An Entrepreneur’s 5 Step Plan for Keeping Their Job As Boss
I introduced myself recently to an online master group as an expert in failure. In response someone shared a few of Denzel Washington’s comments to the 2011 graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania. He asked them whether they had the guts to fail and chided them by saying “If you don’t fail, you are not even trying.”
No one however talks that much about what to do in order to keep your job as “Boss.” For while I am proud of all I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made, I cannot deny that making mistakes can shatter one’s confidence. It has caused me to even question my definition of success.
This is especially true as a baby boomer who has experienced a sense of authority in other aspects of my life.
What is your definition of success?
Is it what you get or is it what you give? Is it the people with whom you connect? Is it what you do in life? Or is it where you go? Success could be defined by the answering any one of these questions or a combination of all of them. So why can’t I accept the fact that success like happiness is not some static thing.
Accept that a failure can be your master class
I have set out to build several entrepreneurial projects over the years with varying degrees of success. While working full time for a foreign government, I tapped into my knowledge about travel, my love for art, and my travel connections to create small group tour experiences. The intention was to provide a service to a segment of the market generally overlooked by large non-profit institutions. I know much about this prospective customer because I fit the demographic. It is a group whose members can afford a general membership level say of $200 or less at a large museum but who feel disappointment that at this level one does not enjoy the enhanced experiences of large contributors like private dinners with collectors, artists or curators.
Identify a need then do something about it
So here is what I did. I designed a trip that included visits to private collections of art in British and Belgian private homes. It was priced modestly to meet this market’s budgetary restrictions. But the people who responded were wealthy, savvy, travelers from Telluride, Colorado and New Orleans – not the working stiffs such as myself for whom the trip was intended. As a travel experience the trip was a huge success. However as a business model, I did not reach my intended market and the profit margin was slim relative to the work involved. I interpreted my stint as an independent tour operator as a failure.
Don’t wait for outside encouragement. Try again
I tried to integrate what I had learned from this first experience by creating another small group travel experience to the South African Biennale. This trip was created for artists, art historians, curators and collectors. Feedback from the travelers confirmed the experience was both unique and of high value.But the profit margin again gave me pause. Rather than reengineer the concept,I internalized this attempt as a failure but realized a business could not be built on price alone or on miscommunication with my projected market. I’d read this in books before but this time I understood the lesson.
Build on what you learn. Put lessons from failure together
A more recent experience drove the point home that every failure brings its own lesson. I got another epiphany in the fear engendered in the aftermath of September 11th. realized I wanted more autonomy over how I used my time on earth. I decided it was time to try something different than the 9-5 job where I had been working for the past eighteen years.Leaving my job did not mean retirement.
My dream lifestyle was to run a seasonal business May through September. My goal would be to run the business for three years then sell it to fundÂ my ability to thereafter work from anywhere in the world. I thus created a healthy beachfront food business.
In real life, this turned out to mean a three and a half month marathon of 18-hour days that were subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Sea Greens Live became known for its cold spicy gazpacho, spelt cake, wild salmon burgers, wheat grass shots, fresh fruit smoothies, cold noodle salads and the like. It had a pretty good following; but the business receipts could not a sustain the business. My competitors sold hamburgers on white buns and outsold me 7 to 1. When the rents skyrocketed for the three month season, it was time to go.
I felt like Rodney Dangerfield.I just could not get any respect for what I was trying to do. It was as if I was standing outside a patisserie window with my nose to the glass facing failure again. So close yet so far away from success.
Five strategies for keeping your job as Boss
If you have had your share of failures, you know the feeling I am describing. Dismiss the conventional wisdom that declares if you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate because it will not make you feel better.I recommend the following:
* Focus on what you have done and not what you have not done.
* Accept your shortcomings. After all, you do not have to explain your failures to a bank, a VC or to a family member.
* Understand that you are curator or expert on resources or experiences, not fairy godmothers/fathers that provide faultless solution.
* Remind yourself that your job as an entrepreneur is to solve problems.
* Embrace the unfamiliar and accept failure as part of the learning process.
Then begin to speak from your experiences. This will give your theoretical knowledge a certain fluency. When you accept your failures you prepare yourself for more successes, those both possible and probable. Every lesson learned will allow you to gain mastery over your life’s purpose.They will increase your voice of authority and allow you to put that knowledge to work for the things that you are passionate about.