In this episode, Karen spoke about what brought her to the business she has today, and the invaluable lessons she learned along the way…

Episode Quote
When you’re in it,

you’re in it, and you can’t see your way out

Karen Gilbert

Episode Highlights: 

00:07:32 Let’s open a shop
00:12:16 Juggling debt and growth
00:15:48 The verge of a breakdown 
00:17:09 Step back and find your passion
00:21:51 A decision had to be made
00:31:28 Redefining the F word

Read The Full Episode:

Welcome back to another instalment of the Digital Breakthrough Podcast, Fail Forward to Success series. 

I love this series because I truly love talking about failures! I always say that your successes are inspiring for a second, but it’s what you were able to learn that really energizes me. I named the series Fail Forward because that’s actually what failures help you do. They help you move forward and create opportunities to learn. I like to say we don’t Fail, we have a Fun Attempt In Learning!

So, let’s continue on this journey of redefining what it means to fail, and learn from my next guest’s wealth of knowledge. 

Karen Gilbert is a fragrance expert. She is an author, teacher, and speaker, who runs courses in the UK and online that demystify the secret world of perfumery. I can’t believe I got the chance to talk to her. Karen’s expertise is so unique, but her experience getting there is incredibly relatable. 

Throughout our conversation, Karen spoke about what brought her to the business she has today, and the invaluable lessons she learned along the way.

Karen’s Big Fat Failure

Karen’s failure story begins with a clothing store she decided to start in July of 2003. She had already spent time working in the fragrance industry, but her company was about to move out of London, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to commit herself to the company enough to move. Karen spoke about how she always knew she wanted to own a business, so when she and her then partner were taking a little vacation in Scotland, she came up with the idea to buy a store, and go into retail. 

On the surface, this sounds nothing like a failure story. Karen and her partner found success pretty soon into their opening, and not even a year later expanded into a larger storefront. She left her full time job in the fragrance industry, and went all in on her business. 

The challenge to remember is that with a brick and mortar store, you have to fill it with inventory, which you have to buy upfront. Karen reflected on the slippery slope that buying inventory became when she started charging the costs to her credit cards. 

But, her business was still doing well, even if it hit a few bumps along the road. At one point, their landlord was selling the building, and they had to relocate to a much larger shop with much higher rent. And then all of a sudden, they were going to have to hire more staff to keep a larger space operational. 

Then, the 2008 recession hit, and the credit cards she was using to purchase inventory skyrocketed their interest rates. Soon after, a larger, cheaper fashion company came along that started selling similar styles as her shop, and she couldn’t compete with their prices. 

By late 2009, Karen was struggling in her business. It felt like there was a new problem every day, and she was the person on top who had to always figure out the answer. There would be problems with her staff, or items running out of stock, or shoplifting, and bills that always had to be paid on top of everything else. And, she was starting to realize over the past few years that retail might not really be her passion. 

Phew. Needless to say, Karen was at a significant make it or break it point in her life and business. If you have ever felt like a mountain of debt is piling up on top of you, and it just seems like every day throws something new at you that you don’t have the capacity for, I’m sure you can relate. I have 100% been there. 

So, since she obviously found a way out to be where she is now, I asked Karen what advice she has for anyone who has gone through something like that, or is currently facing a similar situation. In short, her answer was to find clarity. But that can seem like such an impossible task when you feel the weight of all your problems holding you down. 

Karen broke it down into a few main pieces of advice that I made into some really great action steps you can follow if you are at this point. Take a deep breath, and let Karen’s lessons learned help you, and maybe you will start to feel the weight lift off your shoulders, even just a little. You’ve got this! 

6 Steps to Finding Clarity

1. Step Back

When you’re in a mountain of debt, or a pit of despair, you need to make a decision, but you can only make a decision from a place of clarity, and you can only get clarity from a bird’s eye view. 

The most important thing to do when you are deep in the weeds of every problem your business has is to step away from it for a moment. I don’t mean completely abandon it, but find a way to distance yourself from thinking about your business for a time.

This could be for an hour, a day, a week, whatever feels right for you. However, chances are you are stuck in that “always have to be doing something” mindset. If that’s the case, literally schedule something that requires you step away from your business. 

You could schedule a workout or a course that you’ve always wanted to take. You could start that hobby you kept putting off, and commit to one hour a day or one day a week. 

One of the things Karen started doing was teaching fragrance classes for fun. She needed something to get her mind off her business, even if just for a couple hours a week. And without even realizing it immediately, it helped point her in the direction of the business she runs today.

Episode Quote
Don’t always think that your best decisions will come from when you’re in forward motion. Sometimes they come from a place of stillness

Karen Gilbert

2. Delegate  

How many times have you seen this word as part of advice for balance or levelling up in your business? If you have not yet done it, now is the time to start. 

Because you are now setting aside specific time to step away from your business and gain perspective, you will need to delegate certain tasks to make sure the business keeps running. The goal is to not pile on more work when you come back, but to find a way to keep the business going, so you can focus on the strategy and big picture. 

When Karen started delegating more responsibilities to her staff, she actually saw things improve on the day to day. Her staff felt more empowered, like they actually had a stake in the success or failure of the business. 

And when Karen came back from her mental breaks, she actually had the energy to dedicate to figuring out how to get out of the position her business was in. She began to step into her role as the boss, and was able to make those big decisions. All because she delegated more. 

3. Find the Stillness

This might seem like another impossible task when you feel the constant threat of a failed business, but it’s a really important step to finding clarity. If you are in that “go, go, go” mentality, it might be even harder. 

Karen’s suggestion is to journal, meditate, and just write everything down that’s in your brain. Get it all out on paper, so you can step back from the chaos that might be going on in your mind right now. 

Do you ever feel like you have your best ideas when you’re in the shower or driving? This is the exact thing Karen is talking about when she says to get into a space of not thinking about your problems. 

Once you can get your mind off your problems, you are actually better able to come up with a solution. Try taking a bath or doing something that relaxes, distracts, and quiets your mind. But make sure you have something nearby to take notes with when inspiration strikes.

4. Stay True to Your Passion

When Karen started stepping back to gain perspective, she realized two very important things about the shop she ran. First, she didn’t love it, it wasn’t her passion. Second, she actually started it all those years ago because she knew it would have been great for her then partner. 

He didn’t have a job at the time, and she knew the customer facing side of retail was his zone of genius. So, subconsciously, she embarked on this whole journey for him, and not for herself. 

Entrepreneurship is hard. Anyone who has tried it knows that for all the shiny, instagram story moments, there are millions of other moments when you feel like you want to run away. But what keeps you going is when you are truly passionate about the work you do, and the mission of your business. 

Karen emphasised the importance of loving the business that you dedicate your life to. You will need that momentum of joy to carry you through the challenging moments. And realistically, you won’t love every little bit. That’s where delegating comes in! 

When you take a moment to step back from your current business, and quiet your mind to gain perspective, listen to what your passion is telling you. Is this current business your joy, and you’re just in a rough spot? Or do you need to make a shift? 

And once you have answered that, you will better know how to move forward.

Episode Quote
for all the shiny, instagram story moments, there are millions of other moments when you feel like you want to run away

Karen Gilbert

5. Make a Decision and Commit

Once you take the time to get perspective and clarity about the problems you are facing, you need to make a decision. At this point, it is not a bad idea to involve an outside perspective, because they might have some practical advice you had not yet thought of. 

Karen’s business coach suggested she declare bankruptcy, call it a loss, and move on. But Karen would have had to give up her house as part of declaring bankruptcy, and she did not want to do that.

“And so I kind of dug my heels in and I said I’m not going to ditch the business, I’m going to figure it out, I’m going to find a way to turn that around and pay that debt off.”

So, she listened to her coach’s advice, but she dug her heels in, and decided to find solutions and strategies to get her business out of the hole it was in. And by 2014, she had managed to pay off $85,000 in debt, while also making a profit that year. 

And the most amazing part of this point in her story is that one of those strategies was online marketing. Just like when Karen started teaching fragrance classes to quiet her mind from her business struggles, learning about online marketing actually brought her closer to her passion.

6. Be Open

There were so many moments along Karen’s journey where she was able to find real clarity because she was always open to it. When she started teaching fragrance classes, she didn’t know she would soon start a business, she was just having fun. But all the while, she took the opportunities that came. 

When she was looking for new ways to draw sales to her business, she explored online marketing. This was not actually the strategy that saved her business, but going to the online marketing conferences exposed her to personal development speakers, where she was reminded of her passion for mentoring and inspiring others. 

If you are open to finding solutions in unexpected places, you will likely stumble on the next big thing for your business, without even realizing it. Take the time for yourself, and give your mind a mental break from the stress of your business if you’re in the weeds right now. Let the ideas come from the stillness, and listen to your passion. And once you have done all that, make your decision and believe in yourself.

Thank you, Karen!

I learned so much from my conversation with Karen. She is truly an inspiration for finding a solution, and using her failures as the path to her success. 

My favorite part about her whole story is that the struggles she had with her shop really was the piece that led her to where she is today. She was able to use that apparent failure as a way to learn in real time what her passion is, while also working tirelessly to pull herself out of debt.

Her story really is a great example of redefining the F word. Failure is something to embrace, not to shy away from. Failure is just a part of being an entrepreneur, and if you want to have real success, you’re going to have to fail! 

Have you been in a place in your business where you felt like problems were piling on and you couldn’t find a way out? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let me know, I would love to learn from your failures, too!

Connect with Karen on social media here: www.instagram.com/karengilbert

Discover more about Karen here: www.karengilbert.co.uk