Friday, March 13, 2015

Happy 18th Anniversary to Learning Solutions!

This week a lot of people on LinkedIn are congratulating me on the 18th anniversary of owning my own consulting firm, Learning Solutions. In entrepreneur years, that’s about 100. All those congrats got me thinking about when and how I got started on this journey, which is still
ongoing even though I’m past 65.
I am not your typical entrepreneur, and if someone had told me in college that I would be self-employed for this long, I would have said, “nonsense.” After all, I had taken the tests to see if I would succeed in my own business, and the answer was always a resounding NO. Danger, danger, do not come near:  you like stability, you’re not a risk taker and you suck at selling. When I finally decided that maybe I could do this (only because none of the other options felt right), I spent 2 years researching the business, reading how-to books, building my network and socking away money to live on. I thought I knew everything and was well prepared to be my own boss. I was not.
I vividly remember a conference I attended a few months after I started my business. I was listening to a speaker tell me in a sales workshop that if I didn’t make at least several cold calls per day, I would fail. He might as well have told me, an extreme introvert, I would have to stand naked on the corner every morning to succeed. As I stood up to sneak out of this humiliating experience, another participant at my table said “Oh for heaven’s sake, sit down, he’s full of crap. I’ve been running a successful business for 10 years and I’ve never made a cold call.” I don’t recall her name, but she is partly responsible for my long tenure with Learning Solutions. And I never did make a cold call.
There have been wildly successful years and those I would like to forget. Less than 2 years after getting started, and in the middle of a major project that required me to be out of town 50% of the time, my husband had a cardiac arrest followed by 2 open heart surgeries and 2 additional heart
procedures. Both of us were self-employed and neither of us was able to work for several months. Thankfully, we had health insurance, and I had been able to set aside extra money from the big project. And of course when I was finally able to get back to work, there was nothing in the pipeline. The need to keep work in the pipeline was one of the hardest lessons I learned.
Things went fairly smoothly for a while, thanks in part to my affiliation with a government contractor who needed good coaches and trainers for the projects she was bidding on and winning. The next big glitch came in 2008 when the recession hit and companies just weren’t spending money on “frivolous” things like coaching and training. I redoubled my networking efforts and, at one function, met a marketing consultant who asked me if I was on Twitter. “What’s that?” I said. He told me to look it up and get on it. The next day I began to reinvent myself and my business. I even started making presentations to various groups about how to use social media for business. I was having great fun with this part of my work, especially when I encountered folks who said they were “too old” for social media and I was at least 10 years older than they were. About a year later I ran into the man who suggested Twitter.  “How’s that going,” he asked. “Great. I have 5000 followers, although I think some of them are ‘ladies of the evening’.” “Wow,” he replied, “how did you do that? I only have 1500 followers." Sometimes the student becomes the teacher.
Over the years I have made many friends and won a lot of business through social media channels. My own reinvention also led to my decision to refocus the business on career coaching rather than training and organization development. I’ve reached the point where I take on only the work I want to do, in the time frame in which I want to do it. If it sounds like fun, helps people make changes in their lives, and I have time, I do it. It’s interesting that the less desperate I have become and the more work I turn down, the more work comes my way.
Have I won an “entrepreneur of the year” award? No. Did I become wealthy? No. Have I ever considered quitting or getting a “real job”? Yes, there were many times when I questioned my sanity, and others were telling me to give up and take the easy path. I would think about it for a while and then realize that returning to corporate life just wasn’t for me. I did that for 25 years, and enjoyed its rewards, but there’s nothing like being responsible for my own success or failure. I had a lot of help from many people, and for that I’m grateful. But at the end of the day, it’s just me. Yes, stuff happens that is beyond our control, but our measure lies in how we respond to the stuff and keep moving. I’m happy to say that I’ve responded to lots of stuff during the past 18 years but have kept moving forward (at least most of the time) and hope to keep going for at least a few more years.