Lessons Learned From a
Successful Career Change

by Debbie Allen

Making the transition from running the family business to owning your own business seems like it should be easy enough. But this entrepreneur found out that full-fledged business ownership had a few more lessons in store for her.

The alarm buzzed that annoying 6:00 am awaking sound just as it had for the past fourteen years.  As I tried to wake up, my body and mind kept telling me not to get up and go into work that day.  That is exactly what it was, I thought.  It is just a job, it is just work.  It is not my true life’s ambition.

I had learned a lot from my family car rental and mini-storage business, but I had the feeling it was time for me to move on.  But what else could I do?

Lessons Learned

I was fortunate to have the experience of a strong family business background. My father started a new business about every six months.  This School of Hard Knocks taught me how to deal with growth and a lot about crisis in business.  Dad loved starting new businesses, a true entrepreneur.  But, those new businesses eventually got dumped into my lap to run.

As I was always dealing with the next business venture’s problems, dad’s latest brainstorm became the turning point and my exit from the family business.  Dad said, “We are going to start a port-a-potty rental business. Oh look, they are arriving right now.”  I looked out the office window to see a semi-truck full of brand new portable toilets.  At that moment a picture flashed before my eyes, I could see myself cleaning out these houses of convenience on the weekends when my employees did not show up to work.  I did not want to become an entre-manuer. Now I knew for sure it was time to make my move for a career change!

After 14 years in the family business, I had no idea what I was going to do next.  I just waited for the next opportunity to come knocking on my door.  That opportunity was a ladies retail apparel store. But there were some obstacles with this move. The store had never turned a profit in the six years of its existence.  And I had never worked a day in retail.  What was I going to do with a retail store?  I did not know the answer to that yet.  I just knew I needed a change and believed that, for some reason, this opportunity was there for me. 



Just about everyone I knew told me I was crazy.  “I don’t know how you think you are going to make this work!”  “You have no experience.  Why would you leave a career that pays you well to do something you know nothing about?”  “There are so many people that dream of having your great paying job and company benefits.  Are you crazy?”  “How do you think you are going to get a bank loan and make any money out of a losing business?”  “Sounds like a crazy idea to me.”  With comments like these, it is a wonder that I ever took the risk to change careers. 

When I thought about it, some of these comments actually made sense.  Along with the comments came the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure; I almost held back.  But the feelings that I had inside were burning to get out.  I was passionate about starting my own business and making a difference in people’s lives. Dad had taught me well.  I wanted to own my business.  I wanted to make 100% of all the decisions but, unfortunately, I had to make 100% of all the mistakes along with it.  I had many more lessons to learn.  Here are five of those strong lessons. 

Lesson #1:  Have an unstoppable belief system and the commitment to make it work.

I took all of this frustration and turned it into motivation.  Motivation to make it work no matter what.  I wanted that dream of owning my own business, and no one was going to stop me.  No matter how crazy it might appear to everyone else.  It was the early 80’s and retail made sense to me. The economy was goodand small retail boutiques were all the rage.  Plus, there would be no more early morning hours and no boring office work.  I again began to look forward to going to work every day.  Something I had not done for years.  I vowed to never have to work a day in my life again. You see, I believe that when you find something you truly love to do, it is no longer work. It drives you and feeds your spirit to succeed.

Okay, so now I was motivated and feeding my spirit.  But, I also had to feed my stomach.  My feelings started to dull somewhat when no money was coming into the business.  I started to hear voices in my head, “Maybe I am crazy?  How am I going to turn this store around and make any money out of it?”  “Wait a minute, I am passionate and I believe in it.  That’s stronger than my doubt!”  Stop those voices; I am going to make it work no matter what it takes.  My father’s gift of a true entrepreneurial spirit and a strong belief system kept me headstrong and motivated to continue on.

Lesson #2: Many heads are better than one.  Network and build a strategic alliance of mentors, coaches, teachers and motivating friends.

I soon discovered that a strong belief system and motivation were good, but not enough to get me past the next obstacle - to learn the business, and learn it fast.

Knock, knock!  Another opportunity came my way to join a group of networking retailers.  Every retailer in this group had over 10 years of experience.  I had only six months experience at the time. They were sharing so much with me that I became a sponge for knowledge. They became my mentors, teachers, coaches and friends.  But, what did I have to share with them?  Networking is about sharing!  I did not have the knowledge, but I did have something else to share with them. Something that many of them had lost over their many years in the business – enthusiasm! My enthusiasm was contagious and they wanted to catch it. 

With my thirst for knowledge and growing enthusiasm, my business quickly grew.  Within three short years, I had grown my new venture from $87,000 to nearly two million dollars annually.  Years later, after building and successfully selling my retail stores, I was honored by winning the prestigious Blue Chip Enterprise Award sponsored by the National Chamber of Commerce.  I was one of just a handful of business owners across the nation that had received such an award for overcoming adversity in their business.  Those “crazy” comments quickly changed to “Debbie, you are so lucky, everything you touch turns to gold!”  

Lesson #3: Luck is a residue of design. You find your own luck through the opportunities you seek and act upon.  

I have learned that you can create your own luck through opportunities that come your way.  Sometimes it does not matter how crazy they may appear at the time.  If you have a true passion and commitment to make it work and continually seek more opportunities to make that happen, anything is possible!   When that next big opportunity comes knocking, clanging and banging at your door, are you going to jump up and open the door or just ignore it?  You will never know if it is the right opportunity unless you take a chance.  

Lesson #4: Set big, crazy or even unrealistic goals to stretch yourself.

Back then I did not know about goal setting, but I did have expectations. I had exceeded my expectations many times over.  If I would have had goals back then, I would have held myself back.  My goals would have been too low. Since I did not know much about the business, I did not know what I could really do, therefore possibly setting my goals too low.  I have learned that sometimes it is okay for people to call you crazy.  Some of the most successful people in the world have heard those same comments.  Give yourself permission to have some crazy, and maybe even unrealistic, goals at times.  If your goals are not a little far-fetched and even darn scary, they are probably not stretching you to your highest level of success!

Lesson #5: When you do what you love and make a difference in people’s lives, you will never have to go to work ever again.    

Today, a genie jumped out of a bottle to grant me a wish, a wish to have any career that I could dream of creating.  I had to tell her to get back in that bottle because I am already doing it.  After successfully building and selling a number of retail stores, I now have the privilege of platform.  Today, I have the privilege to share my knowledge and passion for business with others as a professional speaker, consultant, coach and author.   It is another dream come true for me. And they told me I was crazy?

About the author:
Debbie Allen is an international professional speaker, business consultant and author of Confessions of Shameless series of books. As a marketing and retail business expert, Debbie has presented to thousands from around the world. For more information or to sign up for Debbie’s free newsletter, visit her web site at at www.DebbieAllen.com.

 
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