I have learned to pay attention in life when the hairs stand up on the back of my neck or my stomach churns, as if my gut instinct is saying, "Something's not right here." I also get an equally powerful flutter in my chest when something is going well. I may know these things about myself now, but in my first year of business, I discounted my intuition in a big way.
Even though I spent several years in the first part of my career working to shape microbusinesses in developing countries, I decided I needed a business advisor to help guide me from the moment I called myself an entrepreneur. On the recommendation of several people I trusted, I invested heavily in programs, business coaching and a mastermind group with a single advisor.
At first, things went smoothly. She spoke my language as a coach and she seemed to know the ins and outs of online marketing. But something was always amiss: missed appointments that her virtual assistant had "failed" to reschedule, critical resources that were months behind the agreed timeline, and constant changes in the curriculum. Any one of these details would be excusable, but over time, they had me questioning whether she was the real deal. The answer was in my trailing bottom line and my failure to grow my business in any significant way over the course of nine months.
Needless to say, she vanished in month 10. Poof. Gone. It was an expensive lesson that cost me both time and money. I take responsibility for my results, and I expect my clients to do the same.
My great mistake was not paying closer attention to what my intuition was telling me and not trusting the years of experience, knowledge and skills that I had behind me. As I picked up the pieces of my business, I returned to my own strength and power -- and turned up the volume on my intuition.
Since I work as a strategist and coach to help young women launch social change careers and businesses, I am always cognizant of my rocky entrepreneurial start. I am careful to design experiences and agreements that help them move forward in the right direction -- for them.
From this experience alone, there are three lessons that I readily share with my clients and peers:
- Diversify your investments. Just as you would with your financial investments, you want a diverse support and advisory network as you build your business. Seek advice and feedback from multiple directions on the work that you are doing. No one individual will have everything you need, so rely on your head and heart to determine where you spend your time and money. And remember, you are often your greatest asset.
- Credibility matters. Ask to speak with references. Ask for specifics on education, training, real-world experience or anything else that matters to you. If someone you're working or partnering with has what you're looking for, they will be happy to share it with you. In the coaching world, the International Coach's Federation (ICF) is the accrediting body for professional coaches worldwide. The ICF holds all of its members to specific levels of training, experience and continued education. While certifications such as these don't guarantee results, they do demonstrate a professional commitment on the part of the individual.
- Trust yourself first. I believe that we thrive when we ask for help and collaborate with others. However, at the end of the day -- this is your business. When your intuition alarms sound, it's time to pay attention. Your initial read on your intuitive hit may not be correct, but the fact that it's telling you something matters. As the CEO of a business, it's important to hone and trust those internal cues so that you can be agile, flexible and resilient in your business decisions.
As with all failures, I'm a better business owner because of them. I feel fortunate that I lost and found my way so early. While I know that there are more mistakes in front of me, I'm confident that it won't be because I ignored my intuition.
Laura Calandrella partners with millennial women to help them decide how they are going to change the world -- and then do it. Through her company, Laura offers business incubation, group coaching, and leadership development for women ready to step-up as social entrepreneurs and global change agents.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.