One Year Later

“Nothing endures but change.” -Heraclitus

2-13-xmasparty-9735Just about a year ago I left behind my team in San Francisco to follow a new path. It’s a been a great year of transition, a year full of growth and new adventures. Not all of it has been easy, but every bit valuable. For this post, I wanted to take a minute and share some thoughts on change.

First thing to know is, I’m not a millennial and I haven’t changed organizations every 3 years or whatever the norm is now. I stay awhile- averaging 13 years in an organization before moving on – long enough to build some cool things and lasting relationships.  That’s enough time to grow some pretty deep roots and clutter your office with several boxes of crap, er… mementos and things.

When you leave, leave.

This is not the first time I’ve moved on and left people I cared about behind. It sucks. It’s also life. None of us are permanent in a job. Gone are the days of staying someplace 30 years and getting a gold watch. We move around, true friendships will follow you and teams will adjust to the new reality and continue without you. It’s just not healthy for you or those left behind to constantly hear from you. In time, you’ll be able to learn about what’s going on at the old place without being emotionally invested. Keep your contacts, stay in touch, but don’t be all stalker about it and for crying out loud don’t let people complain to you about the way things are now. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

Give yourself time to adjust

If you can, take some time between jobs. I never could have done this until this last transition, but I have to tell you it’s truly the way to go if you can pull it off. I was able take 3 months off and just let go. It takes time to shake the dust off and learn to operate without the tether of your old place.

In my case I ran an emergency management organization, so I’d been connected 24/7 for most of the previous 13 years. Even when I’d take my daughter camping I took a sat phone. While in Turkey (for work) I got a phone call in the middle of the night from the City Administrator. I responded to a plane crash over the 4th of July weekend, got called about an escaped tiger one Christmas, spent all night doing live press after the Japanese earthquake in 2011 and managed our response to Napa’s quake in my PJ’s.

Like I said…connected. It took a while to let go. New Year’s Eve 2015 was the first NYE in memory where I relaxed and didn’t worry about having more than one drink.

Burn some terminal leave, take a week or 12 off. You won’t regret it, and you’ll start your new venture with a clearer head.

Nobody cares how you used to do it

Every place is different. Personally, I hate it when somebody joins up and immediately starts telling everybody how they did it before. Your references and experience may be valid – or not. Take some time to learn how the new place does it and keep your compare & contrast comments to a minimum.  We all do it, just be cognizant of it. Understand how it’s done at the new place (and why) before trying to inject change. You’ll be far more successful in your efforts. Even if you were hired to institute change, take your time…without buy-in you’ll get nowhere. And here’s a hint: people don’t buy in to initiatives from “outsiders.”

Starting a business is easy, being successful is hard

Honestly, it was way easier than I imagined to start Union Foxtrot International, LLC. I spent my aforementioned time off doing research and getting things in place.  File a few forms, pick up insurance and set up back office systems and you’re good to go. Easy peasy.

But…go where?

That’s where it gets real. I was lucky and had a client waiting. Then what? It’s hard to market yourself as a small business, identify your market, what makes you different and find the leads that put money in the bank. Focus too narrow and you miss opportunities, but focus too broadly and you’re ineffective. There’s a thousand books on how to do all of this, so I’ll keep my advice simple:

  1. Make sure you like doing what you’re doing. If you don’t like being a salesperson, don’t try and do business development for clients who want access to your contact list to sell their stuff. If you don’t enjoy that kind of work, you won’t be effective. Trust me. Don’t judge yourself harshly for not enjoying something…either learn to get good at it and enjoy it or do something else, it’s that simple.
  2. Whatever you do…do it well. Take time to create quality products. Learn how to make your documents beautiful and professional. Hire a proofreader (or beg your spouse to help you like I did). Get good quality business cards and make sure your website looks clean and fresh. Nobody wants to hire an amateur.
  3. Action matters most. It’s not enough to have great ideas or think about stuff…you actually need to do it. You must take action. I’ve got dozens of great ideas…which will all stay just that unless I get off my butt and act.
  4. To act, you must ditch fear. It’s been said that courage is action in the face of fear, not the absence of fear. I’ve gone over the side, fought with drugged out dudes twice my size and played dodge ball with trucks on the freeway (thanks again there CHP…you were supposed to CLOSE the road) but when it comes time to get on the phone I’ll find a dozen things that need doing. I just don’t like making calls…hell, I barely call my mom since we both started texting. True story. You gotta ditch the fear. Every time I push past it and make the calls good things happen.
  5. Network. I’ve told my kid for years: bigger network, more options. It’s true. Sales comes from relationships, so the more people you have some sort of link with, the more people who might know somebody who needs you. Heck, one of those friends might need you themselves, it does happen.
  6. Be generous, but not stupid. Relationships matter and sometimes that means helping friends out. At the same time, every hour you spend helping a friend for free is an hour you could be getting paid (it’s called opportunity cost, it’s in those books I mentioned). The trick is finding the balance between giving enough away that people want to talk about your skills while not giving so much away that they don’t need you. It’s an individual thing you just have to figure out. For me I’ll spend an hour with someone and if they get what they need that’s awesome…if they need more then we talk engagement.
  7. Refer a friend. If you send people to providers you know as potential customers, they’re more likely to do the same for you in return (see network and generosity above).

Never quit learning, and never give up

This year has been one of growth, new ways of thinking and building new skills. I’ve gone from pushing away new work so my team can focus on their primary missions to seeking out work and building a business. That was a huge change…from swatting away good idea fairies to being one.

It’s also been about understanding what I do well and where I add the most value.  I’ve also discovered some things I don’t enjoy…that’s all part of it.  In the end this is a work in progress. Every day is an adventure and an opportunity. The coming year looks to be even more exciting than the last, and honestly I can’t wait to strap in and push the throttle.

If you’re about to make a change, I hope my thoughts added some timely things to consider. If not, file this away because you will soon enough. It’s the way of the world these days. 97

“The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!” -Gen. George S. Patton

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