What happens when you realise your path is entrepreneurship rather than employment? Lindsay takes up the challenge and shares an account of her journey as it unfolds…
Previously, I described the experience of setting out in business like climbing a mountain. Just when you get to the top, you see another peak, then another – and it goes on. While mountain climbing is exhilarating, daring and risky, it’s also cold, difficult and hostile. But I just accept that’s the nature of the journey when you are creating a new market for a new idea: discovery, adaption, reorientation, and learning.
But lately, I’ve been stressed, disturbed, finding it difficult to sleep. I recognise this feeling. It’s what happens when several ‘fundamentals’ about the business are being re-thought. A lot has been subject to a much-needed challenge, it’s been thrown up into the air and hasn’t yet landed.
What set this off was a repositioning. Rather than offer Mirror Mirror as an alignment process to clients, we decided to commoditise it. To sell it as a tool that identifies and measures alignment gaps for HR, Learning and Development, Communication and Performance Management practitioners. We would build a network of practitioners who can use this tool to add value for their clients. Although that business model is quite a common one and how Mirror Mirror was envisaged to run from the start, we couldn’t go ahead with it right away because we needed experience, case studies, and credibility. We also needed an advanced – and expensive reporting tool that puts the research concepts and our designs into action to the highest level of professionalism. But above all, we didn’t know for sure, exactly how to articulate Mirror Mirror, how to describe alignment, misalignment, Mirror Mirror – why and for what?
We needed all of those things to attract the confidence of intermediaries, expressed in top class marketing collateral and it’s taken the past three years to put all of that together – experimenting with market reactions on the way.
This new direction sounds straightforward but over the past two weeks, but while creating copy and design briefs to update our customer facing materials, I began seeing more and more subtle implications of this new direction and more clarity about the whole field of alignment itself. I wrote about that here. Even got it a short version of it published in the Drucker Forum blog with a co-writer here. Fascinating stuff!
But behind the scenes, more parts of the business are affected. Terms and conditions, pricing, processes, training materials, the marketing strategy …. and how to relay all these changes to my existing network. Also, the process of finalising our new reporting tool has been going on for MUCH longer than anticipated. Such a cliché. It’s taking a lot of time to test and double test every aspect of its functioning and output. I should have expected that.
In parallel, the money I had to invest in growth is running out and time is getting short. I’m holding off on people I planned to get back to with our new brochure after the summer. Pretty soon, I’ll miss the window of attention before Christmas. I’m getting back to contacting people and while my pipeline isn’t getting signed contracts, it’s starting to fizz with a much stronger level of interest than before.
The detail and time to do this felt overwhelming, and THERE’S STILL JUST ME WORKING ON THIS ALL THE TIME. Sure I have a business partner in Berlin, but that’s just a few hours a week, At times like this, I yearn for someone to support me full-time and take the weight off. I think of ways to enlist more help on other terms…
Luckily, I had a call scheduled with Steve from ReesMcCann – my fantastic new business partners to develop Mirror Mirror for virtual teams. Fabulous guy – solid think partner. He talked me down and advised me simply to list my deadlines (a promised presentation pack, a conference pitch, my target training dates, and update materials and website) and everything that needs to be done to make those happen.
Gradually, the pieces began to fall in place. Pricing – on the ‘back of an envelope’ – the basic idea in an hour. A design company in Argentina, briefed and organized with their own sub-deadlines and details – done in 2 hours. The timetabling of my other actions to meet my deadlines – another hour. More user acceptance testing – this is very detailed stuff that sits well outside of my comfort zone – but I got the issues organised as to which ones relate to which test case and how we will manage this – 4 hours. Feels good to make this kind of progress in a day.
And that’s the antidote. I’m better again. It’s all organised. This can work.
The next morning I’m meditating, and a clear visual emerges in my mind. I’m standing on the top of a snowy mountain looking down on to a circular lake that is surrounded by green. Nobody else is there. I hadn’t seen it before, and I want to be there.
Then I realise.
The goal was never to get to the top of the mountain. The mountain was a vantage point, a way of finding a place to grow and flourish. It’s a great view, but finding somewhere warmer, safer, more productive and sustainable is the purpose of the trip.
Some people start their businesses already where they need to be. Ready market, right network, luck. I didn’t have that. I had to find my way.
I used to feel bewildered just looking at LinkedIn. Should I be building relationships with influencers – which ones? Which webcasts should I sign up to with so many relevant topics? Where do I start with reading up on stuff in my field? Which forum should I best spend time in?
Now I know where to focus.
BANG. Just this afternoon, the Energy company now 11 months into that lush promised multi-team job just today admitted – after 3 emails prior confirming go ahead – that there’s been a change of personnel. The job is off. If the new guy is interested, the work could happen in Q1 … although the door is slightly open, it’s starting from scratch. All those hours of making proposals, all that income, not happening.
I had sensed this was coming. Over the subsequent hours my gut took on its own low pitched, monotone cry. Thanks to it being a Friday and the neighbours hosting an immensely lovely drinks evening, my gut got distracted by salami, cheese and prosecco.
In the back of my mind is the unnerving thought that my gut is wrong, and that Mirror Mirror is just a shiny perspective that doesn’t stick as a product. I’m constantly evaluating that thought against feedback from others – trying to see ‘reality’, because the longer this goes on, the more I have riding on it. Do I really have the right challenge? Have I got a confirmation bias? Trust in my common sense and experience wins. I continue, fuelled as ever, by over-optimism and the love of bringing this concept to life.
Reflecting, I see the false promise of that big Energy company contract had at least given me the faith to scale this last mountain and get to the prepared state we are in now. As I start my way downhill to the lake, I’m ready to do what needs to be done. Maybe I can even win that Energy company back.
Mirror Mirror is a tool that identifies and measures alignment gaps in teams.
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