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A few years ago, I was burning out from my social work job. I wanted to change systems from the inside out to be more efficient and effective, but I was met with resistance from people who felt the systems were just fine. I was nearing the end of my rope. What I had been doing wasn’t working anymore, but I had no idea what to do next.
One of my coworkers said to me, “Have you ever thought about career coaching?” I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I was willing to give it a shot. I started reading up on the different approaches of people like Tony Robbins, Marie Forleo, and Eckhart Tolle. I researched coaching programs, reaching out for informational interviews to distant connections who had completed those programs.
I had been fortunate enough to experience some great coaching through some professional networks I belong to and I thought, “My whole life’s mission has been to help people. But I am not helping people by spending 75% of my time doing administrative work to justify why client’s needs aren’t being met, rather than meeting those needs. The inspiration I have felt walking out of coaching experiences led by others, I can do that for others.”
When I was contemplating making the switch from direct services therapy to something else, I talked to everyone. Friends, colleagues, mentors, mentees, family, acquaintances, you name it. I weighed what resonated with me and what didn’t. One mentor said to me, “You put everyone else’s needs above your own. At what point will what you need be as important or more important than what everyone else needs? You say you’re afraid of abandoning the mission. But if you stay in this job, you will burn out from the helping profession completely. Forget their mission. What is yours?”
The more I thought, the more I realized that in my personal life I already had a passion for women’s issues. I was constantly reading, talking, and sharing articles with friends about them. From there it only made sense to tailor my business to women. But still, I was waffling, wondering if I could truly take the leap into starting my own business. A friend of mine said to me, “Sure, you can find a new job, maybe even one you like. But will you look back on this time of tumult and think “Yeah, that was the year I started yet another new job!” or “Yeah, that was the year I started my own business!”
There are some amazing rewards to being an entrepreneur. I don’t have to answer to people whose visions don’t align with mine. I get to choose the clients who are right for me and for whom I am right. I get to make own schedule. I travel whenever I want. I am completely in charge of my own life. Likewise, there are major risks and downsides to being an entrepreneur
I spent a lot of time learning and researching. In the beginning, I was constantly hustling for the next client, going long stretches without one and feeling like I may never be financially stable. I struggle with justifying my time to myself and often wonder in moments of leisure if I should be working at this moment.
Since starting a business, I have had to learn to be a saleswoman, a social media expert, and my own IT department. I used to just focus on being the best therapist I could be by attending workshops and trainings. Now I have to balance being a female business owner (assertive, confident, gregarious) with being a therapist and coach (active listener, not intimidating). The biggest lesson I had to learn, however, was that I am selling a product (the service of therapy and coaching), not my own self-worth.
For anyone who wants to start a business, there are some helpful pieces of advice. Start by identifying why you want to become an entrepreneur. But you also need to have a personal vision and mission statement for the work you want to do. Do you have a specific idea in mind that you feel passionately about? Are you drawn to the lifestyle of being self-employed? Once you have a solid answer as to why you want it, start reading books like The Lean Startup, $100 Startup, and The Referral Engine to hear others' stories about building their ideas into a reality.
Find some additional books on your particular area of interest, as well. Constantly learn, from books, podcasts, videos, webinars, networking events. Talk to everyone, even if you think they have nothing to offer or are even your possible competition.
Once you have a general idea of what you want to do, reach out to your local city or state's small business bureau because they often have mentors. Make sure you are leveraging your existing network by talking to people and asking for support. Then, contemplate if you want to enroll in some sort of education or certification program for your field, and weigh the costs and benefits. Finally, get out there and make your dream happen!
Jenny is the founder of Forward in Heels Executive Coaching, which empowers badass women who want to excel at what they do, stand tall, and own their worth so they can light up the world. As a licensed psychotherapist as well as certified executive leadership coach, Jenny has been helping women make bold, lasting changes in their lives for over a decade.
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