When you build your own business, it can be hard to let go of the reigns, even for a moment to take time out for yourself. But scheduling 'white space' into your calendar is essential for long-term success. This week Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls shares the story of her journey and other lessons she's learned along the way...
"I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started a global marketing company in Cambridge, MA 16 years ago after starting my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing.
I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day.
It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying.
For the first 5 years I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them. They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less. After years of decline they each died about 6 months apart and I became executrix which is like having another job at times. So I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else.
I started working out every day. I started planning me time on my calendar. I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself. And guess what? My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger. We moved up the food chain and have better clients. I do not think I could ever go back. I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others.
It is all about controlling your calendar. I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night. As an entrepreneur, I can be selective. Less really is more. I’ve chosen quality over quantity. It sounds trivial but it is true. I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by. I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by. I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled.
Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >50,000 middle school aged kids have gone through. I am happier and healthier than I have been in more than a decade. As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.
I self-funded the company and have learned so much. Beware because the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The biggest mistake and hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A" team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!
Prospective customers can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression. Be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help! It is true you should never burn a bridge, that really is great advice and I can tell you dozens of stories over the years where that has served me well. You just never know when your paths will cross again with old colleagues, former bosses, etc. Kill them with kindness and don't ever burn that bridge, trust me it pays off! Also, be the best prepared at every meeting, work your butt off and smile. It has worked for me at least!
Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global marketing firm Mavens & Moguls (www.MavensAndMoguls.com) based in Cambridge, MA. Their clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. Paige started her marketing career at Procter & Gamble and was Assistant Chief Marketing Officer at Coca-Cola. She also ran marketing at 3 successful startups previously. Paige graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.