Running your own business is a bumpy road. It’s one of those things that people frequently want to do, but don’t quite know where to begin. They feel a little lost, and so they never quite take the leap.
Let me tell you, there was nothing in any of my marketing, journalism, or finance classes that prepared me for the journey I was about to begin. Nothing could have prepared me for those moments that knocked me off my feet and left me grasping for balance, nor could anyone have accurately described to me how damn great it would feel when I got that first client – and then second and third…..
That is until I started traveling with my business. Then it all came full circle.
I realized that many of the things I learned while traveling, were exactly what prepared me for those day-to-day tasks of working with customers and running a successful business. Here are some of the lessons I picked up from the road and carried into my work life:
1. It’s important to listen more than you speak
You’re lost in a strange country and your flight leaves in 2 hours. When you try to talk to someone it sounds like they are speaking Chinese – because they probably are.
Suave conversation isn’t going to get you out of this one. But listening to a kind local and using a lot of hand gestures might.
It’s basic customer service: you won’t understand what your customer is trying to sell you if you just keep steamrolling them with your elevator pitch. You won’t learn about your audiences if you never listen to what someone’s interests and desires are. The only way to learn about the little nuances that make each place and person unique is by listening to their body language, behavior and – sometimes –-crazy hand gestures.
2. And it’s even more important to quit talking theory and just start doing
I hear a lot of people tell me how much they’d love to travel, or wish they could have a business, or how they have a great idea, but don’t know how to make a business plan. Even worse: “I’ll do it when….”
I’m not a big fan of making plans when I travel – I like to just ‘go.’ I like to see a place in its natural state – not via a prescribed tour. Similarly, I didn’t even consider myself to be self-employed and running a business until I woke up one day and realized I regularly had less free time than I did time spent working (and I had quit going to my ‘day job’).
I didn’t start by saying “I’m going to start a business,” and I sure as heck didn’t start with a detailed business plan. Despite the chaos and moments of self-doubt, all of the great stuff happened because I kept moving forward. It can be lonely, but it all pays off in the end. It’s a bit like filling in the destination points as you drive – you may have a destination in mind, but you aren’t sure what tools you need to get there, where you’ll stop or who you’ll meet along the way.
3. I discovered that there is no roadmap…
I remember my very first day on my very first trip outside the United States: I landed in France, weighed down with guidebooks (and far too much luggage), map in one hand, French to English dictionary in the other, and a scared look on my face. Aside from being an obvious target for pick-pocketers, I was following someone else’s plans, not my own.
By the time I was getting ready to leave a year later, I hadn’t even visited one of the tourist sites dog-eared in my book (not even the Eiffel Tower). I came home with 1 less suitcase than I arrived with and I had stories about riding my bicycle through the side streets of Paris, going to the local bakery and becoming friends with one of the bartenders at the pub down the street.
Not exactly things that you’ll find in Lonely Planet, but the things that worked for me, and made my experience just right.
Put simply, whether it’s your travels or your business, the route YOU make is the one you are meant to be on.
4.….and it’s a good idea to ask for directions, as long as they’ve been there
People are full of opinions. Just ask 10 people where you should take your next vacation, and you’ll get 15 different answers. It can be confusing and, at times, misguided.
That being said, there’s nothing better than asking for directions from someone who’s actually been there and who just gets you.
I’m a huge believer in mentorship and co-working. A good mentor has been where you’ve been, has stood in your shoes, and knows where you’re going. Just like having a native speaker at your side, a professional mentor will point you down the right trail AND will translate the road signs as you go.
5. And finally, I learned that the best things happen when you step outside your comfort zone
Cliché, yes, but no less truthful.
For some reason, a lot of us are a lot more likely to take big risks and push the envelope when we are far from home.
Why? I’m not really sure, but it’s that no hands barred attitude that got you to jump off the cliff while vacationing in Cancun. And it will be that same attitude that gets you to go against all odds and forge on as an entrepreneur.
It will be that “what if” that keeps whispering in your ear, making your heart pound out of your chest. It will be that joy of momentary free-fall when you’ve let go of all previous notions of ‘security’ and are trusting that you’ve made the right decision.
Or it will be the coffee – but either way, you’ll keep coming back for more, I promise.