I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost as long as I’ve been filing my own taxes. When I was 23 years old and practically forced into starting an advertising business, my friends looked at me like I was a goddess. I could work whenever the mood struck, drink pitch black coffee in my orange fleece pajamas, and write random poetry about rivers or chocolate in my off-time. (Yes, I did grow up in the Pacific Northwest, can you tell?)
To top it off, I earned more money than most of them. (Disclaimer: This isn’t saying much, since we were just out of college.)
Here’s how a typical dinner party conversation went back then (picture me holding a martini as I gazed out at the beach from the back deck, with my tan legs yearning for another body surfing session):
“Wow, Joce, you are so lucky. How do you do it?”
“Yeah, I know, and thank you.”
That sounds cocky, but bear with me; I have something to say, and it involves my weakness.
Over the years, my career and business have been a little like rally racing. My good friend Wiki says: Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. Rallies take place on all surfaces and in all conditions: asphalt (tarmac), gravel, or snow and ice, sometimes more than one in a single rally, depending on the course and event. Rallies are also run every month of the year, in every climate, bitter cold to monsoon rain. And you should know that these nutty races can last days. The naturally-anesthetized drivers pursue galactic-like snow forests or 115-degree heat with no promise of a stupid trophy, cash prize, or even life left at the end of it.
I, too, accelerate through obstacles, endure through deserts, and white knuckle down ravines at times.
Well, not really. But I’ve lost clients due to no crime, misconduct, or lack of performance on my part. Big clients. Some lost funding; others simply moved on to other projects or businesses. It’s a bit like suddenly finding out the road you were on not only disappeared, but never existed. You don’t deserve it, but it’s happening--to you.
As my husband and now business partner once said as he was getting to know my entrepreneurial mode of operation, “You have to be crazy to do this.”
To which I replied, “Crazy-good, or crazy-bad?”
This reminds me of a time I was in college, traveling through Europe on my own. I prided myself on spending as little as I could, so I would eat stale bread for days before splurging on a real meal. If I had no bag for bread, I’d tuck it in my sock (true story, but please don’t ask me). And I’d time my trains to sleep on them at night (avoiding hotel fees), arriving at my destination in the morning (not exactly fresh, I might add, but who’s sniffing?). If a train left at a god-awful hour, too early for me to enjoy my stay in a cheap hostel, I’d opt for sleeping at the station.
Well, my not-so-travel-worn friend met me in Paris that December. We spent a couple of days there, then hopped on a train to Switzerland. For some reason, we were stuck in Berne overnight while awaiting an early morning train. True to form, I made my way to the train station “waiting room,” laid out my sheet on the hard, slate floor, and matter-of-factly said, “Goodnight.” If I’d glanced at his eyes, I’m sure they would have been rolling.
A little while later, a guard came in, and told my friend, who happened to play football, “You, there… YOU are in charge of making sure that NO ONE COMES IN OR OUT.” (I think I’ve heard this line in more than one movie. And in case you didn’t know it, Swiss guards are not exactly the warm, fuzzy types.) Well, in the middle of the night, I overheard (in my dream) that same guard come in and yell at my friend. Apparently he had “let” someone in during the night. And now the entire Swiss security had been breached, or something like that. Needless to say, I slept through it, and the next morning, we made our train.
My point? Oh yeah. I’m sure my friend asked me, “Are you crazy?!” at some point in this saga.
My answer? I don’t have one. I don’t know if I’m crazy or not. I just know that I survive, get where I need to go, and help others along the way–not always in that order. Along the way, I have culled a few survival tips I’d like to share now, because this is really not about me:
1. Stop Calling Yourself Unemployed. Maybe you were laid off, but you are not unemployed. If you have started a business, even if you haven’t yet made a dime, then you have a job title. Entrepreneurs DO have jobs…and the upside is, they don’t get fired. So start basking in that detail, and share it with your new friends.
2. Say Yes First, Adapt Later. If I had stayed in my initial role of selling and buying print advertising, I probably would have been out of business long ago. In the Dot.com boom, I got to work with some pretty darned amazing people–international investors who had been knighted by the Queen of England, celebrities, and leaders with incredible visions for how they wanted to help the world. I went from working in advertising, to marketing, to publicity, to writing, to editing, to publishing, to consulting. I quickly adapted as the market changed. I always responded to my clients’ requests and needs. If I knew it was a task that could be done, I said yes, and then I figured out how to do it later.
- Sometimes that involved subcontracting work that I knew others could do better.
- Sometimes it involved discounting my services so I could learn a new skill.
- Always it involved leaving my mind open to becoming better at something.
3. Hustle. If I had a soapbox, I’d use it for this topic. Only about .000001% of entrepreneurs hit it rich. Okay, that’s not a scientific statistic, but you get it, right? I’ve had clients hire me because they know they are going to sell 100,000 copies of their book just as soon as it comes out. But the ones who have actually sold 100,000 copies are those who hustled. Expect to have to work your a*% off before seeing a dime. And then expect to have to do it all over again until your model is sustainable.
As technology changed–allowing just about anyone to start a business–I was no longer the cool kid on the block. In fact, when the recession hit, those with traditional jobs felt like the cool kids, because they had security. I was just like a lot of other people trying to carve their own way–either due to increased opportunity or need.
You might think that as an entrepreneur, I know a thing or two about security–and lack of it. And you’d be right. But the truth is, I’m always adapting what I know. And besides, what is security? You don’t have to be a rally racer to face danger:
- Even a Volvo station wagon can fly off a cliff.
- Even an SVP who has worked in a company for 30 years can be laid off.
If you were a rally racer in the middle of a monsoon, I bet you’d have to find your own route at times–and it’s the same with being an entrepreneur. The distinct outcome lies in how you respond. When a monsoon hits, will you drown, or will you use the spare tires and raincoat you packed, and get busy with the task at hand?