Hard Won Knowledge and Success: One Entrepreneur's Journey
A neighbor stopped me the other morning on my way for a coffee. My husband and I are new to the city and we’re only just getting to know our way around the neighborhood, and getting to know our neighbors. We made small talk for a couple of blocks before he asked what brought us to London. I told him about my husband’s job and that it was an opportunity to live somewhere new for us both. Through our conversation I shared that I am a coach and work in Leadership Development – to which he replied, “Oh great! I might actually need to enlist your support.”
He’s starting a new business, made a big discovery in biotech, and just got his patent approved to go further. As someone who is not familiar with the biotech process, I wasn’t sure what value I could add to support the challenges he faces. Forget that I have been working with leaders and entrepreneurs across the globe for years, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t possibly know enough to support him.
It’s like I forgot the cardinal rule of coaching – I don’t need to be the expert to help someone better understand their challenges. And above all else I, myself, am an entrepreneur who has faced many of the daunting challenges that come along with starting a business and trying to “figure it all out” on my own.
It can be incredibly overwhelming to begin – with so many self-proclaimed experts telling you what you “need” to do to be successful. It is so easy to get caught up in the vicious cycle of thinking you need to figure out all of the things (marketing, brand, target audience, business model, etc.) before you even know if your product works.
I reflect back on the early years of my business. Trying in earnest to “do it right”, I naturally went into research, finding the experts and thought leaders in my field, signing up for trainings, watching videos, and reading articles and books that could help me to figure it out. I read the Get Clients Now by C.J. Hayden and The Prosperous Coach by Rich Litvin & Steve Chandler, and skimmed the pages of The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. Upon realizing that I was spending so much time reading about business and perhaps not enough time creating business, I went deeper down the rabbit hole, seeking out books that could help me to be more effective in managing my time and to stop procrastinating what really needed to be done. I dove into The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, The Practice by Seth Godin, and Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky.
Don’t get me wrong, each of these books is brilliant in its own right – and have all served me incredibly well at various points in my journey. But the answer to creating a business is not to become an expert in creating a business. The answer to creating a business is to do the work – just keep doing what it is you do, and do it well. Keep getting better. Master it. Then trust that the business side of things will start to fall into place. When you’ve got too many clients to manage, you will hire an assistant or adjust your business model. When your invoices grow to so many you can’t easily handle them all, you will find the software you need or hire the right admin to support you in your growth. And on and on.
In the case of coaching, when you become a better coach, you coach better. Your clients feel the impact of your coaching, their lives are changed. As their lives change, the people around them take notice. And they either recommend you as a coach to others, or people ask what’s changed and who they can reach out to. Coaching is a business best built by referrals because your best marketing is happy clients who’s lives you’ve helped to change.
But, as most entrepreneurs these days, I began with marketing. I trademarked my business name and created a website. I printed business cards. I started social media channels. I poured hours upon hours upon hours of my life into writing posts and articles and blogs and emails and recording videos. I did everything I could to show that I was a good coach. But the one thing I couldn’t quite get right, especially in those early days, was getting people to actually hire me as a coach. Oh, and to pay me for it!
My inexperience showed. My lack of confidence and fear at asking for money for my work came through. And so, the early years were also filled with self-doubt and fear. Was I good enough? Would I ever be able to make it as a coach? As a result of not charging enough for my work, I was struggling to pay my rent and felt like I was always on the verge of running out of cash. I was exhausted. There were multiple occasions where I felt like giving up. It just felt too hard. I was working myself to the bone, constantly re-energizing myself in strategy and marketing. I had forgotten that the very reason I went into business was to coach people. Not to teach people why being coached was of value to them.
I kept working hard - on the wrong things. And my business suffered as a result.
Only when I became so exhausted and demotivated that I might not make it after all, did I decide to stop trying to be an expert in all the things and decided to get help. It was my falling on my knees and begging moment. I wanted to make it. I knew I could make it. But I could not do it alone. I pulled together the money to hire a bookkeeper and a marketer. Some of it came from my business. Some of it came from my family. My pride no longer stood in the way of my asking for help.
I’d like to say my life changed overnight, and while that is partially true, it still took a few months before the dust settled and my new team was able to lift some of that heavy burden off my shoulders. My bookkeeper, who is an absolutely amazing, caring, compassionate, and talented woman, relieved me of the burden of having to figure out the finance side of my business alone. She understood German tax law well enough and knew what would be expected of me and my business. She helped me communicate better with my accountant and to prepare my bookkeeping month after month. She got on phone calls with me to speak with my accountant and the Finanzamt. I was so relieved I could have cried. In fact, I probably did.
My marketer is another wonderfully caring, knowledgeable, and ambitious woman who helped me see how her sweet spot and expertise in communication could relieve me of the burden of “having to create”. Now I could create and write with joy, and she and her team would help to make my work into magic, available for the world to see. I could relieve myself of forced diligence and consistency, (which I never quite got the hang of anyway,) and trust that I had already created more than enough. It was time to let go of the productivity horse and allow a breath of fresh air to come in and rescue me.
I realized that the very tasks that I felt forced to complete were actually the “easy” part for someone else. I learned that I had nothing to prove – not to myself or to anyone else. I didn’t need to be the expert in everything. It was enough that I was the expert in my own domain.
As I reflect back on that conversation held that morning with my neighbor, I can see how much accumulated wisdom I have gained in my hard-won entrepreneurial journey. I worked hard, I learned so much, I had fun, I struggled, I grew. I built up a network of wonderful and empowering humans, I made new friends, I had countless incredible clients, and still I grew. Four years into that journey I am still growing. I am still facing challenges, though the nature and scale of them have changed drastically.
My coaching practice is full, and I am ready to expand my business model to meet the needs of the community of leaders that I serve.
None of this would have been possible without the hard work I put in over the last few years – and my big, open eyes over the last 15-20 years as I watched the way the world works and discovered a change I believed in enough to focus all of my time on.
No matter where you begin the journey, the struggle to gain clarity (of purpose, process, etc.) can be overwhelming. But as long as you know you’re in it for the long haul, you believe in what you are building enough, and you are willing to put in the work by trial and error to get it right, you will succeed. For the life experience and learning alone is enough to count as a massive achievement.
If I could do that conversation over, I would be sure to ask, “Why did you begin this journey in the first place?” as a jumping off point to go deeper.
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