You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.

And…

  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com to listen.

 

To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com. Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

How I Turned Panic into Promise

Lauren Laitin

Lauren Laitin is owner of Parachute Coaching which provides clients with the structure, tools, and support, empowering them to clarify their goals and devise the strategies to achieve them.

I was standing at my trendy new desk, staring at the exposed brick walls of my hip, downtown office and trying not to panic. I had recently left the fast track at a leading corporate law firm to be a partner at a boutique legal group and, as early as day one, I knew that something was not right.  On paper, everything was going according to plan – I was in a leadership position, had hopes of interesting work, and, for the first time in years, control over my schedule. But, for a variety of reasons, this new professional endeavor just wasn’t working.

As a woman who had always been confident in my choices, who moved forward with purpose and ambition, I was surprised that I was not happy in my new job. It was agonizing to think that I had made the wrong decision. Even scarier was the question I pondered every day while trying to dampen the anxiety:

“How soon can I leave without being a failure?  Can I have a ‘gap’ on my resume?” 

Without fully arriving at those answers, I told myself I would give it a little bit more time, but if my gut said go, I would.  In short, I gave myself permission to accept that this move wasn’t right for me. I told myself it was okay to throw away the current plan, to accept that it wasn’t working and try something new. Indeed, things didn’t change and, almost exactly six months after that first day, I parted ways with the small firm and embraced the uncertainty of my next steps.

Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.  I turned to my laptop and typed “Parachute Coaching” on the screen.

When I was ready to leave big law, joining the boutique firm as partner seemed like it would be the perfect next step – or at least a great next step on my resume. By thinking in terms of a “solid” career trajectory first, I had tabled the idea that I had been contemplating for over five years – one that I had promised myself I would someday pursue … starting a professional coaching practice.

I was first introduced to coaching about five years prior when, shortly after returning to work from Lauren Laitinmaternity leave with my first daughter, I attended a firm-sponsored presentation about work/life balance led by a professional coach. I was eager to get some advice on how to manage all my competing responsibilities. I had always been efficient, productive, and motivated, but – with an infant in my life – returning to my demanding job made tasks that had previously been quite doable, daunting and overwhelming. My to-do list had never been so long. I was riveted as I listened to the coach talk about defining goals, following internal rather than external expectations, and focusing on personal values. There was something about the soft intensity coupled with the clear opportunity to help people that made me sure that some day I would be presenting to a group of professionals about work/life balance.

The only question was when.

For years I continued to daydream about who my clients would be, what we would talk about, and what changes they would make. Within days of leaving the small firm, I knew the time was now.

The name Parachute Coaching had come to me immediately. When asked to choose one word to describe myself many years earlier, I had chosen “parachute,” because it is open, colorful, and adventurous. Within weeks, I had launched a website, enrolled in a coach certification program, and signed my first client. Four months later, I had more than 15 clients and had rented professional office space downtown.

“Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.”

Once I committed to a career change, I realized this had been the right path for me all along. I am passionate about supporting my clients as they achieve their goals, and in so doing, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment from having achieved one of my own.

I made a conscious choice to focus on professional women because their advancement in the workforce has been top of mind for me for some time. Confidence is such an albatross for women in the workplace. By focusing on professional women, I can both make a difference in how individuals view themselves but also hopefully make a dent in the confidence epidemic overall.

Lauren LaitinI appreciate all the flexibility of having my own business. I work hard, but I finally have some time for myself.  I can go to the gym, which is something I haven’t done consistently since my first daughter was born. I don’t HAVE to plug in at night anymore, although I love what I’m doing so I often do, and growing a business can be a-round-the-clock activity. My husband will remind me on occasion that sometimes it’s ok to wait until tomorrow.

When my clients talk to me about the “fear of failure,” I remember my own feelings of insecurity and anxiety over making the “wrong choice” when leaving the small firm. Now I know that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Admitting to myself that I was not happy, realizing I had to do something about it, and moving on, was an empowering experience. And most importantly, it makes me much more empathetic and aware of my clients’ concerns about similar transitions … been there, done that.

Tips from Lauren Laitin
  • Focus on what YOU want to do, not what others think you should do.
  • Embrace fear – it can really be a gift; let it motivate you to put pen to paper on what the new opportunity or new business plan could actually deliver.
  • Ask for help. There are lots of resources out there; getting objective advice can be eye-opening, empowering, and fun!

Bringing South American Sweetness to New Jersey

Veronica SainVeronica Sain is Founder of D’ Leche, an all-natural, gourmet baking company focused on creating traditional artisanal specialty sweets inspired by recipes from Argentina. 

The taste of Argentina, authentic and all natural, is challenging to find in the United States. For families that have left behind their Argentine culture, rich with tradition and delicious food, a small taste of smooth dulce de leche or an exquisitely sweet Alfajor is a welcome comfort. It’s that longing and my passion for baking that inspired me to embark on my latest venture and create D’ Leche, an online confectionary that provides foodies with delicious pastries and caramels inspired by traditional Argentine recipes.

My journey to launching dleche.com was in part spawned by my frequent drives nearly an hour north of my home in New Jersey to purchase Alfajores from an Argentine bakery that made them just as I remembered as a child in my native Argentina.  Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery. Not everyone had the access I had to yummy Argentine treats and so began my quest to produce and sell my own hand-crafted line of Alfajores, featuring the silky dulce de leche centers I knew others craved as much as I did.

For over six months, I dedicated my time to researching stories of Alfajores from various regions of Argentina and tested assorted recipes at home. I especially spent a lot of time developing hand-crafted gourmet dulce de leche caramels made of all natural ingredients, similar to what you would find in Argentine bakeries.

D'LecheAs a new entrepreneur, I learned quickly about the importance of having a supportive network to tap into. I joined the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corporation (WCEC), networking with like-minded women, and attended many classes to ensure I launched D’ Leche on the right foot. It wasn’t until I felt I had the necessary tools and knowledge that I left my corporate position and launched the business, six months after having my initial idea.  As a startup, to keep costs down I rent a commercial kitchen and joined Restaurant Depot (which has many locations) for purchasing of some bulk products.  I still purchase my organic ingredients locally to maintain quality.  Since D’ Leche is an online store, there’s no overhead for rent.

I was surprised at first by how rewarding entrepreneurship can be. It’s definitely harder than your typical office job, but the rewards are limitless. But being an entrepreneur is certainly not without its challenges. I admit that not having a business partner to bounce ideas off sometimes puts a lot more pressure on me to be decisive. The upside is that it makes the decision-making process easier as the “buck” stops with me.

“Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery.”

Some years ago I read a book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart into It, and realized that his story proves great ideas don’t come easily, but only come with persistence and courage. Starbucks is what it is today because he never gave up. I keep that in the back of my mind everyday, especially when I feel like things are not going right or I learn about a disappointing business deal. Staying focused and forging ahead will get me to where I want and need to be. To ensure that I don’t miss a beat, I am constantly connected to the happenings of my company, learning more about the specialty food industry, and thinking of ways to grow and market dleche.com.

As a solopreneur, my thoughts are always racing, even on weekends and holidays. Because I don’t haveD'Leche the structure of “weekends off,” I must enforce work/life balance by disconnecting – usually by heading to the beach, visiting a historical town with quaint shops, or going to a summer festival. It helps me clear my mind and makes space for new ideas like my new organic soft peanut caramels.

And while sometimes I think it would be nice to have a partner, I work very well independently. I’m also an optimist – maybe to a fault – but it’s what keeps me moving forward. I plan to grow the online store and open a brick and mortar, D’Leche Café, within the next year. From there, I hope to expand the business as a franchise. I imagine already my D’Leche Cafés, places where people from different backgrounds and with diverse interests gather to forge new friendships and of course indulge in my delicious confections.

Sweet Tips for Fellow Entrepreneurs
  • Join a professional network or organization to make connections and learn from others in your industry. Live meetings (Face2Face) are best for networking.
  • Allow yourself to be inspired by your background because that’s what makes you unique.
  • Disconnect every once in a while and make space for new ideas.
  • Remain positive and persistent; don’t give up on your goals.

For more information about D’ Leche, visit www.dleche.com or email concierge@dleche.com.

5 Start-Up Tips from Female Founders

NY Power Panel 2015

Virág Gulyás is Founder and Chief Editor and Shamim Shahzeb is Editor of MissCareerLess, a down-to-earth magazine dedicated to women of all ages. Its ultimate goal is to create a virtual storytelling platform and be the go-to empowerment site for women. MissCareerless’ uniqueness lies in its exceptionally multicultural content that proves that no matter where we are, we are in the same game together.  

NY Power Panel 2015
Virag and Shamim from MissCareerLess

This past month, we attended a Career 2.0 and Economic Ventures event in New York City bringing together five women entrepreneurs who shared their startup adventures and encouraged other women to follow their dream and launch their own businesses. Though they came from very different backgrounds, the Power Panel of female founders shared a common characteristic: they all started their journey to success with one idea that happened to be in line with their passion. Today, through determination, hard work, and skill, they are proud owners of their respective businesses:

  • Barbara Werner, owner of Musical Pairing Inc., a unique concept of pairing your meal with music.
  • Mary Molina, founder of the gluten- and GSA-free Lola Granola.
  • Deborah Hernan, founder and CEO of Ottilie and Lulu skincare products for tweens.
  • Sumeera Rasul, founder of Madesmith, an online artisanal product marketplace that shares stories of artisans and their products.
  • Marlo Scott, the founder and CEO of Sweet Revenge; a popular eatery at West Village, which pairs desserts and savory dishes with wine and beer.

Here are five key take-away messages they shared with the audience:

DO YOUR HOMEWORK – by Marlo Scott

NY Power Panel 2015
Marlo Scott

We have all been taught to do a basic business plan before venturing out to establish your own business. Identify the gap in the market, do your research qualitative or quantitative, and have a roadmap ready that will guide you in the initial stages of your entrepreneurial adventure. But write your business plan even if nobody will read it. You are doing it for yourself. And if after writing it, you still love your idea, then do it. The panelists agreed that to have a successful business plan, research is the most important step and, for that, you must think “outside the box.” For instance when Deborah began her qualitative research she went to different department stores and malls but couldn’t find her audience, tweens. So she went outside the box and did her research at a toy store and got the data (and chance) she was looking for. Thus, start by looking at places where you otherwise normally would not.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF – by Deborah Hernan

NY Power Panel 2015This one is self-explanatory, but easier said than done. When you have setbacks on the path to your entrepreneurial venture, remember to believe in yourself and your capabilities. “People, who look really confident, might not be as confident as they appear.” There are days when you get up and feel everything is possible. But there are those days when you feel you are in the backseat. That is when you have to believe in yourself even more. Mary, echoed Deborah’s message by saying: “I faced quite many setbacks and troubles in getting the required certification for my granola.” There were days when she would simply cry after talking to people on the phone who refused to give information to her. But she persisted. She believed in herself, her capabilities and, most importantly, her product. This led to her granola bars being picked up by Whole Foods and her business steadily taking off.

JUST JUMP IN – by Sumeera Rasul

We have all been there: sitting at our desk, tired of the same 9-to-5 routine and our challenging (bad) bosses. We keep telling ourselves the NY Power Panel 2015calming mantra: “One day I will start my own business with that great idea that has been lurking in my head for a long time.” As reassuring as it sounds, our panelist warns us: that time will never come. So either you jump in or you never ever jump. (“It helps if you are laid off’”– added Marlo with great sense of irony). Do not wait for that “one-day’” to come, make today that day. And how do you motivate yourself to take that plunge? Change your mindset. To become an entrepreneur, you must start thinking like an entrepreneur. Once you have a business plan and the initial ground stone of your company or even just a business idea, start talking about it. Ger the word out. Tell everyone you know and even people you don’t know. You will be surprised how doing this might lead to the next step in your venture. If you get started, other people will lift you up!

SEEK OUT AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MYRIAD OF RESOURCES – by Mary Molina

As it is so pervasive, we often overlook that we’ve got Google as our primary and free resource to use for research. It allows us to study about our business idea, to gain a sense of awareness from the market we are venturing into, as well as to get to know about competition – if any. Another great tool we have is reaching out to people who might be already in the market. You can ask them to link you with people who might be interested in your new business. The key here is to  actively build a network of people who can support you and could be valuable sources of information and help. At the same time, you have to be determined and confident about your idea. As Sumeera intervened: “If you want to know who your friends are, start a business.”

NY Power Panel 2015
Lisa from Career 2.0 (center) with Gwendy & Carrie from Economic Ventures

If you find yourself without any support to begin with, you can always reach out to different platforms. Think of SCORE, which brings together a group of retired entrepreneurs who offer guidance and resources to to-be-entrepreneurs or already established business owners who are retiring or selling out. Then there are organizations like the Tory Burch Foundation: Finance for Female Entrepreneurs, which provides economic support. Or Goldman Sachs that provides resources such as 10,000 Small Businesses and 10,000 Women, which help entrepreneurs and women business owners by providing them with the required education, capital, and support.

KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW AND THEN CAPITALIZE ON YOUR STRENGTHS – 11406790_470060686492234_6554088178124972224_nby Barbara Werner

The multifaceted Barbara is driven by curiosity and believes that everything we learn we will be able to use somewhere along our journey. But how do we know if something is really worth our time to dive in? “You know you more than anybody else do.” So know what you don’t know and commit to learning it! But also – and to establish your business – you need to know your strengths. You need to be able to line them up and build on them. Even the statement: “Well, I’ve been a mother for 15 years’”shows that you are patient, you’ve got great communication skills, and you have determinationOnce you established your strengths and know your business plan to the smallest details, collaborate with people and organizations, which have the strengths and skills that you or your company might be lacking. That is how you can start building up your team. Only by preparedness you will be able to anticipate the changes in the market and be ready to react to these changes in your business plans.

Stay posted for more Power Panels organized by Career 2.0 (coming to DC soon) and a follow-up event in NYC with Economic Ventures.

Striped Mistakes: 6 Lessons in My Success as a Failure

Striped Shirt Company FamiliesLaura Beck is chief shirt schlepper of www.stripedshirt.com, a failed start-up. Based in Austin, Texas, five years ago Laura launched a tee-shirt company on the premise customers would want to show their support for teams and organizations by wearing their colors in stripes. Nearly a month ago, she went public with her breakup with stripedshirt, and launched a Kickstopper. In 4 weeks, she’s been floored by the response (138,000+ Facebook and 7,000+  YouTube views of the video). She (along with her unpaid interns – her 70-year-old mom and 10- and 6–year-old daughters) packaged up and shipped over 400 orders: that’s 1,000 shirts sold! So, after all this Kickstopper buzz and love, Laura felt it was a good time to think through what missteps she took with stripedshirt and perhaps spare other entrepreneurial types some of her pain.

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra – MISTAKES, I’ve made a few!

1. It Was All About ME

That was by design, I had done 18 years of PR agency life, 10 running an agency and leading an amazing team of 16 people. But I was burnt out, fried from managing others, especially aggressive young guns new in their careers and eager to advance. I wanted to do stripedshirt entirely on my own. NO WAY I was taking any outside funding. First of all, I didn’t need it (again, I worked 18 years, I had savings), and second, I’ve seen the good and bad of VC-funded startups doing PR for them for years. This was also MY dream, and no one else would be as passionate about it. I didn’t bring in any partners, I wasn’t beholden to anyone! I could do it my way (Sinatra again! J). Well, turns out, a partner or two, they’ll hold your feet to the fire.

2. Over-Architecting the Website

I did some homework, but while I do tech PR, I’m not that technical, and I went with Magenta, an open-source shoppingCahoon Girls cart for ecommerce sites, and I had that thing built big from the start. I wanted to be able to expand like crazy, assuming (hoping), I’d grow, add products like long-sleeved stripes, tanks, striped beach towels, waterbottles, flash drives, and bikinis (I’m not kidding, these were on my roadmap). If I knew then … I’d have done a simple Word Press template. I would have worked with Volusion, BigCommerce, WP Engine (in my defense, none of these guys had the amazing SMB website offerings they have now back in 2010). Any of these providers likely would have saved me money as well as pain, as I put $10,000 into that cludgy website. I also went with Paypal for payment processing so I wouldn’t have to do my own SSL, my own security. And wow, Paypal + Magenta is just wonky. If I totaled up all my abandoned shopping carts, there’d be a lot fewer shirts in my garage!

3. Inventory

BLERG!  Again, with absolutely no background in fashion or apparel, I did some homework, but really just went for it. Through an amazing guy here in Austin, I was connected to some factories in India, and they took me on. But to do so, and to really show my concept, I committed to 14 different color combinations and 15 sizes. For each, to do the manufacturing, I committed to about 50 of each size of each color, with a few exceptions. You do the math. We are talking over 10,000 shirts!

And I had some colors move and needed reorders (hello, what is up with the popularity of red and white stripedshirts?  I should have started RED stripedshirt, it would have been a lot more successful!) Then there were other colors that absolutely sit there. I thought my Ohio State connections from growing up in Columbus OH would make my red and gray stripes fly off the shelves. But it is my absolute slowest mover! In the end, of the 10,000 shirts, I sold (or gifted – more on that below) about 4,000 in 5 years. I’ve written off some, but about 6,000 are still in my garage today!

Now, again, if I knew then …. I should have done market testing, started with small sets of shirts, only ordered colors that were actually moving. But, there are Striped Shirt Company Logonot a lot of manufacturing options for apparel startups. It’s a pretty brutal industry all around. Margins absolutely stink. I was lucky to find someone to take on what I thought was a mammoth order, but for them, it was teeny. I couldn’t find a way to do small, test-run inventory orders.

And when I did get my inventory, 10,000 shirts arrived in a semi on pallets – that’s pretty overwhelming for one 40-year-old mom to figure out, organize, track, and manage. I quickly had no idea what I had, what I didn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming.

I could go on and on here about the problems with fast food fashion in America, all the bad stuff I hope our apparel industry sorts out soon. That cotton is still grown in the US but shipped overseas for “cut and sew” and then shipped back is absolute insanity. That factory conditions in Bangladesh, but also East LA, are so dismal should not be happening today. And that the size and scale of orders from Forever 21 and H&M give us shoppers $5 t-shirts, but other apparel hopefuls no prayer of competing, is depressing but very, very real.

striped Shirt14. The Premise Didn’t Work

The idea of stripedshirt – to show your colors, support your favorite team or school –absolutely did not fly. The sales I’ve gotten are mostly women ordering stripes they like. I hardly believe all the navy and white orders I’ve had are really Yankees fans ( as a Red Sox fanatic, I guess I hope not). And, when I had the idea, 20 years ago, fan-wear options just for women were really limited. Now there are tons of options – Alyssa Milano, Victoria Secret, college Ts at Old Navy. I also bet on women wanting to do “Mommy and Me” combos with their children, what I call the Lilly Pulitzer effect. Didn’t happen, those sales didn’t come.

Funny enough, my biggest sales weeks on the calendar were mid-September to mid-October. Yes, Halloween. Turns out there are a lot of costumes that incorporate stripes – Where’s Waldo surely, but also Olivia the Pig, Doc McStuffins, Pirates, French, even Freddy Krueger. While these were real sales and money in, it was kind of depressing to think someone bought a stripedshirt for a one-day-a-year costume.

5. Marketing Alone Does Not a Company Make

This one was the hardest pill to swallow because remember, before stripedshirt, I was an 18-year PR veteran. I KNOW MARKETING. I’m good at it. I thought I had this part in the bag! I thought I could build stripedshirt entirely on marketing, on PR, on word of mouth and buzz. I knew better. Way better. For 18 years, I told clients “PR is AIRCOVER for sales.” You need integrated marketing and a sales strategy. But in 5 years, I was the sales team, and I’m not a very good salesperson. I never brought on any agents or distributors, I never figured out deals with stores, or even built a network in retail. I also never did any paid search or Google ad words. I relied fully on organic search, which was very strong, but not strong enough to carry a business. I never even put in place a CRM system to continue to communicate with customers who had already bought – and hopefully loved – a stripedshirt.

Finally, I put all my trust and hope in influencers and bloggers. I gave away more shirts than I care to count to fashion bloggers to do a review with a great write up and high quality photo spread, and then do a giveaway. Lots of raffle copters out there with thousands of people putting in their chance for a free stripedshirt. I wrongly figured many of those, not getting the free shirt, would come to buy. They did not. I appreciate all the support and buzz my fashion bloggers gave stripedshirt, but make no mistake, they did not produce sales. Way too much inventory went out with very little return. I knew better. I know what integrated marketing is required to create and grow a business, I’ve counseled people on this for 20 years. But I didn’t put most of it into action for my own business.

6. Distracted by my Comfort Zone

When I started stripedshirt, the idea was to leave an 18-year PR career and do something completely new and different. That lasted one month. Thirty days into it all and I had already taken on a client on the side. Generally, for the past 5 years, I’ve been doing PR consulting for upwards of 6 clients at any one time. I hold it to about 20 hours a week. But we all know a startup is a 110% commitment. Between time with my girls, and PR consulting, stripedshirt kept taking a back seat. It was far too easy to fall back into my comfort zone, to do what I was good at, versus trying to figure out this new stripedshirt world that was hard, and complicated, and not showing any signs of success. Doing PR consulting may have kept my ego secure and my confidence up, and my wallet not completely empty of spending money, but helping others with their businesses majorly distracted me from focusing on my own.

And so, now, 5 years later, I’ve broken up with stripedshirt publicly and I’m turning back to the PR consulting I know well, including, it turns out, PR for the stripedshirt failure. Perhaps the best PR I’ve ever done – for a failure, for the closing of a business. Not exactly something you want to do a case study on to share with future clients, unless they too want to shut down their businesses!

Again, these past 2 weeks have been so amazing, very liberating and freeing to admit defeat – a relief to come clean about my failed business.  Most everyone has been very supportive, and amused. Seems there are a lot of kindred spirits out there who also gave entrepreneurship a go and didn’t have smashing success. I appreciate the people who have reached out to cheer me on, even to thank me for sharing my story.

There have been some hecklers, and negative comments, make no mistake. People who said I had no business starting a business, and of course it failed, what a bad idea, and bad execution. There certainly is a lot of truth in what they say as you can see from the six mistakes I’ve detailed above. I remain proud to be public in my failure and again, hope my sharing can support others who’ve gone through this, or will go through this. Or, maybe, my stripedshirt Kickstopper, and the lessons learned, will give some guidance and tips for others of how to give their own business a better fighting chance!

Watch the Kickstopper video, when you enter “kickstopper” at checkout, you’ll get to 50% off your order.

Embrace the Change: Love What You Do Every Day

Maddie SciulloChanges in life aren’t easy. They give you that anxious, stomach-sinking feeling and fill your mind with worrisome scenarios. But life is full of changes, good and bad, that you must embrace.

When it comes to your career, you hope the changes that come are always positive ones that help you grow and prosper. Some changes in your professional career will be influenced by outside forces, while others are completely driven by you. However, the changes you need to make to continue to move ahead professionally are not always clear.

The perfect path for you will never magically appear. It will not materialize in a puff of smoke at the optimal time. It will not have signs; it will not come with a map. To find the path that will lead you to what you want to do – to what you were meant to do – you have to discover it and be bold enough to take the first step.

It won’t happen overnight, but step-by-step, inch-by-inch, you can find a career path that energizes and excites you.

How you know it’s time for a career change

Making a huge change in your professional life can be at once exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities, and terrifying because of the other possibilities. Still, as frightening as it may be, sometimes not making the change is even worse.

So how do you know when a career change is in your best interests?

Boredom is getting the best of you

Your work isn’t exciting anymore, so you’re just going through the motions. When you wake up in the morning, it’s hard to imagine getting out of bed and into your work chair. And by the end of the day, you’re completely drained.

You’re feeling indifferent

You’ve already checked out. You find yourself doing the bare minimum and having little concern about your performance.

Your patience is dwindling

Tasks that you used to enjoy doing aren’t fulfilling anymore – in fact, they just seem to annoy you. You can’t even bear the thought of coming back tomorrow and doing it all again.

Restlessness keeps you awake at night

When you’re at work, you find it hard to sit still and focus. When you’re not, you get this itching feeling that there’s something else you should be doing. You feel like your talents are being wasted and that annoys you. There’s something else that you want to do and you can’t wait to get started.

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Don’t look at these feelings as a bad thing.

As disheartened as you must feel, try to view your feelings as an opportunity. This is your chance to find what you love to do. It takes courage to recognize when you need a change and to act on it.

Top of the WorldMake the change

Now that you know it’s time to make a career change, take the dive. Jumping into something new – something that you’re passionate about – will feel refreshing and rewarding.

What do you want to do?

First, think long and hard about what it is you want to be doing every day for the rest of your working life. What are your values? What excites you? Why do you enjoy those things?

Also, who already does what you want to do? They’ll be able to provide you with sage advice and insight.

Expand your horizons

You know what you want to do, but what do you need to do to get there? Beef up your skill set, take coursework, get certified. Whatever it takes.

Look within your company

If you like the company you work for, look within the company for other opportunities that encompass the things you’re looking for in a career. It’s much easier to make an internal transition, so if your current company offers your dream job, take it.

Maybe it’s time for a bigger career change

If the opportunity you’re looking for doesn’t exist within your current place of work, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste any more time doing something that isn’t making you happy. Maybe you’ll need to pack up your bags and move to where the work is. Maybe it’s time to be your own boss. Whatever the case, know that one day you’ll look back and be happy – not to mention proud – that you had the strength to make the change.

Network, network, network

Get out there. Talk to the people who do what you want to do, the people who can help you. Find a mentor. Ask questions, find answers. Be open and honest. You can’t have too many friends, and you certainly can’t have too many of the right friends.

It’s going to take work

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Remember why you’re making this career change and what’s at the finish line waiting for you. Remember to ask for help on the hard days. Remember to celebrate on the great ones.

You’ll get there, eventually.

Maddie Sciullo is the Social Media Manager/Content Manager at C-leveled, a special amalgam of incubator, accelerator, technology and business advisor plus a full-service, in-house marketing department, based in Pittsburgh, PA.

One-on-One With Alicia Syrett, Angel Investor and Start-Up Advisor

squareAlicia Syrett is the Founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, an angel investment vehicle focused on seed and early stage investments. She serves on the Board of NY Angels as the Chairman of the Board of HeTexted and her past and present advisory board roles include Enerknol, iFunding, Cuipo, The Pitch Deck, Beauty Booked, Cissé Trading Co. and Willa. A recurring panelist on CNBC’s PowerPitch, Alicia was voted one of Wharton’s “40 Under 40” young alumni and has been featured on Fox, MSNBC, Inc, Associated Press, Huffington Post, and USA Today, among others. She mentors start-ups and students alike and is a member of Women Corporate Directors. 

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Finding the Sweet Spot for Your Next Career

SNeilsen HeadshotHow can you be sure that the new direction you are considering for your career will work out well for you? Read on to learn a clear and simple method you can use to predict career success in your next act. (more…)

How to Counteract your Brain Wiring During a Career Change: Part 2

This is Part 2 of an earlier contribution from Career and Leadership Coach, Rebecca Dallek.

Rebecca DallekMost mid-lifers will remember the commercial put out by Nancy Regan’s “Just say no” campaign.  It showed a “normal” brain and then showed an egg cracked on a hot pan and said “this is your brain on drugs.”

At that time Scientists believed the only way to the change the brain was through surgery, injury, or harm by medications and drugs.

Let’s start by saying I’m no neuroscientist.  I’ve read, attended lectures and talked to experts enough to know that your brain plays a huge role in your career change or lack of change, for that matter.

What qualities do career changers possess?  They are usually risk takers, they are willing to go out on a limb, experience failure and have the grit to keep going, they leave the house in pursuit of something.

Notice that I didn’t say they were smart, outgoing, witty, magnetic, well-educated or rich.

All of the qualities I described for career changers are not necessarily innate. They can easily be developed and honed through experience and repetition.

This is where the brain comes into play.  Scientists used to believe that that brain was static.  Our synapses were in place and set for life by the time we reached our adult years.  Attempting to change behavior or routines were really about overcoming our brain. (more…)

Mastering Your Story: Lessons from a Leadership Coach

Shayna Hammon

I will never forget my first day of first grade in small-town Michigan. I woke up excited to wear my brand new backpack and meet my teacher. Dad walked me to the bus and coached me on what to expect when I got to school. I was bursting with excitement, but my hopes for the year were dashed the moment the bus door closed behind me. As I stood at the top of the aisle scanning for a seat, every single child moved to the outer edge of his or her seat as if to say, “you can’t sit here.” The message was clear: I wasn’t welcome. It only got worse from there as my schoolmates lambasted me with unthinkable slurs. Some kids yelled them out, some simply whispered them under their breath, and not a single soul came to my rescue.    (more…)

Helping Women Business Owners One Class at a Time

Jenn AubertLife does not follow a straight path or one’s best laid out intentions.  It weaves. It dramatically shifts. It surprises you and, if you’re lucky, you’ll look back and say, “Boy was that fun!”

No one wakes up and brightly declares, “Today I will build my own business and call myself an entrepreneur.”  Usually there are several small steps and circumstances that leads someone to launch a business.

Unlike most people I know, I’ve always felt deep in my gut that I wanted to own my own business. This feeling has danced in the back of my mind ever since I was a kid.  The trouble was I never knew exactly what that business would look like, what I’d sell, or the service I would provide. (more…)

With Love and Quiches: A Housewife’s Journey to the Boardroom

quiche2I started my bakery business, Love and Quiches Gourmet, in my home kitchen in 1973, purely by accident, from just one quiche. I was a clueless suburban housewife with no preparation whatsoever for business ownership. My only qualification was my passion for everything and anything connected to food. I was a very good cook, famous for it in my neighborhood, and my friends traded invitations to my dinner parties.

So when my original partner (a carpool friend and another great cook) suggested we do something, I was game. We had my house licensed as a Food Processing Plant (can’t be done anymore, but this was 42 years ago) and were ready for business. We had no plan, we simply started. (more…)