Leadership

“How Do I Get Started Doing What You Do?”

Starting Out On Your OwnThis question hit my inbox over the weekend. It usually happens at least once a week. I offered my template response with the appropriate links. I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times. I was prepared.

Perhaps I have a little too much time to kill this morning, but the notion that I may have short-changed my response is on my mind. The links, resources and podcast might help, but that isn’t the whole truth. Not my whole truth. My truth is that “getting started” was the hardest part.

Getting unstuck can require hard effort, planning and a pretty big leap of faith.

Or it just happens through circumstances and good luck.

I’ve learned that no two situations are exactly alike.

I was working on my plan while I was doing my job. Perpetually stuck in planning mode, I lacked the courage and conviction to take that final leap of faith. Funny, in hindsight, the leap looks rather tiny. My downside was minimal. However, at the time, I was overwhelmed by uncertainty and played it safe. The truth: No job is all that certain or safe anymore. The much safer bet was to bet on me.

Timing was on my side. The Great Recession turned out to be my saving grace. The stalled economy prompted a series of bad business decisions in my organization and I simply couldn’t stomach it any longer. The fear of spending the prime of my career running a stalled business sideways suddenly became stronger than the fear of the unknown.

I quit.

That is how I got started doing what I do. To succeed at doing what I do, I continually apply these four key practices. I haven’t been sharing them in my template response and I hope they help.

Burn The Boats

Once you decide and commit — GO ALL IN! My Plan B was actually holding me back. Putting a bullet in the backup plan was actually a catalyst for growing forward.

During the first two years, my résumé was polished and I would regularly explore different career opportunities. Fielding calls from recruiters, coffee shopping to network and going on interviews to “test the market” — all of that invested time and emotional energy was a horrible distraction! That wasn’t what I wanted!

I had to burn the boats (or more specifically my résumé) to focus forward. I did it by deciding on a ridiculously absurd first-year compensation guarantee requirement that I started sharing at the onset of any conversation about a new job. Soon after the shock and laughter stopped, so did the phone calls. I had no other choice but to make this work. Often, with our back against the wall, we find the way.

Burning the boats is a metaphor courtesy of famed explorer Hernando Cortez. He landed on the shores of Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1519 and wanted his army to conquer the land for Spain. Challenging an aggressive enemy, horrible disease and scarce resources, it was going to take all his soldiers had to emerge victorious. As they marched inland to do battle, Cortez ordered one of his lieutenants back to the beach with a single instruction: burn our boats. No Plan B. No retreat. No surrender. No choice but to win.

Sales Capability

I know our success starts with client acquisition. Sales capability has to be our competitive edge. I run a small business with a very focused sales process. We established powerful channel partnerships and a strong referral network. My first new hire was the best sales pro I know. I personally make time for new business development every single day (I am working on it right now during a layover in Detroit). Today, even with a completely full event calendar, I obsess about what sales meetings I can take in every city I visit. Who can I invite to preview a live event? Which channel partners need a live lunch-and-learn? Even if my programs are world-class, that makes me nothing more than a commodity, so we understand it’s up to us to go and get the business every single day.

Continuing Education

To stay relevant, you have to always be learning. Research. Interviews. Reading. Case studies. Blogging. Videos. Live seminars. A good teacher is a hungry student (fortunately both my parents were teachers, so this is how I grew up). I work with coaches, writers, curriculum designers, content marketers, web developers and others, and everyone around me understands the goal is to push me to take this to the next level. I am a student of my industry and the learning never stops. If I ever hit a plateau — and I hit one this summer — it’s because I relaxed on my own learning. So I doubled down and I am already seeing another breakthrough. Increasingly, this is the new job requirement not just for entrepreneurs, but for everyone. If you aren’t learning and growing, you will fall behind in the world we live in today.

Brand the Experience

From the beginning I’ve been obsessed with our brand experience. I even changed my title to chief experience officer to reinforce what I believe has to be an obsession! Our objective is to make every touch point with a customer world-class — the website, video, blog content and, of course, the actual live event. We evaluate the process.

Are we doing more more than expected? Is a three-hour response time fast enough? Are we learning enough during our client discovery? Can we deliver more in follow up? Is our subscription list growing? We measure and review analytics with discussion around opportunities for improvement every month and include the perspective of several outside experts who can help us correct the course when needed. This requires investment, and I am more than willing to put that fuel into the business to make sure we are growing and capturing our own HOW Advantage.

One of my best friends, who is also a trusted advisor and wildly successful entrepreneur, shared this perspective as I was getting started. “The only regret you are going to have is that you didn’t do this 10 years sooner,” he said.

Then he asked a favor. “Call me on the day you believe that is the truth.”

To this day, it was one of the most satisfying phone calls I’ve ever made.

Ryan Estis helps companies and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance. Each live event blends original research with compelling stories that move participants to take action. Ryan has 20 years of business experience working with the world’s best brands to initiate change, inspire innovation and deliver growth. Learn more about Ryan Estis.