Very insightful ...and a good lesson for anyone wishing to pursue their own dream...first define the dream and give it parameters.
Welcome to The Daily Muse’s first-ever essay contest, “My Biggest Mistake at My First Job—And What I Learned From It.” We were blown away by your stories, and we’ve narrowed them down to six amazing finalists. Read all of the entries here, then vote for your favorite!
I let out a heavy sigh and wondered why I always had to learn things the hard way. My brain automatically started reprimanding me. You weren’t prepared. You didn’t know your pricing. How could you confidently make a sales pitch when the product isn’t clearly defined? Not having the important pieces in place, especially for a new business, reflected a lack of preparedness and inexperience that would cause me to lose that deal and worse, ultimately, stall my success.
In retrospect, jumping right in to starting a business, instead of taking the time to create a business plan was my first mistake—it was also the biggest and most costly. A plan would have helped me to define and refine the basic core elements of the business as well as fill the knowledge gap between my job in finance and becoming an entrepreneur.
Starting my own business—which I knew nothing about—without the right infrastructure in place, made closing business deals and making revenue awkward and uncomfortable to say the least. It was the root of this lost deal and many of the subsequent mistakes I would make.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my mantra, “just jump in and do it—figure it out as you go,” wasn’t necessarily the right recipe for being a successful entrepreneur. It was great if you wanted to start the six-month grueling training routine for the NYC marathon without putting it off (insert pat on back here—4:53:00). But eager, as always, to pursue my out-of-the-box ideas, I started my business.
The great thing about just jumping right into something is that you capitalize on opportunities, don’t allow time to talk you out of doing something, and prevent the fear of failure from holding you back.
The downside to jumping right in is that sometimes when opportunity comes knocking, you can’t answer, or you do answer but the door quickly closes. Because just as people can see nervousness, they also sense unpreparedness and the lack of sophistication and understanding that accompany it. In my case, it was clear—and he chose to walk away!
Although I learn things the hard way, I must admit I did learn them—and am not apt to make the same mistake twice. Over the past 10 years, I have successfully grown my business to include a client list of global Fortune 500 companies, prestigious universities, and highly-respected national not-for-profits. Some of the other lessons that I learned, worth sharing, that stemmed from this first mistake are:
- Engage a mentor immediately. (Definition: a professional in your field, not a relative or friend!) Having someone of whom you can ask questions, and who can share techniques for doing things, is vital throughout the life of your business or career—especially in the early stages. This way you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time or have “analysis paralysis” (too much thought and too little action) because you don’t know how to approach something.
- Know your product and its pricing. Know these aspects of your business as well as you know the songs on your iPod! Otherwise, potential clients may view your inconsistencies as misleading, untrustworthy, or unprofessional.
- Be aware. Arrogance and aggression are not the same as confidence and clarity. Many times, these emotions mask an inner feeling of incompetence or insecurity.
- Define your brand. You can’t be everything. You have to be something. Be the very best something. Staying true to yourself, and focusing on your set of standards, will help you to achieve respectability, and credibility.
- Stop! Recognize when you’re just too tired, or you just don’t get it, or you’re overwhelmed and find yourself being stagnant. When this happens, you’re spinning your wheels. Take a break, or ask for help. Wheels are made to go around in a circle—you always want to be moving forward.
Whether you have a business or are just starting your career, having a plan in place is key to your long-term professional success.