As everyone was preparing for the Y2K bug to close down the world, I was closing up my files, picking up my bag and saying my goodbyes to a company I had called home for some 20 years.
A time and place that was pre-mobile phones…yes, where yellow phone messages were placed in wooden pigeon holes, where the first plain paper fax machine I sold was for a crazy $20,000, where the boys club ran rampant and a handful of women on the sales floor was a huge exaggeration of numbers. An environment and era that taught me a million remarkable, and some not so remarkable, lessons.
It was a time where my company was the leader in its field, moving the goal posts from analog to digital, where we temporarily lost pole position and bounced back through a myriad of strategies that included leadership through quality, customer delight and world class solution selling. I was truly fortunate. I was part of a tribe, albeit one that frustrated the living daylights out of me on one hand, yet gave me a sense of family on the other.
However, something was missing.
Something that said, ‘there is more to work – and even more to you’.
And today, with the gig economy hitting its straps, with an increase in the number of people escaping their corporate cubicles and with an increase in people wanting roles that align to their lifestyle, purpose and growth, especially being able to leverage technology to do so, more and more people (approximately 2.5 million in Australia alone according to the ABS), are swapping their corner office for the corner café, having those same thoughts as I did eighteen years ago, and that cultural shift will hit many like a ton of bricks.
So, for me, as a new century unfolded before me, I made a life defining decision to cut the cord, to find out what the big wide world had to offer. And as I reflect on nearly two decades of freelancing, on entrepreneurial ventures, of being an early adopter of the gig economy, these are the biggest lessons and learnings I have taken away.
Lesson Number 1 – Don’t expect people you leave behind to ‘get you’. Whilst you are excited about the prospect of growth and trying new things, you lose commonality with those who are no longer in your world. They will vocalise their thoughts in lots of different ways, ‘who does she think she is’, ‘what value can he give that we don’t already know ourselves’, some may even laugh and mock you for being a dreamer. It is a natural human reaction for others to want you to stay where they are, especially if they see you are on a growth trajectory and it is also a natural human reaction to want to return to the tribe. Remember, at a biological level our brain distrusts different and when you branch out on your own – you are very different to the pack.
Our brain distrusts different
Lesson Number 2 – Find a group of people who do get you. People you can lean on, learn from and listen to. By the very nature of humankind we are social at our soul and we love to hang out in ‘tribes’. Seth Godin got it right when he said ‘A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate’. Finding groups along your path that ‘get you’ is critical and not just from a support perspective, but a sharing of ideas perspective and that will always lead to growth and courageous moments. Be mindful of the little things you will miss, too – like those water cooler conversations or accountability reviews. Because you will miss them!!
By the very nature of humankind we are social at our soul
Lesson Number 3 – Get used to those ‘I don’t have what it takes’ moments followed by ‘Hell, yeah! You got this’ outbursts. That see-saw will always be moving, so straddle it and ride it on purpose. Enjoy the ups, and don’t walk away from the downs. The biggest mistake I made was walking away after only two years and taking an eight year detour because I didn’t think I had what it took so be mindful of those ‘winters’ as spring and summer will always follow. In hindsight though, it was a necessary path and part of where I am today, so was it really a mistake?
That see-saw will always be moving
Lesson Number 4 – Recognize the important people. Your family. Having great kids and a supportive husband has been my biggest blessing. Someone who truly believes in his heart of hearts that his wife has commercial value as well as personal value, and not be threatened by that at all. Why? Because stepping out on your own crosses both personal and professional boundaries and not necessarily in equal amounts. Sometimes it rolls too far one way, for too long.
Stepping out on your own crosses both personal and professional boundaries
Lesson Number 5 – Because you have a dream and hang a shingle doesn’t means they will come. I remember someone early on asking, ‘so how are you going to market yourself?’ It didn’t take me long to realise that marketing is our number one priority over and above what you do. With that came my first book, then my second. With it came a website when the internet was fairly new. With it came a newsletter at a time when personalization was novel. With it came free speaking gigs to get testimonials. With it came the uncertainty of what to charge when nobody would give you a straight answer. And I look at freelancers, entrepreneurs and even small businesses now focusing so much on their product and not enough on marketing and I think, ‘flip it guys, flip it’!
Marketing is our number one priority
Lesson Number 6 – Qualify coffee meetings. Everybody wants to have a meeting or a coffee chat or pick your brains. By asking ‘for what purpose’ was a brilliant learning for me and if it didn’t align, then I would postpone the meeting. Of course, most never followed up. Minding your time is critical and qualification is not just about prospecting, it’s about protecting your time as well.
Qualification is not just about prospecting
Lesson Number 7 – Always invest in you. I have been fortunate to have worked with Anthony Robbins as his coach for APAC – all because I was coachable and open to being brave. Whilst I didn’t drink the cool-aid, I am grateful for the learnings and leverage. I have invested in one on one mentoring with a leader in the thought leader space, Matt Church, who introduced me to models and commercial thinking that I can now incorporate into my trainings, keynotes and writings. I have been fortunate enough to have invested in travelling to different parts of the world to hang out with like-minded people and I have now shared my message across five continents and countless cities and towns. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to do what I do, but picking up a book, listening to a podcast, asking for feedback and having a conversation are all ways of investing in you and your growth.
Be coachable and open to being brave
Lesson Number 8 – Trust your gut. It has taken me years to do this because I always wondered if the answer was outside of me. Wondering what would be the ‘right’ thing to do, considering what someone else ‘might’ do, putting people on pedestals when there are absolutely no pedestals. We all know deep down inside what the right thing for us is and we need to own that knowing. Saying ‘no’ to clients that aren’t a fit, not discounting your price because you know your value, distancing yourself from people who do not align to your values, staying in your lane when no one else is sharing it – it’s about doing what you love and listening to all those internal messages we hear, but may not always listen to.
There are absolutely no pedestals
Lesson Number 9 – Know you are exactly where you are supposed to be, right now. What you are doing today may not be the right thing for the future, but for today it is exactly the right thing. There will always be a learning and a reason for why you are doing what you are doing. Don’t beat yourself up if it is not all it is cracked up to be. If it’s not a fit, then make a decision – do it for a reason, or don’t do it at all. If it is exactly what you want it to be, then be grateful and pay something forward, but do not play the comparison game – ever! You have way too much value to offer and it’s a game you will always lose.
Do it for a reason, or don’t do it at all
None of us know what tomorrow will bring. I do know one thing – changing your environment always has its benefits. Shifting up your circle of influence also has it benefits and living by the mantra that there is no right or wrong, definitely has its benefits.
I hope that sharing these nine personal truths will help someone else get their head around stepping out on their own, and staying the course. I’d love to know how you go or what you think.
In the words of the soulful rapper, Eminem, ‘If people take anything from my music, it should be motivation to know that anything is possible as long as you keep working at it and don’t back down’
Keep working at it.
Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant
Bernadette McClelland is CEO of 3 Red Folders – a modern day saleswoman and keynote speaker on business growth, personal leadership and sales performance.
BIO: Business environments wanting to increase their revenue and profits, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market, ask for Bernadette McClelland because of her thought leadership on sales performance, her ideas on thinking beyond resilience and her fresh perspectives surrounding personal leadership skills — all designed to master the outcomes that matter.
Bernadette has proudly coached Harvard MBA students on their sales enablement curriculum, been the Master Asia Pacific coach for Anthony Robbins across twelve countries, authored five books on leadership and sales transformation, won a coveted Telstra award for Business Excellence, and continually shares her ideas around behaviour, the brain and business growth on stages in the UK, Europe, Thailand, India, NZ, Australia and North America.
Believing that sales performance is a leadership issue, you will also find her heading Melbourne’s human potential based sales performance consultancy, 3 Red Folders, as she navigates lead generation, message to market and digs deep into sales process activities with her clients in the mid-tier sector as well as founding ‘Women Who Sell’, an initiative designed to bring more women up to speed in their sales success.
Book your Conference or Sales Kick Off Meeting today!
Photo Credit: My camera whilst at Breendonk Concentration Camp, Belgium and Official Eminem.