Opening my own business has meant learning so many lessons along the way -- often making it feel like I'm 'building the airplane while flying it.' Below are some of the more counterintuitive things I've learned while growing my speaking and consulting business, NextGenWomen, LLC.
1. Don't Think You Have to Start Small
One piece of conventional wisdom you'll hear again and again is to take on small clients, small gigs, or small steps as a means to groom yourself for bigger challenges. While this is a nice way to gradually build confidence and manage risk, I've found in my own line of work, the opposite was helpful. When I was getting ready for my book tour last winter, I reached out to many universities, corporations, and bookstores to secure speaking engagements. Believe it or not, the very first group to say yes was Harvard. Nerve-wracking as it was to start right at the top of the academic food chain, I leaned into the risk opportunity. That experience gave me an incredible jolt. Most of all, it helped me see myself in a different, more capable light, increased the credibility of my brand, and paved the way for me to get more great speaking gigs around the country.
2. It's Okay to Say No
Starting out as a business owner, it's tempting to say 'yes' to everything. After all, you don't want to miss out on a potentially favorable relationship, partnership, lead, or deal. The problem with saying 'yes' to the world is that you don't have much energy, focus or intellect left to devote to your business. Saying no doesn't feel good. But it doesn't have to be pure black or white. Â I've found that shifting in-person meetings to phone meetings--thereby eliminating the timesuck of travel--has made a big difference. Creating some boundaries, like starting a phonecall by explaining that you have 30 minutes to devote--has helped keep me on track and helps my associate set expectations for how long we can talk. Saying no to an idea or proposal can also mean saying no for now, not forever.
3. Self-Reflection Never Stops...Even if You're the Expert
While we're not accustomed to hearing 'self-reflection' and 'business' in the same sentence, the act of looking in the mirror intensifies, not lessens, after you start a business. Why? You no longer have that corporate job obscuring the real you, including your most gaping weaknesses and most dazzling strengths. Facing reality means looking long and hard at who you are, what you believe in, and what your top values are. For me this was never more relevant that when I started writing my Washington Post column. For every person that loved the position I took on an issue, there was someone else who hated it and fervently objected. The process of thickening one's skin is probably the most important part of self-reflection. So pull out that Johari window, get a coach, and figure out your blind spots before others do.
The moral of the story here? Take good old business advice for what it is, which is guidance that works well for the majority, and remember that there are always exceptions.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to our Next Gen Women blog.