Tips for trusting your instincts and stepping outside your comfort zone
In the movie Trading Places, Dan Ackroyd played a wealthy commodities broker and Eddie Murphy, a street-savvy hustler who “traded places.” I was in high school when it came out, and the moment I saw it, I decided I wanted to be a commodities broker (to this day, it is one of my favorite movies). Not because I knew exactly what they did, but because they made a lot of money doing it. I chose to major in economics in college. I took my first class—microeconomics - and, unfortunately, at eighteen, did not understand the concept of supply and demand, and, deservedly, received an F.
I went on to fail this class two more times and flunked out. I learned two things. First, in college you need to actually go to class, and second, being a commodities broker was probably not in my future. I regrouped and have gone on to do many things from consulting with startups seeking venture capital funding to coaching other small businesses to writing a book on business and entrepreneurship (and ironically, I am a college instructor). I frequently get asked to be a mentor or get asked, “what’s your secret????” I don’t know about a secret but I do know what has worked for me. As simple as it sounds, every opportunity for success came when I pushed myself outside of my present experience. Here are a few tips for women entrepreneurs to trust their instincts and step outside of their comfort zone to reach success:
Be ready and willing to assume risk. Assuming risk immediately brings to mind losing something and let’s face it, no one wants to lose T.E.M. - time, energy or money. I recall a couple of times when (maybe foolishly) I withdrew funds from a retirement account to start a new venture. Needless to say, these ventures did not last but my entrepreneurial desire did not wane. Other uninspiring opportunities came along, but once I found a good fit, with no prior experience, I risked everything and opened my first store, a Calendar Club franchise. Shortly after the season started, we were recognized as one of the top stores in the country by the home office, and I knew everything was going to be okay. I then used that successful experience with the first stores to open two additional stores. Research indicates that while minorities and women are starting businesses in record numbers, they still tend to be smaller enterprises. One of the factors is their hesitation to assume more risk, which is understandable. However, in order to scale a business, we have to be willing to increase their risk, and business scalability is one of the factors that can determine long term success or interest from investors and venture capitalists, etc.
Understand the power of the “F” (as in failure). From the time we are able to walk, we are wired to pass, win, and succeed. Failure is never fun but it can be a great motivator if you learn from it. Men are judged by their success in business. Women are judged not only on their professional success, but also by the success of the family, their friendships and appearance, all while making it look easy. Because so much is at stake, it is the fear of failing and subsequent judgment that makes women-owned businesses more risk averse which then presents a barrier to them growing and scaling their business. Failing my first business classes, not once but three times, then flunking out, made me question whether I was ready for college, let alone a career in business. When I finally had the opportunity to go back to school (and had to pay for it myself), I made sure that I did not repeat the mistakes I made before. In business, I eventually found my niche and developed my expertise to help small businesses participate in complex, multi-million dollar contracts, conduct lectures and am invited to speak at a number of events throughout the year.
Trust your “gut”. We all have a sixth sense that guides us to make decisions. Women are blessed with this little thing called women's intuition, but when it comes to business, intuition is viewed warm and fuzzy and, thus has no place in business. This couldn't be further from the truth. Medical journals insist intuition is made up of past experience, external cues, environmental stimuli and emotions (and I would argue, some spiritual guidance). While not scientific or even analytical, whether its that little voice in your brain or butterflies in your stomach (hence the term), you instincts are responding to all of these factors. For entrepreneurs, particularly women entrepreneurs, this empirical information can be just as effective as hard, fact-based data to make decisions. My instincts have guided me on many occasions, whether guiding me to a great opportunity, saving me from wasting valuable time or helping me avoid losing money. I recall when I made the decision to write my book, which accounts some of my experiences (and mistakes) in business and profiles the stories of other women entrepreneurs. I probably sent out 20 manuscripts and got just as many rejections. I was even told “this will never sell!” I admit, it was really discouraging. I began to think maybe they were right, and put the book away to pursue other projects. Fortunately, “my gut” would not let me totally abandon the book, which was released in November, 2015. It has gone on to be nominated for a national award, get numerous endorsements and reviews from notable publications and was a #1 new release in Business Entrepreneurship on Amazon.
Focus on adding value rather than solely on making money. Many small businesses think their size is a disadvantage and they cannot do business with larger companies because they don't have access to the same information, have years of experience or have large sums of capital. However, the fact is, they can leverage their size and use it their advantage by becoming more nimble, finding a niche in the market or solving a problem and becoming an asset for a potential customer. While profitability is a factor for every entrepreneurial venture, is should not be the primary driver. Early in my career, I was attracted to any opportunity that made money. I ended up constantly chasing so-called opportunities and not having anything lasting to show for it as a result. Now, when I consider projects, I’m driven by whether the opportunity contributes to my quality of life and provides the balance that I need. Further, when I shifted my business model from focusing solely on those that made money to how I could add value to an opportunity or a potential partner, is when I really began to achieve both personal and financial success.