I recently went back to working as a PR, Marketing, Communications & Promotional Event Consultant; only this time, I took it one step further and decided to form an actual company with two trusted friends and talented PR and marketing pros.
Our new agency, Hip Chameleon PR & Marketing (@HipChameleon), officially launches on 1/11/11 at 11:11 am until 11:11 pm. Why? Because that sounded like a really fun date and time to take advantage of! We’re planning a party and inviting our friends, families and community.
For me, I felt I needed to get into a space between working full time to make someone else’s business dreams happen – and going it completely alone to make my own dreams happen. I had “gone it alone” before and learned that it gets pretty lonely after a while.
I am an entrepreneur, not a loner. I really like people and enjoy working with them. It’s also a good strategy to have at least one other person to bounce ideas off of and engage in the workflow process – otherwise, too much time spent working on projects alone begin to take on the patina of a mad scientist’s isolated thinking. When you work alone all of the time, there’s no one around to tell you that your idea is whacky. Everything looks feasible when sound ideas aren’t weighted to counterbalance the crazy ones. Let’s face it, some ideas are just plain dumb. It helps to have a good friend and/or partner on hand who is willing to gently tell you that you are off your rocker.
Being an entrepreneur is terrifying and thrilling at the same time. No one is going to cut you a paycheck every two weeks just for showing up and doing a reasonably good job. No one pays you to take a bathroom break, a long lunch or a two-week vacation. Sick days result in lost income and business development is necessary, but takes a lot of energy and effort to result in new, paying work.
As an entrepreneur you think twice about signing up for a 3 day conference – even when you believe future potential clients will be there too. The Return on Investment (ROI) is unclear, but what you do know is that it will take funds from your cash reserves and you won’t be chalking up billable client time while you’re sitting in a presentation (unless you are really crafty or downright dishonest). As a corporate employee, being sent to a conference in San Diego is a boondoggle. I always ate well, slept perfectly, enjoyed drinks on the waterfront with colleagues and ran the pier in the morning whenever I was sent to San Diego by my agency. As an entrepreneur, I take the cheap flights, stay in the cheap hotels, work at night so I can bill for some of my time, eat sandwiches and hope I will run into someone I know who will offer to treat me to dinner or drinks on their company’s dime. It doesn’t matter that I can write the conference off on my quarterly taxes; it’s the revenue I have to spend on the front-end that hurts a little.
Despite all of that, the thrilling parts of being an entrepreneur are a much bigger deal for me. I wake up every day excited to cut my own path through the forest. Every “win” is a win for me, my partners and our company. I don’t have a boss telling me what to do or using me to cover his or her own ass when something goes wrong. I take on the clients and projects I most want to engage with, that excite me every day to be working on, and that provide opportunities for me to stretch my skills, my mind and test my courage.
If you are an entrepreneur, or have ever tried to become one, you know that it takes courage to fly solo - and only slightly less courage to fly with trusted co-pilots. It’s even more challenging a flight when you’re a woman because you often have to prove yourself to clients and prospects for actions that most men are given credit for on the spot – earned or not. Women have to demonstrate they can handle challenging tasks, where men are oftentimes given the benefit of the doubt before they even climb into the cockpit. But that’s ok; having to prove our navigational skills just makes us better pilots.
I’m not what most people would label a feminist. I grew up with a father who treated me like a son most of the time. I was told I could do anything I wanted, as long as I was willing to work hard for it. I was not allowed to make excuses just because I was a “girl.” In fact, my father warned me that I would have to work even harder than boys for some things. I am lucky to have a dad who didn’t treat me like a princess, but even his wisdom couldn’t prepare me for what I would later encounter in the work world as a female.
I have been denied promotions and blatantly told that I didn’t get it because it was “no job for a lady,” (even though I was outselling and outperforming the men doing the same job I was doing). Equally true, I have been offered promotions because I was told that I was attractive and my looks would garner more sales. I won’t lie. I took those promotions and still went out and kicked ass, knowing that my looks might get me in the door – but being a reliable, straightforward, helpful sales rep would increase my sales volumes and earn me valuable referrals.
I took a lot of crap from men over the years and heard my share of sexist comments. Likewise, I endured snarky, catty remarks and blatant sabotage from women peers and bosses who thought I was just a “Kewpie Doll.” I wish I had a nickel for every time I was called that name. But, that was a long time ago and Human Resource laws have come a long way to diminish abusive office behavior and improve working conditions for all. What’s more, as more women have become organizational leaders and shattered the glass ceiling, they have embraced a willingness to mentor younger women up the corporate ladder without fear of being accused of simply promoting “the sisterhood.” That was not the case when I started out in the workforce. It was dog-eat-dog and every woman for herself, if you wanted to get ahead.
I think that I am especially lucky to be in Boulder, Colorado at this stage in my life and career. There is such a strong sense of community here – especially among entrepreneurs and start-ups. I’ve never witnessed so many people who so unselfishly give away advice, contacts, referrals, work product and offer help and resources (expecting that what comes around goes around). But in order to be showered with support for your ideas, you have to be authentic in how you approach people in this community. Boulder folks quickly sniff out a phony or con artist. I know that probably sound corny, but it’s true. If you show up for a networking event and only come there to hock your wares and promote yourself, you may as well have shown up wearing a baby seal fur coat and announce that you clubbed it yourself (most Boulderites will stone you for that). Okay, maybe it’s not quite as bad as that, but you will get labeled a “snake oil salesman” pretty quickly if you don’t embrace a collaborative and candid approach to the local “meet and greet” events. Soon, no one will take your phone call and you’ll be shunned on Twitter by your nearest neighbors. Fortunately, a sincere mea culpa brings forgiveness and second chances here.
The [i4c] Campaign (@i4cCampaign), which hails from Boulder, is deeply committed to supporting and honoring entrepreneurs. In fact, it was being tagged on Twitter by my friends at [i4c]Campaign to view the video below that drove me to write this post. As a woman entrepreneur, I found this presentation inspirational and encouraging. I hope you will too. I invite you to check out the [i4c}Campaign’s website and connect with the good people there: http://www.i4ccampaign.com/