Work-balance has become a premium commodity, partially due to technology’s uber-connectedness facilitating a workday that just never ends, and partially due to the lingering effects of a Great Recession where (most) everyone is just grateful to have a job (even if it does require 60+ hours a week).
While tech innovations were supposed to make our lives easier, and changing employee demographics were expected to refocus the American workplace on non-work-related aspects of life (community, family, and health), the average U.S. full-time employee is clocking just under 50 hours a week (approximately six days a week) and reporting decreasing quality of life standards as they progress through their economically-slumped career.
For those of us that got our professional start mid-Recession (looking at you, fellow Millennials), it can be increasingly difficult to not just “take what we can get” work-wise, as ending up unemployed, homeless, and defaulted on our student loans isn’t ever that far from reality.
If you’re like me, juggling the work-stuff with the personal stuff often comes at the expense of well-being.
Here are six realistic work-life balance hacks for the utterly exhausted professional:
Become really, really self-aware.
Self-awareness is more than a hippy, personal development buzzword; it’s an essential part of any positive change. For those of us that’s default is work, work, work, a lack of self-awareness regarding ourselves and our career can put up at risk for a very unproductive crash and burn.
Instead of falling into the trap of saying, “I hate my work”, use self-awareness techniques to identify what you hate about your work. Is it your overbearing boss? What about your sexist coworker? Is the mindless work activities that offer zero promise of career mobility?
Once you identify what (specifically) it is that’s stressing you out, you can create actionable change that actually fixes the problem instead of hitting major burnout.
Demanding work schedules have a way of slowly smothering out all the good stuff in life. Maybe the schedules conflict; maybe you’re just too emotionally exhausted after work to do, well, anything else. Thing is, as our life becomes insanely dominated by high-stress work-stuff, we lose healthy perspective, we lose our support systems, and all too often, we lose our sense of self and what we want out of life. It just becomes all work-work-work that you end up really, really hating.
When trying to reinstate some balance back into your very busy 21st-century work life, prioritizing non-work stuff, like volunteering and being healthy, can be a great way to recalibrate. Who knows? Maybe the connections you make through these non-work activities will open up some better work opportunities down the road?
Melinda Gates made international headlines when she shared her workplace revelation: “We’re sending our daughters into workplaces designed for dads.”
What’s she talking about?
“The American workplace was set up based on the assumption that employees had partners who would stay home to do the unpaid work of caring for family and tending to the house. Of course, that wasn’t always true back then, and it definitely isn’t today.”
Women currently comprise 47 percent of the American workforce. Many male professionals of older generations clock those nearly fifty-hours a week with the support of a stay-at-home partner. The majority of full-time employed female professionals are required to not only clock those nearly fifty-hours a week, but also make the grocery runs, clean the house, take care of the kids etc. – all the “second shift” stuff.
This difference in gendered-responsibilities is not only not fair, but it’s the perfect recipe for total exhaustion. If you’re struggling with establishing a more egalitarian set-up, check out Tiffany Dufu’s latest book Drop the Ball. It’s great!
But it’s not just me that thinks so. Several countries in Europe have actually passed laws barring companies from contacting employees via email or phone after hours. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be a while before similar legislation gains any traction here in the United States of Unhealthy Workaholics.
Get two phones – one for work and one for personal use – and don’t give the personal number out to ANYONE at work.
Remove unnecessary phone notifications (email?) and create a schedule for checking your inbox (best times to check are late afternoon on weekdays).
Pick several hours EVERYDAY to go phone-free. Maybe it’s early in the morning, or sometime in the evening. I make a living managing social media accounts and if I can find time to go phone-free each day, EVERYONE can.
Limit social media connections with coworkers (it’s rarely a good idea to Facebook Friend your boss).
If your boss and/or coworkers are a$$es about this, you can take a stab at educating them. I tried this at my very first post-MBA job.
It didn’t go well:
Frustrated by my coworker’s refusal to stop calling, emailing, and texting me after hours, I naively commandeered a staff meeting to present a 90-minute seminar on all the negative physical and mental health effects of 24/7 work communication.
It wasn’t well-received, as my coworkers interpreted my presentation as a passive-aggressive way of implying that they were irresponsible, overweight, unproductive, professionals with limited personal relationships.
To quote the staff accountant, “Just because I’m texting you about something at midnight doesn’t mean I don’t get any action!”
Looking back, there was probably a better way to approach this work situation. Learn from my mistake.
Get serious about lifestyle engineering.
Lifestyle engineering is a pretty cool, probably-hipster concept that has to do with deciding what you want out of your life (not just your work, but your entire day-to-day life). In American culture, we tend to build our entire lives around our work – from where we live to who we socialize with – but this type of work-centric focus can really wreak havoc on the whole work-life balance thing (you know, the stuff you’re trying to improve by reading this blog post).
The concept of lifestyle engineering looks at life from a more holistic perspective. It requires that you look beyond work to all the “other stuff” (health, hobbies, relationships), placing an equal priority on non-work aspects of life as we (typically) do on our professional lives. Once we’ve set some balanced life priorities, we can then make career decisions – like taking a new job, changing careers, starting our own business – that accommodate for all things in life, not just work.
Totally immersed in Protestant work ethic and saddled with insanely high student debt, the idea of lifestyle engineering totally freaked me out the first time a mentor recommended I consider prioritizing things in life that go beyond my all-consuming job.
One of the resources I found helpful in kind of opening up my pretty narrow work-work paradigm was Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week book and blog. Ferris’ concepts of creating a work life that works for you, instead of against you, was pretty revolutionary in challenging pre-tech workplace expectations and equipping modern professionals with tech-based tools that can help them get off the 50+ hour a week hamster wheel and create a life that they actually like. The 4-Hour Work Week is a great resource with great ideas. I highly recommend it.
Stop skipping doctor’s appointments.
I really suck at this one.
My health has historically been on the lowest of the low of priorities throughout my career:
I will lecture through four college classes with the flu.
I will meet clients, puke, and then continue on with my quarterly reporting.
I will pass out at work from food poisoning-induced dehydration, get a concussion, and still not clock out.
Please, please, please, don’t do what I do, er, did. Such neglect will take its toll both on your long-term health and your sustainable productivity. Your failure to take care of yourself can actually end up costing your business.
Smart professionals recognize that maintaining their health is essential for career longevity and they don’t neglect health matters. Everything from nutrition to annual checkups are key in ensuring career progression. While they may not be directly correlated to the bottom-line in business school, such preventative measures are essential for sustainable career success.
Recognize that your career is nothing without you and start taking (good) care of yourself. Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s a very valuable investment that will pay dividends in heightened productivity and enjoyment over a (hopefully) extended lifetime. Don’t wait until it’s too late to implement healthy practices into your very-busy life.
Starting my business, I was completely lost when it came to pricing my services. I was terrified that I’d price my work too high, a mistake that could cost many tons of customers, or price way too low, a mistake that could cost me tons of money. Either way, pricing my offerings was (initially) a huge headache, surrounded by weeks of agonizing anxiety over whether or not my rates were “too high” or “too low”.
Truth it, selecting the right price tag can mean the difference between losing money or making money – in more ways than one. The wrong price can leave the entrepreneur missing would-be revenue, losing money on each sale, not selling anything, or unable to fulfill orders cost effectively. Any way you approach the pricing dilemma, research your competitor’s prices and undercutting them isn’t exactly a dream-formula for perfect price selection.
“What should I price my product or service at?” is a common question I receive from new entrepreneurs.
Here are two handy calculations that can provide a ballpark figure for business owners sweating the sticker price:
For retail businesses:
Wholesale Cost x Markup % = Product Price
Wholesale Cost is the amount the products are purchased at by the retailer, and markup percentage is the desired profit margin the retailer wishes to attain. Many retailers attempt to “double their cost”, a pricing strategy also known as keystoning. In this event, the markup % would be 100%.
Using this formula, if a business isn’t making enough profit, they can either find a lower priced wholesaler, or raise their product’s price.
Note: this calculation doesn’t consider market trends, competitor analysis, consumer psychology, nor cost of delivery.
For service businesses:
Two quick calculations are required to arrive at the price per hour rate for service business – the total cost per hour (how much it costs the entrepreneur) and the price per hour (how much the entrepreneur should charge)
Total Cost per Hour = (Fixed Costs + Variable Costs – Materials) / Hours
Example: ($50 + $25 – $10) / 2 hours = $32.50 Total Cost per hour
Price per Hour = Total Cost per Hour x [1 – (1-Net Profit Target)
Example: If 60% profit rate desired: $32.50 x [1/(1-0.60)] = $32.50 x 2.5 = $81.25
Note: this calculation doesn’t consider market trends, competitor analysis, nor consumer psychology.
More than just a calculation.
As we’ve illustrated with the two traditional business equations above, finding your business’ pricing sweet spot involves more than just a calculating of what to charge based on costs and desired profitability.
Determining the most optimal price for your service or product involves a variety of factors, including: consumer psychology, competitor analysis, market trends and research, product positioning, and promotion strategy. While it may be tempting to simply undercut your competition’s pricing schematic, such “strategy”, or lack thereof, fails to take into consideration the many variables contributing to your business’ profit margin.
It is important to note that price is rarely constant – it’s always changing in response to market shifts cause (again) by a variety of factors. Consider the price of two goods – an adult ticket for the Empire State Building’s observation deck, and a collectible Hummel “To Market” #49 figurine. In 1999, the cost of the ticket was $4, and in 2009 – ten years later – the same ticket was priced at $20, a 400% increase in price. On the other hand, the Hummel figurine was priced at $120 in 1999, yet was decreased 33.38% in valuation by 2009, touting the new price of $79.95. While one of these product’s price (quite literally) skyrocketed, with a 400% increase, the other product’s price point suffered a drastic decline, all within the same ten-year span.
Moral of this story: different pricing variables affect different things…and it’s a little more involved than a simple Econ 101 supply and demand curve. Some of the common causes of market shifts include things like competitor changes, materials costs, economy crashes, labor availability, seasonality, public relations, etc.
Regardless of what factors are currently affecting your product or service, we’re going to explore the process in which you can utilize to ensure your product or service is always priced right.
The Naïve Theory and the Psychology of Pricing
There’s an old business adage that states: Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay.
Say I’m on my way to a very important business meeting, and my car breaks down on the interstate. Missing this meeting could mean missing 50% of my annual income as a marketing consultant. Securing a working car, at this point in time, is a big, big deal to me – something that I’m willing to pay for.
Consider a different scenario: It’s Saturday morning and I have three working vehicles sitting in my driveway. All my clients are virtual, plus I’ve got plenty of cars, so the “value” – what I’m willing to pay – I place on a working vehicle at this time is most likely much less than what I’d value a car at in the previous scenario.
Consumers make purchasing decisions through the lens of their perceived values, and these values can differ from consumer to consumer, market to market, and time to time. What I need today vs. what you need tomorrow may be very different and that’s okay; as entrepreneurs, it’s important that we recognize the role perceived consumer value plays in whether or not someone buys our product or service.
Consumers frequently judge quality and value of product/service based on its price, thus, how you price your offerings communicates something about its quality to the consumer. Being the “cheapest” offering on the market isn’t always the best pricing strategy, as consumers may perceive this bottom-dollar price point to communicate “not worth the money” or “super low quality”, and elect for a “high quality” (or “higher priced”) competitor offering.
To explore the relationship between price and quality a little further, I’d like to introduce you to a little thing we marketers like to call the Naïve Theory.
The Naïve Theory states that because consumers can’t know everything about a product, they fill in the gaps with their own (naïve) theories to help make decisions about whether the cheaply priced product is a terrific deal or a piece of junk.
When offered a low price on something – like the low-end Mercedes CLA retailing at a mere $33,000 – do you think poor value and a great deal at the same time?
I know I do. Sure, it’s a “Mercedes”, but it’s a really “cheap” one.
This, my friends, is the naïve theory. Most consumers simultaneously believe that low prices mean good value, and that low prices mean low quality.
The cool thing about pricing and promotions is that marketers can sway consumers one way or the other – also known as priming. So I, as a marketer, can encourage the consumer to perceive my product’s low price as either low quality or great deal.
“Remember that more expensive does not always mean better. Take bamboo for example: it is cheaper than other exotic woods, but it is resistant to wear and very stylish. You need to consider your needs carefully in order to get ‘more bang for your buck.’ When the time comes for reselling, a good value for the price will guarantee a better return on investment than expensive products.”
The results were that consumers who read the passage were more likely to perceive a low discounted price as equating to good value. A high product price, on the other hand, was viewed as an indication of poor value. Thus, they’d been “primed”.
I bet you can think of a time or two when a low price communicated low quality to you and also other times when it communicated great value; maybe it was an insanely discounted “luxury product”, or basement bargains at below bargain prices.
The takeaway message is that low price can communicate one of two things – low quality or great value – depending on your branding and messaging.
Play around with some Pricing Models
There are multiple well-known business strategies to find the pricing sweet spot.
I regard these pre-packaged pricing strategies like shopping for shoes – some will not fit at all, others will sort of fit (you know, the ones that look pretty but you can’t walk in), and eventually, one will fit perfectly.
In the words of television host Bob Barker, “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on ‘The Price is Right.’”!
A few popular pricing strategies:
Value Pricing – also known as “more for less”
Examples: Wal-Mart and Procter and Gamble
Prestige Pricing – frequent among luxury brands such as BMW, Coach, Rolex
Revered by many, purchased by few.
Low price in early stages of a product’s lifecycle to gain market share
Examples: Toyota, Tesla
Skimming Pricing – opposite of penetration pricing
High prices during introductory phase, lowered prices after the “hype” fades away
Examples: Televisions (RCA), smartphones (Apple)
Constantly matching or undercutting the prices of the competition
Examples: local service businesses, airlines.
This type of pricing strategy ignores: competitive environment, target market, product/service quality
Provides different prices for the same product/services
Discounts, credit terms, seasonal specials
Process of creating distinct pricing levels
Example: Sears’ paint: “good, better, best”
While these pricing strategies are by no way a complete compilation of possible price models, maybe they’ll give you a better idea of some of the complicated considerations that go into selecting the “right” price.
Putting a Price on Your Time
As a freelancer or startup entrepreneur, the concept of valuing – with a price tag – your time can feel a little unnatural. Whether you severely underprice your hourly rate or fail to include your time inputs within your pricing calculations (or client invoices!), not recognizing your time as super, super valuable can be the demise of your fledgling business.
I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that is generally accredited for the “Time is money” maxim.
It’s an old adage that I’ve heard over and over, but the correlation of time and money, especially as it relates to the self-employed, never really “hit” me until I found myself running out of both resources (as a direct result of not valuing my time).
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up doing “all the things” – billing, client communication, marketing, public relations, product launches, etc. Even though I’d made it a point to automate and outsource as many aspects of business operations as possible, I still found myself trudging away, mindlessly adding more uncompensated “things” to my (seemingly) endless to-do-list. While I charged an hourly rate for many of my services, such fees would routinely end up eaten away by my inability to say “no” and prioritize the value of my own time. I quickly found myself sputtering along with too little income and way too much exhaustion; it was a classic lose-lose situation.
When I started applying my (recently adjusted to market value) hourly rate to all aspects of my work – even the work I did for my own company – things began to change. I found myself enjoying both more time and more money. Enter: much better win-win situation.
Don’t be like me – afraid to value your time for [insert: imposter syndrome, low self-esteem, lack of market awareness, your favorite psychological hang-up, etc.]. Starting your business, it’s incredibly important to value your own time, for the sake of your business, your finances, and your sanity. If a prospective clients claims you’re “too expensive” (believe me, a few will regardless of your pricing structure), maybe they don’t fall within your target market, and chances are, they wouldn’t be a good client to work with anyway.
A good internship can set you up for your dream career.
Internships help you grow your professional network, build your portfolio, and gain boots-on-the-ground experience that will give you a leg-up on other new grads. It also gives you an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at an industry or organization that you may be interested in working in and determine if it’s a good fit for your future.
Like many things career-related, internships are often opportunities to get out what you put in.
Here are four ways to make the most of your internship:
Think of your internship as a really long interview.
While not all internships will lead to a full-time job, some will, and all have the potential to connect you with a more permanent position. I recommend thinking of a summer internships as a really, really long job interview. Just like an interview, it’s important to maintain professional appearance and conduct throughout the entire internship period.
Dress professionally, don’t get drunk during happy hour, and show up on time (you’d be surprised at how hard this simple task seems to be for many new interns). Contacts that you make during your internship can provide great references and recommendations for your future endeavors. Even if they don’t hire you following the internship, chances are, they know someone that might.
Watch, learn, and ask questions.
Spoiler Alert: Your internship hiring manager didn’t recruit interns to “revolutionize” their company, gossip about clients, or stage a hostile takeover of the Marketing department (again, you’d be surprised).
They hired you because internships are a legal way for organizations to get free or really cheap labor from semi-qualified students. If they find potential talent in the intern pool, great. If not, what was wasted but a few hours of training and mentorship?
The best strategy for meeting your Intern Manager’s expectations is to watch, learn, and ask questions when you don’t understand. Be interested in the work, put out effort on your assigned projects, and research everything that just doesn’t make sense. Worry more about meeting internship expectations than making your boss or the other interns like you.
Prioritize networking opportunities.
A good internship will provide a LOT more networking opportunities than those found in school or hourly wage work. Interns will get to meet industry leaders, organizational team members, and community professionals throughout their program. When meeting these individuals, it’s important to make a good impression and have some sort of platform in which to facilitate future communications, post-internship.
Personally, I love LinkedIn as a hub for all things work-related. Most ambitious professionals in the Western world maintain a LinkedIn presence, so chances are you can find many of your internship contacts on LinkedIn. As you grow your in-person network via internship opportunities, be sure to connect with them online so you’ll have a contact once the internship is over and you’re on the job hunt.
Be responsive to feedback.
In a formal internship program, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a manager or team of managers that can provide really useful feedback regarding your performance and profession habits. Some will dole out encouraging compliments along with constructive criticisms; others may just blow their top when you mess something up. The feedback you receive during an internship may be different than the type of graded assessments you receive as a student, so don’t freak out if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. You’ll get the hang of it.
Internships provide a great opportunity for young professionals to become more accustomed to a formal organization structure, including performance reviews, and learn how to digest feedback and make requested improvements. Remind yourself that critiques are not (always) personal attacks. Treat it like a buffet – take what’s useful, apply it to your work, and leave the rest.
This post was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse in 2015. Unfortunately, many of the employment challenges discussed have yet to be effectively alleviated within the military community. It’s my hope that through continued advocacy and awareness, military spouses and caregivers will be economically valued and no longer discriminated against in the competitive job market.
Meet the Military Spouse: a dedicated individual that pledges loyalty and devotion to the brave men and women in uniform. The military spouse commits to frequent relocation, spouse absence for months to years at a time, foregoing professional opportunities that conflict with service demands, and is often left to pick up the pieces where subpar government programs leave off.
With hundreds of thousands of OEF/OIF veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life, military spouses are charged with providing their family financial security during these critical years of transition. How can they accomplish this economic necessity with a 90% jobless/underemployment rate looming over their professional pursuits?
Don’t Say the “M-word”!
“Whatever you do, don’t say ‘military spouse’,“ an executive headhunter instructed, as I prepared for one of my first MBA job interviews. “I mean it. Don’t say anything about military or veteran anything if you want a chance at this.”
Having invested significant money and time into my advanced education, I felt landing a traditional MBA job (like every other non-military graduating classmate of mine had) was a given.
The lifestyle demands of my spouse’s military service had prevented traditional investments into networks, career, and real estate that characterizes early investments of civilian professionals, leaving our immediate financial future dependent upon my ability to develop a financially rewarding career post-graduation. I’d done my research; I’d selected an advanced degree with a promising starting salary and specialized in one of the most in-demand business niches of 2015. I’d compiled an impressive project portfolio characteristic of a 10+ year industry veteran, averaging responses of over 25% on promotional efforts, and representing four of the most promising industries: agriculture, healthcare, technology, and service.
I (thought) I was set-up; had no idea my status as a military spouse would be a “deal breaker” for Corporate America.
A Typical Job Interview
Interviewing for a Marketing Director position with a well-known Kansas City-based firm was quite enlightening.
Graduating with my MBA from a well-ranked school, and touting an extensive portfolio stretching from small business to Silicon Valley startups, I was much more qualified than the recent college grads with “bartender” as only real job experience presented as my competition.
I’d been advised by headhunters to remove much of my veteran-focused volunteer work and publications from my resume, in order to “package” my presentation as a “more typical” job candidate. I removed the majority of the philanthropy, just leaving select pro bono fundraising and public relations projects I’d completed for nonprofits serving the military community. Here’s how things went down…
“So what’s up with the military projects?” the Agency Director (now COO) asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Why is it so important to you?” she restated.
“My husband’s served overseas, and the sacrifices of his service mean a great deal to me. I’m very active in supporting the military community; primarily by using my skills to increase awareness and raise funds,” I replied.
“Ok. So, is your husband still in the service?” she asked.
“Why does that matter?” I replied.
“Well, military people move all the time, and I can’t invest time into hiring you only to have you up and leave us whenever your husband moves again. That really leaves our company in a bad situation,” she responded.
“I don’t think this is a very ethical way of conducting this interview,” I stated, taken aback by her lack of patriotism and professionalism.
“Well, I think that’s all I needed. We’ll be in touch,” she curtly replied.
I never heard back.
According to LinkedIn, one the recent college grads with no military affiliation, no MBA, and six-years mimosa-mixing experience got the job.
Military Spouse Unemployment is a National Epidemic
Unfortunately, I’m not the only highly educated military spouse encountering such dismal career opportunities.
I run into military spouses at conferences all across the U.S. echoing professional plight. We’re easy to spot—adaptable, gregarious, well-traveled, and the epitome of the term “Connector”. Despite graduating with Masters and Doctorate degrees, many of today’s spouses are struggling to just land “that entry job”, thanks to the unpatriotic (and, in my opinion, “unethical”) position of many hiring managers, like that of the Agency Director described above.
In ABC News’ article, military spouse Michelle Aikmen stated, “As soon as [employers] find out you’re connected to the military, the conversation is over. Their brain automatically goes to, ‘I’m not going to waste my time.’” Aikman eventually became so frustrated with career roadblocks, that she abandoned her engineer pursuits and began helping military families navigate career challenges full-time.
Another military spouse/marketing colleague of mine describes her job hunting experience:
“Every job interview I’ve had is focused on ‘why I moved so much’. If I don’t tell them I’m a military spouse, I have no way to explain four cross-country moves in three years! Even though I communicate that my husband is transitioning out of active duty and we won’t be moving again, there’s still the military stigma that no HR Director has been able to move past.”
My colleague eventually just gave up on finding a normal job and started freelancing from home, earning less than 10 percent of median earnings for her profession.
An Effective Career Solution
My spouse completed his active duty service requirements and we both hit the job market as (what we thought) were “civilians”. Turns out, we still encountered “military spouse” and “veteran” job outlook statistics. After a combined list of over 300 rejections, my spouse and I plunged into entrepreneurship to create jobs for ourselves. While eating Ramen Noodles and Mac N Cheese, driving 20-year-old vehicles, and living in a one-room apartment was rather humbling for an accomplished B-school grad and decorated war hero, we’re beginning to see some reward for our gutsy career moves. One of my most treasured benefits of such entrepreneurial ventures is the freedom to continue to raise awareness and resources necessary to more effectively address the pressing economic issues members of the military community continue to face all across our country.
Many service members and their spouses are unable to address such professional challenges in the same manner; instead, they are forced to endure economic hardship, personal and professional insult, and unable to experience the American Dream they have sacrificially invested years of lives protecting. When service defending our country’s freedoms destroys the opportunity to pursue professional futures experienced by members outside the military community, a massive cancer is present in our current society.
What’s the solution? HIRE them.
Hire members of the military community—prior service, reservists, military spouses—offer them a job, a gig, a connection. Professional opportunities on the civilian side can alleviate many of the challenges transitioning service members and their loved ones currently face, including: mounting debt, backlogged benefits, subpar healthcare, and increasing suicide. By providing the military community with professional opportunities, we are able to provide solutions via community, financial, healthcare, and stability.
I bet you know a member of the military community. Maybe it’s a relative, a neighbor, a temp worker, or even a fellow yogi at the gym.
Ask them how you can help them accomplish their career goals.
Make an introduction.
Help them build their professional network. Invite them to attend your organization events.
Attending conferences can be a great way for professionals to grow their networks, gain new skills, and stay up-to-date on industry trends.
However, in the very male-dominated world of technology, being the lone woman attending many of the tech-oriented events can be frustrating. A female colleague of mine just returned from an employer-sponsored tech conference where she was one of eleven women in attendance (over 600 attendees in total). She said there was more gender equality in a college frat house than at the conference.
Focusing on female-friendly tech conferences, I put together a list of well-reputed events that prioritize gender parity both in speaker line-up and attendees. A few of the listed conferences are all female, others include both genders but have a reputation for being inclusionary (not too bro fest-like).
Here are 13 female-friendly tech conferences that you may want to add to your calendar:
Social Media Marketing World San Diego – February 28 – March 2, 2018
If you’re in the digital marketing space (and who isn’t these days?), the Social Media Marketing World is the conference for you. Get the inside scoop on social media trends and connect with a rich network of digital influencers. Learn more: https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/smmworld/register/ .
SXSWAustin, TX – March 9-18, 2018
The King of conferences is arguably SXSW Conference and Festivals. With its incredible line-up of culture, innovation, and technology speakers and exhibits, SXSW is a must-attend for most new age professionals. Learn more: https://www.sxsw.com/ .
Udacity Intersect 2018Mountain View, CA – March 27, 2018
The RailsConf is the world’s largest and longest-running gathering of Ruby on Rails enthusiasts, practitioners, and companies. Catch up on the future status of Rails development is from leading tech professionals: https://railsconf.com/ .
Denver Startup Week is about innovation for founders, developers, product managers, designers, marketers, sales teams, and makers. If your work has anything to do with entrepreneurship and technology, consider attending the Denver Startup Week: https://www.denverstartupweek.org/ .
Did we miss one? Share your favorite tech conference in the comments below!
That “educational investment” yield a lower ROI than expected?
Over 40 million Americans currently struggle with student loans, with the national burden of federal student debt rising over $1 trillion.
The average student debt load for today’s millennials recently registered at over $35,000 – a financial obligation that can put the “no-go” on many costly life events, such as getting married, having kids, and buying a home. A 2015 survey by Bankrate indicated that 56 percent of people ages18 to 29 have put off major life events – even purchasing a car and saving for retirement – because of student debt.
Many of you may be thinking, “Yep – that’s me!”
If you’re like many millennials, you hit the job market at a time of historically high unemployment and have been forced to delay your professional dreams in lieu of landing underemployment options just to make minimal student loan payments.
As a millennial with student debt, I feel your pain.
There are times where my student debt has felt like an overwhelming dead weight or even indentured servitude. I hate it. I really, really hate it.
While we could embark on a book of the macroeconomic why’s and wherefores’ (including the conspiracy theory regarding federal student loans being utilized to fund the longest war in American history) regarding student debt, today’s post will focus on answering a question I frequently get from entrepreneurially-minded millennials: How do I manage my student loans while doing what I love?
For some of us, “doing what I love” translates to starting a business, founding a nonprofit, embarking on overseas philanthropy, or starting a family.
Regardless of what your “love” is, here’s a few student loan strategies that may help you manage the debt load without sacrificing quality of life:
Income-based loan repayment (IBR) options are available for federal student loans. The IBR program allows borrowers to make capped payments (10 to 15 percent of income) for 25 years, with the remaining balance being forgiven. If you’re an entrepreneur working around inconsistent cash flow, IBR program can be a good way for you to get your business through its start-up phase, while paying down your student debt.
There are a couple IBR programs available, and talk of modifying the existing programs to be an even sweeter deal (click here to view proposal), but I guess we’ll just have to see how the 2016 Presidential election tailspins this system.
With this option, you defer paying your loans for a few months or possibly years in addition to the normally allotted six-month post-grad grace period.
Good news is that you’ll get a break from paying your loans with no hit to your credit score and could use the extra cash to start a business, nonprofit, or whatever your passion(s) is. The bad news is that the debt doesn’t just go away – once the deferment period is up, you’ll still have to tackle the even bigger debt.
As the primary caregiver during a life-threatening injury that resulted in the long-term hospitalization of a family member, I had to defer my student loan debt for an extended period of time. Thankfully, the military hospital social workers assisted me with the process (it’s quite paperwork intensive and can be really confusing). Unfortunately, my entire caregiver support group was full of highly educated millennials with student debt loads who found themselves unexpectantly providing round the clock care for disabled veterans following IED blasts and firefights in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s frustrating and quite concerning, that family caregivers do not currently have a better student debt management option than interest compounding deferment.
If you find your life derailed by unanticipated medical events, don’t (totally) despair. Know that you’re not alone (over 10 million caregivers in the United States are millennials), utilize debt management programs that work with your family’s post-injury finances, and consider advocating for much-needed policy change in this arena. Join a Change.org petition or contact your elected officials.
Federal Loan Forgiveness
There are a couple options here for federal loan forgiveness – government employment, nonprofit service, and public service or healthcare work in designated underprivileged areas (also known as Rural Opportunity Zones). If you’re interested in entering the public service or nonprofit sector, check to see if your profession qualifies for any of the ten-year federally sponsored forgiveness programs.
Some states offer additional student loan repayment packages and forgiveness programs for a variety of professionals – teachers, physicians, law enforcement, etc. When evaluating job opportunities, it might be worth your while to research location-dependent debt programs available.
There is also an option for student loan forgiveness for qualifying disabling conditions. If you’re facing a long-term medical situation, be sure to check out the options and eligibility requirements. You can hire a lawyer to help you with this process if the Department of Education fails to properly consider your medical professional’s submitted documentation.
Refinance Your Student Debt
Refinance, but not through traditional lenders.
SoFi, CommonBond, and LendKey are nontraditional student debt refinance companies that help the borrower through low rates, no fees, great customer support and unique borrower protections. I’ve not utilized any of these third-party programs (some may render you ineligible for federal loan forgiveness programs), however, a few of my business school classmates have and reported positive experiences.
Some of these companies can even help you find jobs, host contests for full forgiveness and SoFi offers a special program just for entrepreneurs – click here to check it out!
Yes, you read that right. “Gamified crowdfunding” has emerged as an option for student loan assistance. So this is by far the weirdest student debt repayment strategy, but hey, if it works…
Givling is pay per play online gaming option that works towards paying off users’ debt. Currently, the platform has paid off over $400,000 in user student debt [insert: major “WOW!”] – I did not see that one coming. Maybe instead of cramming BioChem during undergrad, I should have brushed up on my gaming skills.
While it’s an unusual strategy for student debt, it might be worth a look if gaming is your thing. If you’re already active in the gaming arena, joining a platform like Givling could be a good way to pursue your hobby while managing your debt.
Share your favorite student debt management resources in the comments below!
While other girls were playing with Barbies and wearing tutus, I spent my time tending a Breyer horse herd and clambering around in fringed cowboy boots. There was always only one thing I wanted to grow up to be: a cowgirl. Not a poufy hair rodeo queen cowgirl (I ended up doing that briefly, due to my need for scholarships), but a real-life, cowpoke with land, cattle, and horses to her name.
Situated along the Santa Fe Trail, Dodge City played a pivotal role in the western settlements, frontier military history, and agricultural development as it emerged as one of our nation’s largest meat processing centers.
It’s been the home to many figures of the American Old West including lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, gunfighter Doc Holliday, and even the fictional U.S. Marshal from Gunsmoke, Matt Dillon.
So one cold and snowy December day, we struck out on a road trip to the infamous Dodge City.
Exploring Historic Fort Larned
An hour northeast of Dodge City is a Kansas must-see – the historic Fort Larned. It’s one of the best-preserved frontier forts in America, with a pretty extensive restored campus consisting of barracks, warehouses, shops, officer housing, and a blockhouse.
The fort’s kind of out there (no restaurants, limited gas stations,…basically like all of western Kansas), however, it was well worth the drive, er, in our case, detour.
It’s quite a walk from the Fort Larned parking lot to the actual historic area, however, the walkway is paved and you can request transportation assistance. The Visitor’s Center was really informative, and the Park Rangers on site were quite helpful. We probably spent about four hours in total touring the historic buildings and learning about frontier life through the interactive exhibits. Being a former cavalry officer, my husband could have spent days exploring the ins and outs of Fort Larned. I think we found some career potential for his second retirement – living history interpreter at a military fort.
Driving through Spearville, Kansas
About 20 minutes out from Dodge City is another interesting Kansas special – Spearville.
I hadn’t done much research before striking out to Dodge City, so driving up on the wind farm was quite the interesting surprise. The tall wind turbines were really quite the sight, with their caution lights sprinkling across the horizon as the sunset. I could see how windmills could generate a not-so-awesome psychological response, like in Don Quixote (no jousting took place in Spearville).
There was an information kiosk that has some great information of the history and productivity of Spearville; it’s located at the intersection of the US Highway 50/56 (the old Santa Fe Trail) and County Road 126.
A Dodge City Adventure
Dodge City turned out to be everything I thought of when I thought of “cow town” – it’s literally just a semi-small town with a ton of cows.
When we arrived at the hotel, the clerk informed us we’d be staying in the same room that band members of Riders in the Sky had previously slept it (I had to some googling…Riders in the what?). Interesting claim to fame.
The Boot Hill Museum turned out to be a really interesting Dodge City attraction, with a partial reconstruction of historic downtown Dodge City, including a couple saloons, and some neat museum exhibits (lots of guns, bullet casings, and horse stuff).
Going through the living history portion was a like a Who’s Who of the Wild West. I liked learning more about Wyatt Earp’s life and unique career journey (lawman, miner, gambler, boxing referee, and the list goes on and on). Throughout history, Dodge City has maintained a reputation as the wildest town on the western frontier, and the Boot Hill Museum’s exhibits did a great job of portraying just that.
The Boot Hill Cemetery provided some interesting insight into frontier life, just over a 150 years ago. Makeshift graves, many without proper headstones, tell a tale of violence and sickness that plagued pioneers driving western expansion (also known as white people stealing land from Native American, slaughtering bison populations, and impressing their cultural views onto others through the use of unconstitutional imperialistic force).
Here are a few of cemetery burials that will provide more context to what life was like in Dodge City:
Unknown Cowboy found hanging from a tree west of Dodge City
M. Essington – a carpenter and part owner of the Essington Hotel shot by the cook
Lizzie Palmer died from an infected scalp wound during a barroom brawl
Five Buffalo Hunters whose frozen bodies were found north of Dodge City following a blizzard
Charles “Texas” Hill – Killed in a dance hall by the Dodge City Vigilance Committee
My takeaway from the Boot Hill Museum and Cemetery was that the Wild West was really, really wild.
Our Southwestern Kansas Road Trip
Being cattle producers, my husband and I couldn’t leave Dodge City without stopping by El Capitan, a life-sized bronze sculpture of a Texas Longhorn steer placed in commemoration the cattle drives brought over 5 million head along the Western Trail from Texas to Dodge City. While railways and 18-wheelers have replaced the American Cowboy as preferred livestock transport, the overwhelming influence of agriculture-based interests continues to shape Dodge City today.
We couldn’t leave without taking a quick look at the stockyards – a place that we’ve sent many a steer to continue its lifecycle into food product. While the overlook isn’t exactly picturesque (not a place for family pics), it provides great perspective regarding the size and scope of the beef industry.
Not sure what prompted my interest in online publishing. A suppressed photojournalism interest? Compounding frustration from an unfruitful post-grad job hunt? My millennial-attempt at trying to find a solution to the whole Great-Recession-killed-our-careers? Who knows.
My first blog post was a 2,500-word essay on job interviews (APA-style referencing included). Ew.
I wish I could say the next post was better, but that’s probably a stretch. Blogging, like most new skills, took awhile to get the hang of. Writing styles, SEO, images – were all new concepts to a fresh academic. I watched a lot of YouTube videos, joined some Facebook groups, and read everything the Content Marketing Institute put out on blogging.
Over time, and a few dozen courses, I began to feel more comfortable with sharing my journey online.
I made a lot of friends through The Motivated Millennial – other disillusioned professionals working in a variety of industries all around the world. We’d meet-up at conferences, schedule Skype-assisted coffee chats, and even vacationed together. Blogging helped me connect with others and actually led to some pretty interesting opportunities, like Contributing to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and speaking at conferences across the United States.
Reflecting on my blogging experience, here are five things I’ve learned in five years of posting:
Think about your target audience.
Blogging is more than sharing your pregnancy dets and chronicling your #adulting struggles. While those fascinating (and not-so-fascinating) insights help you connect with readers in an authentic way, it’s important for bloggers to identify their target audience prior to posting and keep their sector of readers in mind when creating content.
In business, we call refer to this segment as a brand’s “target market”, which is just a B-school term for the people that will buy your stuff.
In the blogging world, we use “target audience”, which is just the digi-pub word for people (beyond your mom and her three college-era besties) that will read your stuff.
You could be the best writer, er, blogger, in the world, and not everyone is going to find your posts interesting or relevant (Faulkner, anyone?). And that’s totally cool because everyone liking your blog is totally NOT a requirement for running a successful blog; you just need your target audience to like it.
While you always want to be responsive to market changes and development opportunities, it’s easier to start your blog with a target audience in mind than to post a bunch of stuff, run off a bunch of would-be-readers with off the way content, and then get on the target audience train (trust me…pretty sure I earned a School of Hard Knox certificate on this around Year 2 of blogging).
Thinking about your target audience in the early stretch of your blogging journey will help you create more effective branding (domain name, social handles, blog logos, etc.), build a consistent following, and land sponsored content opportunities (more on that later…).
Consider adding sponsored content for blog monetization.
I’ve been doing sponsored content, also known as influencer marketing, on my blog for going on three years. It’s been a great way to showcase some of my favorite organizations, along with monetizing my blog and scoring some free vacations.
The first sponsored content strategies found me – a Public Relations Director from a software company reached out to see if I was interested in reviewing a new program they were rolling out for solopreneurs like myself. I was pretty excited, albeit really unsure of how this influencer stuff worked. It ended up being a good experience. I was hooked.
In 2015, I started working with public relations agencies that matched millennial-friendly brands with 20-something bloggers. I have some pretty narrow specs regarding what I’ll promote on my blog and social channels, and these agencies work closely with large organizations offering services or programs within this niche.
Quick takeaway from my influencer marketing experience:
Don’t work for free stuff. Build a digital community and charge market value for brand exposure on your channels. You wouldn’t walk around carrying a signboard for your cell-phone provider for free – don’t do it on your blog!
Be SURE to get signed contracts before doing any work. Make sure you have everything in writing with the sponsoring organization. One of the benefits of working with agencies is they will provide MOU’s that include negotiated customization and payment schedules.
Don’t promote everything. Come up with a narrow range of markets that you’ll work with. Mine’s: business, career, and higher education resources. Also, keep your non-commissioned to sponsored content ratio low; I shoot for a 12:1.
Focus on developing a blogging brand.
When you first start a blog, it’s easy to get caught up in a posting whirlwind and write about just about anything that makes an impression – your dog’s latest neighborhood adventure, that oh-so-annoying coworker, your best friend’s beach wedding, the dishwasher flooding your newly remodeled kitchen, your mid-Soul Cycle career revelation, plans for your dream vacation, and so on.
I get it; you’re excited, people are reading your stuff, the “Likes” and comments keep adding up.
You must be doing something right, right?
Developing a unique brand for your blog and corresponding social media channels can be key to securing a profitable future for your online entity. Part of blog brand development is coming up with a list of stuff you will write about, and stuff you won’t. Even lifestyle bloggers don’t (successfully) blog about everything in life – they have a pretty narrow scope of interests, such that, they communicate expertise in everything they put out, and good opportunities (seeking invites, book deals, sponsored content, contributor invites, etc.) follow.
For example, I don’t blog specifically about fitness, my fur babies, cooking, or my spiritual journey. These topics may get a sprinkling mention in work-related or politically-geared posts, but never their own feature. Instead, my online presence stays pretty focused on business, career, and higher education interests, with a few travel notes and economic advocacy elements interspersed.
By building a brand for my blog, and keeping my content fairly consistent, I build rapport with digital audiences and connect with readers that are more likely to remain loyal patrons. Think about your blog’s brand – write it out – and start streamlining your content to suit.
Treat your blog as the business it can be.
Contrary to what those always-IG-ing, #yesIwokeuplikethis, blog celebs would like you to believe, making money off your blog doesn’t just happen.
It takes strategized effort. No build it – or post it – and they will come. Monetizing your blog beyond a couple hundred bucks and closet of free stuff you rarely use requires a blogging business plan. Developing a brand, coordinating with reps, creating and publishing content, and building an online community takes a lot of time, and sometimes, even money (PR Consultants, professional photography sessions, and web design overhauls are not cheap).
A successful (aka profitable) blog has a lot of moving parts. It goes through periods of growth, stagnation, and reinvestment, just like a business entity. Having a blog-based business plan can help clarify your mission and connect you with worthwhile opportunities.
I recommend new bloggers start by tracking their time investment on their blog and associated social channels. Use a time tracking app or just keep an Excel sheet. Figure out how much money you need to be making per hour to make your blog a worthwhile adventure, and compare this number to the amount of time you average per month and market value for sponsored content in your associated markets.
Once you’ve got an idea of how much time you’re spending on your blog each month, plus how much money you can (reasonably) expect to make per ad/affiliate traffic and sponsored content opportunities, you’ve got the first part of your blogging business plan (see, it’s not that hard!).
Next step: Clarify your growth goals. For bloggers, growth goals mean more than just how much money you hope you rake in each quarter; it’s site traffic, social media followings, and email lists (brands interested in collaborating are going to want all of these numbers as well). Some of this growth will cost you money, like Facebook ads or newsletter signup plugins. Be sure to include any additional operating costs in your blogging business plan.
So, you’ve got an idea of how much money and time your blog requires and some sort of an idea around where you’re heading with the whole blogging thing. Congrats! You’ve got a baby blogging business plan! Next step? Work the plan!
A successful blogging strategy is more than just good writing.
To blog successfully, you need more than catchy post titles and interesting prose; you’ve got to have basic web development skills, a social media strategy, and some sort of focus or schedule for consistent content.
There’s a lot of easy-to-use blogging platforms and tools available for new bloggers needing some assistance with the “beyond-writing” part of blogging.
While your blog, like mine, may start with random ramblings read solely by your great-aunt in Toledo, developing a content strategy and executing it with the help of third-party apps and programs can really expand your reach. The more readers you have, the more opportunities you’ll get. The more opportunities you get, the more money you’ll make off your blog. The more money you make off your blog…, well, you get the picture.
Just like any side hustle, starting and running a profitable blog takes a focused strategy and the right tools.
Overall (mistakes included), my blogging journey has been really rewarding. It’s been fun to develop new skills in the communications space, and it’s always a joy to connect with others from all over the world. If you’ve already started a blog, or are just thinking about it, I’d really encourage you to explore blogging opportunities and available resources and make it your own.
Type “entrepreneurship” into your favorite search engine and a popular – and unreferenced – definition is almost certain to pop-up:
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
Did you catch that?
“…living a few years of your life like most people won’t…”
While there are hundreds of more academically-accepted definitions of entrepreneurship, this internet sourced description is most relevant I light of my entrepreneurial experiences.
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. I don’t care what the latest business guru says about their “sure proof startup formula” – there’s nothing easy (or sure proof) about starting your own business.
Entrepreneurship involves risk and uncertainty – two things that make many people’s stomachs turn. What “should” work out rarely does, and what works often requires a lot more risk…ah, hem, “innovation”…than originally anticipated.
Depending on your startup’s scale, industry, and investment, the risk of striking out on your own can involve a lot of worst-case scenarios – bankruptcy, foreclosure, dissolved partnerships, severed networks, stress-induced ailments, just to name a few. Those potential outcomes often deter many aspiring treps from choosing the path less traveled.
Do you have what it takes?
In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
I take that back; I wanted to open the “Hanna Banana”, a seasonal ice cream stand in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. I’d “prepared”, as much as a then-sixteen year old could. I’d gotten a summer job at my would-be top competitor, I’d priced concession trailers, inventoried start-up equipment, learned to make frozen custard, subscribed to a variety of food industry catalogs, and interviewed several frozen treat entrepreneurs (aka: concession stand operators) on my family’s summer vacation. Forget college – I was going to be the Banana Split Queen – but there was one, not-so-little issue…lack of startup capital.
Feeling discouraged by my inability to secure investors (the commercial lending agent at the bank hung up on me), I reluctantly met with a guidance counselor, who promptly issued a “career assessment”. I don’t remember much about the questionnaire, besides thinking “what the heck does that question have to do with anything?”
A couple hundred multiple choice questions later, and the results were in.
My top three careers were:
I left that guidance counselors office more confused than ever.
Chances are you may have taken a similar personality-based occupation assessments in your day. For some, they’re quite enlightening, pointing them in the way of career options they are (supposedly) “suited” for. For others, like myself, they may be less enlightening, and simply more bullshit.
As a college professor teaching business and entrepreneurship courses, I’m often asked by students, “Do you think I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?” While there’s a multitude of personality-based occupation assessments I could throw at these young minds some of which may even include “entrepreneurship” as an occupation option, my entrepreneurial experiences have shifted my thoughts on the nature vs. nurture entrepreneur debate. Currently, I’m not a big believer that entrepreneurial traits are solely personality based; instead, they appear to be developed.
What makes a good entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs represent quite the diverse line-up of professionals.
My entrepreneurial colleagues and I have a variety of different personalities, as classified by the Big Five Personality Theory and Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory. Some are introverts, others are extroverts. Some are perfectionistic, while others are more carefree. Some are creative geniuses, while others are operations whizzes. While we’re a rainbow of personalities, we’re all entrepreneurs – and our businesses are as different as we are.
But we do share some traits, they are just not solely personality based. In other words, it’s a little more nurture, a little less nature (sorry, Darwin).
Here are five develop-able traits that are readily observed within the modern entrepreneur:
Remember how we said what “should” work out in entrepreneurship rarely does?
Despite best-made plans, businesses – especially startups – tend to have a mind of their own:
That “perfect product” you bet the farm on may totally bomb.
Your strategically placed promotions may be completely lost on your target market.
The “dream team” that’s supposed to sell your brand may turn out to be the poster children for Horrible Employees (or they may not even show up at all).
As the owner of a business, when things don’t work out, you do.
Successful entrepreneurs listen to the market’s (lack of) response, operation breakdowns, and all the other “not working out” business events and they adapt. They create a new product, they try a different advertising campaign, they recruit new team members.
When things don’t work out like they’d hoped, they do not fall in love with their original idea, throw a pity party for one, blame it all on others, and throw in the towel.
Entrepreneurs are a curious bunch – they’re that persona at the conference, networking event, trade show, and zoo animal feeding demonstration. You know the type – the one with the thousand questions, the complete child-like wonderment as new inventions, and the zoo attendee that’s climbing the barricade to touch the giraffe (okay…that may not be generally observed).
While many of today’s well-known entrepreneurs are exactly academics – some are even noted for dropping out of college, like Michael Dell (Dell Founder), Bill Gates (Microsoft Founder), and Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) – they are lifelong learners of another type, the ever-curious explorers.
As an entrepreneur, you must be constantly learning as business is always evolving. Whether it’s learning to use the latest social app (Snapchat, anyone?), or keeping up with industry regulations, entrepreneurs must be open-minded about new business strategies and resources. Why? Because your competition is sure to be.
Passion is probably one of the most distinguishable traits of successful entrepreneurs. Whether they are selling something super cool – like the hottest thing in tech – or something super ordinary – like toilet paper – entrepreneurs care about their offerings, even if (and when) no one else does.
We’ve all had that not-so-passionate work experience. Maybe it was working the post-holiday Customer Service counter at a big box store or stocking snack cake shelves at 3 AM on Saturday morning. Whatever it was, I’m certain you can distinctly recall that “impassioned” feel. It’s icky – like a cold, limp handshake – and leaves you constantly wondering if there’s “more”.
Within our modern culture, there’s a misconception that being “passionate” about your work means loving every aspect of it, all the time. Such unrealistic expectations simply are not true. No one likes 100% of their business; something just sucks, like that client that won’t pay, filing taxes, and filling in for absentee employees on a holiday.
Being passionate about your business doesn’t mean liking it all the time – it’s simply something that fills you with excitement and you can see a future. For some, this stems from representing innovative products, for others, it may spring from improving customers’ lives thru their service.
Possessing the ability to move on following unexpected setback is considered by some to be the personal attribute most correlated with success. In the words of Virgin Founder, Richard Branson: “Few first ventures work out. It is how a beginning entrepreneur deals with failure that sets that person apart. In fact, failure is one of the secrets to success, since some of the best ideas arise from the ashes of a shuttered business.”
Rising from the ashes – of a failed product, failed launch, failed business – is what distinguishes resilient entrepreneurs from those that are not. Understanding that your failures do not define you, flopped ventures can provide immense growth, and business fails can be regarding as the stepping stones to success are key for aspiring entrepreneurs to grasp if their entrepreneurial aspirations are going to make it past the first round.
Anyone blazing their own trail – especially in business – is going to experience failure. It’s just part of the experience. Starting your own business under the illusion that failure won’t happen to you, is like walking onto the football field as a lineman expecting to never be tackled. It’s all part of the “game”.
Failures are going to happen, and you know what? Here’s the kicker: it’s going to be okay.
Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, epitomizes the word “visionary. His entrepreneurial vision turned an underfunded, garage-band-like startup into an international empire we now know as Apple. Letting the opportunities granted through his vision guide his professional journey, Jobs turned his dream – a dream many others could not see – into a very real reality.
While there are many inspirational quotes from the godfather of modern entrepreneurship, this bit of wisdom from Jobs hands over my office workspace: ”If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
Like Jobs, entrepreneurs have to see what everyone else doesn’t; they have to possess a vision about the future and what it could be for their brand or organization. While today, their company may simply be an Etsy shop with 100 sales and a few hundred social media followers, a visionary entrepreneur will hold onto what could be – even if they are the only ones that can see it.
While these traits are certainly not all the tools you need in your entrepreneurial toolbox, they help provide the foundation for which a successful business venture can be built.
Successfully running a business requires traits that may be different than those characterizing a five-star employee; instead of simply fulfilling the responsibilities outlined in a job description and navigating well-established office politics, an entrepreneur must chart the organizational course. They can’t simply rely on the 9-to-5 structure of “running it up the chain”, as they are at the top of the chain of command.
Entrepreneurs, especially those in the startup phase, are the beginning and the end of their operation. Everything starts and finishes with them. There’s no passing the buck, employing the “above my paygrade” excuse, or calling in sick. As a business owner, you can’t even simply turn in your pink slip – you’re legally liable for the entity you’re built, even when you want to light a Molotov cocktail, turn your back on the flames, and file an insurance claim. Notice I said “when”, not “if”.
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, but building something from nothing, experiencing the pride of owning your own business, and taking control of your professional journey is freaking awesome. After years of experiencing both wins and losses of entrepreneurship, I believe anyone can become a successful entrepreneur.
Instead of asking the question “Do I have what it takes to start a business?” the better question is “Am I willing to develop the entrepreneurial traits required for running a business?”
Throughout my early career, I never thought about working in technology.
I thought technology was for nerds. I thought technology was for men. I thought technology was people different than me – a millennial woman that liked being around people and enjoyed being active. Like many young professionals, I mistakenly thought technology wasn’t a viable or satisfactory option for my career or lifestyle goals.
The year I turned twenty-five, I got a chance to experience the tech world as a part of Silicon Valley startup team.
It was awesome.
It was exciting.
It was so me.
The people I met through my tech experience were really, really different than the tech-tracked software engineering students my university had publicized. Instead of being a homogenous group of calculus-crushing gamers, modern changemakers in technology were part of a vibrant and diverse community.
Slowly but surely, I began to recognize the many myths surrounding the world of technology that had prevented me from pursuing tech-based opportunities in my own career.
Here are popular four myths about working in technology:
You must be an introvert.
Technology professionals are often assumed to be extreme introverts – you know, people that prefer computers over face-to-face conversation:
1) So not true.
2) Despite what your high school guidance counselor may have told you, 21st-century organizational psychology has repeatedly refuted the erroneous idea that introversion vs. extraversion remains a major factor in profession selection success.
Let’s talk the people side of this argument: all technology, from building mobile apps to robotic engineering, is a type of functional interface between people or groups of people. Technology, like many other mechanized aspects of our workplace, revolves around people – what they like, how they interact, to optimize their capabilities. To be successful in technology, you need understand people (i.e., not be comfortable sitting behind a computer screen for all your waking hours).
Both extroverts and introverts can be incredibly successful in technology and the more connected they are to other people, the better their work can be. If you’re like me and love being around people – great, technology may be a good career option. If you’re like my husband and prefer individual work or small groups – great, technology may be a good career option.
You must be sedentary.
As a super active person, the fear of developing an office bod has been a strong determining factor in all my career decisions. I enjoy being on my feet, being outside, interacting with others, and living a very on-the-go lifestyle. For years, I mistakenly thought working in technology would prohibit me from remaining active.
News flash: Working in technology involves a lot more than hours of starring at a computer screen.
Tech professionals spend time networking with others, learning new skills, and interacting with market members – all things that go way beyond an 11” by 13” computer screen.
Recently, two of my friends (one middle school teacher, one physical therapist) and I kept a log on how much time we spent during the workday at our computers. The bet was that I – a tech professional – would log wayyyyy more screen time hours than my education and healthcare colleagues.
The kind of shocking results was that we all spent around 20 to 25 hours per week starring at our screens, even though I was the only one technically working in technology. Crazy, huh?
As our world becomes more and more computer-assisted, tech skills will continue to evolve from something only software engineers need to have into something everyone needs to have. According to Oxford University, 47 percent of current jobs won’t even exist in 25 years, as their becoming-obsolete functions will be replaced by technology. If it can be automated, it will be automated, courtesy of artificial intelligence. Developing effective tech skills will need to remain a big priority for modern professionals not expecting to retire in the next two decades.
You must be male.
The gender parity in technology isn’t awesome. It’s a very male-dominated male space. For decades the majority of tech leadership is primarily male – Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, and the list goes on and on.
Here are a few statistics demonstrating just how bad the tech gender gap really is:
Women only own 5 percent of tech startups
After peaking in 1991 at 36 percent, the rate of women in computing roles has been in steady decline. Today, women only hold 25 percent of all computing jobs (much lower percentage in leadership roles).
In 2016, venture capitalists invested just $1.46 billion in women-led companies. Male-led companies earned $58.2 billion in investments.
Women receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same tech company 63 percent of the time.
The myth that women aren’t interested in technology isn’t true. About 74 percent of female students express interest in STEM fields and computer science; however, looking at the statistics, it’s quite obvious that women encounter some pretty serious deterrents along the way.
The myth that only men are suited to work in the world in technology has been quite (erroneously) propagated. Remember last year’s Google employee (James Damore)’s manifesto, detailing his misogynist views regarding that men are physiologically wired for technology and women are not?
Yeah. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one with these insanely archaic beliefs.
Like many other pioneering industries with the opportunity for high financial rewards in American history (defense, finance, oil, transportation), technology attracts a lot of money-hungry, power-wielding, bro fest kind of dudes; however, the state of one’s genitalia has ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT on whether or not someone is intellectually capable of succeeding in technology.
So, if you’re a woman that’s interested in analytical processes and innovating opportunities that make our lives better, I encourage you to look past the whole “man’s world” myth and seriously consider how an education in technology could enhance your career. Yes, technology is still a very male-dominated space; however, gender parity is a work in progress.
The other part of my I-hate-math attitude had to do with me enjoying the more creative, off the wall side of life and my college math teachers were insanely boring (think: pre-PowerPoint, pre-YouTube, pre-Clickers with quadratic equations scribbled across one really crowded dry erase board).
When I dared to dream about a career in tech, my struggles in the math space and misconceptions regarding how much mathematics were required provided two major hang-ups that temporarily dissuaded me from pursuing technology education. If freshman algebra had reduced me to tears, I sure wasn’t keen on trying to learn computer science and reliving the humiliation of repetitive “F’s”, having my instructors play Twenty Questions regarding how I had made it to adulthood without any math, and then the embarrassing Q&A that inevitably followed regarding the religious cult in which I was raised.
After talking to a few also non-math-whiz tech professionals, I realized that coding computers didn’t take graduate level calculus; it, like many other applicable skills, required a teachable attitude, dedication to problem-solving, and a supportive educational community (that’s it!).
Changing my perspective regarding what was really required to succeed in the tech space, and working through a few of my personal hang-ups stemming from the compounded embarrassment of being so behind my peers in mathematics, I decided to dive off the proverbial tech cliff and give learning HTML and CSS my best shot. Within a couple of weeks, I’d built a website, then another, then another.
If you’re interested in technology, don’t let widely popularized myths, like “tech is only for men” or “you have to be good at math to learn computer programming” hold you back.
They are total BS.
Tech-based opportunities are diverse, and they need a diverse set of professionals to help bridge the gaps between our always-connected world.
Technology offers a lot of opportunities for the 221st-century professionals.
Its remote capabilities allow tech pros to customize their workday.
Its required dependence throughout pretty much all industries means you can work in almost any space that piques your interest.
Its growing domination of our workplace and lifestyles means both employment and entrepreneurial opportunities within the tech space are only going to increase.