Doing the work before the work

For a long time, people believed that if you were going to go all-in on yourself, you had to do it right. You had to create a massive business plan. You had to set up funding. You had to study the marketplace. You had to know where you were going and how you would get there.

Today, the path to entrepreneurship is often not a straight line.

That’s why books like The Accidental Entrepreneur exist. That’s why Forbes has dubbed a portion of us as “user entrepreneurs.” From stories like Pat Hull’s journey from real estate to founding a series of companies like a service for long-haul truckers and a private investment firm, to Melanie, who turned her real life trials into a thriving blog + business, there are people who can show us that not everyone exactly sets out to do their own thing.

But, still, a little bit of internal work before or as you embark on your entrepreneurial adventure can go a long way.

My path into entrepreneurship...

It was messy + convoluted. And exactly what it needed to be.

In the altMBA5, I learned that I have a tendency to skip the work before the work. I want to dive right in. I want to be busy. I want to be productive.

No surprise, then, that in the pivotal moment when I was deciding whether to take the leap, I spent a lot of time chasing my tail. I decided to launch a blog. I set up an Upwork profile {which has turned out to be great for my business}. I set up a profile {which I’ve since abandoned}. I designed and launched a website and blog in under two weeks w/Squarespace. I immediately started blogging five times a week {no, that was not sustainable then}. I started using Canva to produce share-worthy images and started promoting my stuff on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram...without having yet defined a brand.

You know what I didn’t do?

I didn’t sit down and really think through what I was doing; what I wanted to be doing; what I was offering; who I was talking to; and why. I didn’t spend time learning from people who’d already done what I was trying to do.

Maybe this was a good thing. Like so many of those accidental entrepreneurs, sometimes the diving in and the doing is the most important thing. If you’re doing, you can fix what’s not working. If you’re not doing anything, well, you’re just frozen.

Still...I didn’t know what I was doing + hadn’t committed to a direction.

And so I ran around in circles.

I spent sleepless nights worrying about whether I should be going all-in on a day job, or all-in on myself, or finding a day job that would allow me the bandwidth to nurture a side project (or 10) that could eventually become my path to going all-in on myself.

I split my days between spending hours and hours searching for and applying to remote marketing jobs, or hours upon hours submitting proposals on Upwork. And in the beginning, Upwork was a huge source of frustration and learning. I submitted dozens of proposals only to find that, with no proven work history on Upwork, it was very difficult to get any work on Upwork. {Perseverance paid off. Now, as a top-rated freelancer on Upwork, I’ve attracted great clients. And I can just respond to invitations as they come to me.}

Whenever I did get a nibble of interest, I fretted about whether the job I’d offered to do was really something I’d want to build a business around. And then I’d worry about whether I was bringing my best self to any of the interviews or projects because I was syphoning off so much energy into internal debates about what should be next.

In my best moments, I was totally confident about my direction.

I {thought} I knew that, as a mom who needed to supply at least half of my household income, the smartest {if I’m being honest, smartest meant safest} plan possible was to: 1) get a steady job that allows the flexibility I need as a mom + creative who thrives on variety; 2) continue exploring the possibilities for working for myself with the breathing room of the finances being covered; 3) breathe.

And then the other voice would kick in. Maybe I should ditch all of the hemming and hawing and really give this thing a go.

And the internal debates would continue. My husband was supportive. My friends mostly thought I was crazy for considering going out on my own. My altMBA community were super cheerleaders for taking the leap. And I didn’t have the clarity I needed to know what decision I wanted.

You get the idea.

If I had don the work before the work…

If I had done the work before the work, if I had trusted the process, I could’ve allowed myself the time and breathing room to do the research and focused thought and planning needed to create something I might believe in enough to not only feel like I could pursue, but feel like there was no way I could not pursue it.

When I decided to spend half of each day on the job search and half on business ideas, things started to flow. I had freedom in my limits {thank you, Beautiful Constraint}. I allowed myself just enough space to explore the business + blog ideas with the freedom to accept that it might not work. I kept blogging about stuff I was interested in, stuff that would help my personal brand in the job search while I explored the business stuff.

And stuff started to happen. I started to get great feedback from respected colleagues + altMBA friends on the ideas I was putting out there. I started to get hired for freelance projects I was really excited to do. And something inside me unlocked. Eventually, I found the space to discover what I could offer the world, to say yes to what really brought me alive, and to say know to what seemed to suck the life out of me.

Dear entrepreneurs: My advice to you? Do the work before the work...and just start.

It was not an easy path that brought me here. Or a short one. I would encourage other budding entrepreneurs to try and find a middle ground between my approach and the old way of getting all your ducks in a row before you start. There are plenty of exercises out there to help you ‘find your why’ or create a vision or build your brand. Try those. And hold yourself to them. And also just start. Just start doing stuff. Let yourself and what you do evolve.

And let me know how it goes!