Five years ago Sally Murphy was living in rural Ireland, recovering from a break-up and adjusting to being a single mother. As she started to put her life back together she found strength and inspiration from the women in her life and began to notice the return of her self-esteem and the desire to achieve the dreams she had had when she was younger. A chance consulting gig ended up being the catalyst for Murphy to start her business, Well Told, where she consults businesses to tell better stories, helps with creative strategy and content curation. Today, the Letterkenny, Ireland-based entrepreneur is figuring out the tricky task of how to expand her team as she struggles to find time to onboard employees, while also remaining grateful for all the massive strides she has made as a solo-mompreneur.
Murphy’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
Looking back, there were several reasons for starting my business and more than one starting point. I had no savings, zero business experience and really no sensible reason other than a deep, instinctive feeling in my gut that there had to be more to life. I view that woman who took a deep breath and jumped into the unknown with great respect and fondness now – she was so brave. And although the last 5 years have been at times, some of the toughest in my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.
To answer the question why I started my business, I have to look at what was happening in my life before it began. Based in rural Ireland, I had gone through major upheaval in my life when my relationship ended, leaving me and my two young sons reeling, struggling to cope in the aftermath. One of the things that was a huge support to me throughout that terrible time was my job. I worked in an art gallery with a mainly all female team, and my boss was incredibly supportive. Many people will identify with the chaos that ensues when a relationship ends and a family is broken up. Yes, there is huge emotional tumult and that is far-reaching and deep. But there is also a huge knot of practical, logistical and financial elements that need to be picked through and straightened out. So about three years into the separation, I had less money and time but my self-esteem was beginning to grow back and with it, a new hunger for more. All the dreams that I had carried with me from my teens but had packed away when I became pregnant with my first son aged 24, well they began to come back. And they were loud. For more than a decade I had believed that I could not do anything special on my own, I felt small and increasingly unworthy. That began to change as I carved out this new life for myself and my kids.
One day, an opportunity to do a pretty major and lucrative piece of consulting work came my way and with the encouragement of some special friends, I took the leap. In order to qualify I needed to be a business identity and so that weekend, I created my name, logo and website. I applied for the work and… I got it! This was another new beginning and I grabbed it with both hands. For the next two years I juggled working in the gallery and running my business as a side hustle until it became too much for me and I had to make a choice – to take a chance and give this business thing a go or leave it behind and stay in my safe job. Needless to say, I chose the former and in 2018, opened another new chapter as a full-time business owner. Since then, I have become a Ltd. company, rebranded and worked with some of the most incredible people all over the world.
How do you define success?
Success is commonly described as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. But in order to be able to do that you need to have an aim and understand your purpose. And that can be tricky, especially in a world which too often teaches women to put other people before themselves and stay small to fit in. So for me, success is when we are awakened to our purpose and the path towards living it. Thats when we can get excited about what is possible. And for me, the journey is defined by having the right people around you who will love, encourage and inspire you to achieve that purpose and find flow.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
My biggest success to date is still being in business against all the odds. Not only that, my business is growing with a really exciting client base and a clear plan for where I want to grow in the next 10 years.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge is scaling up and as part of that, how to build in support and a team. I find myself having to say no to certain opportunities because I don’t have the capacity to deliver. But I also don’t seem to have the time to onboard a team to help me deliver the projects. So I just keep on trying to do everything myself and its stopping me from scaling to the next level.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
My biggest tip is to build a community of safe and supportive people around you. However, make sure that there are people you can speak to or learn from who have experienced the success you want. Loads of people will tell you what they think you should do. But only listen to the people who stand out as having walked through walk not just talked the talk!
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I always think, “Whats the very worst that could happen here?” and when I drill it down to the bare bones, I see that no matter what, my children and I will always have a roof over our head, safety, people who love us and enough of what we need. Too many people in the world sadly do not have that and we are lucky. This brings me back to center, helps me calm down and find my purpose again.
Who is your most important role model?
My Grandmother Brid is my most important role model. Although long since passed away, her story motivates me and my work daily. She was a proud, fiercely intelligent women with a passion for politics and literature. Growing up with a father who was involved in the creation of the Irish State, she went on to become secretary to the first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. However, as was the law at the time, once she got married she had to live up to her job! She went on to become a mother and a housewife but I always knew how saddened she was at the loss of her career. In later years when she became a widow she went straight back to work and even volunteered in her 70’s on the campaign for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. When I feel like an imposter, insecure about what I’m trying to achieve with my business, in those moments when I feel frozen with fear I think about my Granny. I think about how proud she would be of me and I remember that I have freedom that she never had, and that’s far more powerful than fear.
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