This October, we want to bring your attention to Dyslexia Awareness Month and celebrate entrepreneurs who have overcome their disabilities to achieve success.
We spoke to a number of entrepreneurs who have overcome dyslexia, chronic pain, and much more, to build successful businesses – and what they’d say to anyone else with a disability who wants to set up their own company.
The Challenges Faced By Entrepreneurs With Disabilities
While starting up a business is daunting for any entrepreneur, the prospect can be even more overwhelming for anyone who has additional physical or mental challenges to overcome. However, being your own boss when you have a disability can actually work strongly in your favour: you’ll be able to work hours that suit you, and adapt your working processes in ways that may not be possible in a normal office environment (such as taking longer breaks to prevent fatigue).
If you’re thinking of starting your own business and have a disability, it’s important to factor this is as part of the startup journey. If your aim is to become the next Richard Branson, there’s nothing stopping you – but it may take a bit longer, a slightly different route, or require some additional input from external resources.
The good news is that there are many startup grants and funding opportunities designed specifically for budding entrepreneurs with physical or mental obstacles to overcome – which help them to get a boost for those additional resources (such as specialist equipment) and venture capital needed to get a business up and running.
How Entrepreneurs With Disabilities Built Successful Businesses
Now we’re on to the stuff you’re really interested in: how people have managed to do it. These entrepreneurs all realised that they could build a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle by becoming their own boss – and fulfil lifetime dreams of working for themselves.
Joseph Flahiff, of Whitewater Projects Inc., described how he overcame his dyslexia to create his books:
“I am a business consultant with dyslexia and I'm writing my second book. The first one was a pain and took me months and months This book has taken me just a few weeks. I know my material but writing sucks.”
He’s created his business books by first creating a PowerPoint of the topic. He then recorded himself giving the presentation and sent it to Rev.com to have the script transcribed. Without even looking at the transcript, he then passed it on to a freelance editor, who cleaned up the transcript for him. The last step was simply to add the diagrams and break up the chapters. Voila! “The New Agile Manager” became a book, without Joseph needing to actually write any of it.
Coping With Pain As An Entrepreneur
Chronic pain is a common problem experienced by people with disabilities but there are ways that entrepreneurs have managed this to enable them to have their dream job.
Erika Couto, a business and publicity strategist, has juvenile arthritis and chronic anxiety. She actually created her business while waiting for a hip replacement: she could no longer manage the three flights of stairs at her office. No longer able to work there, she created her business so she could work from home:
“It’s meant that I’ve had to get creative because I can’t always travel to meet with clients or attend events. I’ll ask for special disability accommodations or make alternative arrangements wherever possible.”
Beth Anne Ball, Owner of Beth Anne Ball Marketing, also has a combination of health problems which forced her to get creative with her working life.
“I look normal, but I have a slew of disabilities, and I run a business from home. I've helped start up multiple side businesses as well. I have also home-schooled my kids the past five years. On top of that, I have worked as a freelancer. I'm crazy. My disabilities are: Graves Disease, PTSD, severe depression, anxiety, type A trauma, and lots more!
I've had to overcome every single thing in order to not just run my business, but care for my kids and live a healthy and productive life.”
She advises counselling to help you through the tough early stages of setting up a business, so you can talk to someone who really understands what you’re going through. That doesn’t mean you need to shut off from your friends and family though – Beth Anne says that “you need your tribe” – and that you should ask them for help if you need it.
There are days when things will get the better of you – and that’s something you need to account for when setting up your business, giving clients timescales, and looking ahead for future opportunities.
“You’re going to fall apart or have a day where the health issues win. Those are the days you let go and listen to your body,” she says. “Cease work when you’re not at your best – reach out for help to complete jobs, and don’t take on any more work until you can give your best”.
Alex Biyevetskiy, Founder of RoofingCalc.com, found his livelihood as a roofing contractor became threatened when he developed chronic myofascial pain syndrome. “It affects my knees, elbows, and causes severe headaches. Prior to that I was very physically active, but I had to figure out something new because I could no longer climb on a roof to complete an installation.”
He researched digital marketing, and started writing about his experiences in roofing and home improvements. This developed into an entire website that was designed to help people learn more about their roofing options, use estimating tools, and connect with recommended roofers.
“The funny thing is,” he says, “is that becoming successful in my work has actually made me feel better physically. Although I’m still working on my condition and doing constant physiotherapy, I am feeling better, more optimistic, and a lot more productive.”
Steps To Take To Start Your Own Business As An Entrepreneur With Disabilities
The very first thing you need to do is make sure that the business you want to set up will have market viability. Make sure to research your competitors and your audience potential, and create a business plan with realistic projections.
Once you have this, you can start applying for startup funding for people with disabilities. As well as the usual routes, such as high street banks and crowdfunding campaigns, you may also find additional grants to help you set up. This is particularly true if you need additional support (such as hiring a part-time administrator to handle your paperwork), or specialist equipment (such as a adapted desk chair, or technology such as speech-to-text software).
You can get research grants from The Prince's Trust, assistance for equipment under the Access To Work scheme through your local Job Centre, or use the Turn2Us grants and benefits finder to discover opportunities for funding applications.
You can also find help within your local community. Many councils run free workshops for new business owners, and will be able to help connect you to business mentors. Schemes like this are not only great springboards that help you avoid common startup mistakes, but they can also help you to network and find your first clients.
Once you have some funding secured, and a business mentor, you’re in a strong position to get your business under way!