It’s been said that entrepreneurs are always reaching for more and seeking continuous improvement. It rings true for my own experience as the founder of OMI. After spending a big part of my career rising through the ranks of a global business data and analytics company, at one point I knew the time was right for me to go out on my own. I recognized that if I wanted to have control of my future, I’d have to create it for myself.
In launching OMI in 1998, I followed my life-long dream to become the president of my own company one day. Through the years, five truths have been a constant for me as my business has grown. I have no doubt these lessons will continue to provide guidance to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Have you heard the quip about the entrepreneur leaving their 9-5 job so they can work 24/7/365? Entrepreneurship takes a lot of hard work, and it should never be viewed as a quick fix to make money. Even if you have wild success to begin with, it won’t last forever—at least not without putting in the effort. There will always be new challenges—whether that’s no growth, slow growth or too much growth too fast (and lacking the framework to support it). Remember: you should start a business because you love what you do and want to work hard for yourself.
An entrepreneur needs to be both a problem solver and an opportunity finder. Sometimes that is a simple shift, other times it means completely reinventing yourself or your business for market shifts. This is something I learned early on. When I launched OMI, we specialized in direct mail campaigns, but as email began to rise in power and importance, our ability to quickly adapt meant we became a front-runner in the email data and email campaign management markets. Now, while email is still one of the best ways to target prospective customers, we’ve expanded our scope to include broader digital marketing technology and data strategies, like intent data and identity graphs.
There’s a difference between constructive criticism that spurs growth and the toxic effects of negative talk. There will always be skeptics who don’t believe in you, your skills, or your ability to succeed. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to not listen to the naysayers and instead surround myself with a circle of trust--people who encourage and support me but aren’t afraid to speak the unvarnished truth. My Vistage coach is one of those people, along with other friends and peers within Vistage who face challenges similar to my own as business owners and leaders. In many ways they act as an informal board of directors for me.
There’s a famous Chinese proverb that has resonated with me since starting my business: “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” A mentor has an outside perspective to better identify weak points, opportunities and solutions that a business owner can’t always see when they’re in the trenches day to day. And since they’re further along in their journey, they can share the wisdom that comes from having been there before and their specific experiences.
I was fortunate as I was starting out to have several people to guide me in big decisions and growing my business. Even now, I greatly value the insight and counsel from sessions with my business coach. Additionally, sharing my experience as a mentor to others has been a source of both personal and professional growth. No matter how busy I am, I’ll always make time for young entrepreneurs or those new in their careers.
The possibilities as an entrepreneur are endless, but sometimes getting started is the most difficult part. This brings to mind another Chinese proverb: “A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” Going out on your own certainly doesn’t come with any guarantees, but it will be worth the risk.
It’s true the entrepreneurial life is full of new challenges and it’s not easy, but realizing your full potential and stewarding employees for their own success is an incredible reward.
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