5 Lessons I Learned When I Started My Own Business
Here’s how I’ve been able to succeed on the path the pandemic put me on
Like so many people these days, the pandemic has forced me to think about my career in new ways. I left my job in February with the intention of a short sabbatical, followed by a job search. I fully expected to be working full time, in an actual office, by mid-fall. The universe had a different idea, however, and by May I’d pivoted toward launching my own consultancy, focused on content and communications. A 32-year veteran of the corporate world, I was embarking on something entirely unknown. Here are 5 things I discovered as I went through the process:
1. Rely on the kindness of strangers…
As I went deep into figuring out what my consultancy would look like, I had dozens of conversations with people I barely knew — or didn’t know at all. The suggestion to form an LLC, along with tips on how to get started, came from someone I’ve never met. One of my first clients was referred by a friend of a friend of a friend. The pandemic is almost certainly leading people to help others more — just look at the offers of support popping up all over LinkedIn. Igniting that network and not being afraid to ask was the key. In fact, being the recipient of so much generosity inspired me to reciprocate and offer free mentoring to young women who are building their careers.
2. …And keep it in the family.
I’m sleeping with my lawyer and I gave birth to my web designer. My IT guy? I’ve known him since he came home, squalling, from the hospital. My husband, daughter, and brother provided a trusted space for me to experiment and develop ideas. Even if you don’t have family members in your field, they know you and can help you see yourself in ways you often can’t.
3. Try to share your plans with a friendly rival…
As I constructed my website, the most valuable insights I received came from a fellow consultant who is pretty much working in the same space as me — content and communications. What we focus on is slightly different, but there’s definitely some overlap. Nevertheless, she spent time with my site, walked me through my offerings, and offered up smart advice. No, she didn’t have to. But she did, and it helped enormously. Hashtag gratitude.
4. …And an outsider.
The second most valuable set of insights? From a friend who is in a totally unrelated field. He pointed out some technical and organizational issues with my site that everyone else had missed, including me. The questions he asked made me look at my business with fresh perspective.
5. And yes, corporate PTSD is a thing.
During my 32 years in an intense, deadline-driven business, I built my career by being in the office, at my desk, every day, for as many hours as it took. It was the only way of working I knew. As I launched my consultancy, losing the corporate mindset was hard for me. I guilted myself, a lot, when I didn’t spend nine hours a day plugging away at work, and felt frustrated because there was always something else I should be doing (hello, social media).
What helped? I became more intentional about my daily schedule, building in freeform time (for creating and thinking), meeting time (for Zoom calls and networking), and downtime (for exercise and de-stressing). It’s never perfect, but this scaffolding has allowed me to focus on my clients and business building — and continuing along the path the pandemic set me on.
Susan Spencer is the former editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day. She is currently hunkered down in New Jersey with her family, crushing on Anthony Fauci, doing a lot of cleaning with bleach, and eating far too much chocolate.