Every year my Linkedin connections remind me that it’s my “work anniversary.” I’m delightfully inundated with messages and comments congratulating me and it’s fun. This year is a little different though because I realized it’s my 20th year as an entrepreneur. Twenty years ago in July of 1999, I left my wonderful job as a recreation specialist in senior living and struck out on my own to become a professional speaker.
Well, to be fair, 20 years ago I was actually waiting tables (badly), working for another speaker in his office (Thank you David Glickman), dressing in costume and performing interactive theatre for children in libraries and at birthday parties, and….speaking occasionally. For free. I distinctly remember the first two times I was hired at a fairly decent fee to speak outside of Florida, where I was living at the time. Thank you to the Texas Assisted Living Association and the Washington Assisted Living Association. I felt so glamorous traveling for a living! That feeling has far faded, although I am still grateful for my ability to travel and see this country.
Since then I’ve discarded the fairy godmother costume, written 2 published books, and launched a training company dedicated to helping organizations build cultures of happy team members excited about delivering excellence in service. We’re all about lifting each other up and creating places where your customer matters, your work matters, and you matter. It’s what our customers call the red carpet way.
We haven’t done much to celebrate this work anniversary, but I thought I’d take a moment and share a few tidbits I’ve picked up along my entrepreneurial journey. Here are the first 10 with the next 10 coming in a future blog post.
20 Lessons I’ve Learned In 20 Years In Business (Part One)
1. It’s AWESOME! Being an entrepreneur definitely has its perks! Over the past 20 years, I’ve basically decided on the mission that matters to me and created projects and opportunities to live that mission. It’s been such a blessing to meet people all over the country (and from all over the world), have incredible adventures, and contribute to the success of so many of our customers. I don’t take any of it for granted, and I am so very grateful.
2. It Ain’t Easy! On the flip side, I’ve had a few dark nights of the soul as Brene Brown calls them. There are products that haven’t sold or projects that didn’t fly, slow sales months, mistakes that we’ve had to clean up, and sacrifices that have been made. Yes, I can make my own hours, but those are often LONG hours and it’s challenging, as a business owner, to know that so much rests squarely on your shoulders. It can be extremely lonely.
3. Persistence Pays! So, who gets to be an entrepreneur for 20 years or more? Those who stick it out for 20 years or more. This is not a journey for the faint of heart. You’ve got to have grit enough to ride the bad times and know that each time you go through them you’ll come out stronger. Growing pains are real and they are painful. As much as I love what I do, there have been many times where I have thought of throwing in the towel. Then I get a note from a customer telling us about the difference our programs have made, or how they made someone’s day that day, and I remember why I started in the first place. So I persist, and the good times come back and get better!
4. You Must Invest in Professional Development! Entrepreneurs are lifelong learners. The more I invest in myself professionally, the better I am able to serve my customers. For me, this means investing in the National Speakers Association, the Boldheart Coaching program, C-Suite Network, courses, books, audiobooks, and certifications. Every single dollar I have invested in my professional education has helped me, my team and my customers. Special shout out to the National Speakers Association, because I wouldn’t have books or a company without them! Currently, my NSA buddies are stretching me even further and my company is growing exponentially as a result.
5. You Must Invest in Personal Development! This has been a big lesson for me this year. I think it’s Tony Robbins who says that a good percentage of a business’ success is the psychology of the owner. (I’m paraphrasing). This is so true. Recently, I’ve done a lot of work on my own limiting beliefs and personal assumptions that have held me back. It’s not easy work, but I feel more open and less restricted and can already see how investing in my own personal development is going to help me and Red Carpet get to the next level. We want to take our mission of lifting people up and treating others like the stars they are to a much wider audience, and as my friend, Sandy Geroux would say, “Who am I to stop me?”
6. You can’t do it alone! I could fill an entire book with the names of the people who have helped me along this journey, so I won’t try to name everyone in this blog post. Suffice it to say that wonderful and kind people have donated time, talent, training and money to the Red Carpet cause. People have cheered me on, given me a shoulder to cry on, provided some much needed tough love, helped me see a bigger vision, and generously shared the knowledge that helped me every step of the way! Team members have hung in with me through tough times, and remain committed to the mission of the red carpet way. I’ve had many mentors (and have many mentors), Mastermind Groups, and accountability buddies. My husband, who is not an entrepreneur at heart, has ridden the waves with me, even when I know it hasn’t been easy. Zig Ziglar famously had a wall of gratitude filled with the photos of people who helped him on his journey. Thank you if you are or have been one of those people for me! I am grateful – and I strive to pay it forward.
7. You’ve got to Delegate! At a certain point, I had become the bottleneck in my own business. I couldn’t grow because I was doing most of it myself. Guess what? I’m not the only one who can do the work well and, in many cases, there are others who can do it even better! Delegation is magic, and working with others is so much more fun than going alone!
8. Time Away is Important! It has been said that if you do what you love and you’ll never have to take a vacation. Pardon my french, but bull-cocky!! I love my customers, my team and my work – and taking time away from all of it sometimes, allows me to come back refreshed and with new energy and new ideas. Take vacations. Even if you love your job.
9. Sometimes you have to blow it all up and start again. My biggest growth has happened when I’ve been willing to look at my current business with a fresh perspective, and change what needs to be changed. Change isn’t easy, even for me, and I often am dragged into it kicking and screaming. However, as my friend Nido Qubein told me once, just because we had a good idea once doesn’t mean it’s a good idea forever. Doing it the same old way will never produce new results, and it’s worth looking at your old assumptions every once in a while, blowing everything up, and building anew to grow stronger.
10. It’s Worth It Because Of Your Customers. Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten letters, had phone calls and received emails from customers who have implemented our programs. A person who is using my books in her new hire onboarding program. Another who revamped their orientation program because of our conference. One organization celebrating its employee STARS because of our training. Others who share stories of how their team members are stepping up as they strive to make someone’s day every day. People lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. Those notes, calls, and emails mean the world to me and my team. That’s why we keep going! That’s why we want to expand. That’s why I’m still doing this 20 years later!
10 more lessons in another blog post soon. Comment below and let me know what you’ve learned in your career over the last 20 years. I’d love to hear from you!!
Donna Cutting, CSP is the Founder & CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Systems, Inc., an in-demand keynote speaker on the topics of employee engagement and customer experience, and the author of two books including her latest 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers.