Honestly about what it’s really like to start and run a business

Ariana Mara

Honestly about what it’s really like to start and run a business

In this podcast, Ariana talks through her real-life experience of how to start and run a business. She shares the milestones she hit on the journey of bringing her third company, unleashr, to life. You’ll get a sneak peek into the basic idea behind establishing unleashr, through taking the business online to how she and her team are building a new and different brand. Come and have a listen, it might just inspire you!

Podcast transcript

Hello Everyone,

It’s been a while, I know. We have been busy with preparing for product launches and putting an entirely new brand on the road. I am so excited!

Still very much to do, but sometimes we all need to take a step back and reflect on what is happening around us.  

So much has changed. When we started the Honestly series, we were free to move around. Understandably, now, we act with more caution because of the pandemic.

Also, I have to say that I am amazed by all healthcare staff’s efforts around the world. Not sure if there is a word that expresses the gratitude I am feeling for their work, even though I have been fortunate so far.

Some things haven’t really changed, though. For one, that is our passion for working for our clients’ success. We didn’t stop innovating and improving our business, which, I believe, is what all business owners do because this is how businesses move forward and create value. Which, I would say, is the essence and mission of a business.

Lately, I have been receiving a specific question, actually two, again and again, so there you go.

What is it really like to start and run a business?

Well, for me, it has been exciting, liberating, mind-blowing, inspiring, and a lot of hard work. So, if you are about to start and run a business and hear all the success stories promising you to get recognized and rich overnight… Well, my advice is to take these with a pinch of salt.

The girl needs to seriously get her ‘shit’/talent together to start a business that is born to succeed. Because, obviously, we all go for success. Statistics show though that only 10% of businesses are running after a few years.

I am not telling you this to ruin your dream or motivation about starting and running a business. Without dreams, your soul will be in trouble. And your drive will prove to be one of the most valuable assets when you run a business.

Today, let me tell you about experiences related to a few important milestones in the life of my business. I will jump right to unleashr, which is my third company.

I know there are many entrepreneurs out there who had multiple companies and learned the business by doing. I believe I am one of them. Even though I learned about business at uni, life has taught me so much. Also, in the line of entrepreneurs, perhaps, being luckier than most, I don’t have rags to riches story to tell.

I haven’t been dirt poor, although I had seen difficult times, and all my companies made it to success. The first one had its life cycle, and I decided not to take it to the next phase, but to start anew.

Also, all the companies were, and are, different, as I have been growing together with my businesses.

Milestone #1: Establishing unleashr

So, the first key milestone I want to talk about was when I established unleashr. It was born out of dissatisfaction, as many businesses are born out of some frustration.

Initially, it served business clients only, specifically, in the business transformation space, where I worked with senior leaders of medium to large businesses. That includes CEOs, Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Directors of these companies depending on the size and complexity of their organization structure.

I advised them to lead their teams through turbulent times and helped them as leaders to make the best out of these high-risk transformational periods.

As with our mentoring business, the approach has been unique and innovative. According to the feedback of the clients, highly effective as well. 

I developed a methodology, which puts people in the center. And, naturally, everyone will tell you the same. In practice, in such situations, the resources available to support individuals are so scarce that standardized methods take priority. This is what I was dissatisfied with. No transformation program reported unsuccessful and yet, numerous programs were in delay and reported efficiency drops following implementation. I am a bit of an efficiency freak. So, I spent quite a bit of time finding methods and ways that increase the effectiveness of transformational periods and yet don’t take as much toll on the people. This is what I built in that business.

Such progress and evolution are almost straightforward.

Not like when I took my business into a new direction when we started offering mentoring services to individuals. Again, a bit of natural evolution, though with a twist.

From that, you might assume that I run a business, develop it, and start a new direction equipped with the knowledge and experiences.

Milestone #2: Going online

So, here comes the second milestone I share with you. For that, I took the business online. Inevitable for scalability. Still in the same brand but with an expansion.

Imagine that you are standing in the middle of Times Square, early afternoon, in the summer. Literally, thousands of people are heading in your direction. Many tell you something, want to sell you something, want to take a photo with you. The experience is overwhelming. This is how I felt for the first time.

Gazillion offers around what works online; my head was buzzing from the webinars and courses.

  • What to do with Facebook ads?
  • Which funnels work the best?
  • How to provide engaging content?

While all that was extremely useful, I immersed myself in that world and came out somewhat wiser.
One of the most important learnings was that without a specific view on the brand and the offering I put on the table, it doesn’t matter how good the Facebook tactics are. I also learned that business strategy comes first, even if it is easy to get lost in the tactics.

Milestone #3: Building a brand

The third milestone will be about the brand we are preparing to launch. This is what we are working on. Also exciting, and this one also builds on the success of the previous product and service lines, but we take it one step further. This one was born out of dissatisfaction too.

Building a new brand that is different, and yet will step on the shoulders of a previous brand, is challenging. As with all the other areas of the business, it requires a constant balancing between strategizing and the delivery. It also keeps me on my toes, which I really enjoy.

What’s different is the risk management around it. Also, the challenge to adopt new things: information, techniques in marketing, branding, and the project management aspect as well.

I wanted to say ‘in general’, but in business, there is no ‘in general’, perhaps. So, in terms of the operations, to align the existing business lines and the new brand requires discipline, both in planning and in delivery. That we ensure through project management, all our operations are project-based.

Personally, because I am somewhat of a workaholic, I need to be conscious of my personal time. I also must make sure I eat healthily and take care of my body.
A business owner is the heart and soul of the business, which means your health has a primary impact on the health and success of your business as well.

I hope today’s podcast gave you a bit of an insight into what it is really like to start and run a business.

See you in the next episode of the Honestly series.

Today is my Birthday

today is my birthday

Today is my birthday, and I thought the best way to celebrate it is to share, to give.

So, today, I would like to talk about time, our beliefs about time, and how we can change those beliefs.


Time as we know it is indefinite, and it is also precious because, for the human existence on earth, it is limited. This duality accompanies us throughout our lives.

We know time is precious, but we tend to act as if it was indefinite. We plan to make the best out of life, and when it comes to working on it, we let ourselves be swayed by the moment. And, no argument there, some moments have the right to influence us.

I am thinking about the moments we spend with our family and friends. The time we spend hugging each other or listening to a friend who is going through a heartbreak. I am thinking about the moments when we choose to be happy and content. The moments when we recognise, we have just made the right choice; even if we don’t know why we made that particular decision. We perhaps made it because it felt right. Other times, we planned and consciously chose between options.

And we are also aware that time is passing by the minute. We measure it, look at our watches or phones every day, fill our calendars with events and meetings. At times, we become slaves of time.

We believe that:

  • high performers wake up early and work until late, so we don’t sleep enough and shorten our lives.
  • being busy or filling up our calendars is there to show how hard we work, so we stress out on not having time for ourselves.
  • there is always another opportunity to make someone else happy or to ask for forgiveness, just until we recognise it is too late.
  • we know that every minute counts and yet we may not speak up when our opinion would encourage others to find a solution.
  • we still have enough time to finish a piece of work, and we leave it to the last minute, just to put extra pressure on ourselves and rush the work at the end.
  • being overwhelmed is sometimes a given and forget that it is a choice.

Belief is accepting the existence of something based on previous learning and experience. Changing how we spend time and how much we get out of a day or a month is also a choice.

Even though changing a belief does not happen overnight and there will be occasions when you may slip and get back to the old habits, it is possible to turn a switch and change how you think about the time you spend on this planet.


And why would you think about your life, if you believe you have a time management problem? A time management problem can be managed by changing daily habits.

Well, some time management problems are linked to how valuable we think our time is. You can change a daily habit, and then you recognise that after a few weeks, you need to start it all over again because you slipped.


Today is my birthday, so I was thinking about the last 12 months and how I spent it. I am sure you are familiar with the feeling when you recognise the year is almost over. You hardly forgot last Christmas or the new year’s party, and you already see the invitation in your calendar for this year’s event. What happened to the time between last Christmas and today?  

I developed this tradition of evaluating my year about a decade ago. I spend about 30 minutes on my birthday to assess whether or not I lived life to the fullest, whether I made others happy, whether I helped others. Most people do such an evaluation toward the end of the year. To me, it is essential that I link this evaluation to my birthday because it gives me a chance to see whether I honour my life by living it to others’ benefit.

As I am assessing my year, I think about those times when I missed to live up to my purpose. Collect reasons why I didn’t do that and look for patterns.

Did I procrastinate at times? Of course, everyone does it. Do I find any patterns, are there particular life situations when I procrastinate? If so, what were the conditions? Is there a fear lurking in the background that I haven’t managed yet? Is there a limiting belief?

You can change your limiting beliefs, once you let them come to the surface, once you bring them forward. A belief is based on what you learned and experienced before. It is your interpretation of a past event applied to your present. Because it is your interpretation, it is up to you how you think about it. Therefore, you can change it.

It is up to you how you think about a particular situation in the future.

  • Do you withdraw from providing suggestions if you feel your colleagues criticised your view more than once? What are you afraid of?
  • Do you not dare apply for a new role because you haven’t been selected for other positions in the past few months? Did you spend time to learn how you can be more successful next time?
  • Do you not call your brother or sister this time, because most of the time you initiate the peace treaty? What do you have to do differently this time?

Whatever choices you make will impact your time in this life. Your time is more valuable than you think. Spend it gracefully.


And if you celebrate your birthday today, I wish you a Happy Birthday and a year with joy, success and happiness.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

5 Things that Keep Me Going Every Day

2-min read

In my line of work, I often meet people who believe that success and happiness are gifts of angels softly landing on their shoulders if they pray for it, or that others are born with it.  But results are coming from a conscious and long-standing effort.

You desire it, you plan for it, you work for it without giving up. This is how you get there. Praying is the first step.  Although, I quite understand how difficult it is to keep on going every single day.

The other day, I was thinking about what keeps me motivated, and I found five thoughts that help me move forward every day and which I would like to share with you now.

  1. Life is Brilliantly Limitless
    I mean it, speaking from experience. I cannot count the number of times in my life when I thought I couldn’t do or achieve something I really wanted to. As long as I believed I couldn’t do it, I didn’t even try. Perhaps, I tried but invested in so little effort that I was ultimately doomed to fail.

Some beliefs, I brought from my family, others I developed along the way. If you think about it, we born into families and grow up with advice like go to the university, get a decent job with a decent salary, please your bosses and work your way up through the years.

We live in a bubble, in a pretty or not so pretty but well-defined glass box.

Truth is though that we live in a world of created things around us. We live in buildings designed by architects, we travel by planes built by engineers, we chat with chatbots developed by programmers. We cry or laugh watching movies dreamed and created by artists.

The world is truly limitless and constantly changing. Ripples of change every single minute; and I can not only be part of the change but can make a difference around me and through that shape life itself. I can create things others find useful, I can help others by sharing learning and advice. I can share my opinion, get others to support it and induce a change in the society. What a power in the hands of a single individual.

  1. It is the Value and not the Money

The most important in my work and my life is the value I bring in others’ lives; the way how we create it and the people I am creating it with. The positive impact we make using our resources to induce positive change and innovation, the way how we serve people.

Money is wonderful because it enables me to invest in ideas which I believe in and which may have a long-term return on investment. However, money can never replace a smile or a relief I see on fellow human beings who have just got through a difficult situation or figured out a solution to a problem that bugged them before.

  1. Excellence cannot be dismissed

Being passionate about the work we do and the services we provide is one of the primary building blocks of our progress. I get excited every time we talk about a new product or service. Just an idea of creating something that makes a difference fills me up with energy. Without passion, I am not sure how we would have pushed through difficult periods. But passion is only one element.

Excellence is about being undeniably good and constantly putting long-standing efforts in everything we do so we remain so good that we cannot be ignored. Excellence is about mastering the craft and do it with dedicated work. Excellence is hard work, and hard work is inspiring. How do women do business?

We work on products and content for our clients that make them think, make them stop for a second and give the realisation they need in that given moment.

  1. Everything happens for a reason

Even if I don’t understand why certain things happen, I know I will benefit from a particular life experience at a certain point in my life. Beautiful memories, as well as lessons, are part of life and I’d rather live a life full of experiences than wait on the sidelines and see others live it.

Experiences shape us to be who we are. I often find myself people I haven’t met before conversing with me and perhaps a couple of weeks or months later, in a situation when I most need it, the conversation just comes back and puts me on the right track. I am confident I am not the only one with such experiences. Life is amazingly mysterious.

With all that in mind, I am not telling you that we have no saying in our lives. On the contrary, I believe in cause and effect and that we make our choices throughout our lives.

And sometimes it is just not comfortable to admit something was our choice. But that is life as well, and as it might seem somewhat scary, it is liberating as well.

  1. I have a great team

Finding good people is harder than you think. Every business is different, and as a business is moving forward and growing new skill set is required. If you are lucky, like me, you are going to find people who expand with your business and who teach you on the way in return.

As an entrepreneur, I go to bed with my business and wake up with it. Some would say it is not healthy. I cannot imagine my life without being able to infuse ideas in my business and make them a reality. I am grateful for my colleagues, for their thoughts and inputs because I know this is how we can develop even better products and services. The questions on their minds will turn into solutions during our interactions and collaboration.

It’s worth to read the following article – Inspiration for women who want to achieve more

How Do Women Do Business?

How do women do business

2-min read

Businesses – small entrepreneurships and large multinational organizations – are built on passion. The passion of the founder and the passion and dedication of the people within the business. How else would you deliver something better every single day? Read on to find out about how women do business differently.

Women in business. Interesting topic, isn’t it? I love it!

Some believe business is the domain of men and even though the number of women in various areas of business has increased over the last decade, there is still room for improvement. I have built three companies so far and can confidently say all the businesses had a woman’s touch.

What is a woman’s touch exactly?

I have recently heard an interview with a property mogul. He explained that, in his opinion, women go deeper into the details to understand the whole process and the steps in it. Based on my experience, I can certainly confirm that.

For better or worse, I like to understand what is happening in the process. I say ‘for better or worse’ because going too deep takes precious time and I had to learn to be satisfied with the interpretation of critical metrics in my businesses. It was a learning curve for me to understand that my efforts to become knowledgeable about every teeny-tiny step in a process was merely my way of handling uncertainties and insecurities. I thought knowing all about it would make me more confident. It helped some, for sure, but it didn’t make the difference you would believe.

What made the real difference was to select excellent people and work with great suppliers. The ones who know their job and do their job.

I also understood from the interview that this property mogul thought women put more emotions and passion into a business. Comments similar to that haunted me for years.

Male executives dominate the side of my business where we deal with business transformations; and I heard such comments, not once.

The problem wasn’t the comment itself but how I interpreted it. Whatever those men meant to say when they made such a comment, I believed it had a negative meaning. Also, I wasn’t the only one.

Today, I can proudly say that, damn right, I put more emotion and passion into my business. Just differently.

Businesses, small enterprises, or large multinational companies, are built on passion. The passion of the founder and the passion and dedication of the people within that business. How else would you deliver something better every single day?

Being passionate is a good thing, as long as it drives forward the business. I believe, the problems start when fear and lack of self-confidence creep in, question marks queue in your mind every single day, and doubts build up. I make no mistake, it happens, you cannot avoid it from happening.

Putting more emotion into the business is not wrong; it’s just different. Women and men are different, and therefore they do business differently. Previously, I didn’t do research on how women do business, but I know how I do it. I put compassion in it, and I am well aware of that. Furthermore, I know that my thoughts drive my emotions, and see the difference between an opinion formulated based on feelings and hard facts. So, this is precisely why I think it is fantastic that women build businesses differently than men do.

The world is changing. Technology cuts through the fabric of business and society and people want to be connected more than ever. The level of self-awareness is increasing, and people stay with companies who demonstrate social responsibility. We get closer to the balance of heart and mind every single day. Women doing business is a part of this evolution. I am fortunate to be a part of this evolution.

For more inspiration read the following article Inspiration for women who want to achieve more.

Multi tasking and the reality

1-min read

How multitasking is an option for an entrepreneur? Is it an option at all? How effective is multitasking?

As we are progressing with the development of our products, the realisation of the sheer volume of the work is striking. I want to make it work, so what are my choices?

Multi-tasking would be one, but I am not sure that is the right way. When I decided to manage my own business first time, many years ago, I obviously decided to concentrate on multiple of factors and activities, because it is the nature of running a business, but I don’t believe focusing on all or most of them at the same time would be much of a help. I also don’t want to become a list queen. Not because being a list queen is a wrong thing to do, a couple of friends of mine couldn’t even exist without their lists.

I know, however, that I would at some point get lost in the pile of lists and sticky notes.

My way is probably simplification without wanting to oversimplify life itself because the complexity of life amazes me and I certainly wouldn’t want to stop feeling astonished.

On the other hand, a girl can appreciate the benefits of narrowing things down, putting them in context and deciding on priorities. There will still be many tasks to deal with, but it will become a bit more manageable.

So, where is the place for multitasking then? Is it a real thing at all in my life? To some extent it is, and not only in my life. People get distracted all the time and, on average, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to work after being distracted. At least that is what I read. Is it true for me, too?

I took a test and learnt new things about myself, which I now can integrate into my day-to-day work. Source: labinthewild.org.

The results seem to show, that I can concentrate better when things get more complicated, what a weirdo; and I am certainly slower than other participants.

“On average, you took 3.6 seconds to find and select an item. Other participants needed 3.22 seconds on average. More interestingly, however, when you had to remember lots of symbols, you got faster by 0.59%. Others slowed down by 0.21%.“

Taking the test was fun, it was quick and now I know there is another area where I can develop.

Multi-tasking is around me, it is required every single day to gain back the focus on a specific activity once I got diverted, but it is not there for me to get lost in it and to start multiple activities just to struggle finishing them.

The test also revealed there will be certain activities which do not require much concentration and will basically allow me to keep what I did before getting distracted in mind.

While doing the test, I wanted to remember the characters presented at the beginning of the test, and because I wanted to do it, I was capable of doing it. I am not saying I am or anyone is capable of doing anything, just because we want it, but wanting it gave the focus and I made the effort as a result of this decision, as a result of wanting it to happen.

The intent, desire, passion and drive are key factors in achieving better results every day and get going when the going gets tough.

I may be possessed

1-min read

Today, I woke up with many new ideas on my mind. Have just opened my eyes and instantly reached out for my phone to quickly make notes of all those brilliant 😉 ideas.

I love ideas, I love the feeling how they appear, seemingly out of nowhere. It is astonishing how they conquer the mind and fight for their own existence and survival. They demand attention and make me spend time on digging deeper, understanding them better, evaluating them, so I can finally decide which one is worthy of more time and effort spent on it.

In the last couple of months, I find myself in this state, again and again.
Starting our new websites and developing our new service lines are exciting and a bit spine-chilling at the same time.

Well, hello real life, and it is getting real all right.

Searching for new colleagues to build a team which will focus on finding out what’s best for the people who are searching for answers. “Partners in crime” who have other people in the focus of their attention and can put themselves in other people’s shoes.

Such a challenge, in a world, where what I see around me is people pushing themselves forward, trying to sell themselves to almost anybody who listens, believing that is the holy grail of forwarding a career.
Imagine me now smiling and licking my lips before I prepare to change the game.

Chasing grapes

chasing grapes

1-min read

Building and developing a company sounds fabulous and trendy, isn’t it? 

I hear stories of people being successful entrepreneurs every day. My Facebook feed is full of success stories. It may seem like they have become successful in a day or two. Maybe not. At least, the successful business owners I know have been working hard for years to get where they are, in spite of the challenges we face every day. I know I have been doing so. Anyone telling me success is all about talent and a little luck… well, it failed to grab my attention. Not that it is a big deal, there are enough people out there believing in it.

Sometimes we forget that businesses work because people are eager to help others, and there are people out there looking for solutions. Any bright talent will fail if there is no one searching for what our bright one has to offer. Not to mention that being bright is just one part of the equation. Offering a valuable solution can be done in many ways, and you find different needs wherever you go.

Learn from the challenges we face

Unleashr is the third company I am growing, and I learned something new every day through the challenges we faced, during the past 22 years.

Why start blogging about it now? In the hope that what I share here will be as valuable as the articles, videos, and programs we offer.

Through this blog, you can see the challenges we face, decisions we have to make, the considerations we take, and how we manage our business. In no way I believe or say, this is how you should do it. God, no. Maybe tomorrow I meet you at an event or a party, and I learn something new from you that will change my ways.

Learn more at the following article I may be possessed.