After being laid off from her job at a Fortune 500 company, J.P. decided to face her fears and start her own software training business. She graciously talked to me about what she learned soon after she was laid off all the way until now with a thriving business.
V: What kind of fears were you experiencing when you were laid off and then when you were beginning the process of deciding to start your own company?
J: First of all, I had an idea about doing this for the company I was working for. I actually spent some time putting together a business plan for them which they had no interest in whatsoever. So here I had this great idea for a business and they didn’t want it and I guess I was young enough that I didn’t see the clues that the contract that we had with the government was about to end. The good that came out of it is that I had learned a lot and made a lot of networking connections. And while it might have been more frightening than it was, I mean, I must have been $30,000 in debt at the time. I did have a roof over my head and a husband with an income so I wasn’t totally out on the street. But it was scary; it was scary because I hadn’t done anything like that before. And while it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to do or how I was going to do it, I had this idea and I just had to change the plan around so that it would work for an individual without corporate resources behind it. And I also knew it was gonna take a little time because I had to get a name built, and then people would have to come to know me. And that was I think the scariest part, is upfront I wasn’t naïve about it, I knew it was gonna take time. But I think the best thing I did to overcome that was to say “Ok. While we’re waiting for that to build, how many ways can you get your name out there? How many ways can you let people be aware of who you are?” I was working eighteen hours a day building my name and the idea of the company that I was trying to put together. The first two or three months were probably the hardest because nobody knew I was there. And I think I probably made $600 and that was the part that was scary. Because I was wondering, you know, how am I going to do this? But I did have faith that it would work and it finally did. After that it started getting better and then it got to the point, I was doubling my income all over the place. Then it was very exciting. Then it was “can I keep up with this?” because I was getting four hours of sleep a night and doing everything myself. So part of it then was if it grows too fast what will I do? There are all kinds of things that can happen when you start a business; it’s hard to predict everything no matter how hard you plan.
V: Did you have things that you would either do or keep in mind to help you keep moving forward when things were still kind of uncertain?
J: I read whatever I could on starting a small business. I do remember one book in particular that helped a great deal because I was so focused on marketing and that was Guerilla Marketing and that point in time, like I say it was almost 20 years ago, this was kind of cutting edge, he had a lot of great ideas and inspiration on how to get yourself known. And I think I tried most of what was in the book. But, more than that, it showed you that you didn’t have to have a million dollars to get rolling. I’ve always loved that phrase “Feel the fear and do it anyway” and that one is just a motto that I do and “Just grit your teeth and go forward.” You know you’ll worry about it later. You know you’re afraid, but you’re still moving. And that helps. And if you do that, the flipside of fear is excitement. You can turn it so that it does help. But on the other hand I wasn’t afraid all the time, a lot of the time I was excited. I was very optimistic.
V: You mentioned before that you were in debt. That can be really scary too. How did you overcome that?
J: You know, the one blessing I got is when I found out I was being laid off, I did get a little bit of warning and I knew what the situation was and I knew that I was gonna have low income for a while. So I immediately called my credit union and while I was still gainfully employed and could have my employment verified, even though it wasn’t going to be forever, I refinanced, you know, I took out a loan and paid off my credit card debts and stuff. Then I had a single loan that was long term that had low payments. And I did that the day, within hours, of finding out what was going on. I didn’t get paralyzed by it. I immediately thought how can I handle this? And what’s the smartest thing to do within the time frame I have to work? So that worked out very well because that meant when I had very little income I could pay off the loan because I had made it forever. And then when the income went up, I just paid it off quicker. And in the beginning I didn’t know what to expect so I had to prepare for the worst. And I think what’s really important is to be able to be calm and not panic. To sit there and look at the facts and say, these are the facts, what are the options? And what will serve me best?
V: So where do things stand now?
J: Well, I still have my own business. It will be 20 years in 2014. I’m debt free. I paid to put my youngest child through college with cash. We bought our cars with cash. Work now is by choice, a few months a year. Let me say one thing, in the beginning the things that I thought I should be afraid of were actually the last things I should have been afraid of. And the things that turned out to be real problems, I probably should have been scared of, I didn’t even know existed at the time. So, for instance, I was afraid about earning enough money; that turned out to be a non-issue. Once things got rolling it just snowballed and took off. The things that I didn’t know to be afraid of were things like people in business that were not ethical because I had never dealt with that before. Those turned out to be things that really were big issues running my own business. Sometimes you can’t even imagine things that will happen that end up being tough and perhaps if you knew ahead of time you would have been afraid or more cautious but I’ve always been the type of person that gave more than I took and I think it’s ok to err on the side of being kind and if you get taken advantage of, so be it. But as you get older, I think that happens less. But going into a business, I think that more people start out trusting others and perhaps they should be a little more fearful of that. I mean, I’ve written curriculum that people have stolen that had contracts with me that said they would pay me for it and they owed me $200,000 worth of it and they didn’t. So sometimes, you can’t even imagine that these things are going to happen. Perhaps a little more caution up front would be wise. I wouldn’t call it fear, I think caution, perhaps would be wise.
V: When something like that happens, how do you not get jaded and just turn around and forget about everything?
J: Not everybody in the world is like that, thank God. I think the majority of the people in the world don’t get up in the morning and try and sabotage others. There are few people that are not very good people and I guess I haven’t had to deal with that many in my life so I’m always surprised when I run across them. But I think you get to be a little more cautious, true, but you can’t become jaded, you can’t become hard, because then that’s not good either. And in a way, that would make them win. Some things you just have to let go of. Like I can remember when I first started out, I did a job for a local company and I didn’t know that they were having financial problems so then they couldn’t pay me. They just declared themselves bankrupt and changed their name and went back in business again and didn’t pay anybody. I was sputtering mad for a while and I then thought, well you can keep being mad about it and screaming it’s unfair or you can let it go and get back to earning some more money somewhere else and doing what you’re supposed to do. Because if you dwell on that, you’re not gonna get anywhere and that negative attitude is going to come out in everything you say and do and if you’re marketing yourself and your business, people can hear the tone of your voice if you’re not positive and upbeat. So if you let that stuff drag you down, it can ruin you. You can dwell in it or not. And someone I know says that resentment is like you taking poison and hoping the other person will die. It doesn’t really work. And I know my husband has said don’t let other people rent space in your head. You just have to let that go. I always figure the worst punishment for them is they have to live with being themselves.
V: What advice would you give to someone who has a dream or a goal they want to achieve but think that they can’t do it because they’re too afraid?
J: I asked you earlier if you had read anything by Barbara Sher. I’m a great fan of hers. And she talks a lot about resistance. What she means by resistance, or my interpretation is, that there’s something that you really want to do, say you have a dream and when you think about it it makes you happy, but when you go to do it something comes in the way, a fear or something blocks you. And that resistance, whatever it is, procrastination, avoidance, is probably an issue that you had all your life, maybe from childhood. Everybody has stuff like that and if you can get in touch with it, you may never 100% get rid of it, but you can certainly be aware of it and that’s a huge thing, the understanding and acceptance of it. A lot of people in the world, especially women, don’t think they deserve to be happy or they have to put everybody else first. Work first, fun comes later if ever. And who are you to pick one, be an artist, be a musician, blogger, start your own business, whatever. I really think she’s on to something there. And her thing is, if you start thinking of the whole thing and it’s “Wow, I’m so overwhelmed. I’m scared to death.” Then what you have to do is come up with a small thing you can do. You know, maybe you can’t paint an entire oil painting, but you can take a pencil and do a little sketch of the lamp across the room. And maybe that would give you a little bit of happiness and joy. It would be so small that the resistance wouldn’t be threatened by it. And then it wouldn’t rear its ugly head. You can find small things. Or you can try and sneak around sideways. Like if you’re afraid of being a success in business. You can do something that will help the business, but doesn’t seem like you’re directly being a success. Maybe you’ll work on a website. Maybe you’ll make a phone call or go to a meeting and do a little networking. You find something though to chip away at it so it’s not as overwhelming. You’re just doing something small. You’re finding yourself every step of the way. So you have to make little things you can do.
So that was J.P.’s story! What stood out to you? I liked how she showed that even though some fear inducing obstacles landed in her way, she found ways to move through them and still remain optimistic. It’s so easy to let the fear of those obstacles stop you from even trying, but it’s very encouraging to know that things will happen and more often than not we are capable of handling them.
Photo Credit: Steve Worsethandetroit