Towards the beginning of the year, I had an epiphany. A load of things just fell into place inside my head, and I put all the pieces together and realised I could start a business doing what I loved, how I wanted to do it, provide some much-needed honesty in one of the world’s most dishonest industries, help people, and make a living doing it.

I finally had the last and most important piece of the puzzle clear in my mind – a series of strategies to market it successfully in a way that didn’t require tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I ran through the idea and what would be needed in my head a few times, and tried to think of any big roadblocks or flaws with it. I came up with a few minor things, but nothing that couldn’t be solved. I was suspicious, because I’m naturally a pessimist and wondered if it sounded too good to be true. I ran it past Joe to get his opinion, and he couldn’t see any problems either (not that that was too conclusive, because he’s an eternal optimist, but it’s always good to get a second opinion). I ran it past one or two other people whose opinions I think a lot of and who were also well-positioned to see any flaws. They thought it was a good idea.

So at that point I did exactly what you’d think I wouldn’t do. Which is to say I did absolutely nothing, filed it away in my mind as something to think about in a year, and carried on.

I read a Facebook comment recently about how ‘you’ll never quit a 7’ – meaning you’ll never quit a job that you rate 7/10, because even though it has a bunch of flaws and things you don’t like, it’s not bad enough to make you quit. And that really stuck with me.

Deep down, I wasn’t really registering how unhappy I was. The biggest thing was having to get up at 5:30am every day – even weekends, because otherwise I could never get back into the schedule. When I first started doing it I felt physically sick every morning. And I never really had an afternoon, because by the time I’d done the 1-2 hour commute back, it was the end of the working day for normal people anyway, and I was too tired to do anything. I don’t think anyone I worked with cared or was supportive of how hard it was for me every. single. day. I don’t blame them for that because it’s a difficult situation to understand unless you’ve been in it and come to it from an already very busy, happy life.

I went to Amsterdam. I went to Paris. I was still grieving from multiple deaths among family and friends over a period of just weeks before. I didn’t find what I was looking for in either of those places, purely because it was a bandaid over much bigger problems. I told myself the money I was earning was worth it. It wasn’t. I wanted freedom. I was claustrophobic.

I hired two virtual assistants on a part-time basis to manage my stuff, and cut out everything from the tech events I love to socialising with friends. Even after that, I didn’t realise just how sleep deprived I was until two weeks after I left and my hair and nails stopped breaking constantly and started growing rapidly. I lost 19lb I’d gained from working there, purely because I wasn’t eating an unlimited supply of sugar to force myself to wake up or stay awake.

Many years ago, in a totally different job, we went out for a mandatory ‘fun’ evening with some people from another office I didn’t know. One of the managers said to me, ‘If Jenni’s happy, we’re all happy,’ and it was an offhand comment but it’s kind of true. People pick up on my moods when they’re around me, and often I let that happen deliberately because I’m an open person in many ways, but sometimes they just sense an atmosphere that they can’t explain, and sometimes don’t even associate me with the cause. I kind of radiate emotion more than most people or something I guess. Anyway, I don’t have any control over it either way, and it tends to be a direct reflection of how someone around me is making me feel. It can be the best day ever or it can make you feel like Grumpy Cat with a hangover (hey, I feel it too, and it’s not fun for me either).

Nothing particularly momentous happened, it was just the end of the line. I wanted it to be like an old job I had in a past life, and it was just so far removed from what I thought it would be it was…disturbing? Wrong? I don’t know.

I sat and thought for a while about what I wanted to do. I even applied for a couple of remote jobs. But honestly, by that point I was feeling completely drained. Exhaustion probably had something to do with it. Just the thought of going through the whole thing yet again made me feel wiped out. I didn’t want to try the freelancing/contracting thing – I wanted something more consistent and less client-led. I wanted something more.

Could I start a business? I had already cemented the idea, niche, and practical aspects. I wanted to create a web hosting company that provided a great service, that was ethical, but that was also pretty and offered free resources and help that went far beyond tech support. Together, Joe and I costed it up and planned it out. I had a new energy that came out of nowhere. I was like a demented woman. I had two years of startup experience under my belt, Joe had a load of business experience from web dev freelancing and contracting, and between the two of us we had years of experience in the web industry.

We got Joe’s accountant to handle the paperwork. We discussed the things we had the least experience in – branding, pricing products – and did a ton of research. The hardest part was actually coming up with the name…you wouldn’t believe how many [randomword] names are taken, or how many social media usernames. We brainstormed Latin words by the end, we were so stuck for names. I liked the word ‘lustre’, which became ‘lustra’ due to unavailability, but I also loved ‘lyrical’. In the end we asked our friends and decided to go for ‘lyrical’. Eventually I’ll probably share some of the early logo mockups I did with both names.

The first time it felt real was when we were at the bank, discussing turnover as part of our business bank account application (what?!). The second time it felt real was seeing our name listed in Companies House (we’re under Tansley Digital Ltd rather than Lyrical Host for future plans which I’ll talk about later because this post is already long enough!).

Everything we did, we did quickly. Our aim was to be launched before September, which is traditionally the busiest time of year in web hosting. Since we’d planned to target a US/Canada market, we decided we probably needed to launch in August because the school year starts a little earlier, so people tend to go back to work earlier. We were incredibly lucky; everything from the theme to the branding fell into place almost magically, probably because we were giving our best time, energy and focus to the project with no other distractions. There are actually two colour palettes – a gold/black and a pink/white because we didn’t want to make it seem cliche or off-putting with too much pink – but somehow everything just worked. The theme and the design elements were right. The logo was right. We cut corners by investing in stock photo memberships for our imagery, but editing them to make them feel more us.

We did run into a few small hitches, but nothing we couldn’t find a workaround for. Our biggest issue at the moment is creating an affiliate system that hooks into our billing system, because there’s no existing software that does what we want to do. There will always be things like that, and that’s fine.

What I loved the most was the freedom. I could do whatever I wanted, both on the business and in my personal life. I found I could work for hours and not notice it was dark or friends had arrived or the fridge was empty. Our house has generally been pretty open; our friends came over and played board games and watched TV around us. It was the second best thing to having time off myself, I guess?

We were thinking that we wouldn’t put any pressure on ourselves to have a strict launch deadline – we’d been a bit vague with dates in our prelaunch campaign – but our potential customers decided otherwise. We had people wanting to buy, and we hadn’t even launched. We were getting sales enquiries, and we hadn’t even finalised our pricing yet. It was crazy. We worked 9am to 3am to get everything done in time. I was humbled. (And I’m not going to lie, I was also a tiny bit smug because I’d wanted to do a prelaunch campaign before and was told it was a bad idea).

It’s now nearly a month since we soft launched, and nearly three weeks since we officially launched.

  • We built up a prelaunch subscriber list of over 630 people organically, in two weeks.
  • We launched a blog, Facebook, and Twitter channels.
  • We hired people we know and trust (and had people contact us asking for jobs).
  • We toured and secured office space.
  • We created a bunch of guides, templates, stock photos, and a million other things – even printable colouring pages.
  • We collaborated with and commissioned some amazing, talented women to make stuff for our customers and our site, and to work with us for referrals, interviews and support.
  • We’re figuring out the details for ongoing donations to an extremely worthy non-profit, the first of many.
  • We’ve saved some customers $300 a pop because they were being told by their previous host to pay it to clean up malware on their sites. We cleaned them up and moved them for free. Because that should be the standard.
  • We have customers in four different continents (every time I think about that I’m like WAIT, WHAT).
  • We spent a grand total of 0 on sales and marketing during this time (although we’ve started running ads today).

Even better, we have the loveliest customers. Seriously, they’re amazing. I love chatting to them, because they come from a totally different place and have a completely different outlook to the types of customers in the markets I’m used to.

I still have a million ideas and a list of a million things to do. I’m so humbled that so many people – women, with amazing websites, blogs, and reasons for them – have put their trust in a new business with no reviews, and I’m determined to do whatever I can to help them in whatever way I can. I want to create an amazing community of spirited, passionate women. People who’ve been told they can’t do something, and people who’ve never given up, and people who are successful, and people who are giving themselves a chance.

As always, it’s been crazy. Thanks for sticking with me through this whole post, as long and jumbly as it’s been. I’m hoping I’ll find the time to blog here more, but if not, you’ll find me at the Lyrical Host blog.

So anyway, what’s new with you?