes to growing your business?
That you can’t do it on your own. Lauren Bailey-Rhodes joined the company as a director after a couple of years and from there we were able to start growing the business together. I think the hardest part about it is figuring out who the person that you want to share your journey with is. For me, having Lauren join me didn’t feel like taking on staff, it was more me wanting to have an ally to do it all with. Since then it’s always felt as though Lauren and I work together as a unit and that it’s not just me as the boss.
5. If you could learn more about one area of marketing, what would it be?
The skill of simplifying the messages that we want to get across, especially when it comes to our work. We work with a wide range of people in different scenarios, and a lot of things have happened in their life, so we get quite emotionally embroiled. We tend to say everything but sometimes you just need to cut through and simplify what it is that you want people to focus on.
6. How did you recognise that you were an entrepreneurial person?
It wasn’t something that I realised at the time but in my past career, I was always the one who was starting new projects. I’ve always been happy having a blank page and coming up with ideas from there. When I was working in regeneration for the council, I ended up networking a lot and going to conferences where I’d meet people who were doing similar things to me. After I left the council in 2009 it was right when the financial crash was, and I couldn’t bring myself to move into a job that didn’t have the same impact that my previous role was having. I was so invested in the work that I was doing that I decided to continue doing it myself and ended up being a consultant. Over time, though, I ended up starting my own company. So it was a gradual process to get to where I am now.
7. How do you fight Impostor Syndrome?
I don’t think you ever truly get rid of it. I’ve seen people who are so sure of themselves and I don’t know where it comes from because I still don’t feel like that! Although, when you’ve done something for so long I think you do have a sense of confidence in what you’re talking about just because of the experience you’ve had.
When I received my OBE nomination it was a shock, but it was also a confidence boost. It was hugely validating to find out that the people who nominated me were people who I massively respected. I think it has made a difference to my confidence but I also feel that nothing ever really completely gets rid of that sense of Imposter Syndrome.
8. If someone was struggling to start a business due to confidence, what would your advice be?
Start by telling yourself that if it all goes pear-shaped, you can always get another job. If the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have to find another job then go for it!
9. If you could magically change one thing about your business now, what would it be?
To be on a stable financial footing and never have to worry about having to pay everybody – feeling secure and having reserves.
10. Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that our readers should know about.
Josephine Payne from Manchester Urban Diggers, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to growing organic fruit, vegetables and herbs for the community. She started the company from nothing and now sells amazing produce and organises community events.
Also Lucy Trueman from Trueman Change, who does transformation programmes for organisations. She’s shown so much resilience in the last year and her business has bounced back after a difficult year. Both are really down to earth people who are doing brilliant things.
A little TLC
For more inspiring stories from our favourite female founders, check out our interview with Sarah Lovelock, Founder of Lovelocks Coffee Shop.