If your business goes to the wall, how will you cope?

That isn’t a question which Amanda Perry considered when growing her baking business, Fancy, from her kitchen into a thriving company with three shops and a commercial bakery. 

“In the beginning, it was just so easy. I was like, ‘oh my God, why is everyone saying business is hard? I’m just making cakes and people are buying them and everyone loves it!” she tells the Secret Leaders podcast of the business founded in 2008.

“I was in Vogue and Channel 4 were approaching me…. then it just kind of ground to a halt.”

By 2014, the company had collapsed and Amanda was filing for bankruptcy. “I can’t say there was any one thing [which went wrong] – it was just a serious lack of attention to detail,” she reveals.

“You need accountants and people in the business – but ultimately, if you want the privilege of running a business and employing people, you have to know the numbers. It’s not good enough to say ‘I’m not a detail person’.

“You also need good people around you: you can’t do it all. Play to your strengths. There was this phrase that I heard afterwards that really rang true: ‘I can do anything – but I can’t do everything.’

“There was a lot coming at me from all different directions and my mantra was ‘one foot in front of the other… just keep going. As soon as we get around this corner, we’ll be okay’. 

“I kind of wasn’t present. I was just going through the motions in the belief or the false hope.”

Protect your team’s mental health

Perry is now the successful founder of Soup Agency, but hers is a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about starting a business for the first time. Her biggest learning from the experience was to set up a limited company to avoid personal liability for its debts in the event that everything goes wrong.

“I remember realising that it was my only option: I was 35, I think, and understanding that it would impact my credit score for six years. I realised I wouldn’t be able to buy a house for six years; one of the other things which came up was that I wouldn’t be able to adopt [a child].

“It was a very depressing process. But it’s actually depressingly easy: you paid £750 to go bankrupt [at the time] – which is bizarre because you’re doing it because there’s no money available – you sign some documents.

“Once I’d gone through the bankruptcy and sold the assets within the business, that was the strangest feeling – there’d just been this chaos around me then, in the space of an afternoon, it went to silence. 

“We went to the cinema which is so weird now because I don’t even remember the film we watched. I think I just needed to be somewhere with my phone switched off and to focus on something.

“That week, it was really stark to me: my phone wasn’t ringing and I was like ‘guys, where is everyone?’ It’s just a really stark reminder of human nature, I suppose: people are attracted to so-called successful people.

“It’s literally just in the last 18 months that I’ve been able to confidently apply for any credit or get a mortgage again. I think a lot of people look at it as a kind of easy way out, a cowardly decision; but the impacts are huge.”

From contemplating suicide to tackling business’s ‘silent emergency’

The situation affected her family: she hasn’t spoken to her brother, who had invested money in the business, since the bankruptcy.

“That guilt and shame that you carry around is really far reaching. It was horrific. I was on the strongest antidepressants. I don’t even remember it: my husband talks about it now – weeks where I wouldn’t get out of bed. I don’t remember that at all.

“I do remember being scared to walk to our Tesco because I had to go over a bridge that went over train tracks. And there were so many times that I would just stand there and think: ‘God, this would be really easy, wouldn’t it? Then it’d be all gone.’

“It was horrible. Really, really horrible. I had family money in there, family relationships that were really really impacted by it, which is really sad. 

“So you’re dealing with all this internal stuff and then also feeling a bit guilty for feeling sorry for yourself because it’s impacted so many other people.”

Last year, more than 4,500 people filed for bankruptcy in the UK. 

Perry found a route back slowly. She spent a year reselling furniture she had sourced from Gumtree and selling cakes at markets – “doing anything to get by”, as she terms it.

“I’d had periods of mental health issues before in my corporate job and I was trying to think back to what helped me feel better back then. It wasn’t even thinking ‘I just want to feel like me again’ – it was more ‘I want to know that I will feel like me again one day’. 

“I needed that hope to keep me going… and time, sleep, walking, fresh air.”

Secret Leaders is available on Apple, Spotify and all major podcast platforms.