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I think the sub-title for this blog should be “learning to fail”. Or more accurately, learning to accept that there will be failures, from which you can only learn.

Some of the things you do wrong are pretty minor, or minor in as much as they don’t cost you too much in time or money. Some will be pretty big. One of my early mistakes was trusting someone who turned out to be a completely rotten apple. I won’t rehearse what happened here, much as I would like to name and shame, because it’s in the hands of the SRA now. But in short I took on a consultant who was not all she seemed, and who could have been catastrophic for a young enterprise.

When you are growing a business it’s very easy to take on as much work as you can, or in Cognitive’s case, take on as many solicitors as you can. So when I was approached by a solicitor with whom I had worked at a previous firm, I jumped at the chance to take her on as a consultant at Cognitive. I thought that as I had worked with her before I needn’t take references. How wrong could I be.

What I learned from that catastrophic error was four-fold. First, once you have realised you have made a mistake, act on that realisation as soon as you can. I terminated that solicitor’s consultancy agreement immediately I discovered her wrongs.

Secondly, look at what you could have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, and do it differently from then on. Suffice to say I have never not taken at least two references for new consultants since that time.

Thirdly, and conversely, the right consultant can make the world of difference. The solicitor who helped me sort out the mess that the exited consultant had left behind was, and still is, amazing. She had only been with the firm a couple of weeks, but she rolled her sleeves up and got on with it. Without her I think I would have drowned.

Finally, surround yourself with support to plug the holes in your own knowledge. It’s an ignorant person who thinks they know everything. I am quite comfortable that I don’t know what I don’t know. Having a compliance expert to guide me through that difficult time was invaluable, and we have worked closely together ever since.

My over-riding take away from that episode is to ensure you have back up available when you need it, in areas which are not your strengths or expertise. During that time I was (and I still am) a member of a peer to peer business growth network, which gave me a support network that I didn’t have at work. Running your own company can be a lonely place, but being able to meet with other Managing Directors to discuss your various woes or successes, is like business therapy that I can’t rate more highly. Sometimes I laugh, some times I want to cry, but the support is there from my peers when I most need it.

I have also invested in a business mentor. This goes back to not knowing what I don’t know, and having a mentor who has built a successful business before has helped me grow not just the business but also myself. We meet every quarter, and together we set goals for the next 3 months. Not everyone feels the need for this type of relationship, but having some input from a person outside of your business, who can give an impartial view of your decision making makes a big difference to me.

So although I took quite a glib attitude at the start, applying John Burrough’s saying “leap and the net will appear”, there is absolutely no harm in chucking yourself a few buoyancy aids along the way.

By Lucy Tarrant