Ten years ago, I was at a crossroads.
I’d spent 15 years building a career as an ad agency sales executive. While I loved my work and the people around me, the company wasn’t headed in the right direction. It was 2008, and the failing economy was looming large. As one of the company’s leaders, I detested the decision to ensure multiple rounds of layoffs so we would meet our quarterly earnings contribution. I couldn’t get buy-in on my alternative ideas, and I couldn’t see myself helping run a business sideways into the future. It was time for me to make my move.
But would I be able to survive?
I wanted to launch my own business. I had the sense that I could succeed, but I was afraid. Running my own business was completely uncharted territory, and in fact, I’d spent years building up the story in my mind that I wasn’t a “real” entrepreneur.
Finally, when I got the call to prepare for our fourth round of layoffs, I resigned. The next morning I found myself at my kitchen table, staring at my laptop and preparing to start my entrepreneurial journey.
Right away, I made my first misstep. Feeling very uncertain about making it on my own, I opted to pursue my new path working with partners. I really wanted to focus on speaking and training, but it seemed more realistic to offer consulting and services. My new partners and I immediately had profitable projects and on the bright side, we had clients and cash flow. But looking back, I realize that those partnerships were mistakes. I made those decisions out of fear, and I compromised on pursuing the business idea that mattered to me the most.
Finally, after a lot of struggle and some suffering, I realized something: I had everything I needed to succeed. I had to take my business in the direction I wanted it to go. For me, that meant working on my own — and focusing on my own speaking, training, writing, and research. I moved on from those partnerships and started to focus. When I finally summoned the courage and conviction to bet on myself and what I could bring to the world, my business totally changed and started taking off. These days, my speaking calendar is full, I’m able to invest in growing my business, and I get the honor of working with clients I respect and admire around the world.
Here’s what I learned: So much of your success as an entrepreneur is in your ability to recover. One of my most trusted mentors once told me, “You're going to make mistakes. It’s the ability to overcome those mistakes that’s the litmus test of a good entrepreneur.”
I moved past my initial false starts and set off on a new course. I was happier and more successful, but my work wasn’t anywhere close to done. A really important part of my journey has been doing inner work — getting to know myself better. I had to dig deep and answer questions about who I am, what I can contribute to the world, and what I value. That inner work has been a catalyst to help me find my voice, have a better relationship with myself, and build a stronger business. As I’ve grown personally, my business has grown as well.
If you’re early in your journey as an entrepreneur, here’s my advice for you, as someone who’s ten years in.
Assemble an Advisory Board
Making decisions in a vacuum can be terrifying, and it’s usually not very effective. I started bringing in mentors to help me think through major business decisions. These days, I have a business manager, a small team of employees, a business coach, a life coach, channel partners, marketing partners, and a long list of people I trust to help guide and shape my perspective and decisions in positive and profound ways. It’s invaluable to have an outside perspective on your ideas.
Of course, I’m still not perfect. I still make mistakes, and I still go through periods of self-doubt. But I’ve also gained the self-confidence to make a decision and know that I will be able to course-correct if things aren’t going well. I’m confident in my ability to adjust, adapt, alter course and move the business where it needs to be.
Fall in Love with the Process
Building a business is hard work. It was true the day I started ten years ago, and it’s definitely still true today. I think a lot of people have unrealistic expectations of success. My first several years were a series of trial and error. Some days, it was miserable. The key was to fall in love with the process of building the business.
If you know where you want to go and you’re making incremental progress, keep going. I didn’t start out thinking I could build a million-dollar business. It took me several years for that to feel within reach. But once I saw where I wanted to go, I obsessed over how I could get there. I reverse-engineered other people’s businesses. I studied people I admired. I made sacrifices and put in extraordinary hours of work. I’m still working on myself and my business every day.
Eventually, I looked around and I’d done it — I’d built a business doing the one thing I love the most. Someone recently asked me if I’d ever take a corporate job again. The fact is, I’m addicted to the creativity and independence of being an entrepreneur. I get to build something new, bring it to the world, and see how the world responds. And in some strange way, working for myself has brought me a new semblance of security. I bet on myself, and whether I succeed or fail rests on my shoulders every day. I shape my own future. That comes with a lot of pressure, but it’s pressure I’ve developed the confidence to take in stride.
To all of my fellow entrepreneurs out there, keep going. You have inside of you everything you need to succeed.