I get asked a lot if people can “pick my brain” and give them tips on starting their own businesses, how to successfully work for yourself and what my “secrets” to time management are. Generally I take the time to answer these questions one on one, but I rarely write about how I make it work – my writing tends to focus on my clients and social media. When I first started building my own businesses, I had no idea how much I would learn that would impact every aspect of my life.
My first adult job out of undergrad in 2001 thrust me into corporate America, and while I wasn’t nearly ready emotionally for what that entailed, that job taught me things I still rely on today, owning my own business. I would then spend another 15 years in corporate America, and while I had seen a lot of success, I always had a nagging thought that something was missing. I wanted to grow my OWN client’s businesses.
Now, after 6+ years as an entrepreneur, I feel a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I’m not a millionaire, I don’t yet have my “winter condo” in Palm Springs, nor have I achieved all my goals, but I’m not done yet either.
Here are five things that I learned during my time as an entrepreneur, which, I hope, will be of benefit to you all as well:
- When you work for yourself and home office, the lines are constantly blurred when it comes to work/life balance. At the same time however, I’ve always tended to make work my life, even when I was working in corporate America, or for several small (yet successful!) startups. The last job I had prior to going out on my own was my life. When we sold the company we were given severance packages and a date one month away that would be our last day. Without noticing it while I was working there, in those five years, I’d completely tied my identity into “Lucy from (insert that company’s name here). My best friend was a friend from work and all my nights out involved meeting people that I would work with, or introducing them to the product. It wasn’t until it ended that I realized I was completely lost without it. I no longer knew what I liked to do with friends outside of work, if I was going to be interesting to talk with to people that weren’t interested in working with me and what I would do next. When you start your own business, you really have to love what you’re doing. While I work way more than I probably should, work often doesn’t feel like work. I’m ok with a lack of work/life balance. I love what I do, I love that I get to work from the comfort of my own home and can take my pup for a walk any time we feel like it. When I get involved with something, whether it’s work, friends or romantic relationships, I 100% dive into it. Yes, I DO realize that by doing that I lose a bit of myself, but I feel that if you’re going to take the time to do something, really DO IT.
- Always take the meeting. I learned this from a founder that I absolutely loved working for and became a sponge, trying to soak up every word he said. Each time he spoke to me I would immediately pull out a notebook to write down most of what he was saying so I would could hopefully retain a fraction of his knowledge. You truly never know who you are going to meet and what impact that person might have. Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes you meet someone where you think to yourself, “Wow. I will never have anything to do with that person after this call or this meeting.” And that in itself, has immense value. By being open to different opportunities, I continue to be approached with more opportunities and I’ve met some incredible people along the way. Here’s the Catch 22 – while I say “yes” infinitely more times than I say “no” to a call or a meeting, you have to realize your time is valuable. You need to have a clear differentiation between taking calls or meetings where people just want you to give them advice, and meetings that are more networking.
- Surround yourself with a great team. I don’t mean “team” just in terms of people that work for you, but also in friends, acquaintances and even family. One thing I believe makes me a bit unique is that I always tend to start out by trusting new people I meet, believing that people are inherently good and don’t have ulterior motives. This keeps me from becoming jaded in an industry where most people are. Have I been burned by this? Absolutely. But I am not naïve, I have learned to become much more selective in the people I keep close to me. By choosing the wrong people to surround myself with, I now am much better at reading those that want to join my journey and keep a much more intimate circle. In the jobs that I’ve held over the past 17 years, I have always been in a position where I hire people and have always said that “I am nothing without my team.” This means that I go out of my way to grow these team members. I cherish the people that work for me, so much so that my longest team still refers to me as “Mama Bear.” I want my team to be happy and know that their work is essential. By empowering my teams, business grows and I learn from them as much as they learn from me. If you are threatened by those that you hire, you are doing something wrong.
- I describe myself as passionately curious and I think that is key to entrepreneurship. My business focuses on marketing and PR, worlds that are constantly changing. If you stick to “but this is the way it’s always been done,” your clients will suffer. By staying open to new ideas and embracing change, you allow the space for new opportunities for your business and your clients’ businesses to expand. If you’re not curious and always striving to learn more, you are undoubtedly missing out on promising opportunities.
- I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. As much as I hate to admit it, I spent years at jobs doing the bare minimum. I also took much longer to start my own business than perhaps I should have. Somewhere along my career journey, I developed a fear of success and it kept me in a sort of job limbo. I’ve always wanted to work for myself. It wasn’t until I was in a situation where I thought I was going to lose my job that I finally listened to that inner voice that’s always said, “You can do this.” Prior to that one company being sold to Pepsi, they had come in two years earlier and bought a majority stake. I had just signed a new lease on my apartment in Los Angeles and was scared to death that they’d purchase the company more quickly than we anticipated, and I’d be out of a job and not able to cover my (much too high) rent. That’s honestly how I started Arkay Marketing & PR. Out of fear. I had always doubted myself – would I be able to find clients? Would I constantly be hustling and living check to check? Did I even have anything to offer? When you work for yourself, you will always have doubts. There will always be times you DO have to hustle and work harder than you think you can. But you’re also a lot smarter than you think, a lot more creative than you think and have WAY more to offer than you think. I have learned I really can rely on myself, my creativity, my intuition and my vision and that is what fuels me and helps me be successful.
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