I dreamed about being an entrepreneur for a good part of my adult life, but something always stopped me from moving forward. A promotion at work, the looming threat of my kids’ college bills, fear. Then, one New Year’s Eve my husband and I had a conversation that went something like this.
John: 2015 is going to be a very special year for you.
Sue: Really, why?
John: Because this is the year you are going to start your own business.
That one uttered sentence put me into a tailspin. Was it really time to take this step? Could I just walk away from a lifetime of biweekly checks? Could I say goodbye to an employer that had been kind to me? Would I keep busy enough to feel truly fulfilled in my job?
There were a thousand questions, but only one answer. Yes. It was time.
I can confidently say that I have never once looked back and questioned the decision I made. I have fully embraced entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur is, and always has been, in my blood. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
But, I sometimes ask myself, if John hadn’t pushed me forward, would I have been bold enough to make the move? I’d like to say yes, but I’m not 100% positive. Thus, I have gone out of my way to meet with wannabe entrepreneurs who are asking themselves the very same question. Over the course of my many meetings with these aspiring entrepreneurs, I have detected a pattern that sheds some light on whether a person is setting themselves up for success.
There are three particular phrases that I have heard more often than I would like to admit that appear to set individuals up for failure, or at very minimum, a rocky start to their entrepreneurial career.
So, just what are those phrases?
“I figure if this doesn’t work out, I can always get a job.”
This is the one that I least like to hear because the person is literally throwing the towel in before they even take one single step into their entrepreneurial journey. Not a good strategy. I will typically look this person in the eye and ask them if they really want to be an entrepreneur or if it is just a convenient choice because they happen to be unhappy in their job or currently unemployed. I ask them to really search their soul and to truly understand the direction they want to take with their career. If entrepreneurship is their choice, I encourage them to create a mantra which they recite every single day, in good times and bad. Mine is:
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.
It is amazing when you begin your day with a positive attitude how it affects all the actions you take that day.
“I want to be an entrepreneur so I can do (insert your job) all the time.”
Oh, I wish it was that easy. But, now that you are going out on your own, you are leaving the company accountant, HR person and new business team behind. Guess who’s left standing? Yep, you. Until your company is prosperous enough to hire employees to help, it all falls on your shoulders. New business prospecting, invoicing, bill collection, business strategy, marketing strategy, legal decisions. In my first 12 months of business, I had to deal with a copyright infringement, a client that bounced three checks and a local agency that stole the exact language from my proposal and used it to try to win new business. (Unfortunately for them, I responded to the same RFP. Oops.)
“I don’t really know a lot of people, but I’ll make a lot of cold calls.”
A well-oiled network is a lynchpin to early success. Why? Because these individuals already know you and trust you. That means less personal risk if they invite you to participate in their business. But, it’s not just about giving you their business. If they believe in you, they can also become a strong referral network for you, opening doors that you could never open on your own. Looking back on my first 3-1/2 years in business, at least 80% of my business has come to me through individuals I worked with, worked for or was referred to by someone I know. The remaining 20% came through good old-fashioned hard work. Meeting people for coffee, responding to several page RFPs and sharing my capabilities in-person. In my first year of business, I met with 83 people face-to-face. I’m not saying cold calls don’t work but they are a lot more work and your hit rate is a lot lower.
So, now I’ve left you with some thoughts to muse over. What can you do to pave the way for a successful entrepreneurial career?
– If you want to be an entrepreneur, jump in with both feet and don’t look back.
– Find ways to stay positive – exercise, yoga, meditation, whatever it takes.
– Ask other entrepreneurs what they would have done differently.
– Network, network, network.
– Learn how to think bigger than your craft.
– Create a personal board of directors – people that will always be honest.
– Don’t let obstacles stand in your way – rise above them!