I spent 18 years in corporate life, and experienced some great successes that I’m proud of. But I also faced some dismal failures. The failures weren’t around outcomes I generated, or projects I launched – those tended to go well. The failures centered around my emotional and physical well-being, how I was treated, and the lack of integrity, meaning and purpose I felt doing work that wasn’t aligned with my core values with people I didn’t respect.
After a crushing layoff from my corporate life in the days following 9/11, I transformed my career, first becoming a marriage and family therapist, then a career coach/consultant, writer, speaker, and leadership trainer. I launched my business in 2007 and have never looked back.
I know now that I’m much more suited to entrepreneurial life and running my own business (and always have been) than serving in the corporate world, which was challenging for me from the beginning. While I love it intensely, and am deeply passionate about the work I do, I have made some truly damaging mistakes along the way since leaving corporate life. One of those was thinking that because I’d been a corporate marketing director and VP, I knew what I needed to know about successfully marketing and growing an entrepreneurial venture. Not so.
There are a lot of things I wished I’d learned before launching into an entrepreneurial life that would have helped me bypass the serious challenges I faced. I’m not sure I would have listened to that advice back then, but I would have been better equipped certainly, if I had.
The top five things I wish I knew before launching my own business are:
Know your tendencies around money, spending and saving.
In my therapy training, I learned that couples tend to have complementary styles around money. We call it the “spender-saver” dynamic, whereby one partner tends to feel very comfortable spending money freely and in the moment, while the other prefers saving and thinking about the long-term implications of their expenditures and their money situation before spending.
Before you launch your business, get very clear about your relationship with money, because if you’re an extreme case at either end of the spectrum, you’ll have some real challenges in your business.
People like me who are “spenders” tend to go with their gut and spend more impulsively, and that can backfire in business. One personal example: When my first book Breakdown, Breakthrough was published, I felt so strongly that it would be a bestseller and generate lucrative business for me, I invested $30,000 in publicity and PR. While I receive some wonderful press coverage from the publicity work we did, the financial return on the investment was very little. Had I taken a step back and understood my penchant for spending big, I would have considered scaling back that investment, or approached it in a phased, measured way rather than committing to a big sum of money before understanding the financial realities.
I've seen that "savers," on the other hand, often won't part with their money to save their lives, and they hold themselves back from investing when they need to in their own growth.
Tip: Get intimately familiar with your money story, (read the book The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth, as a start) and understand your relationship with money. Most mid- to high-level professionals and entrepreneurs I work with need some powerful work around how they operate with money. Get some outside advice from a mentor, financial consultant or accountant you trust before investing in a big way in a direction that is unsure for you. And understand that you’ll most likely have to spend infinitely more money launching and building your business than you ever imagined.
Your partners can uplift you or crush you – be careful.
Before I knew about narcissism, I fell into the trap of repeatedly developing relationships and partnerships with highly manipulative, narcissistic people. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time – these individuals simply seemed to shine brighter than others, and they were charismatic, exciting, talented and thrilling to work with, for a time.
Sadly, in numerous cases, these individuals turned out to be extremely narcissistic – unable to be challenged, acting as if they’re above any rules of conduct or standards of integrity, and were obsessed with expanding their own personal success and stroking their fragile egos.
My therapist friend Janneta Bohlander who works with adult children of narcissists says that in many people who’ve experienced narcissism in their childhoods, “their picker is broken,” meaning they can’t for the life of them choose well when it comes to partners. But we don’t have to be involved with narcissists to know that the person you choose to partner with will be extremely instrumental in your ability to succeed and thrive.
Tip: Be very careful about the business partners you choose. Look more deeply than just the surface, and make sure that they have the kind of integrity, honesty, compassion, strength and openness to make a great partnership thrive.
You have to learn to be a leader, not just a manager or “doer.”
When you’re running your own business, you don’t have a boss to run things by. You’re the boss, and you’ll need to become a true leader in that role who not only manages the business well, but has the visionary capacity to see the future before it’s “hatched.” And you’ll need to lead your endeavors with confidence and authority towards that future.
The terrific book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber talks about why so many small businesses fail – and that’s because small business owners make the fatal assumption that doing/offering a particular skill or service (like coaching, graphic design, baking, etc.) is the same thing as running a business that offers that service. The two are radically different, requiring completely different skills, mindsets and focus.
Tip: Before you enter entrepreneurial life, take steps to build leadership capacity within yourself. Make sure you’re not making the mistake of thinking that being a “doer” rather than a leader will be enough. Strengthen your decision-making process, and build your core confidence and authority in trusting yourself and your abilities and ideas. And took a deeper look at why you want to launch this business. If it’s because you love to coach (or bake, design, copywrite, etc.) but know you’ll hate running the business side of offering your skill or service, then there’s more work you need to do before embarking on this direction.
Change and pivot more quickly when the need arises.
In my corporate life, even as a VP, I generally wasn’t the one who decided on the strategic direction of the businesses and products I oversaw. That was the realm of the senior VP and the president. Even in what appeared to be a high-level job, I wasn’t responsible for making the big, over-arching decisions about when we should pivot out of an industry or change directions in a significant way.
One of my biggest challenges as an entrepreneur has been to recognize when it’s time to pivot and change.
As an entrepreneur, you have to make these decisions very regularly. Just a few of the hundreds of questions you’ll need to ask, and address, include:
Is it time to pivot away from this type of service/product I’m offering?
Should I throw everything out and start over or make incremental changes?
Should we stop using marketing agencies and go with a different model of staffing and support?
Should I restructure my business and build programs that are more passive-income based vs. direct, client-facing initiatives?
Is the niche we’ve targeted truly the right one for the work we’re doing now?
Is how we're currently generating/attracting customers and clients the right way for our business model?
And the list goes on and on.
Tip: Before you leap to entrepreneurial life, begin thinking about and tackling (wherever possible) those types of strategic questions that will shape the direction of your products/services. Start evaluating the key leadership decisions that can and will impact your company’s success.
Do it your way - don’t follow all the “gurus” whose approaches feel “off.”
Finally, as an entrepreneur, you’ll be constantly bombarded with advice from outside experts. Just spend an hour outline looking a site geared to entrepreneurs, and your head will spin with the different (and often contradictory) advice you hear.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to learn how to think for yourself. You’ll need to prioritize powerfully what you believe in and care about, despite fierce pushback, and in the face of others saying you’re crazy or misguided. And you have to be brave and confident enough, and build strong enough boundaries, to stand your ground when you know beyond doubt that what you want is risky and going against the grain of what so many “experts” tell you should do.
If I had listened more to what I knew about how I wanted to operate as a business owner and entrepreneur, rather than be swayed by listening to outside “experts,” I would have saved myself a lot of grief and wasted time and money.
Tip: Whatever your role is now, start developing a stronger trust in yourself. Develop a keener ability to know when things feel “off” and to make yourself right not wrong about your feelings, ideas and intuition. Let’s face it – the people who’ve changed our world the most and innovated in ways that reshaped how we live, work and think, followed what they knew to be true, not what others told them was right.
Wherever you are in your career, believe in yourself without doubt, while also surrounding yourself with great, knowledgeable (and emotionally healthy) mentors, advisors and partners who are in harmonious sympathy with your ultimate goals for your work and business.
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