As a business owner, do you sometimes worry when the next big project will come your way? Do you worry how you’ll afford to pay your energy or wages bills from one month to the next?
After 12 years of working for myself, I’ve been there – and got the t-shirt.
All self-employed business owners have worried about having a consistent, reliable income at some point. When your bank balance is at ground zero and you’re desperate to find the next big job, it can feel cripplingly lonely, can’t it? But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Being vulnerable and sharing your vulnerability is probably one of the bravest things you can do. Vulnerability in any relationship is important, because it allows the other person to get close to you and trust you. But here, I’m specifically talking about being vulnerable in business. When times are hard, it takes unbelievable courage to share how you’re genuinely feeling, to stop pretending that everything’s ok when it’s not. It's about telling the truth, being honest with yourself and your friends and family of business friends, sharing what you’re going through. It’s the beginning of opening up and asking for help…
Most of my friends outside of work know about my dad. But this is the first time I’ve ever written it down – and the first time I’ve shared my story with my business friends.
So here it is: this is the story of my dad, Jack Coldicott, the life lessons he taught me and about how to run a successful business.
My dad, Jack, was self-employed. He was his own boss – a self-made man. He ran his own car respraying company in the centre of Worcester, Jack Coldicott Car and Commercial Refinishers, which is quite a mouthful, especially when you’re answering the phone. He started his business back in the early 80s, in the middle of the Thatcher years, when entrepreneurship was celebrated and encouraged by Maggie to reverse the massive unemployment figures and huge dependency on the state.
For over 20 years, his business enjoyed an amazing reputation and was very successful, largely due to all of dad’s hard work, business acumen and determination. Most of his work came as referrals from insurance brokers – he knew most of them in Worcester. Every Christmas, I’d take a branded calendar and bottle of whiskey to their offices. Over the years, his business grew, winning contracts to spray Carmichael’s fire engines and other commercial vehicles, plus several lorry fleets. This was before the days of car wraps, when all of the branding was hand-painted by talented signwriters.
He worked 5 and a half days a week. His team included Angelo, the Italian panel beater, and Keith, who oversaw polishing the cars. Before Keith worked for my dad, he used to groom thoroughbred racehorses, and he took great pride in polishing the cars just like they were those mirror-shine racehorses. Dad also employed a YTS girl called Fiona, who used to take phone enquiries and send out the invoices. I remember how much cleaner and tidier everything was once she started working there. Dad genuinely cared for his team. He paid them well, bought Angelo a company car and took them and their partners out every Christmas. As a Saturday treat, it would be my job to go to Foregate Street Patisserie and buy everyone hot sausage rolls, Lardy cakes and freshly baked Chelsea buns.
My dad was an extremely proud man. He had very high standards and always told me, he might not be the cheapest, but he was the best at what he did. I remember him explaining the difference between a good respray job and a bad one – he could spot them a mile off.
When I was about 13 years old, he gave me my first Saturday job. I loved working with my dad and earning my own money and being trusted to do some of the grown-up jobs. These included general tidying and sweeping the workshop, masking up cars ready to be sprayed, washing and T-Cutting cars before they were returned to their owners looking like they’d just got off the conveyor line in the factory.
Even though it was hard work and long hours, he loved being his own boss. He would never dream of working for someone else. Why? He loved to earn his own money; he liked making his own decisions. He liked to know that if he wanted a day off, he could take one (although he rarely did). He was good at being self-employed. He was determined, resilient and successful, and he earned enough money to enjoy whatever he wanted to do. He was always looking for opportunities to grow and improve the business.
Unfortunately, his good fortune was about to change. My dad knew the landowner wanted him to move out of the premises and, over 12 months, a series of break-ins and finally a fire at the offices caused his once-steady flow of enquiries to start to dwindle. My dad had to close the business and make his work mates redundant – it was one of the hardest decisions he had to make. Although he tried hard not to show it, I knew he was devastated.
Having built up and run a successful business and being well-known locally and by his peers, although he would never admit it, I think he found it hard starting again. He had several other entrepreneurial ideas, from starting a market gardening business to starting his own chip shop.
Fast-forward a few years. Dad is still running the chip shop in Worcester and I’m at Nottingham Trent Uni. The first girl in our family to go to uni and I’ve just started my second year of a Social Science degree. It’s December and the Christmas break, so I’m back in Worcester catching up with all my friends from home. We’re all excited to see each other, with loads of stories to share. We were having the time of our lives, without a care in the world.
Then there’s a phone call from my mum. My boyfriend at the time took me aside and told me there had been some bad news at home. My dad was missing or there had been an accident, we weren’t sure what had happened, but I had to go home.
They drove me to my Nanna’s house where all my closest family had gathered round. They told me that dad had taken his own life.
Still now, this period of my life is a blur. My own and my mum's lives were turned upside down, as was everyone's who knew him.
For me, I don’t believe my dad consciously chose to take his own life. Mental illness took him from us. He was too proud to ask for help. He grew up during a time when men were expected to be strong, to be providers and be able to manage any adversity that life threw at them. Talking about mental health then was completely taboo and seen as a weakness. Unfortunately, I will never know. I will never be able to fully understand what he was feeling or thinking.
My dad taught me so much and has, without doubt, made me the person I am today. From being independent, strong and hardworking to being a loving, caring and thoughtful, empathetic and generous person too. He taught me to value money for the choices it gives you, but not for money’s sake. To take pride in your work and do things to the best of your ability. But also to get jobs done, make progress and not to dither or dwell about making decisions. That life gives you choices and you need to be responsible for the choices you make.
What he doesn’t know is that I went back to uni and finished my degree. He doesn’t know that after a few years working for other people and organisations, I finally made the decision to set up my own business and work for myself. He doesn’t know that I got married to the most supportive husband, Keith from Pershore (my dad's hometown), and that he also has a beautiful granddaughter called Isabella.
What he doesn’t know is that, while I’ve tried to not let his death define me or hold me back, while I’ve tried not to get angry, hurt and upset, of course it has had a profound effect on me. I miss him. I want to tell him all the things he’s missed out on. I want to ask him why, why didn’t he ask someone for help?
To be honest, I’ve only just recently realised that I’m far more like my dad than I ever thought. And now that I get ever closer to the age that he committed suicide, it makes me think about him more and more. I think I can understand him more than I ever have done before. I can’t help but draw comparisons and parallels. But I’m not my dad. Thankfully, I have learned how important it is to ask for help.
To ask for help, you need to let down your defences and be vulnerable.
As I said before, most of my friends outside of work know that my dad committed suicide. But for many of my business friends, this will be the first time they’ve heard this story.
So why am I sharing my story now?
My dad committed suicide when I was 20 years old. I’m now 48. It’s taken me almost 30 years to come to terms with how I feel about my dad’s death and how it’s affected me.
For many years, I’d think about sharing my dad’s story for Mental Health Awareness week - to help raise awareness for others. But I’d never know where or how to start. I still wasn’t sure how I felt. Over the years, I’ve felt hurt, cheated, angry and lost. But I think what was really holding me back was being judged by other people. Now, I know it doesn’t really matter how I feel – if this can save just one life, it will be worth it.
I recently watched an amazing Brene Brown Netflix documentary, The Call to Courage, about choosing courage over comfort. Taking chances and sharing our vulnerability, sharing our stories and experiences when we don’t know what the outcome will be. (If you're interested here's her infamous TED Talk that's had over 19 Million views The Power of Vulnerability, on the same topic).
Some might find asking for help easy. For me, I used to be like my dad – too proud to ask. But now I know how important it is. And that it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. We can’t know everything ourselves. It’s ok to ask others for their help, support and expertise.
What can you do?
1. Start the conversation.
Do you know someone who might be struggling? Ask them if they’re ok. If they answer quickly and brush it aside, ask them again. Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it…? Sometimes, sharing that you’re struggling will help them to open up too.
2. Share this article.
Simply by sharing this blog, you’ll be raising awareness and encouraging people to talk about mental health, helping to remove the stigma. Remember, if just one person who is struggling at the moment reads this blog and asks for help, it will have been worth it.
3. Share the Samaritans number.
You can also let others know where they can get help. Whatever you're going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. They're available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Just call 116 123.
4. Raise Awareness.
15-21 May is Mental Health Awareness Week – so let people know that.
Do you need to talk to someone?
We all need help and support. It’s not a weakness. Being vulnerable and asking for help is a sign of courage, bravery and strength.