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19 | Laura Mulhern, Plan Make Do

I first connected with Laura through the South Coast Makers Market community and was quick to get 1:1 sessions booked in, and I'm glad I did: Laura says it how it is, and gets to the crux of the values and mission behind our endeavours and clearly guides towards making it happen.

El: How was your approach to business changed over the course of your career?

L: When I first started out, I did everything all at once. I said yes to everything. I panicked and was reactive to most things I did, with very little planning in place. I knew I had drive and passion for what I wanted to do, but no structure or willingness to ask for help. In a nutshell, I was a hot mess.

So I ended up working all hours, trying everything and failing at most of it. Then after about 5 years of running around like a busy fool I realised I was just going around in circles and feeling unwell physically and mentally. I came from a generation of thinking working hard was the key, it wasn’t. Working smarter was the only way forward.

After another bout of illness, I took some time out, readjusted my life and health and found a business mentor. Then my life and my approach to business changed. In many ways.

Ever since, I’m far more considered, careful and calm with most things in regard to my business. Nothing is as urgent as you might think; with careful planning, doing the research on your audience and being willing to make mistakes and learn from them is the only way I’ll work now. I’m also far better at saying no and setting boundaries. Knowing your worth is vital to being successful; whatever success looks like for you.

The other big turning point for me was realising that I don’t know everything. We should allow ourselves to ask for advice and support when we need it and celebrate with others whenever possible. Your community builds your business, not your product or service.

El: What are your thoughts on the idea of purpose and mission?

L: I’ve been an arts marketing and PR specialist for many years; and I’ve lost count of the meaningless mission statements I’ve seen that get bandied about from many companies and large organisations within the creative industry. Worryingly enough, these same companies don’t truly know their audience or their business purpose. It’s mostly full of buzzwords and jargon that is primarily meant to appeal to funders or investors.

So the very thought of reading a purpose or mission statement from a company now makes me feel a bit nauseous. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s really important to have a purpose, to define what niche part of the market you're servicing so we know exactly what your business is here to do. But show us, don’t just tell us.

Show your purpose through your business activity. In all respects. You are here to “change the way we shop”? Then show me. You’re here to “transform lives” through your art? Really? Then how and with whom?

You don’t need to write your purpose or mission publicly in lengthy paragraphs everywhere - you just need to live and breathe it through your whole business activity. Then let others promote your purpose for you. The best businesses out there get most of their custom from reputation and word of mouth referrals.

El: Where do business owners go wrong?

L: We can make many mistakes along the way- and believe me I’ve made quite a few of them. However, if I had to choose, these are the key downfalls for business owners:

Believing success is solely about earning money. We need money, but we also need people, a content lifestyle and a healthier approach to what success means for ourselves and others.

Believing that selling lots of products and services is the answer. Scale back, and watch true stable growth. Less is more. Get known for doing one thing really well, enjoy that, then grow organically to the next product or service.

The amount of times we see famous restaurants or coffee shops popping up all over the place then seeing them crash all at once is too many. Lean into what’s working well and be considered and humble in your growth. You’re in this for the long haul, not the sprint.

Believing that your competition is the enemy. No way, man. It’s your best friend. You can learn so much from them, and you can even (shock, horror) collaborate with them. Not one business is EXACTLY the same. And having competition is a healthy sign that there is a demand for what you do; so use your competition to help you identify your own USP’s, then sell this to your customers or clients.

Believing that once your business is up and running and doing well, that there’s no need to change anything. If your business doesn’t evolve, or better still stay ahead of the curve you will stagnate and you will fold.

Look at ToysRUs; the advent of the internet was the death knell for them. But they didn’t adapt in time and lean into what they could offer instead. All children love to play, to experience the thrill of creating imaginary worlds - so where was this experiential element in the stores back then when the internet was licking at their heels? Adapt to survive. Always.

El: Are you spiritual? How do you think that helps you in your life outlook and in business?

L: I was brought up an Irish Catholic and went to two relatively strict convent girls schools for my education. “Sister Act” nuns and everything. I even went to a Catholic university, although I’d left the church by then; perhaps the guilt lingered on. Hence, the over-working until I fell ill.

Being born into the Troubles in the 80's in Northern Ireland, I saw first hand what the trauma of “religion” can do to a nation. It was a war, and death was lingering pretty much everywhere. It’s something that still haunts me to this day; seeing how cruel humans can be to each other in the name of a belief. I’ve always had an inquisitive mind and always needed to bring a sense of logic to what ‘God’ means so I have read endless books, watched many YouTube videos, talked to many believers and non-believers, not to mention the number of churches I’ve entered (and ran away from) over the years.

I lost faith in a lot of things over the years; God, family, love, some friends and even myself. And it’s been a long road back to anything that resembles a sense of ‘belief’ or ‘spiritualism’.

The only time I feel true peace and an elevation from the everyday self is when I play my violin or when I’m out in nature. Or just existing with my small group of loved ones around me. These are all my churches.

Does this spiritual journey play a huge role in my business? It’s actually the other way around. My business journey has shown me how to have faith, how to weather the storm, how to lean into the support of my community, to have unwavering belief that it WILL work and I’m the person to make it happen. And my business is here to help others.

If that’s not what religion aims to promote, I don’t know what does.

Laura and I are always audio-ing each other musings about business, life and everything in between and I was prompted to send these questions to Laura off the back of one such conversation.

Check out the Plan Make Do website for more information on how you can work with Laura - sign up to the newsletter for resources, tips and advice on making freelance life work better.

Laura's on Instagram with Plan Make Do too.

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