Work in Progress: The Life of an Entrepreneur in Beta
This is a series dedicated to the new entrepreneur. Welcome to the life you’ve always dreamed of creating.
Being an entrepreneur means by definition that you are responsible for overseeing many levels of your business. However, given our economy and the rapidly changing corporate landscape, today’s managers and even administrative personnel in small, medium and large offices are being called upon to exercise many skills that have not previously been part of their training or experience.
The day I showed up for my first temp job after graduation, my new boss handed me a shoebox full of receipts and said, “Do something with this.” Was I a bookkeeper? No. But I took a column pad and divided up the expenses into categories, and made sure everything totaled up properly. It wasn’t that hard. As a bonus, after a couple of months I discovered that the office manager was writing herself extra paychecks. When she got fired (and prosecuted) for embezzlement, I got promoted to her position.
My next office management job was at a small medical practice. Since I already knew my way around a column pad, adding payroll to my list of skills wasn’t a big stretch. That and all the rest of my daily administrative tasks quickly grew to include all manners of patient interaction, including fielding medical questions, playing DJ (important to set the right mood!), calming nerves and cooling tempers when the schedule went awry, not to mention making sure the boss was fed…
When I segued into the event production industry seven years ago, I found that all of the skills I had developed in my earlier jobs were completely transferable. Instead of calming distraught patients, I was soothing anxious clients. Regardless of the business, I encountered people daily who depended on me to provide accurate information, clear communication, technical expertise and a relatively stress-free experience.
Anyone who is intelligent and motivated can develop a comfort level working with new software programs and online platforms. This site is filled with expert tips on which pieces of tech are best suited to your needs. The kind of skills that I’m talking about are the ones that typically develop over time, after you’ve worked in a number of different types of business situations.
This is good news, given how volatile the job market is these days. Many of us are in the midst of changing careers, being re-assigned or just plain looking for work. Whether you are launching a new entrepreneurial venture, trying to manage an expansion of the scope of your present job or looking for work in a new field, it’s important to be able to articulate the things that you know how to do so that you can claim your authority and if necessary, distinguish yourself from everyone else.
Here are some great skills to polish up for the days ahead:
Time Management – Personally, I think this one is paramount. A key ingredient to having a productive and satisfying work experience to is to start out each morning with a plan that pairs a list of priorities with a reasonable expectation of what is possible to accomplish in a given day. Put down the most important things first, and the times when you’ll be working on them. Scheduling it all is really helpful and gives you a better shot at completing the tasks. Just make sure you factor in some “crap time” to allow for the inevitable last minute things that come up.
Ego Management – It really helps if you can develop some ability to manage your need to be right all the time. Put your ego aside, and let your boss and your clients be the right ones. They are the ones paying you. Unless your point needs to be made in order to save the integrity of the entire company, or the fate of a huge campaign, or a major project, or your physical well being or integrity, (I’m not advocating any kind of abuse here), then let it go. If what is being asked of you is truly a deal breaker, and there’s no room for negotiation, then consider walking away – it’s not healthy to be in a situation that makes such unreasonable demands of you.
Diplomacy – I’m a bit of a natural people pleaser (which has its pros and cons), so I can often tell when situations need a little more smoothing over. But the flip side of this is that you need to be clear about boundaries and expectations, so that there are no surprises or miscommunications. Yes, there are tactful ways to say things. You can be kind at the same time as you are stating something very firmly. My friend calls me the “velvet hammer.”
Flexibility – You gotta learn to go with the flow. It’s pretty much the name of the game. No matter which scenario you find yourself in, circumstances can change in a heartbeat. Funding falls through, you lose accounts, technical glitches impede progress, deliveries are late, vendors flake out, snowstorms destroy your event attendance, shit happens! Best to cultivate a positive attitude, so you don’t get completely derailed every time something goes wrong.
Self-Discipline – There are going to be parts of your job that you can’t stand. It’s just the nature of work. Hopefully, there are parts that you really love, too. Make it a point to dig into at least one task that you really hate first thing in your day. Get it over with. Then, move on to the part of the job that you love. If necessary, reward yourself with a cappuccino, or ten minutes playing around on Facebook before moving back to the next unpleasant task. But remember, every time you check one of those nasty bits off your list, you get to pat yourself on the back for being so mature. Besides, delayed gratification is always so much sweeter…
Perspective – At the end of the day, it’s a job. It’s not your soul, your spirit, or your essence. (You get to keep that part for yourself and explore it on your own time.) This work – it may be what occupies much of your waking hours, but in the end, you are more than just your occupation. Keeping this in mind will allow you to let go of the frustrations that might otherwise end up making you kick the dog, or worse. Even if it’s your own company, and you are pursuing your life’s passion, your dream job – you still have to maintain SOME form of life/work balance, otherwise you, too can end up dribbling into a cup at the end of the day.
Being A Renaissance Person – Make a list of all the diverse things you know how to do. You’d be surprised how handy some of these skills may come in… Used to be a DJ in college?
Make a great mixed tape. Make a great Spotify mix that helps set a good mood in the office. Got a license? Pinch hit as a driver or errand runner… Learn your way around Quickbooks, Mailchimp, Paint or Dropbox so you can make yourself useful in other ways. Bilingual? Use your second language!
The bottom line is, the more tools you are familiar with, and the greater variety of talents and skills you bring to the table, the more useful you will be to your team, as an assistant, a collaborator and a supervisor. It’s a new era. We’re all becoming generalists!
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because no one expects me to buy them crap. It’s a time where we can take a break, reflect on what matters and count our blessings. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some things I’ve been thankful for this past year.
- Face-to-face meetings. I can surf the Web all day for cool stuff, but it’s only in conversation with people that I truly discover anything useful. At PlannerTech, I stumbled upon some interesting tech tools. At IMEX America I finally got face time with people I’d been social media dating for years. At SoMeT there were brilliant ideas about connecting and activating your social communities. At PYM LIVE and the many events I educated at I got to talk with my audience and find out what challenges the meetings industry faces and some of the possible solutions. Even the big fat turkeys — the stinky, creaky, old-school events I suffered through — were worth going to because of the conversations I had and connections I made there.
- The power of communication. Whether it’s spoken, emailed or typed up and hung on a wall, words are incredibly powerful. They can educate, set a mood, affect behavior, get people excited, piss them off, close a sale, comfort someone in grief and make a friend for life. I’ve always valued it. But this year more than any other, I’ve realized how difficult honest communication can be for some people, especially those in leadership positions. And that’s made it easier for me to be compassionate, patient and willing to help people articulate their thoughts and plans of action, both internally, at home and in the field.
- Obsession with content. In marketing circles, this has been the year of “content marketing,” which means that people are now trying to sell you things with stories. As annoying as that is, it’s great for self-educators because there’s a wealth of free material, including fantastic case studies and how-to guides floating around for you to consume on topics ranging from using hybrid meeting technology, to creating social media calendars to, yes, developing your own content marketing strategy. If you stop and think about why you sign up to receive what you want to read and how you stumbled upon it, it will give you fantastic ideas on how to bring potential attendees to your events using little breadcrumbs of content.
- Rise of the storyteller. From the world of event marketing, the importance of having a story for your brand and your public experiences is bleeding into the everyday world of meeting planning, which is very exciting for me to watch. Because it means that in addition to dates, rates and space, everyday planners are beginning to think about the experience people will have at their events and how to weave that storyline through their communication strategy, meeting design and execution.
- My health. Not to be maudlin, but many family friends have passed away this year. More are battling cancer. And most shocking of all, a meeting planner I knew recently died of pneumonia in her sleep while on-site at an event. From what friends told me, she had bronchitis but didn’t take the break she needed to rest and recuperate. The result: an annoying cough turned into something fatal. I don’t take my mobility or my health for granted any more. And now I’m obsessed with taking frequent breaks to de-stress and recharge. I hope you do the same.
Are you counting your personal or professional blessings? Share them with me in the comment section below.