How often to do you get an opportunity to step back and reflect on your journey? I accepted an invitation to do just that recently, when a Canadian university student requested an interview for a class she was taking on entrepreneurship. Her long list of questions took some time to complete. I felt like I was tracing the history of my business, recalling turning points and epiphanies.
The process was powerful, since it required me to carve out time to reflect on where I’d come from and where I was going. The timing was also good – I have been feeling overwhelmed and a bit scattered. This exercise re-centered me and reminded me of my purpose.
In the spirit of sharing lessons learned, I’m posting some of my answers here for your consideration. You may not agree with my advice or conclusions, and that’s totally OK. What I love about entrepreneurship is that no one person’s lessons and experiences are the same as another person’s. At the conclusion of the post, I share a few more of the interviewer’s questions, should you want to take time to reflect on your own journey so far (which I highly recommend).
When, under what circumstances, and from whom did you become interested in entrepreneurship and learn some of the critical lessons? My interest was always there, but it was solidified when I started my coach training and working with clients. That came about because of a cross-country move without employment during a downturn in the economy (late 2007). Before we moved, I had a job that I LOVED, so my standards for a new job were high; if I’d found something that fit, I’d probably be doing that now.
And perhaps I should have known this was coming… my favorite poem in Jr. High was Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”!
In hindsight, I see it that I moved TOWARD entrepreneurship, rather than AWAY from a traditional “job.” I think that’s shaped my attitude and spirit that this is an adventure, and while I’m extremely serious about it, I hold it lightly. I often hear other entrepreneurs speak of mainstream work as almost evil, something to be avoided at all costs. I don’t feel that way; I think that in some cases, they have to believe that in order to reassure themselves that they took the right risk.
What do you learn from both success and failure? The most important thing: not to get too attached to how something is going to turn out (which removes the “success” and “failure” labels and leaves me with information and lessons). And, to celebrate and acknowledge both, especially the “failures,” because they are signs I’m taking risks, learning something new and moving closer towards fulfillment of my goals.
When you looked for key people as partners, advisors, or managers, were there any personal attributes or attitudes you were particularly seeking because you knew they would fit with you and were important to success? As an introvert, I am particularly sensitive to who I embrace as a colleague or partner. If I find the right person, I’ll be energized by the interaction; if it’s not a good match, I’ll be depleted. I primarily look for people I can trust, respect and feel are acting in complete integrity. I also enjoy working with others who are more successful than me, or who have achieved something that is a goal of mine (for example, publishing a book).
Are there any attributes among partners and advisors that you would definitely try to avoid? Anyone who has an attitude of desperation or struggling. I believe in being transparent and sharing struggles, and I feel it’s important that we approach our business from a place of abundance, not scarcity or fear (there’s a difference between feeling fear and acknowledging it, and letting it take control). If someone is rooted in fear, I’ve learned to spot that and avoid it. I also avoid people who confuse me (i.e., I talk to them for 10 minutes and I STILL don’t know what they do or what they want from me) or those who are too salesy or clingy.
Random Insights/Advice for Entrepreneurs:
I’ve developed a perspective of my business that has served me well. I do not view myself as a coach (only), nor do I have a coaching business. Rather, I’m an entrepreneur who coaches, speaks, writes, trains, evangelizes my message with a goal of shifting the way the world views and responds to introversion. Coaching is something I do, and it informs the way I approach everything in my business, but I’m not willing to narrowly define myself that way. I feel free to evolve into what it takes to spread my message, and it’s exciting to me that I don’t know for sure how it’s going to show up.
It’s extremely important to define “success” for yourself, and to re-evaluate that definition as you go along. For me, success=freedom. Freedom to do what I want, go where I want, create what I want, say “yes” or “no” to opportunities according to my goals, not out of fear. It’s freedom from worry, anxiety, money challenges. Others will have a different definition – it’s critical to discern what success looks and sounds like in a highly personal way. Defining other values is also key. I never knew how much I valued independence until I became an entrepreneur; knowing that, I’ve been able to say “no” to a few things that compromised that value, and it’s been the right decision every time.
It’s helpful in the beginning to network with and develop relationships with people who are in the same position you’re in (starting out, few resources, clueless). The problem arises when you get stuck there. Be sure to notice when you’ve outgrown your circles and when it’s time to start hanging out with people who have attained a few levels of success above you. You develop “success by association”; it’s critical to keeping a positive attitude, an open mind and a growing network of mutually beneficial relationships.
Learn to make friends with the phone. I could say much more about this, but I’ll leave it at that. Lots of people (including me) dislike calling people (cold call or otherwise). I’ve learned that it’s a fast-track way to make things happen. If something falls into place through e-mail, it’s an alignment of the stars. The reality? Talking face-to-face or on the phone is going to accelerate and solidify the deal.
Watch your language. You’re not “trying to get” business, and you don’t “need” more clients. You’re inviting people to learn more, you’re extending an offer, you’re looking to serve more clients. Words like “get” and “need” are fear-based. Always speak of your clients, customers, vendors and peers with respect in every situation, public or private – who you are is who you are when no one’s watching or listening.
Become comfortable with public speaking! Do Toastmasters, get a coach, speak at Rotary clubs, whatever… even if you don’t want to incorporate speaking into your business plan, you’re speaking all the time: introducing yourself at networking events, pitching an idea to investors, describing your services to a potential client, persuading someone to partner with you. The more you practice, the more at ease with this you’ll become.
Know when to ask for help. We can become too isolated, too self-sufficient, too cheap :-), and not realize when we’re outside our area of expertise. Network with a wide range of service providers (designers, marketing experts, techies, coaches, accountants, etc) so that when you need help, you’ve got some trusted resources. This is especially important to the introvert – we want to seek resources that inject our business with energy, not become high-maintenance albatrosses (true for extroverts, too, I’m sure, and even more important to the people-can-drain-me introvert).
Hire a business coach!! A coach can assist with accountability, planning, having an objective “silent partner,” a reality check, let’s-get-back-on-track strategies, providing feedback, brainstorming and prioritizing. Hire someone with a track record of success, credentials and strong testimonials. Find a coach who fits/complements your personality, who challenges you and who believes in you and your business. Interview a few candidates, ask for referrals and don’t settle for “s/he would be OK.” Go for the best you can afford.
There’s a difference between giving up and letting go. Learn which is which.
What have been your biggest lessons on the entrepreneurial journey? Please share in the comments!
PS: Here’s a selection of some of her other questions; consider spending time with them yourself!
- What was your education experience? In hindsight, was it helpful? In what specific way?
- (In the beginning) What were your goals? What were your lifestyle needs or other personal requirements? How did your fit these together?
- What did you perceive to be the strengths of your venture? Weaknesses?
- What was your most triumphant moment? What was your worst moment?
- Do you want to spend more time, the same amount of time, or less time with your business now than in early years?
- What were/are the most demanding conflicts or trade-offs you face (business vs personal hobbies, or a relationship, work, etc?)
- Can you describe a venture that did not work out for you and how this prepared you for your next venture?
- What were the most critical concepts, skills, attitudes, and know-how you needed to get your company started and grown to where it is today?
- What have been the rewards, risks, and trade-offs of being an entrepreneur?
PPS: If you want to spend some intentional time investing in your journey, consider joining in the first ever Virtual Introvert Conference. Live calls, podcasts and transcripts make it easy for you to say “YES!” to the opportunity to learn from top experts. Click over to www.IntrovertConference.com to learn more and register…. the first session is Oct 6, with three more sessions on Oct 13, 20 and 27.