About 1 month ago, I decided that I would start a business, in addition to my day job. Fortunately, my day job provides me with relatively predictable schedule, a few free evening hours, and a (mostly) clear weekend. Entrepreneurship has always ranked high on my bucket list. Plus, I’m still relatively young and have no major responsibilities, so why not? But the key question was “How?”. How do you take that first step to start a business?
Light Bulb Moment #1: You are the average of 5 people you spend the most time with.
To change yourself, you must change others around you. Outside of my spouse, I spend most of my waking hours with co-workers, who generally seem overworked and / or disgruntled with their cubicle job. As a first step, my environment had to change. If I wanted to be an entrepreneur, then I need to spend time with entrepreneurs. But where do you find these people?
I spent the next few weeks signing up for every single entrepreneur-esque Meetup event you can imagine. I wanted to meet people who would inspire me, mentor me, and maybe even start a business with me.
However, my first meetup event was a complete disaster. I felt like the ugly, pimply, new girl in high school who would eat lunch in toilet stalls. Nobody wanted to talk to me; and nobody remembered me. Upon reflection, it’s no wonder this happened. I would introduce myself as such: “HI. I work at a large company in strategy and marketing. I’m here because I want to start a business, but I’m not sure what kind yet.”…followed up a big, goofy yet quizzical grin.
Shoot…I wouldn’t even want to talk to myself. On top of that, the only business card I had on hand was my corporate name card, so I had to hand out a card from a giant company to people that frown upon the cubicle types. Ouch…
But then it struck me…
Light Bulb Moment #2: Re-Brand Yourself
At these networking events where there are countless entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs, you need to stand out like a peacock in a sea of pigeons. A random corporate cog in the wheel with no idea what she wants to do next is not a good brand to have. For my next entrepreneur networking event, I decided to create a new brand. After floating around a few ideas, I decided to pick one and focus.
New identity: I am the Founder and CEO of an education crowdfunding startup. (How much cooler does that sound?)
At the next networking event, the new personal brand worked wonders. Several people approached me and wanted to talk about potential collaborations. I even had someone offer to design my non-existent website. People volunteered to mentor me. It’s remarkable! Between the first and second networking event, the only change was my introduction, but that made all the difference in the world.
Light Bulb Moment #3: Follow-up or FAIL
One wise entrepreneur said this to me (and a bunch of wannabe / newbie entrepreneurs). It has stuck with me ever since then. After each event, I followed up with almost every single person who I snagged a business card from. I would send them a short (but nice) follow-up email, reminding them of who I am. And then, I would connect with them on LinkedIn. Even if it’s someone with a seemingly unrelated interest, you would be surprised at how useful it is to follow up.
At this point, I was just a self-proclaimed founder of a non-existent startup. I still needed to create an entire business. At one of the events, I met a guy who ran his own dating consulting service. Very unrelated, right? Well, I met him up for coffee on a whim, and he not only walked me through basic steps on how to set up my own company email address but also linked me with a few potential customers. WHAT?!? Crazy…
I’m still taking it one step at a time and one day at a time, but it’s AH-MAZING how a small change in self-perception and environment can give you the right push to start your own gig. Stay tuned as the journey continues…