What’s your secret?

What’s your secret?

Someone asked me this the other day. It took me by surprise, and after giving a garbled and not-very-helpful answer, I had to go away and think about it.

I think they were really asking, “What’s the one thing that’s made the biggest difference in your business?”

And the answer to that is easy: Help.

On numerous occasions, I’ve taken the painful, uncomfortable step of asking for assistance. Every single time I’ve made a leap, it has been because things got low enough, and I got close enough to my wits’ end, to risk the embarrassment of admitting that I couldn’t do it all on my own.

In 2006, as a bridal dressmaker, I had an order that went so horribly wrong, and upset me so much, that I admitted defeat and asked for help. I went on a local business course that gave me an enormous shot of confidence by showing me that I DO know this stuff and I CAN do this.

Then, in 2007, I had one of those “That’s IT! I’ve HAD IT!” moments, in which I realised that my business was not what I wanted it to be – I was spinning my wheels, working like mad and not getting anywhere. The local business course people found me a mentor. Barry, a retired local businessman, gave me a whole new perspective, and continues to pull my head out of the little details and into the big picture. His advice has been business-changing, and yes, life-changing.

Every single time I make a leap, it is because I get help, an outside perspective, the second opinion that makes the difference. That’s my secret.

So it follows that as I look at other small businesses, the biggest mistake I see people making over and over again is… trying to do it all on their own, without help.

They’re making cool stuff, showing it at exhibitions or markets or craft fairs or on Etsy, giving offers, advertising as best they can afford, doing all the administration, keeping up with email, packing things up and sending them out, and they’re barely scraping by, but determined that they can do it all alone.

Newsflash: you can’t. Give yourself a break.

Have the courage to ask for help – and realise that, in fact, the world out there is falling over itself to help. Other people would love to get involved in small, creative, exciting businesses – they’ll love to tell their friends about the cool project they’ve been helping out with – and even the most scary authority figures and most official organisations would love to help you make your little business a success – even if it’s so small that you hesitate to call it a “business” at all. In their eyes, the make-a-little-bit-of-pocket-money-on-the-side projects of today are potentially the job-creators of tomorrow, and even if you have no intention of going that big, they’ll still want to help everyone who has the sheer guts to give this game a try.

This Thanksgiving, as Harman Hay Publications emigrates from Britain and becomes a registered Corporation in the United States, I am thankful to every single person who has ever helped me, believed in me, worked with me, and made a little idea that crossed my mind six years ago into something bigger, better, and more impactful than I ever could have made it on my own.

Robert Hay, Rosi “Rhombus”, and Demi Harman, all of whom believed in me from the very start; my family, who have always been there to support me when I needed them; Marion McNealy, who saw the potential, aligned her own vision with mine, made it more than I could have imagined, and continues to hold me accountable; Polly, Noelle and Liz, who make it work every single week; our team of just over one hundred writers to date, without whom there’d be nothing at all to see here; to Barry, who gives me vision; to Patty, who coaches me to believe in possibility; and to everyone who reads and comments on whatever I’ve been writing on the Internet over the past ten years. You all make me what I am. Thank you.

What secret weapon are *you* thankful for today?


  1. Thank you for this post. I think fear of failing and the idea that no one knows what I am trying to do, therefore I have to do it all is a part of what prevents people from asking for help. It is in this country an admission that you have failed and someone has to bail you out. All the above is not true. I think the small business climate has changed with so many people starting up small businesses these days. I have found a wonderful group of ladies who are supporting my fledgling attempts at getting a business going. I am so thankful for that. They keep me grounded in reality but they also give me the push to take my vision a bit further. Thanks Catherine for reminding us that our success is about community not just ourselves.

  2. Just to say thank you for a very timely reminder. Not, sadly, for my sewing life at present, but for life in general. Yes there ARE people out there who want to help, but as you say, it takes courage to break the habit of a lifetime and ask.

  3. Hello, I stumbled across your website after googling “antique maternity corset”. I’m searching for someone who can construct a vintage-style corset for me. I didn’t see anything on the Foundations Revealed website that might help me find a member if I just want some sewing done. I’m in the USA. Can you possibly put me in contact with someone who could make such a thing for me? Thank-you very much!

    • Hello Elizabeth! That’s a great piece of feedback – we really ought to have a directory of professional corsetmakers on there. in the meantime, why don’t you try asking on the Foundations Revealed Facebook page? Our members will respond, I’m sure.


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