The official LLC paperwork from the state declares that Galway Group Life Sciences Consulting became “real” on 11/04/2020. I’m writing this six months later, to the day. Much like a certain famed rabbit, Galway Group becomes more real to me with each passing day, bit by bit. When Margery Williams wrote The Velveteen Rabbit one hundred years ago, her intended audience was most likely not a small business owner taking a gamble with her family’s savings. But as I was drafting this week’s blog post, this passage kept coming to mind:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams; first published 1922
Today, if you ask me how Galway Group is doing, I can honestly say, “Great! If I’ve got problems, they’re the loveliest ones to have.” If you had asked me in early February (only three months ago), I would have said, “I’m scared this isn’t going to work out.” Starting your own business sometimes hurts. It’s terrifying. You can’t be someone who easily breaks if you’re going to seek out and pitch to clients. Selling has humbled me. I have been ghosted and flat-out rejected. I have taken an almost geologic era to close a deal. (Side note: all the Pharma mantras about the value of having “carried the bag” are true.) But I’ve also shrieked out loud when an SVP responded to my “cold” LinkedIn connection request and message with a, “Thanks; can you shoot me an email to svp@hotbiotech dot com and attach your CV?” I blitz-texted friends, “I finally signed a client!” I shed a few tears and shouted from the hilltops when I sent out my first “real” invoices.
I take nothing for granted. I am having a blast.
My particular service area, consulting, does not encourage showing your sharp edges (nor should it). While I feel very comfortable “owning” my patient support services expertise, I have no formal business training. I’m a public health geek, for crying out loud. I studied things like infectious disease epidemiology, maternal/child nutrition in developing countries, and evaluation of public health programs in the US and abroad. There’s no Finance, Accounting, or Organizational Behavior class listed on any transcript of mine. I didn’t pay my dues at a Big Four firm. I had no evidence to support the notion that I could 1) be a consultant or 2) manage my own business.
One of the most delightful discoveries in this journey has been the generosity and willingness of former colleagues, professional acquaintances, and even friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (AKA strangers) to share their experiences and advice. So, if I can be so bold as to think that I have learned anything worth sharing over the past six months, here goes:
Starting your own business can be a lonely experience. Tell everyone you know that you’re starting a business and build your community.
Don’t wait until after you’ve figured everything out, or the website is perfect, or until you feel like you’re “…gonna make it.” Tell people you’re starting a business and what that business is going to do. I am so grateful to have been offered help that I didn’t know I needed.
Early on, a former colleague (and now friend) texted me saying that she received an invitation from her business school alumni group for a WebEx on, wait for it, starting your own consulting practice. If she could reserve a participant space for me, would I want to join the call? The speaker was Will Bachman, and after that WebEx, I binge-listened his Unleashed podcast until the wee hours. I couldn’t tell you how many nights, long after both my guys had gone to bed, that I was either listening to podcasts or reading, more like cramming for a self-imposed final exam, every book I can find on consulting, marketing, or running your own business.
As part of this process, I discovered Susan Meier and decided to work with her. Susan is an incredible sounding board. She coached me, detangled my web of ideas, and helped me clarify my business purpose and brand identity. I also read and re-read David A. Fields’ The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, and then jumped with both feet into one of his weekend-long (virtual) group workshops, which was simply fantastic. My inner New Englander appreciates the discipline David applies to consulting. Bonus: I met some very cool folks whom I suspect will become friends.
They are part of the community I am building.
Another community that I have come to treasure is the fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners I have met through Anew America. I have been inspired, supported, and challenged by my sister classmates:
- A fine arts ceramicist
- A pair of medical technologists
- A tourism service operator
- An online retail business owner who partners with women artisans in her Central American hometown
- A consultant (in civil engineering/public safety)
The quality of the coursework, the rigor of the assignments, and the accountability my peers and instructor have held me to develop a formal business plan have been game-changing for me. I think that, particularly in Biotech/Pharma, it’s easier for folks to share that they’ve completed a B-school certificate program or have worked 1×1 with a private coach than it is to explain how Small Business Administration (SBA) or SCORE programs have helped them.
My business community is not only Biotech/Pharma; it’s the East Bay. It’s other small business owners. It is women.
I asked on a local online “Mamas” group if anyone could recommend a small business attorney. If folks mentioned a name twice, I called that name. Eventually, I clicked with an attorney who “gets” me and provides the outside perspective and dose of common sense I need. And she does something that I find astonishing (so I will make certain not to abuse this gift): she charges me only for legal advice. If I’m having an “I think this is what I should do moment, but I need another human to listen to me say it out loud” moment, I call her.
For example, I seriously considered taking venture capital, but my attorney challenged me: Why do you think you need it? I don’t think you do. You don’t have much to worry about in terms of overhead.
“Money is easy to solve for; intellectual property and equity are not.”
Her statement rocked me. While I never wanted for anything as a kid, I don’t come from money. I didn’t get summer internships; I got jobs:
- Three high school summers in a hot factory attic packing those little bags of crackers you get with clam chowder in restaurants
- Babysitting every weekend and every school vacation
- Cashiering 4pm to midnight at a 7-11 because they paid better than the supermarket (and I now understand why)
- Working in the A/V department in college because it was the highest hourly wage for any federal work-study job.
I’ve been laid off. I belonged to a collective bargaining unit that called a strike. I’ve scheduled job interviews between dialysis sessions. Despite the opportunities Pharma has given me over the past decade, the idea that money is abundant or easy to find is not part of my lived experience, or frankly, in my DNA.
But the idea that how I do my work, how I lead this company, would be more challenging to replace than the almighty dollar has profoundly impacted me; it has put steel in my spine.
It makes Galway Group real. And it has emboldened me to apply that same energy and attention I give to clients to this business.