Several days ago I celebrated my birthday. Whenever I do, I think about playing Monopoly and the excitement of passing the “GO” square on the board and collecting $200. In a game that seemed to go on forever, passing “GO” felt like a milestone.
I feel the same about my birthday. It’s a milestone on a journey that continues like a circle; it’s a time to reflect.
In my book, Fearless Follow-Up: How to Turn Conversations Into Clients I write about the importance of a debrief, or evaluation, after an important event. It’s no less important to choose a milestone and take the time to reflect on the course of your life and progress toward your personal and professional vision each year.
It’s one thing to tell you, of course, and another thing entirely to show you. 2015 was a big year for me. I left a company where I worked for over eight years to strike out on my own as an entrepreneur. I left a position of comfort and consistency for constant uncertainty. Here’s what I learned.
(1) Building a Personal and Professional Network from Scratch is Hard
When I was in a full-time position, I took the built-in professional network for granted. I worked hard to keep my network engaged and grow it both internally and externally, but the foundation was already there. On my own, and with the typical non-compete agreement, I found myself with a limited network. Thankfully, the relationships I’d developed outside of my job were thriving, but I discovered it wasn’t broad enough to grow a new business.
I had to become very intentional about the types of networking groups I joined and the events I attended in order to deepen my professional and personal opportunities.
At first, most of my connections were from a women’s networking group, Women in Networking, that I’m part of for personal fulfillment and support. I had to ask, “As a new business owner, how do I grow in my understanding of the industry I’m in? Where can I find mentors?” I recently joined an additional group with members who come from corporate positions vs. solopreneurs like me. I’ve also applied for their mentorship program.
I know without a specific plan for learning and growth, the busy days of a business owner can sweep learning goals under the rug. I don’t intend to let that happen.
(2) I’ve gone from solid lines to dotted lines.
In a traditional organization, reporting structures have solid lines and dotted lines. Solid lines are formal structures, meaning I report to my boss, who has a boss, and so on. Influence over my actions and behaviors is expected.
With dotted lines, the people we influence are not moved by performance reviews or pay increases. Instead, we’re expected to motivate and inspire the people upon whom we rely.
Solopreneurs don’t have solid lines; all the lines are dotted. If a connection offers to introduce me to a potential client, I must inspire and motivate them to follow-through. In fact, the way I follow-up with him/her makes all the difference in whether or not I get what I need.
Vendors, clients, contacts, all must respect me and trust me. They must want to work with me because they don’t have to work with me.
(3) I’m only as valuable as I believe I am.
If you’ve ever been in an employment situation I know you’ve heard someone say, “I don’t feel like I’m earning what I’m worth. They don’t value me here.” Maybe you’ve said it at some point in your career. Gone are the days that my disposable income is a measure of my value.
Most new businesses don’t make money in the first 1-3 years. Yes, you’ll hear the hero stories about the entrepreneur who made millions of dollars the first year, but there are hundreds more businesses that fail before year three.
I’m working hard on activities that will bring in steady cash flow while I pitch and secure contracts. Cash flow is uneven at best, yet I’ve managed to make money my first year.
If I measured my worth by my check book balance I’d feel worthless a lot of the time. I had to learn to separate the two ideas. I charge what I’m worth. The value I bring is in the problems I solve for my clients, whether I have 1 or 15. My next opportunity could be a conversation away. If I don’t believe in myself, why would my potential clients?
(4) My every thought, action, and feeling affects my brand.
I answered the same questions about myself and my business as I ask my clients to answer about their brands.
- Who is your customer?
- What are their pain points?
- How are you solving their problems?
- How do you want them to feel before, during, and after they work with you?
- If your business was a person, how would you describe him/her?
Armed with the answers I worked with a visual branding specialist to develop a logo, colors, business cards, and overall look. I captured my values in a manifesto. I worked with a designer to bring my brand to life on my website. I should be done, right?
No, I’m not. Every interaction I have at an event affects my brand. Every email I send or don’t send, every status update, every LinkedIn message, every project I finish, and every conversation I have – they all affect my brand.
In fact, it’s the sum total of my thoughts, actions, and feelings that make up my brand. Knowing this is both a lot of pressure and a lot of fun. I love dressing in my colors for a networking event. I could talk all night about how I want to transform entrepreneurial education with higher ed standards. I love to learn and teach. I love what I do.
(5) When I do what I love, my heart sings.
My business sits in a niche of the marketing industry. I spent decades writing sales materials, planning promotional events, writing brochures, developing marketing plans, and selling, selling, selling. I’ve managed budgets from $10,000 to $1,000,000. While executing and managing these marketing activities I discovered my love of educating others to work smarter and contribute to the business industry.
I made the switch to teaching business at the college level. I was able to write, teach business professionals to teach, offer training workshops to corporations, and develop curriculum and courses to advance business knowledge. Why keep it all in the Higher Education space? Now, I can specialize and offer my talent to business professionals.
I’m never happier than when I’m training, speaking, writing, or teaching trainers and thought leaders to amplify the reach of their content. This is the value I offer to my clients because it comes from a place of passion and strength in me.
More lessons ahead
I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Covey,
Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender, it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”
It’s risky, I’ll admit, to share reflections in a blog post that will be shared on social media. Not everyone will agree with the lessons I’ve learned. They might have learned different lessons in the last year. I want to see them all.
Please share your reflections as the value in reflecting is the process itself.
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