The consultant who couldn’t speak for a year

Loren Downing headshot

Loren Downing has faced more as a small business owner than most. After discovering tumours in her lungs and on her voicebox, the consultant couldn’t speak for a year. Despite this inauspicious start, Downing has created a successful consultancy for small business.

Loren Downing has unfortunately suffered from many health issues during her life, but it was in 2009 when she ended up in intensive care that specialists realised there was something more to her recurrent illnesses than meets the eye.

“It was July 2010, three days into officially launching my business, after leaving a secure well paying corporate career, I learnt that I had hundreds of nodules (small tumours) on my lungs, one on my voice box, and stomach and a pile of other issues. This was a little more than anticipated!”

So soon after launching her small business coaching and consultancy business, Sync or Swim, Downing was forced to assess what this would mean for her fledgling business and how it could go on.

“The first thought was that the timing couldn’t have been worse! I’m trying to launch a new business helping small business and now I can’t do a thing. I felt like the universe had dumped a major roadblock onto the path of my dream.”

“Fortunately I’ve been dealing with health issues all my life so I only ever allow myself to think this way for 24 hours and then made myself get on with finding a solution to my problem. I had to find a way to allow my health and business to co-exist.”

By taking over as a project manager for her many doctors, GPs and specialists, to try to coordinate surgeries and treatments, Downing managed to keep things going.

“Over the next two years I had approximately one year off work for surgeries, recovery and rehabilitation but I tried my hardest to run a business from my bed. I had to learn how to eat again, starting on a water diet. And, for a lot of this time, I had to be “mute” and not use my voice at all due to the operation on my voice box.”

Help from friends and mentors also allowed Downing to reorganise how she would operate her business.

“I had to restructure my business away from one that required a lot of talking towards more project based work. I had to stop offering coaching and business planning services unless it was email based, and I focused more on working on projects that involved writing contracts and building systems within an office etc.”

“I had to break my work into small parcels as there were days where I could not do anything due to health and then days where I could do a few hours. And I had to manage clients expectations closely and not overpromise and under deliver. I had to budget in extra time for not feeling well.”

Keeping her clients informed of all developments so they knew what to expect was also key to Downing’s strategy.

“I’ve never believed in keeping secrets from work colleagues, employees, managers and the like, so I kept the same strategy with my clients. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve anyhow, so I felt it was best to let my entire network know that I’d be facing some challenges and would be looking for their patience and support but would naturally understand if they needed to seek my services from someone else.”

Living through the rough times however has taught Downing to cope with whatever the business world throws at her.

“There have been waves of highs and lows. I realise that most of my highs were correlated to me having a ‘voice’- my business. I just had to find a different way to use my ‘voice’ to attract clients, service clients and maintain high standards. It has been the best thing to happen to me to be honest. It has taught me greater creativity, resilience, and problem solving skills. It also forced me to live by my business name and to Sync or Swim!”

“In the end I’m probably financially off track still, but client base wise, networks wise, business planning and strategy wise, I’m at least five years ahead. I’ve achieved things I never had in the plan, things outside of my wildest dreams.”

After dealing with some enormous challenges, Downing has come up with the following tips to offer other businesses to help them face their challenges.

  1. Everything happens for a reason. You can’t see it right now, but the good of a problem will shine through one day down the track and you will be grateful. Take the problem by the horns and find a solution. Be solutions and outcome focused.
  2. Always seek out positive people to help you problem solve. More brains provide a well rounded solution and ideas you would never have had yourself.
  3. Only allow yourself 24 hours to ‘dwell’. It’s natural to feel this way, but it adds no value.