Three years ago, as I was getting ready to graduate college, I felt an impending sense of doom. My life as I knew it was going to be over: no more meal plans (what?! I had to learn to cook), no more help from my professors, and most terrifying, my parents were cutting me off financially. DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN!
I had played by the rulebook, and did everything I was supposed to do. I scored the right SAT score, went to the right college, suffered through the right internships (you would be shocked at how many Starbucks runs I have done), and yet I wasn't ready for the "real world." Where was my step-by-step manual on how to be a successful, professional woman? To my horror, it doesn't exist!
So I lay awake at night wondering. What was I going to do with my life? What was my purpose?
Three years later, I'm still alive! My career journey hasn't been perfect, but nonetheless, I'm still in one piece - even content, which is something not every young working gal can say. That's because somewhere along the way, I became an accidental entrepreneur: While scouring Craigslist for job openings, I started applying for freelance PR gigs, and before I knew it, I had a client base. My company, fifteen media, was born - and Craigslist totally catapulted it. (See? it isn't only for furniture castoffs and creepy Missed Connections.)
Despite the ups and downs, being an accidental entrepreneur is the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, as graduating college women are faced with that impending sense of doom, these are the tips that I wish someone would told me:
- A traditional 9 to 5 isn't the only way. For the longest time, even after I started my company, I always referred to everyone else's office job as a "real job." It took me a few years to take my own business seriously, because I was programmed to believe that being "professional" meant being in a cubical with a boss standing over my head. Not true! Once I found a community with other likeminded entrepreneurs -- female entrepreneurs to boot -- being one myself didn't seem so foreign. For me, it was all about finding a coworking space to clock in each day.
- Test out your product/idea for free or for a discounted rate. Before you waste your life savings and your parents' retirement fund on your brilliant idea, make sure there is an actual need for what you are offering. There is no need for a full-scale launch right away. Also, as you learn the ropes of running a business, this trial period is an ideal time to build a legitimate portfolio: your future bait for higher-paying clients.
- Listen to advice with only one ear. Everyone will have an opinion about what you should be doing. And don't get me wrong -- some of the advice is good. But don't change your whole business model because of another woman's opinion, which may or may not be informed or relevant. In the end you have to trust your gut, because you know your customers better than anyone.
- Set goals your goals in sand, and not concrete. Even the best-laid plans can be delayed or go wrong. I see otherwise confident female businesswomen totally beat themselves up when a project doesn't go perfectly. But you know what? Bumps happen. Do set goals and deadlines, but if projects get gnarled, don't sweat. Success will happen...eventually.
- Enjoy the journey. Even as you roll with the punches, celebrate the small victories. It's easy to get lost on all the little things that go wrong. It's much harder, but also more rewarding, to relish in the things that go right. Whenever I sign a big new client or place an article at a top-tier publication, I try to acknowledge those accomplishments by doing something nice for myself (buy a new shirt, go get a manicure, take myself out for lunch). Since being a female entrepreneur is a journey and not a destination, it's important to give yourself the congratulatory high-fives that a boss (an enlightened boss) normally would.
- Don't sacrifice the things that make you happy. Being an entrepreneur is all about balance. So many people go this route because they think their time will be easier to manage -- but trust me. If you're not careful, work can take over your life. There will never be a time when your entire to-do list is completed, so make a conscious effort to carve out time for the things you love. Whether it's happy hour with friends, a heart-pumping workout, or a walk around the block with your dog, don't think of these things as occasional fun. Think of them as essentials. If you don't, there's no way you'll be successful, because you'll end up burnt out and resentful.
And finally, here's a piece of advice for my fellow daddy's girls. Each time I'm having a career-related nervous breakdown, I call my father. And you know what he says? "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Preach, Winston Churchill! (Note- Winston Churchill isn't my dad. My dad's just quoting him.)
To me, that quote sums up exactly what it's like to be a woman entrepreneur. If you're a scared college senior facing down graduation, remember that nothing is definite. Over the course of your life, your career will change a million times -- and fortunately ladies, you can be the one to change it.