I describe myself as an accidental entrepreneur.
I liked having a full-time job, a bi-weekly paycheque, benefits, and vacation time allowed me to unplug.
But then I lost my job.
Ten years ago, the travel startup where I worked had to slash costs. It was the height of the global financial crisis and capital was scarce. The startup went from trying to raise $10-million to $5-million to $1-million before it eventually merged with another startup.
With a mortgage and three children, it was a bad time to be unemployed.
As a social media creature, I announced my new employment status on Facebook.
Soon afterward, I received a message from a video game maker asking if I could develop a marketing plan. I answered, “Yes, of course”, even though I had no clue about how to do it. But thanks to Google, I somehow pulled it off and the rest is history.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been running my marketing consulting business for a decade. Time flies when you’re in a constant state of anxiety, excitement, euphoria, and despair.
Here are 10 things that I’ve learned from 10 years as an entrepreneur.
1. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. It’s hard, really hard. For most of us, business is always a battle. You’re fighting for new clients, scrambling to get work done, and desperately trying to keep customers happy. There are highs and lows rather than predictability and consistency. At times, you’re the king the of the world. At other times, it feels like your business will soon capitulate.
2. You’re always hustling. There’s no complacency or resting on your laurels. When times are good, there’s pressure to perform, even when expectations are unrealistic. When times are good, you’re going full tilt trying to get back on the right track before the bills start rolling in. It means you’re always hustling, trying to get deals done, and working the angles.
3. Your network is invaluable. In many respects, it’s the lifeline of your business. A solid network opens doors and delivers new opportunities. It’s important to continually nurture existing relationships and establish new ones by attending conferences and events, having coffee meetings, and connecting through places such as LinkedIn.
4. Doing good work is the most powerful way to drive your sales and marketing. A happy customer spreads the word, sparks referrals, and generates you more business. Regardless of whether your business is busy or slow, high-quality work is always appreciated and valued by customers. As important, good work usually leads to more work.
5. Focus on your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Every entrepreneur has particular talents. A smart entrepreneur knows that success ensues when they tackle work that aligns with their skills. It’s a round hole, round plug proposition. In my case, I’m good at messaging, brand positioning, and strategic planning. I’m not good at public relations and SEO, and I try to avoid social media. There’s no ambiguity about what I do.
6. Be clear about the rules of engagement. Every customer has sky-high expectations. They want amazing work, regardless of budget, timelines or their ability to be involved and supportive. An an entrepreneur, you have to manage expectations. You need to be crystal clear about what’s going to happen and when, and who needs to do what. You need to articulate what success looks like and what a customer must do to support a successful engagement.
7. Share the wealth. In the hunt for business, it’s tempting to keep all the money. But smart entrepreneurs realize sharing the wealth creates a virtuous circle. It’s about getting other people involved in projects or giving work to other people or companies rather than trying to do everything to make a few extra bucks. By sharing the wealth, it’s more likely that others will do the same.
8. Take a low-stress approach to the ups and downs. Business is rarely consistent. In my business, it’s crazy business or so quiet that it’s maddening. To maintain your sanity, it’s important to understand business rises and falls. Times are good and times are bad. It’s doesn’t mean you’re a bad entrepreneur. It’s just the way of the world.
9. Hang out with other entrepreneurs. It’s lonely being an entrepreneur, particularly if you’re a one-person operation. It’s easy to get lost in your own world, making decisions in a vacuum and wondering why things aren’t working out. Instead, entrepreneurs need a support group, people who have your back and provide perspective. I’m a member of a Mastermind group, which meets once a month to share ideas, resources, and experiences.
10. You’re always learning and pivoting. In the past 10 years, my business has consistently evolved. I began by focusing on social media because customers wanted to buy these services. Then, I shifted into startup marketing. This was followed by a focus on brand storytelling and, most recently, B2B technology companies looking for more leads and sales. The one consistent is I’m always learning new approaches and skills. It happens by working with other people, reading, taking courses, and experimentation.
I never intended to become an entrepreneur. To be honest, I thought I’d always be a journalist after spending the first 15 years of my career as a newspaper reporter.
But becoming an entrepreneur has been the best thing that I’ve ever done professionally. It’s been exciting and rewarding. I have met tons of amazing people, worked with fascinating clients, and turned myself into a pretty good marketer.
Need to jump-start your marketing? Are you stuck or wondering what type of marketing to embrace? Let’s talk about how we can work together. My services include messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies, and content development. I also offer a CMO-for-Hire service to oversee, operate, and build your marketing department.