What Do You Do When Your Dream Falls Apart?

In the late aughts I was enrolled with the National Civilian Community Corps and deploying across America as a disaster relief first responder. This was my dream. I wanted to be in humanitarian work on the ground for the rest of my life, and had known that for a decade. I intended to apply for the Peace Corps next.

We got the call for the 2009 tsunami that hit American Samoa. It had been only 24 hours since the earthquake and tidal wave. We were packed up, shipped back to base, briefed, packed, and flown to Pearl Harbor to await a C-15 to take us the rest of the way because civilian flights were not allowed on the islands due to damages and debris.

I had trained with the Red Cross, FEMA, and others, and was totally prepared. We were deployed for only three weeks, rather than our usual two months, because we were entering as first responders. The Red Cross finds that three weeks / 21 days is the limit before PTSD / PTSI sets in.

What wasn’t factored in was an aftershock earthquake that would be tsunami likely. We were case working along the coast when the bells started ringing and we had to run with the people we were there to serve showing us up the mountain to safety. I no longer have this memory. I know I was there because I remember before and I remember after.

The long and short of it is we were government property, so once they determined we had time, we left the locals and were bussed to higher ground that was controlled by FEMA. After some time the all clear was given, no second wave hit, and we went back to work.

This is when trouble began for me. We received no support for the fact that we in some ways just lived what our clients had experienced. Referred trauma was already a factor and this made it worse. Let alone the fear, running, confusion.

I redeployed several more times that year, and got worse and worse. I was having breakdowns approximately monthly. No help was provided by my supervisors or counseling staff.

I return home after my term ends. Night terrors. Disassociation. My friends act like I’m a stranger because I’m no longer myself.

It took years for me to accept help, because PTSD / PTSI (it’s being recoined an injury instead of a disorder) is blamed for mass shootings and I didn’t want to be subject to prejudice.

It finally got bad enough for me to get help. Something I was able to finally process is, like you, the loss of my dream. Every time I walk into a Red Cross I now have a panic attack. I stopped trusting other supervisors so I created a nonprofit so I could do the work while relying on myself but it was still triggering. I had to give up.

Finally I started the path that may also work for you. Rather than mourn, I began considering what about me drove me to want to do that work. What was the root motivation? For me, it was an innate helper tendency, a love for people, an interest in making the world better. It was a long road to tease out and understand these aspects of myself, and then find out how I might use them in ways that still brought me joy.

In the meantime I had started a few organizations and businesses because I no longer trusted others to supervise me with my best interests in mind. It took nearly a decade but I decided to start coaching because I was already coaching friends on their businesses. I got good at something accidentally (business), and my love for helping, empowering, and bettering the world was coming out in coaching others I believed in. I’m still starting my own businesses, but I have a wider impact by also helping others be successful sooner with theirs. I am choosy about who I help, so in a way, I’m still having humanitarian impact.

If you feel you’ve lost your way, think about why you wanted to do what you love in the first place. Dig down toward the root. You may want a guide, counselor, or coach to help. I found books helped as well (happy to share). Once you know your motivation you’ll be able to search for other ways to use the same desire in a previously unforeseen way.

Check out the original post on Instagram.

Facing the Facts of Failure

Failure is an inevitable part of entrepreneurship and well… just life. The highs and lows come
evenly, but what makes it worth it is how much those highs outweigh the struggles. Anyone
would be lying to claim entrepreneurship didn’t come with tough moments. But, processing
them is critical for strengthening yourself and your business moving forward.

There’s one moment of “failure” in particular that has stuck with me over the last couple months.  In February, I decided to do a Reddit AMA for my book, Stories of Elders.

For those of you who don’t know, Reddit is an aggregate forum with unlimited communities, a sort of “front page of the internet”.  An “AMA” stands for “Ask Me Anything”, an opportunity for users to
understand more about a topic and, in my case, my book and experiences.  My experiences with
AMAs on other platforms were really positive, and it felt SO great!

My Reddit AMA, however, left a lot to be desired…

Responses were sparse and those who did engage were critical, posting to ask questions like “who
do you think you are?” or “how do you think talking about technology saves lives?”. I never
claimed to be saving lives! But, I am an author who had hope of sharing with those interested in how tech changed everything and what our elders know.

After everything going so well with my book and opportunities continually arising, I felt so crushed to not be able to share this excitement further. I felt as though I failed, like no one actually cared about my book at all.  It truly made me sad.  I know that’s not true, that I really have reached so many people based on the amazing responses I’ve gathered, especially in response to my Ted Talk! I know what I have done and know the experiences I have had, and that matters more in the grand scheme of everything than this one flop.

It may be hard to take yourself out of it in the moment. You may be left sitting there asking yourself, “what am I doing?” or “WHY am I doing this to myself?”.

This will happen, and it’s ok.

Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes there are setbacks that make us want to give up and question it
all. Sometimes we need to take a break and come back for a minute. But, entrepreneurship
wouldn’t be what it is any other way. There will be something that will make you want to quit it
all. But, don’t be so quick to follow, this is only temporary. Your success isn’t achievable without
failure.

So let’s face the hard facts. Failure is good.  It teaches us a lot about ourselves and our values.  It helps us focus on what matters, and can lead to some pretty great self discoveries (like, why do I care what Internet trolls think, anyway…???).

Watch my latest YouTube video to hear more about the experience.

Entrepreneurship & Trans Rights

{Cross-post from my original Medium post in honor of Pride Month.}

We’ve come a long way toward equal rights in this country, slowly moving away from bias toward race, or gender, or any other trait that sets one human being apart from another. As younger generations begin to have influence over public sentiment, the grip maintained by the older population, which grew up living within solid lines and boxes, begins to loosen.

The world is a slightly kinder, gentler place for many people who’ve spent the better part of their lives in fear of being found guilty of a crime which we all commit — the crime of simply being true to ourselves. The world today is far more accepting of the marginalized population who, until recently, have only been willing, or able, to live an authentic life behind a closed door.

However, we have a long way to go. There is still so much to be done, and it often feels like two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, one step back. Or even one step forward — then, any progress that’s been realized is burned to ash by a political figure or their administration.

Too many people still hold jobs which they could easily lose for simply being honest. An employee who is outed as Gay, or Transgender, or anything outside of the still widely accepted societal “norms,” can still be fired (or harassed until they quit) in many areas of America. There is still limited legal protection for much of the LGBTQ community in the workplace.

We’ve made some great strides in the right direction, but we’re still dragging our feet along the way. We open doors and invite each other in, but it’s often still an uneasy acceptance which greets the new boyfriend at his partner’s family dinner.

We still have a long road to hike before we reach a truly tolerant society where all are welcomed with open arms. A place where that same young man is asked to pass the salt and his partner’s mother does not pull her hand away when their fingers touch.

Yes, barriers fall every day, although some reappear as if their removal was simply a carefully scripted ceremonial action, performed for the cameras with a practiced smile and supermodel wave.

Older, long-standing barriers still stand strong, with solid footings that provide a foundation upon which decades of hatred and intolerance have built a structure which will take equally as long to crack.

I was reminded how strong that foundation still is when a friend of mine, who uses the gender pronouns “they/them”, called me from their car while sitting in a parking lot, and shaking with fear. And, as it turned out, with real physical pain. They had just left an establishment where they had stopped to use the restroom, concerned that they might not make it home even though their home was only 10 miles away.

They were genuinely afraid because of what had just happened in the business they entered, where several people angrily prevented them from using the restroom. They were blocked from entering the women’s room while the need to pee rose. Surprised, then angered, and finally frightened for their own safety, they left after being denied access to the men’s room as well.

They called for advice, for help, and to voice their frustrations because they had been prevented from using a restroom, from exercising a basic human need, just because their birth certificate includes the word Male under Gender.

Imagine being denied food, or water, based on the shoes you wear on your feet. Imagine being verbally and mentally abused over eyeshadow, or lipstick. Imagine being prevented from accessing a bathroom because someone doesn’t like the clothes you choose to wear, or your hairstyle.

Now, imagine sitting in a car outside of a place that denied you access to a public restroom while the physical need overpowers the body’s ability to cope. How would it feel to know you might wet your clothes, and the upholstery of your car, because you were genuinely afraid to go into a convenience store and use the restroom?

Abuse is still rampant, although the news doesn’t cover it and most people simply close their eyes. Often lumped in with the label “bullying,” the abuse so many people endure over the public perception of their genetic makeup is very real, but since the attack doesn’t involve a gun, or knife, or a baseball bat, many people are still a little too comfortable looking away.

No matter how many steps forward we have taken, for the transgender population in America the threat of abuse, or even physical violence, is still very real. The threat of, among so many other things, having to leave the parking lot of a fast food restaurant or convenience store with legs tightly pressed together, desperately hoping to make it to the one safe place where no one can prevent access to such a basic human right.

Home. Inside. Behind a closed door once again.

Some unexpected safe spaces have appeared in recent years, where human beings are less likely to be measured by their clothes, or their accent, or their identity. In fact, diversity, whether it comes in the form of race, religion, or sexual orientation, is more likely to be welcomed.

For LGBTQ business owners, entrepreneurship provides advantages that are well-known to the average American, but for much more powerful reasons than may be obvious. At a time when the transgender population still struggles to find support in mainstream society, entrepreneurship provides an oasis in a vast desert of intolerance — in more than one way.

Entrepreneurship places control over financial security, health care, and independence in the hands of the LGBTQ business owner. It also eliminates the fear of being “outed” in a potentially hostile environment, and the fear of being fired as a result.

The business’s success and direction are controlled by the owner, but so are its culture and diversity. An LGBTQ entrepreneur has control over their own future as well as that of the business itself, which also builds self-worth and the sense of personal empowerment.

Outside of business ownership, the entrepreneurial environment still provides advantages to LGBTQ employees. Startup companies looking to hire staff or add board members do so most often based on talent, knowledge, and commitment, and are less likely to view the person in front of them as anything more or less than a complex collection of parts and pieces that simply make up a unique individual.

That uniqueness is exactly what causes each individual to be viewed as important. No amount of bright green hair coloring can shift the focus away from the contributions that each team member can contribute to the company’s mission.

Generally, those same startups are managed by a younger group, who have (mostly) grown up accepting skin color and gender and just as easily make friends across demographics. Those same individuals see today’s fluid sexual orientation in the same light that our grandparents saw the binary that was accepted in their day — male and female.

Twenty years ago, a transgender CEO would most likely choose to project a male persona by day and a female by night, again only in the safety on their own home and behind a locked door.

Today, an LGBTQ CEO is unlikely to be seen by other Startup CEO’s as anything other than a person with a great idea. However, this does not solve the greater issue. It will not prevent someone from sitting in their car, hoping they can make it home before losing control of their own bodily fluids.

It also cannot eliminate the fear of physical, mental, or verbal abuse for all of those who are struggling to make sense of changing legislation, such as the recent revelation that the Trump administration may be planning to tightly define the word Gender as a binary physical condition.

This proposal could potentially change the way social, medical, and supportive services are provided to those who identify outside of that government’s Box A or Box B system. This might mean the elimination of healthcare services for someone who is currently reliant upon it, such as someone receiving hormones as they transition from male to female. If support is ended, the results could be devastating, as one’s body begins to revert to an image that their psyche does not accept.

Such legislative changes are also likely to create more fear and less tolerance by also fostering further division in the American population. For the transgender population, this will result in more fear and abuse. The people who still view the LGBTQ population as “abnormal” will find their viewpoint further strengthened when the government draws nice, straight little lines around the words “He” and “She” and the behaviors expected of both.

My friend made it home in time to reach the bathroom, but the bigger issue still left a stain that will not fade for some time. With every need to leave their house now comes the possibility that a simple bathroom break could lead to fear and embarrassment, if not physical harm. For those who are willing, entrepreneurship may provide a safe harbor until society evolves.

Are you a queerpreneur who wants support in your work, either to manage client relations, make a plan for coming out (or not), or making a shift to get safe?  Get on my calendar.

Why I Changed The Name of my Facebook Group

It was mid-2017 when I decided I wanted to lead a Facebook group.  I loved working privately with clients, but knew I wanted a larger entrepreneurial community around me as my coaching business grew.  I live for success stories and love supporting others in getting there.

At the time I was positioned toward working with female entrepreneurs exclusively.  The ah-hah that I might want to market to queer entrepreneurs hadn’t struck, yet, but I did know I wanted more of the divine feminine energy around me.

Many of my friends were starting their own Facebook groups.  I began doing market research, asking for advice from those who had seasoned groups, and looked online for best practices.  I wanted to make sure I did it right.

After tons of brainstorming, I finally came up with The Fempreneur Forum, with the hashtag Build Your #FEMpire.  It was a badass start that I felt really proud of.

Fast forward a year, and I am not only coaching women, but also people who identify as gay, trans, queer, and more.  I always encourage my new clients to join the Facebook group so they can surround themselves with some yummy community and share stories.  It was at this time that I started hearing from my male-identified clients that they didn’t feel like the group was for them.

Oh.

Oh shit.

As someone who works hard to be inclusive (and to learn fast when a mistake has been made), that sucked to hear.  I invited them in, changed some of the language, but it largely stayed the same.  It was the Fempreneur Forum.  Lovely alliteration and solid vision.

But I could see that it wasn’t aligning with all of my work.  It was just a sliver of what I offered, just a sliver of my community, just a sliver of what I knew it could be.

I’ve spent the past few months thinking hard about this.  As the new year approaches, I’d like to start off strong, truly building a tribe.  I’m rolling out a newsletter in January 2019 full of goodies for Audacious Entrepreneurs who want the latest resources to accelerate their growth.  I launched my Resource Library in December 2018 to provide even more support to entrepreneurs.  And I revived my VIP Days to help launch entrepreneurs who want to build an empire but don’t know where to start.

I couldn’t leave my group behind.

After much deliberation and loving help from my current MasterMind with Alexia Vernon, I landed on the name.  The Audacious Entrepreneur’s Sandbox — Build an Empire.  Change the World.  It fully embodies the kind of entrepreneur I am (one that doesn’t sit still and is constantly attaining new heights in her business(es)) and the kind of entrepreneur I want to serve.  I want to meet entrepreneurs where their vision and reality blend, and help pull that vision into reality.

The kind of programming I want to offer in the group meets that dream.  2019 is going to be awesome in so many ways, and I’m excited to see my Facebook group come alive once more.  If this resonates with you and your colleagues, please invite them into this group’s rebirth so we can thrive together.  Hope to see you there!

Need to work on your own brand language?  Get on my calendar!

What I learned from hearing “congratulations”

It’s been a whirlwind of a year (which is why I haven’t been blogging very much).  I sold my tech company, GreenCup, to another woman in tech (YUSSS), and it is bustling.  I traveled to Las Vegas three times to work with my coach.  I spent May in Los Angeles, scouting a possible place to move.  I then received the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders Award, just as my first book, Stories of Elders, made its debut.  As 2018 closes out, I am proud to know that my talk about that book has been accepted to TEDx and I will be kicking off 2019 with massive excitement.

Naturally, I’ve been hearing a lot of “congratulations” from people when I see them at events.  I’m not quite used to people starting conversations with me that way — usually what I have going on is behind the scenes and it’s in catching up that they might give me a pat on the back or a high five.

I realized I should double check how I am saying “thank you” to these congratulatory comments.  I am used to speaking to audiences and know that it’s important to practice a few times in front of the mirror to make sure the facial expressions you *think* you’re making are actually the ones you want to make.  For once I had the presence of mind to use this same principle for my thank yous…  and oh boy.

It turns out, I was wincing when I said thank you!  I obviously didn’t mean to be.  I mean to be showing gratitude and excitement with a dash of humility.  Turns out, that doesn’t look very good on the face.

I decided to try saying thank you with happy smile, instead, even though that felt ego centric.  Turns out, smiling about the good things you have going on in your life translates WAY better than a mash-up of excited humility.

Now, when someone says “congratulations”, I beam, thank them, and allow them to ask more questions if they are curious.  The smile says I mean it, but I don’t let my current events hijack the conversation.  Just as they say, listening is the best way to show gratitude.

Me too.

On the eve of the five-year anniversary of my tech company, GreenCup, a trusted male friend said said something to me that caught me by surprise.

It was two weeks ago, and we were talking about our mutual entrepreneurial work.  He’s experiencing some of the systems and processes growth that I have dealt with in my own company.  I love building systems (much to the appreciation of my coaching clients), and I’m always happy to pass on what I’ve learned to a friend.

He said he admired me for my work in my tech company.  I asked why – to me, it’s just something that I started and grew whenever I saw a time to pivot.  He said I was brave for starting a company in an industry that openly hates women.

I was shocked.

And then I thought about it.

He’s right.  Wave after wave of news of gender gaps and chauvinism comes from Silicone Valley.  Whether it be a woman leaking her salary or a memo leak from Google, the struggle is real, and it’s getting louder.

I’m proud of the women who are fighting the fight.  Who risk their careers in order to stand for the greater good.

I never thought of myself that way.  I stumbled into it.  I was hired into an SEO company as an Executive Assistant.  I was promoted to Director because I read book after book about my role within the company, and my boss noticed.  When we were bought out and I was laid off, all I did was use what I knew to start my own company.

I wasn’t prepared for the gender discrimination I would face.  I was surprised when I walked into a meeting as a CEO and walked out being thought of as a Secretary.  I was shocked when several clients made comments on my new Developer’s looks rather than welcome her to the company.

Looking back, I can’t believe I was surprised.

I had a stalker when I was 16.  He was an older man and he would come to my work every day.  I was a Concessionist at a local theater, and there wasn’t anywhere to hide.  I had been nice to him.  Once.  That was all the encouragement it took.

At age 12 I was told I would be gutted like a fish by the best friend of the boy I liked because a girlfriend might disrupt their friendship.

I get cat called and whistled at even when I walk in my own neighborhood dressed androgynously.

And, yes, I’ve felt pressured to ‘perform’ as the sex object women are promoted to be.

Today, I’m not surprised by my Facebook feed.  I am damn proud of everyone who took a stand, told their stories, and refused to be quiet anymore.  Thank you for your visibility.

Need help managing your work despite chauvinistic or misogynistic attitudes?  Get on my calendar!

LGBT Business Owner

The First Time I Came Out in the Business World

I came out to myself when I was 23.  I was alone with a friend reading Post Secret when we came across a postcard that described unrequited love for a best friend.  I realized that I had felt the same for twelve years and not allowed myself to know it.  It was as if lightening had struck.

I was nervous about coming out to my friends at first.  I wasn’t sure how they would react.  I knew we were ‘gay friendly’, but no one in our small group identified as LGBT at the time.  Thankfully, I found acceptance with them.

I started my first venture only six months after I came out to myself.  It was a nonprofit organization that offered the secular community in my city the opportunity to volunteer on Disaster Relief projects.  You see, the region is very conservative.  It can be compared to Oklahoma, with the city being moderate and the surrounding suburbs being very conservative.  One didn’t have much in the way of volunteer opportunities in the city unless s/he was at University or associated with a church.

Soon after my nonprofit began I was accepted into the local Rising Women Leaders one-year program.  This was a combination round table and mastermind for women in the community in positions of growth and leadership.  Though we had an agreement of confidentiality and met regularly enough to build deep trust in each other, I was afraid to say anything about being LGBT.  It didn’t play a role in my business life at the time, and I feared judgement and backlash.

During this time, one of the nearby towns passed legislation making it legal for any business to fire someone should they identify as LGBT.  The different communities intermingle often, with many suburban residents commuting to the city for work, and I did not feel my business would be safe if I were out.

One day, eight months into the Rising Women Leaders program, I had coffee with a woman whom I had befriended in the program and had begun feeling safe with.  We started sharing more about our personal lives, which inevitably pour over into our work and growth as entrepreneurs.  I felt tied to my secret — I worried that my business profile would grow in the community, and I would eventually be outed regardless of my efforts to stay closeted and with negative consequences.  I needed my friend’s advice, and chose to tell her who I really am.

Her response took me by complete surprise.  “I’m gay,” she replied to my confession.  All this time and I had no idea!  I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider the fact that there were other women in the community who had the same point of view as myself, that it wasn’t as dangerous a secret as I had considered, and that, perhaps, it could be something to be built upon.

It took several more years before I began coming out to other business colleagues and professionals.  If you’ve read my story about being asked to sit in as secretary for a client, you know that the business environment in my community can be at times old fashioned regarding women in business.  This made me fear that being out as LGBT would receive further off-hand remarks and loss of business.

What I have learned over my slow coming out in business is that the people I want to work with are accepting.  If someone has a bad reaction, or doesn’t want to work with me because of my identity, then we weren’t a fit, anyway.  I also am determined to be an example for the LGBT youth in my city who might one day find they wish to start their own business.  Perhaps they will be so lucky that being out in business will be a nonissue.  One can dream.

Need help integrating your identity into your business?  Get on my calendar!

Male Clients’ Reactions To My New Female Employee

This isn’t my first post about chauvinism or feminism.  But it’s been a while since I’ve experienced overt chauvinism as a female entrepreneur.  I thought I’d somehow lessened the effects of male bias on my work.  Maybe I was choosing better clients.  Circulating in healthier circles.  Got rid of colleagues who were making me uncomfortable.  I was wrong.

A month ago I hired an amazing female website developer.  Hiring the right people for your business is the difference between you pulling your hair out and things going smoothly.  If you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat.  (However, hiring the wrong people will make you go bald faster.)

My policy with a new hire is to introduce them to our clients.  They trust us with the online representation of their businesses (website, social media, blog) and making the introduction adds to that trust.  Typically I include a photo, short bio, and fun fact in an eBlast to familiarize them with the new hire.

Unfortunately, the tech industry is seriously male dominated, and female developers are hard to find.  As such, this is the first female hire I’ve made in some time.  I had become unprepared for the response we would receive.

Let me clarify that most of the responses were welcoming and congratulatory.  But two separate male clients went out of their way to say something different.

What’s Wrong With This Picture

Did you feel icky?  I felt icky…

Let’s unpack this for a moment.  One client responded directly to the email using our initials as if we were not in a professional relationship.  The other switched from email to texting, adding effort to the response.

Both gents seem to have forgotten they were responding to my new developer’s boss.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t dream of approaching the boss of someone I work with to tell them what I think about their looks.

I’m very protective of my employees.  As a former manager at a company that would drag their employees through the mud, I probably got a strong sense of protectiveness from having to shield those former employees from a lot of bureaucracy.

Since starting my business, only a couple times have I had a client speak down to one of my employees.  Each time, I take action.  I work hard to find the right people for my company culture and needs.  Every company has its own orientation process after making a hire, ranging from a week to months.  Each time, it’s an investment in another human and the company.

I’ve put up with difficult clients when it was my choice alone, when I thought there was still something to be gained.  But my employees don’t have that choice, since I’m the boss.  And a difficult client is the fastest way to burn out a good employee.

How I Handled It

As you can see in the case of the texter, I responded directly.  Up to that message, he and I had a good rapport and I felt that I could say something to check his comment.  The emailer, however, has not heard from me since.  In both cases, I will gently detach us from their work.

Unfortunately, doing more than parting ways is risky.  WIRED Magazine stated in an article about the tech industry’s gender gap, “For women who have experienced this bias—and there are many—the simple act of talking about it is taboo.”  Calling men out on this issue is still a quick path to making enemies.  Though I’m not too worried about my individual consequences, I do have to consider the reputation of my business for the sake of my other clients and my employees.  Just as when I was asked to be a Secretary for a day, I will let sleeping lions lie (as they say).

Need help managing client attitudes toward your team?  Get on my calendar!

My Top Women Owned Businesses Award Speech

Today is really exciting for me.  I’m attending a luncheon for the Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women Owned Businesses Award (say that ten times fast).  My company, GreenCup, is a finalist.  Award recipients have four minutes to speak about their passion and motivation.  I’ve worked really hard on my speech, and would like to share it to inspire you and your work.

Hi Everyone!

Thank you to the Grand Rapids Business Journal for this award, and to the Frederick Meijer Gardens for hosting this amazing event.

What is an Anthropologist and Disaster Relief Worker doing running a website services company?  Life truly takes us in unexpected directions.

My name is Veronica Kirin, and I am the owner and founder of GreenCup.

I spent the first three years of my career doing disaster relief work for a government organization called the National Civilian Community Corps.  During that time I earned the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Medals for service work.  I was also honored to receive the Spirit of Service Award from the Corporation for National and Community Service, bestowed to me by former President George Bush Senior.  I found out, when we shook hands, he has very soft hands.

I loved what I did, but when a tsunami in American Samoa left me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I found the resulting depressing and anxiety I experienced with any relief work I attempted was unbearable.  My career was over, and I was forced to find another way to use my skills to serve others.

Back in Grand Rapids, a loving friend encouraged me to apply for Rising Women Leaders in support of my first venture, a nonprofit organization.  This was a program sponsored by Huntington Bank in support of female community leaders and their careers.  I was accepted into the 2010 program.  There, I rediscovered my empowerment, and met amazing colleagues, several of whom are here today.  Hello ladies!

As my confidence regrew, I realized I might start a business.  I was referred to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, where I took classes on business and learned about the Grand Rapids business community.

I truly believe that nonprofits and small businesses are the backbone of our community.  These are the people who go to work every day to do what they love, whether it’s cutting hair, designing desserts, or innovating in the housing market for the homeless.

Today, for an organization to thrive, they must have a presence on the web.  It’s easy to put something online and say “good enough”, but that is a disservice to the work of an organization.  Done right, a website as simple as five pages can draw visitors in to your passion, not only converting them in sales but as evangelists for your work.  I found that my background in Anthropology and Aid Work perfectly suited this field.

This is what excites us at GreenCup.  The cup means we meet you where you are — tech savvy or no — and usually over a casual cup of coffee.  Green means we build a site that caters to your mission and customer base to draw in the growth you seek.

I’m also pleased to announce that the GreenCup family grew this week with the hiring of a female web developer!  In the male-dominated tech industry, this is an important gain.  I’m sure you all agree.

Our mission in 2017 is to leverage my background in the nonprofit world to grow our work with area nonprofits from 25% to 50% of our portfolio.  This award from the Grand Rapids Business Journal will help make that a reality.

Thank you again for this amazing honor.  It was totally unexpected and affirms that GreenCup is succeeding in its goal of holistically supporting others in a tech-driven world.

Did You Work for a Bad Boss?

This winter, my body has decided that it would pick up every cold going around.  Being sick sucks for anyone, but being sick when you’re an entrepreneur is especially stressful.  There is no one to carry the torch when you’re ‘out of the office’, and often you just have to push through.

There are a lot of reasons to start a business.  The best reasons usually involve a level of passion and expertise which carry us through the hard times (like having a cold).  But so many of us started our own business because we had a bad boss.  We felt a lack of empowerment, misdirection, overcomplication of our jobs, lack of acknowledgement, and sometimes were penalized for not being ‘yes men’.  Are you nodding yet?  You’re definitely not alone, and your reasoning isn’t wrong.  However, it’s important to jump in with eyes wide open.

My Entrepreneur Story

My first business, a nonprofit organization, was started for the first reason — passion.  I wanted to help people serve my community.  My second business, a web company still running today, was started as a reaction to a bad boss.

Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do.  I watched a talented young man with little business savvy hire 16 contractors, then fire them two months later due to ‘budget cuts’.  One week we were buying Dom Perignon to celebrate landing a six-figure client, the next he was raging around the office because Google had once again changed the algorithms on which his business was built.

Finally, he realized he was better suited to do the job and not run a business (a lucrative offer came through from a larger company which helped).  He sold the company to our main client — someone I had had to teach to use Facebook three times.  Needless to say, he was ill-equipped to buy a web company.

At that time I was Director of Content Marketing.  It fell to me to train my new boss and, for a while, he listened.  Sooner than later, he started pushing his own ideas through, as was his prerogative.  But I knew they weren’t right for that type of company or my employees.  I saw the writing on the wall, started designing websites on the side, and had a small portfolio ready the day I was laid off.

What I Did Right

There was a lot I did during the ‘building’ process that allowed me to launch my business the moment I needed to.  I took a few classes at a local entrepreneur organization and had an idea of what it took to run a for-profit business.  I started doing the work I planned to do way before I needed to, and had a legitimate portfolio ready when the time came.  With that portfolio and experience came a client list that I could lean on for referrals.

What I Did Wrong

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the things I wish I’d done.  There are days when the list is really long (bad days), but most of my mistakes were built on ignorance, not actual wrong-doing or inadequacy.  I didn’t know how to reach out to peers, how to find a mentor, and how to build systems for growth, to name a few.

The biggest mistake I made was starting a web company because that’s the industry I had been in for two years.  I more or less took the myriad of work that was involved during my time with my former employer and repackaged it to fit what I saw as the industry opportunity.

There was no passion involved.

I’m good at web design.  I enjoy working with clients to help support their endeavors.  My background in Anthropology makes developing a website that communicates well with the end user a breeze.  Being a visual thinker, design was a pleasant change from the cold math of SEO.

But it was a strategic move — not a passionate one.

Passion is what gets us out of bed in the morning.  It keeps our engines running when we’re exhausted.  The nonprofit sector sees this every day.  Despite having petit budgets, a bootstrapped team, and competitive resources, nonprofits find their staff working 40+ hours / week easily.  The board of my nonprofit was comprised of extremely busy people, but they all gladly made time for a cause they believed in.

Stop & Think

If you’re considering starting a business, stop and think for a moment.  Consider your WHY.  What draws you to entrepreneurship?  I’ve heard the following from many of my clients:

  • I had a bad boss and I never want to work for someone again.
  • I don’t want anyone to control my livelihood.
  • I’ve been doing it for years and know I could do it better.

These are all legitimate reasons, but if there is nothing further from this, you’re going to burn out.  There must be something more to it.  “I’ve been doing it for years — and it would be my dream job — but I know I can do it better.”  There’s a big difference, there.  Four years down the road, when you’re going through a dry spell or need to make a difficult transition, that difference will mean everything.