It has been one year since I founded www.problem-solving.rocks.
I first started toying with the idea of finding customers rather than a job in late 2016. I trace the founding of the company to when I put together a list of people whom I knew and who I thought might be interested in transformation and problem-solving training products. Ten onboarded clients later, after workshops in France, Poland, Romania and Switzerland, I still work with the original list of contacts, adding names to it as the activity develops.
I feared that the work would be difficult at first – that I would struggle to sign the first couple of clients, that I would be disappointed by the interminable decision processes of big businesses. Plus, I knew the possibility that I’d have to abandon my efforts and go back to salaried employment would be constantly hanging over my head.
But I also hoped that this entrepreneurial adventure would be fun and that I would learn a lot.
Over this past year, both the fears and the hopes have proved true, with one subtle difference: the hopes smashed the fears.
It was fun, I learned more than I ever did before and I loved every single minute of it.
For those of you who are thinking of taking a similar leap, I’ve written down some thoughts. All I can really say is: if you can do it, just do it. You will not regret it.
The network is pretty much everything.
People I worked with and for, years ago, were my first clients. The next wave of clients came from the first clients’ network. Whenever I want to reach out to a contact outside my network, I go through someone I know. In fact, the only example so far of doing business with someone outside my network was when I applied for a job where they were looking for an independent company to undertake a mission. I won the contract and could not be happier about it, but it was an exception to how I usually find a project.
Do not work alone, if you can avoid it.
As a solo founder developing an intellectual service business, I was lucky to find an expert early on to help me structure my sales process. Having someone to turn to for advice is one of the main reasons I have survived and thrived this first year – especially since I was not in sales before. The expert proved invaluable in helping me learn commercial skills and design a strategy.
Motivation will likely come from a new source.
Everything I thought I knew about my own motivation, I basically had to forget. What motivates me today, in a way that I never experienced as an employee, is that my customers are happy with my work. End of story. My customers are the main reason I continue to enjoy the work so much. Just a “Hi Anna, perfect timing!” email from a contact I’ve been chasing is reason to celebrate and open up a box of chocolates from Jeff de Bruges (my favourite).
You will not be a glamorous CEO, you will be a patient farmer.
I take small steps every day: meeting people, learning, generating ideas, finding solutions. These actions help me build future opportunities over time, but they are not about me; they are about my client’s journey. And while I enjoy being in the spotlight and having the energy and concentration I experience when I deliver a workshop or facilitate a meeting, I am a farmer, planting seeds to grow opportunities. So yes, to be in the field for the long run, become a plant-whisperer.
You will learn to trust your guts, instinct and intuition like never before.
Ever since I began bearing more risk due to my entrepreneurial activity, I have tended to have a more precise “feel” for situations and people. I make choices faster and more accurately, I know who I can best work with, and I am drawn to kindness and authenticity in people I meet. Maybe it is because when one becomes an entrepreneur, one is no longer exposed to the world of corporate politics, bureaucracy and other costly distractions. The client and the project are all there is, and that is the beauty of it.
The experience will transform you.
It will transform how you see the world, how you perceive time, and what you think is of value to you and to others. It will alter how other people see you, too. Hopefully, you will learn to better appreciate life and its moments, human kindness, small joys, good times, happy news.
There you go, dear reader, I’ll be back when I have more to share. All the best, and happy farming.