Stop Listening to Everyone
At 40 years old, I started my entrepreneurial path late in life. After building successful companies for several leaders in my industry, I decided that my experience and expertise was both valuable and in demand. It worked. I signed an international investment firm as my first client and assisted them with acquisitions they were making all over the world. It was a dream come true—I paid off all my personal debt, got premiere office space downtown, hired an assistant, and additional opportunities continued to roll in.
It worked so well that I started to wonder how I could scale. Should I take on investor money? Should I hire staff? Should I expand to other cities? For the next year, I met with the leaders who had mentored me throughout my career. I met with economic development representatives. I met with attorneys and accountants. The decision was unanimous: I needed to grow my staff, grow my revenue, grab some grants, and begin building a portfolio that others would surely invest in once the company’s bottom line showed consistent growth.
The move didn’t seem natural to me. I loved my boutique firm and the office space we worked in. But what did I know? I never led a high-growth company before, and the industry I was in was exploding in growth. I had to take advantage today or risk missing the opportunity, or so all my advisors told me.
We had money in the bank, we had a key client, and we had an upcoming event that was going to launch an awareness campaign and let our industry know that we had arrived. We quickly hired staff, developed the campaign, scheduled our launch trip, and prepared for the big day. My advisors stood by with pride cheering on our decision.
And then the call came. Our investment firm decided to shift verticals, and we were losing our largest client through no fault of our own. We had additional clients, but not nearly enough to cover the revenue. We also had a significant amount of our cash tied up in the upcoming travel and campaign, so the cash we had on hand was now going to make up payroll until we found additional clients.
I began selling services for anything and everything that would keep revenue coming in the door. It was a disaster. Our staff became quickly overworked, our expenses skyrocketed as we hired third parties to assist, and the clients we had weren’t a fit professionally nor culturally. We flew off for our big launch exhausted, financially stressed, and praying that we’d land a key client.
We did land that client months later, but not in time to save the company. I let go of staff and borrowed money to pay down our debt. My best employee stuck with me and made sure that our clients were happy with our work. Instead of a raise or bonus, I offered her a partnership in the business (even though some advisors told me not to) that she fortunately accepted.
It was time to regroup and do some soul-searching on where things went wrong. Of course, we were highly vulnerable when we risked our launch. That would be the easy excuse but the fact is that higher risk leads to higher reward. I understood that and was willing to risk the future of my business. I just hadn’t anticipated the timing.
I continued to meet with my advisors, but began to notice there was a difference in the feedback I was getting. I realized that there are two types of advisors—directors and coaches.
- Directors – Directors are opinionated, drawing from their experience to tell you what worked for them with an expectation that you will do the same.
- Coaches – Coaches draw from their experience but analyze your strengths and your resources to make a recommendation for you.
Your network is your most valuable asset. The amazing insight that other entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals have can help you avoid blunders that can hurt or even bury your company. But that same advice can also help you hurt and bury your company if they’re pushing you in a direction that isn’t comfortable.
I ultimately realized that the underlying reason our launch had failed wasn’t that our biggest client pivoted away from us or that we weren’t offering high value, but that I had listened to a bunch of directors telling me what they wanted me to do—and ignoring the coaches, including my own gut, that wasn’t comfortable with the directors’ advice.
You are an individual. As an entrepreneur, you are unlike 99% of the world’s population. But you also have a skillset that differs from your advisors. Your success is going to largely depend not just on who you listen to, but on who you do not listen to.
So stop listening to everyone. Of the advisors that you surround yourself with, keep the coaches close and the directors distant. And always listen to yourself, too.
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