Three Lessons to Avoid a Glass Jaw Business

I didn’t start my business in mind searching for a quick win, but instead started it to change the direction and future of my family. Like Dame Dash (former co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records), “I hustle for my last name not my first.” I believe that 2017 is my year of fruitfulness and alignment, personally and professionally. I equate half of 2015 and all of 2016 as my year of labor and boy, did I feel every labor pain possible! This last year and a half, have definitely been the most intensive courses on entrepreneurship. Like the young boxer Creed, I was confident and quickly through myself into the ring, and like the young boxer, I also quickly learned that this journey comes with some hard punches and unexpected challenges. Like this scene in CREED, I am still trying to prove to myself and family that this journey was not a mistake because it has cost us all.

This adventure in entrepreneurship has been a rollercoaster of life and business lessons learned. It has strengthened my “business jaw.” In boxing, a glass jaw is a “weak jaw that is easily broken, especially as an indication of a fighter’s vulnerability to an opponent’s punches.” I equate this entrepreneurship journey to that of a boxer, because metaphorically you are constantly getting beat up by everything and everybody. You sacrifice friends, fun, freedom, vacations, etc. Now, unless you are the golden unicorns we often hear about or become an overnight success you will lack this or that, hear constant no’s, go through iteration after iteration until something looks like a winner, and of course in the midst of all this, Life will do what life does best, test you. It will put you up against the ropes, and find new storms to add to your already lengthy valley of entrepreneurship. This process is called your learning curve, paying your dues, and preparing you to receive some form of success, if you do not quit. Even if you do quit, hopefully you have gained some new muscles that will help launch you into a better career or develop further as an individual. So as an entrepreneur, it is critical that you build against your perceived or possible fragileness and learn to take the hits, over and over again. As Rocky said to his son (who represents many of us during this journey):

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, it’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently, if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it anyt about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not point the fingers saying you anyt where you want to be cuz of him or her or anybody.”

As a result of the many blows I have endured, my faith has grown, my capacity expanded into that of my possibility, and my resilience is far greater. So if you are about to risk it in all in 2017 in the name of your new startup or you have been in this game for awhile, I hope these lessons serve as a guide, warning, or just reminder. I wish you lessons learned and profits earned in 2017, you can start earning from learning from my failures.

Pound for Pound Lessons:

Vaue your Time and Seek Hungry Clients: Initially in my business I identified a specific segment of D.C. area small businesses that I had a strong desire to work with and I quickly got engaged and started actively pursuing them. I met with a variety of owners and future founders. I was excited and wanted to show what I brought to the table (clearly I was too excited). I made a rookie mistake and gave way too much time and information with not much in return. Each person I met with was excited by the strategies I presented for their company’s growth and methods to address their current challenges. But the conversion just wasn’t there, at least not at the rate I expected. When it was time to cut the checks and sign contracts to get these strategies moving, in many instances these owners ghosted aka disappeared (will explain this phenomena in another post). They quickly realized that while they needed the service badly and saw the goals as achievable, many lived in the world of lack and compromise so they limited themselves by bowing out due to cost. So, here I was giving away too much of my time trying to prove that I was worthy and of value only to be rewarded with a variety of no’s presented differently. I found myself at times meeting with people 2 to sometimes 4 times before I pushed for a commitment. Let me remind you that there is a distinct difference between those individuals and companies which you seek to have a collaborative relationship or partnership (so 3 to 4 meetings over time makes sense) and those clients you seek out or seek you out who are interested in solving their business challenge or grow their company. The latter takes time because it is about building something together that benefits each other’s growth, the other is an exchange for profits. I quickly wised up and realized that I was approaching this all wrong. For one, I was giving too much of my time away to people who were NOT serious about their own business. If someone has an urgency to grow or address a challenge, they will hear you out and quickly find methods to get access to your services, the other’s just want to consume your knowledge by grabbing coffee. And no, one coffee date will not equate to my hourly rate. They walk away getting with direction on how to tackle their problem and you just added some unnecessary expenses (gas spent, metro fees, lost hours, etc.) and wasted valuable time for some chai tea latte. The exchange, doesn’t always have to be dollar for time, it could be a barter (which I specialize in and can totally show you how to barter in your network). I encourage you all to know your value and then only pursue potential clients who also will value your advice or service because they too are hungry, serious, and ready to act as you are, otherwise keep it moving.

Stick to your Vision: I am a collaborator, connector, and community builder so it’s natural to develop a variety of new initiatives, projects, etc. as a byproduct of my business. I function well in chaos and balancing projects is part of the territory as a small business. In 2016, I co-founded CommonShare with two friends. It is a platform focused on providing crowd based feedback and community for those who are entrepreneurs, creators, or doers in the D.C. area. We host CommonShare Sundays with the goal to help creatives and entreprneurs gain valuable feedback, collaborate with those in the room, and “get shit done” (our motto). I also, launched an annual event called Tea Time for Education, focused on empowering nonprofits that are minority women owned in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area (DMV) by hosting a tea event. For now, we host one event a year where we bring a diverse audience who has limited knowledge about the cause of the non-profit as well as two C-level speakers. Most nonprofits tend to tap the same wells; this is our way of bridging cross-collaborative relationships in diverse sectors so the non-profit can network differently. This is also a chance to honor hard working women of color, who are doing the work at the grassroots level and in many instances go unnoticed in our communities. During the 2016 inaugural event, we honored The H.O.P.E. Scholarship Initiative with a wonderful turnout, a donation, and diversity in audience. These are examples of launching initiatives that align with my business goals currently and in the future; these are winning forms of alignment for my company. On the other hand, I have yes said to taking on other collaborative projects that were out of alignment with my company’s mission, goals, and future positioning. Many of these projects were out of curosity or desire to help someone else turn their idea or dream to reality. Ultimately many failed for a variety of different reasons or became stagnant, causing me to loss valuable time, resources, and energy in driving my company forward. It is important as a leader to recognize when and how to curb your enthusiasm and curiosity so that your focus, agenda, and alignment are working well together and pushing your company growing. While I learned about a variety of new industries and built great new relationships, strategically this time was diverted away from the major tasks at hand which is growing my business and building a strong pipeline of partners and customers. These projects did not move my business in a forward motion, rather it caused me to divert left or right just to have to re-center and go push forward again. When you are a small business, time is a valuable commodity and is hard to come by. Boxers say that each punch has to be calculated and can not be wasted. The same exists here, time can not be wasted so its critical that you manuever with purpose and intentionality. New collaborations and projects are great, some sound amazing, but be diligent and weigh out the pros and cons of moving forward or adjust your goals to align here if it makes sense. As a young business, it is easy and exciting to try and collaborate with your other entrepreneurial friends and community members but in doing so you may end with up with more headaches and wasted time then you expected. So, don’t allow other people to pull you into their vision. If it does not directly align with your goals and future, say thanks but no thanks and move on. Stick to your plan and move forward. Support in ways that do not take away too much of your valuable time instead make an introduction, give advice, etc. Think through the types of collaborations and projects that will grow your business and try to devote time to those. Otherwise, focus on the mission at hand and grow your venture.

Don’t Fail because other’s lack equal Drive: In addition to the last lesson about collaboration, this one is a critical jawbreaker. Do not allow your projects to be determined by someone else’s drive. As a general rule, I don’t put my name or company’s name on projects that will not be done with excellence or to completion. I had a rude awaking in 2016, when I realized that not all “entrepreneurs” have the same level of thirst, hunger, or drive to succeed (glad you knew but I hoped for better). I also learned that I have no business aligning with people who do not match my same level of drive or at least come close to it. It’s important that you first recognize your own level of commitment, desire, and willingness to endure to achieve your personal and professional goal as you work with others. Fears are fears and we all have them but fear is trumped by faith. Fear is great as a warning signal for potential danger but it can also be a major hindrance in living your grandest life possible. Sometimes you literally have to risk it all to reap the rewards. Go for the championship even if other’s think you are not ready, your fight may just surprise everyone. 2016 was the year of Faith for F3 Global, we pursued projects at the highest level of international governments, changed a key direction in the company by focusing on capacity building for entrepreneurs, youth and women, locally and internationally. We partnered with a variety of companies, individuals, and leaders who also seemed aligned with some of these new grander pursuits but when the bell dinged for the fight/projects to start, I was the only one in most instances fighting hard for the projects while the others were on the sideline chilling. I quickly pivoted and was like ok, let’s go. I was determined that these projects would succeed and in some instances told myself that I would deal with my other half later. Sidebar here: get a clear Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or some contractual agreement that helps you walk away with your well deserved earnings if you toiled and labored. I’ve been lucky for the most part but I have friends who have really lost their shirts, went bankrupt, etc. and had to start from scratch because they allowed their partner’s drive and work ethic to determine their business or project’s success. So far, I have only lost time and energy. Not happening in 2017, why, because I don’t have the time or capacity as a small business to allow the direction of my business to be the result of other people’s failures. That in itself is the biggest and most epic L (loss), one can take as an owner. Be clear about expectations, roles, responsibilities, and methods of exit when launching a new idea or platform.

As you journey forward, here are some boxing inspiration movies that will help you keep moving, punch after bloody punch. Wishing you lessons learned and profits earned in 2017!

If you are an African entrepreneur or leader living in Africa or have a startup in Africa and would like to share your failure to success story on F3 Global’s Failure Reports, please email hellen@f3global.org

Follow, Like, Share: Twitter @f3global_ Facebook/f3global IG: @hfziggy, @f3globalllc