33
47
Gini Dietrich

Making the Leap from Executive to Entrepreneur

By: Gini Dietrich | March 13, 2012 | 
92

In 2005, I took the plunge from climbing the corporate ladder to entrepreneurship.

It wasn’t a conscious decision. More done out of frustration with the way communication results were handled (or not handled) inside agencies.

I thought I had a better way.

I did have a better way, but it took me five years to get the business to a point that we could do things differently. To the point other business leaders would listen to something so radically different than what they were hearing from other PR/marketing/communication firms.

It wasn’t because we couldn’t prove it worked. We could. It was because I had to learn how to jump from big budgets, big funding, and lots of resources to, well, nothing.

This is a point made in a recent Forbes article, “Confessions of a Successful Entrepreneur.”

You see, I thought I had to start Arment Dietrich with the same (what I know now are) luxuries I had at the big agencies.

The people I hired had full benefits, paid for by the company. They were vested in their 401K programs. They had holidays and personal leave and time off galore.

I thought this is the way all businesses were run. But, when it came time to batten down the hatches, I had to ask my team to give up their “big company” benefits. It wasn’t fun.

It took me a long time to get the business side of things right before I could push the company toward a better way of doing things.

If you have ever considered (or find yourself considering) starting your own business, making the decision to do it is the hardest part. Nothing you read or people you talk to can help you make that decision.

But once the decision is made, there are five things you can consider as you go from executive to entrepreneur.

  1. People are excited by start-ups. If you have a clear vision, can articulate it well, and are extremely passionate about achieving it, there are many, many people who will join you in the journey. Even though I know this, I’m always surprised at what people will do when they believe in you and your vision. Give them phantom stock. Talk about what things will be like when you make it. Take care of them along the way. And your big company luxuries don’t have to be there to entice people to join you.
  2. Keep your door open. As we grow, this is the thing I hear over and over again. My team loves that our culture allows them to have direct access to me. As an executive, you shut yourself off. You have gatekeepers and direct reports and organizational charts and no one gets through the door. As an entrepreneur, everyone has to be able to get through your door.
  3. Be as generous as possible. There will always be the neighbor whose daughter needs a job or someone who wants to pick your brain because they’re about to embark upon something you’ve already done. It will be in your executive nature to shut them off and not be generous with your time. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to eventually need people’s help. And if you weren’t generous with them when they needed you, they’ll remember it.
  4. Roll up your sleeves. There is nothing worse than working to build someone’s company when they’re not willing to do the hard work. Do grunt work. Make coffee. Take out the trash. Sit in the cubicles with everyone else. Make yourself part of the team. This will go against everything you learned on your journey up the ladder, but if you shut yourself off, your turnover will be high, morale will be low, and no one will continue to be excited to help you achieve your vision.
  5. Open your mind. As an executive, it’s likely it was always your way or the highway. You didn’t have to listen to other’s ideas, nor did you have to incorporate them. As an entrepreneur, an open mind and the ability to really listen to what your team has to say may mean the difference between releasing a mediocre product and an innovative one. Listen to what your customers have to say. And incorporate their feedback.

It’s not an easy transition, particularly if you’re accustomed to the things big companies can afford. But who knows? If you can make the transition well, you may soon find yourself as one of those big companies competing with your former employer(s).

A portion of this first ran in my weekly Crain’s column.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

87 comments
wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

@avisionarydiva Isn't @spinsucks the best? One of the few blogs I try to read every day.

Justicewordlaw
Justicewordlaw

This was really refreshing to read. As my business partner @jasonstewart_ and I launch a design and marketing firm this was really good to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic because its always interesting to hear other peoples view points.

ifdyperez
ifdyperez

Ah, this is great. Something I've been thinking about for a while, and this was encouraging to read. I may be picking your brain on this kind of stuff one day. :)

cindyoyo
cindyoyo

Always good reads from Gini! RT @ginidietrich: Five tips for making the leap from company to entrepreneurship http://t.co/0PLjZDD1

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

I've always thought that one of the reasons that made, at least in the past as things have changed also there these times, Japanese businesses so great was, beside their culture of perfection in everything, that every worker could go to his boss and explain his thoughts on ways to make a better job and if he was right he was given credit and his ideas applied. This way every worker could improve the business as there wasn't a "This is the way we do things" attitude. There's already respect for the leader so the open doors policy is always a winner if someone wants to be a leader and not a boss. Caesar ate with his soldiers and that's why they would have gone to Hell for him, he was one of them but also their leader. One thing doesn't eliminate the other. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@_KatherineBrown How was I not following you?

KellyeCrane
KellyeCrane

Great points about how entrepreneurs can be scrappy and forego what larger companies feel are necessities. I'd add one more item to the optional list: employees. Especially initially, using a network of highly qualified subcontractors can give a lot of flexibility to a growing business (and it makes adding team members a little less scary!). From solo PR pros to virtual assistants, independent contractors are available for almost any need -- I've run my virtual PR agency for 16 years this way.

KyEkinci
KyEkinci

@ginidietrich ...good post. Sharing the love, the mistakes, the learnings with the new entrepreneurs who are ex-corporate-America matters.

TheRedDogInn
TheRedDogInn

@ginidietrich Hear! Hear! Gini. I wish I could hug you right now. Great stuff here.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

I also don't agree that you should ever shut yourself off, no matter how big. Collaborative management, especially in your field where so many folks have good ideas, is a serious waste of all that talent you searched and pay for.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

Once I made the move, it was almost ridiculous to consider going back to big biz. There is so much dysfunction, waste, and silo-raising built in there it's incredible. But they make fantastic clients because of those very same things! It's so ironic that when they hire someone at those big companies, they always want someone who can "think entrepreneurially." 

nicole_gaskell
nicole_gaskell

@ginidietrich great write up and it's 200% spot-on!!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

It is crazy what people will do, isn't it? :) They are nuts. PEOPLE. 

 

But seriously, I'm not in business for myself anymore, but I will be again some day. That's exactly why I called my business Big Leap Creative. It's a scary thing. and there are a lot of trade-offs. I really enjoyed not having any employees. When I eventually hired one, I realized, like you said below, now I'm not only working for my clients, but I'm also working for my employees. That was less fun. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is critical, and understanding where you want go exactly so you're still playing to both at it's best advantage. So many people end up somewhere and think... this isn't at all what I wanted. 

KDillabough
KDillabough

Interesting. I've been an entrepreneur for 30 years now, long before there was a moniker for it. I've never been employed. I've always made my own way. No pension. No benefits. No vacation. No gold watch. No perks. I don't know any other way, and the businesses I work with come to realize that what works in corporate does not work in the world of the self-employed. When the toilet needs scrubbing, when an employee is crying, when you're up to your eyeballs in alligators, the speed of the leader is the speed of the game. Wish more people would work with coaches - people who've been there, stepped in the s*#t, dusted themselves off, learned from it...people who, through both their practical experience and academic learning can help people achieve success more efficiently and effectively than those trying to go it on their own. I get frustrated when I hear people say they "can't afford" a coach. In my experience, the people who need it the most choose to afford it the least. Just my rant for the day. I guess I'm feeling mighty prickly about the topic. So I'd add a 6th thing: work with a coach.

AngelaMoorePR
AngelaMoorePR

This is a great post! I made my leap in 2003 and have never looked back.  I definitely learn from my mistakes (and there have been plenty) and have had great guidance from other entrepreneurs.  It's a crazy yet wonderful journey! Thanks for sharing this - I know it will help others who are leaping or about to.

Yael Rozencwajg
Yael Rozencwajg

Hi, 

I fully agree with Marcus, this piece says it all.As an entrepreneur in my veins, I've never been in any corp. unless to meet with my friends.

I always congratulate those who make the leap and do the unthinkable: leaving the comfort zone for a wild life. Exceptionally motivating ;)Thanks for sharing, 

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

@PagesofVision I'm always happy to share wisdom from @SpinSucks. Glad you liked & shared.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Andrea Hypno It's interesting you say that because we have a client who enforces Japanese culture in his business. I'm learning a lot about the way they do things and, you're right, it's a very open (but lean) culture. One of the things my team says about our culture, that they don't want to change, is access to me. At some level, as we get bigger, access will change, but I will always have an open door.

_KatherineBrown
_KatherineBrown

@ginidietrich Thanks for the follow! You are my Twitter hero.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@TheRedDogInn I'll take a virtual hug until we meet IRL

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Yael Rozencwajg I think most of us who take the leap don't realize what we're doing...or we wouldn't do it. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@_KatherineBrown You are a goofball! And one of my favorite people IRL

TheRedDogInn
TheRedDogInn

@ginidietrich consider yourself squished.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

 @ginidietrich Having the confidence level to hire someone who is strong where you are weak is another great point. I had a boss a long time ago who hired a bunch of Yes Men, and that gets you nowhere. 

KDillabough
KDillabough

 @ginidietrich Wow. Would never have even imagined there was even an intimation of shame in having a coach.

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

 @KDillabough  @ginidietrich coach is most important person in the team in sports (mostly) - apart from the CEO #ahem of course....

sports clubs sadly invest far more in their on pitch than off pitch talent

KDillabough
KDillabough

 @Nic_Cartwright  @ginidietrich Great to hear that you've had coaches/mentors in the corporate chain. Progressive companies do set up excellent in-house programs. It's unfortunate that most entrepreneurs choose not to benefit from the same type of coaching/mentoring. I'm biased, of course, but having been an Olympic sports coach and seen what coaching does for athletes, and translated that to the business world, I believe every entrepreneur would be wise to work with a coach. I believe it should be part of every business budget. But like I said, I'm biased;)

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

 @KDillabough  @ginidietrich you make a fair point there!!

my coaches have always been mentors/friends higher up the food/corporate chain...  never had the wherewithall (spare $$) to invest in a professional.... 

KDillabough
KDillabough

 @Nic_Cartwright  @ginidietrich Great point. I often say that the people who can benefit most (entrepreneurs) are those who choose to afford it the least (note the word "choose"). As a business/life coach for 30 years now, my target market is the entrepreneur, but often not the start-up, which is ironic, because start-ups are the ones who could most definitely benefit from coaching from the get-go.I analogize to sports coaching. We really need our excellent coaches coaching beginners, because that's where the most significant progress can be made. When beginners don't get good coaching, they develop bad habits, learn improper technique and suffer in terms of performance. And it's very difficult to "un-train" those things later.

 

Same thing goes for business. If more entrepreneurs engaged the services of the coach, they'd get to their goals and destination with less frustration, more effectively and efficiently than without.

 

Coaching is an investment, not an expense, with a return on that investment. And remember @Nic_Cartwright , it doesn't matter where you are in the world. We coaches can work with clients regardless of geography, using the tools of technology at our disposal.

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

 @ginidietrich  @KDillabough there seems to be less awareness of the opportunity for coaches in the entrepeneurial (darned I thought I had nailed the spelling of that word) world.  I am aware that it is far more prevalent in "exec heaven" - but I think it would be much more powerful for the Entrepid Entrepreneurs (yeah - got it that time!!).  I have tried a couple of times to get myself someone as a full on mentor / coach - but I keep moving countries!! - Doh...

 

No doubt will find myself a friendly guru-like Sheikh in time over here... 

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Making the Leap from Executive to Entrepreneur | Spin Sucks [...]