The Accidental Entrepreneur

Lessons from year one of SocialNorth

Some people are born entrepreneurs and others fall into it through circumstance. And some, like me, come into their true calling when they finally and truly realize that their square peg is just never going to fit into that round hole.

SocialNorth celebrated a first birthday last month. It sped past faster than expected (being busy with clients will do that) but marking the event is important. While a big, beautiful cake would be welcome, looking back at lessons learned might be more helpful – especially for other accidental entrepreneurs thinking of making the leap.

Your voice is stronger than you think

Julia Rosien, SocialNorthIt took me a long time to move from wanting to leave my former job to having a solid plan mapped out. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to replicate my success, that I’d underwhelm my clients or that I wouldn’t be able to find clients.

Instead of letting fear debilitate me, I surrounded myself with smart, strong people who were generous with their time. I called on friends from Twitter who already managed successful businesses in the field I wanted to hang my shingle in. John Lusher and Suzie Kummins-Poirier generously shared insights that would have taken me years to learn on my own. From WithIt, I found my lawyer (Jerry Cohen) and a mentor, Kathy Wall (President of the Media Matters) who reminded me to mind the details.

Being in the lead is not the same thing as being a leader

To help develop my leadership skills, I accepted a number of roles outside of my core business focus of social media. Taking on those roles also helped me give back to the communities I live and work in.

Working with so many different leaders was like taking a five-year college course crammed into one. Each leader brings a different sizzle – and with that sizzle comes a lot snap, crackle and pop to the groups they lead. The best are excellent listeners – and most of them are not the person in charge. They motivate others to excellence through quiet, thoughtful mentoring. Stephanie Lowder, Tricia Mumby, Jason Dykstra and Leigh Mitchell are a few of the leaders I’ve been lucky enough to work with this year.

Smart people ask a lot questions

endgoal runI’ve never shied away from asking questions when I don’t know the right answer, but I never saw that as something an entrepreneur would wear well. Through the clients I’ve worked with and organizations I’ve served, I’ve learned that you don’t become someone’s role model because you’re smart enough to have all the right answers. You become someone’s role model because you’re smart enough to keep asking the right questions.

Everyone stumbles but it’s what we do after we stumble that defines success – or failure.

I’ve stumbled plenty this year, just as much I’ve seen dizzying success. And when I tally up the results, my best answer is that SocialNorth is a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. And in the end, as long as I’m still moving forward, still delivering excellence, that’s a good year.

Thinking of starting your own business? The toolkit below is a culmination of advice from my many mentors and lessons learned this past year. It’s my birthday gift to you.

Starting Your Own Business Toolkit

Map out your plan and figure out what makes YOU different

Know your competition inside out with a SWOT analysis

  • S – Strengths
  • W – Weaknesses
  • O – Opportunities
  • T – Threats

Build your business plan

where to begin?Surround yourself with people who can help you. Not sure if you need a lawyer, accountant, PR? Get advice from other entrepreneurs. Then, get your collateral in place:

  • Professionally designed business cards, website, Facebook & Twitter page
  • Press release in trade publications
  • Tools for your trade
  • If your business is local, put a sign on your car door, advertise in the yellow pages, community flyers
  • Do volunteer work – it’s the BEST form of advertising

Grow your community

  • Let word of mouth be your PR Team
  • Join associations comprised of like-minded people….like WithIt!
  • Network online – the world is a big place
  • Network face to face – don’t forget the power in a handshake

Share and protect your ideas

Learn how much to share when quoting for projects – giving enough to get the contract but not enough for potential clients to take your ideas elsewhere.

Deliver – do what you say you’re going to do

  • Follow up EVERYTHING – never assume projects move along on their own
  • Take ownership when things go wrong
  • Manage expectations and constantly check in with clients

Leverage success

  • Start a blog and share your success stories – get permission first!
  • Take pictures – with permission
  • Ask for referrals – just ask

Post a comment below and let’s start talking.

Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – I’m always on.

8 Responses to “The Accidental Entrepreneur”

  1. John Lusher says:

    Julia, I am humbled by your mention, honored to call you friend, and thrilled beyond words at the success of Social North! You have built a business the intelligent way and with this post, provided a road map to success for others to follow. Just think, it’s only been one year! Imagine what’s to come my friend! Thank you very much!

    • Julia Rosien says:

      John, I still remmeber our serendipitious first meeting on Twitter – during a *Survivor* episode – way back in 2008. Our friendship has been an amazing testiment to the power of this medium and I’m grateful beyond words that it’s brought you into my life. Thank you for being such a rich source of inspiration, mentoring and a good laugh on #CST day. Let’s continue to rock it – together!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Julia. Happy 1st Anniversary to Social North! I’ve worked with many leaders, and you are one of the best—what a privilege to work with you and learn from you.

    I really enjoyed your thoughtful/heartfelt post here. You are, always, so wise. Thought I might offer up some of my own Hard-Won leadership lessons should they help anyone (and Thank You to my WithIt coach/mentors/friends who helped me to learn ) :

    • A leader is one who has a vision, can communicate it and inspire others to follow (and who can be coached).
    • Being the leader does not mean you Get Your Way. It means you have the Opportunity to (see bullet one).
    • Leadership is Learning.
    • In difficult situations, get info from all resources, assess risk/return, make your decision—quickly. Do not wait for the situation to improve without your intervention. It won’t.
    • Lead more, manage less. (So you’ll need a great management partner)
    • Leadership is becoming yourself — your best self, but your real self.

    And most importantly, this from General Eric Shinseki (former Army Chief of Staff & 38-yr veteran) :

    • You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Stephanie, I remember coming to you when I was nervous and unsure of my place in WithI. I asked you: “Why me? There are so many women at WithIt, smarter, stronger, more powerful…” You sat back and smiled. Then you told me the same things as you wrote in your comment above. You told me I was chosen because I was a visionary but also because I was a lifelong learner and that I understood leadership didn’t mean being charge.

      I am so grateful for leaders and mentors like yourself who influence others by inspiring them. And if there’s one thing I want to do in 2012, it’s to inspire other women to see their strengths, to find their voice. Becuase, our voices truly are stronger than we know. Thank you, Stephanie.

  3. Jerry Cohen says:

    Thanks Julia for the mention and congratulations on the success of Social North; no one who knows you ever doubted it or expected anything less. I value our friendship and being part of your team in the company of John, Suzie and Kathy whom I greatly respect. And excellent post, except that the title is misleading — you’re entrepreneurial leap and success is no accident but a product of your vision, careful planning, persistence, and hard work.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thank you, Jerry, again for stopping by and for taking the time to comment! Joining WithIt and meeting you, Kathy and the many other men and women I’ve been blessed to meet was one of the best things I could have done for my career. Being mentored and supported by people who believe in me is the greatest gift of my career.

  4. Leigh says:

    Hi Julia

    This is such a great post! Filled with some really helpful insights that I will be sure to share with all my newbie entrepreneurial friends. Keep up the great work Julia.

  5. Hi Julia! So great to read about the success of Social North. I also started my own company last year and I would say my biggest lesson is to not be afraid of rejection. To build a successful business we have to pitch a lot, especially in the beginning. Not all of those pitches will work out but we can’t let that fear stop us. I always tell myself that I’d rather pitch and lose than never pitch at all. No point in taking myself out of the game before I’ve ever tried.

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