It was 15 years ago today that I became an accidental entrepreneur.
I had been working at Nortel Networks, where I had been recruited to a senior role with much fanfare, at the height of the “talent war” in Ottawa’s tech sector. Naively, given the size of the business and its epic success, I thought I’d have a job there for life.
Early one morning, I got the dreaded call from HR saying I had been “optimized” from my job. Three months pregnant at the time, with a one-year-old at home, the reality of my grim job prospects began slowly sinking in. It was September 11, 2001.
As I returned to my desk, I saw my entire floor of colleagues glued to TV screens. The horror of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre was unfolding in the news. Bewildered at having just lost my job and stunned at the events the world was watching, I solemnly packed my belongings and headed into the unknown.
That is how my story of becoming an entrepreneur began – and it still colours my experience of business ownership 15 years later.
Low on options, I signed up for outplacement services that were offered, including a workshop entitled “Is Entrepreneurship Right for You?” That’s where I began thinking that despite my risk-averse nature, I might just have a shot at this.
Fast-forward to today, and my adventure in entrepreneurship has been more rewarding, enriching and meaningful than I could have ever imagined.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
- Doing what you love is a gift. It’s a goal worth pursuing, even if the costs are high.
- Ideas matter. Much of our business has been built around our Results Map. Creating unique intellectual property has been exquisitely challenging – but it has also been an invaluable differentiator and business advantage. I am convinced we would not be here today without it.
- Teamwork is everything. I am blessed to work with extraordinary colleagues who invest their heart and souls into the business. This level of passion, collaboration and commitment is extremely rare – and it’s the most valuable thing you can have.
- Small is beautiful. Our team of three is tiny, but mighty. It’s incredible what a small team fuelled by passion and purpose can accomplish.
- To learn is to grow. If there is one single commitment that has been crucial to Ingenium, it’s a relentless dedication to learning. We make a point of learning from mistakes, and doing better the next time. Making a priority of investing in courses, conferences, certifications and reading, has been of tremendous value. Learning has not only made me a better consultant, it’s also helped make me a better person.
- It’s important to know what you don’t know. We work with an extraordinary network of partners, advisors and suppliers whose contributions are vital to our success. I am so grateful for the incredible support, encouragement and expertise we have been fortunate to count on over the years. (A particular shout out to our friends at Alphabet Creative, Balance Accounting and Welch LLP, with our admiration and gratitude for all that you do, and all that you are).
- The world is in your corner. While many see business as adversarial and dog-eat-dog, my experience has been quite the opposite – our community, our clients and our collaborators are in our corner. They’ve got our back, and want us to succeed. Time and time again, I have found members of the business community (entrepreneurs in particular) to be extremely generous and gracious in offering support and expert advice – all you really have to do is have the guts and the humility to ask.
- Manage your energy, not just your time. This is still a work in progress, but it’s clear that entrepreneurial success is all about energy – and lots of it! It’s important to find ways to nurture positive sources of energy, and take steps to reduce sources of energy drain.
- Pivot or die. There is wisdom in this oft-repeated adage for entrepreneurs. We have faced our share of challenges, including seeing our primary market (the federal government) go from 90% to 0% of our business. Being agile is easy to say and hard to do – but it’s vital to creating a sustainable venture.
- The best results come when we’re having fun. Our very best work always happens when we’re having fun – particularly with clients with whom we share a real sense of collaboration, partnership and respect.
- Follow your gut and your passion. This has been a hard lesson for me, as I am more likely to think things to death than to work by instinct. Experience has taught me that following my passion leads to good decisions. In recent years, this has been most clear in my pursuing our practice in change management – a field that lights me up personally, and has opened up amazing business opportunities professionally.
- Entrepreneurship is not the easy route. Being an entrepreneur is not glamourous, and it is not easy. It’s tough work that is gruelling in a way that is hard to understand until you experience it. There is a reason why most people are not entrepreneurs – coming up with ideas is easy; executing effectively and consistently is very, very hard.
- Motherhood and entrepreneurship can work. My children have grown up with entrepreneurship, and have had a front-row seat in watching the satisfaction that comes from building success, as well as the stress that comes from things falling off the rails. While many have questioned whether entrepreneurship and single motherhood could work, it’s clear that in all its imperfections it can, it does, and it will.
- Doing work that matters is important. We have had the privilege of working with extraordinary clients from the Northwest Territories, to Newfoundland and even Milan. Having the opportunity to do work that matters – and that hopefully makes a difference – means the world.
- No amount of strategic planning can tell you how the story ends. This is a tough one for me… I have learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable tension that exists between my firm belief in the value of planning, and the scars I’ve earned by living through the unpredictable nature of life and work.
With love, gratitude and admiration for my colleagues, clients, supporters and partners past and present,