Two Great Motivators: Adversity and Change

by Shonali Burke on November 30, 2010

Adversity and change are some of the greatest motivators when starting your own business.

Image: Ellyn Rivers via Flickr, Creative Commons

After our family relocated overseas mid-year with children, and many lessons learned along the way, I saw an opportunity to help families like ours avoid our oversights and to guide them in choosing the best education for their children.

At that vulnerable time, since I had nothing to lose, I had everything to gain.

Being anonymous in a new country gave me courage that I otherwise would not have had; it was that nerve that enabled me to launch of School Choice International.

I started referring to myself as an educational consultant and began visiting schools. At the same time I developed a brochure about my new company. And then I went to an American expatriate newspaper and convinced them to run a story about this innovative concept.

With the article and the brochure in hand, I did a mailing to a large number of Fortune 500 companies, and before long had my first call.

SWOT yourself

Women may find themselves in the same position – seeing a need they’d like to fill – brought on by events such as relocation or loss of a job. But prior to building the business, the most important step is to do an honest, self-assessment.

To mentally prepare, I asked myself questions such as:

How do I feel about taking risks? Do I trust my ability to distinguish between a calculated risk and a wild one?

Am I aware of my strengths and weaknesses? Am I comfortable with the fact that I don’t know everything about all aspects of the business? Am I willing to surround myself with people who have the skills that I don’t?

Am I willing to do things that are hard for me?

Am I decisive? Am I willing to make unpopular decisions?

Am I willing to devote time, money and energy to my business – based on the needs of my clients rather than my own needs?

By honestly answering these questions

I was able to determine that I was ready to help families – something that I wasn’t prepared for prior to my experience as an expat.

Since founding my company, I’ve learned a handful of important lessons along the way.

I have learned to balance necessary risk and fiscal conservatism.

Facing this challenge forced me to make some hard decisions, but finding this equilibrium has enabled me to hire the right people to complement my skills.

During the recession, for example, our revenue was down and I saw that we needed to reduce personnel costs. As my employees were all very strong I could not decide who to let go.

My solution was to reduce several people to three days per week and continue paying for their health insurance. Reducing our overhead in this way left the company with enough disposable income to invest in a new client management system, marketing initiatives, and develop a web-based tool comparing curriculum and educational systems worldwide.

Our limited funds went a long way during the recession. Building the web-based tool provided our clients with a cost effective alternative to our individualized services, and gave them the sense that we were listening to their needs.

As a result of cutting costs to invest in strategic initiatives, we burst out of the recession.

Had I not made hard decisions and taken risks – within financially conservative limits – we would not have moved forward during this period, which turned out to be a time when many others in our industry failed.

I have learned that I can’t do everything personally.

I need to hire staff or contractors who are effective at doing the things that I don’t do well or that I can no longer do personally, because my role has expanded as my business has grown.

I now know that sometimes you have to walk away from an idea, to say we’ve tried it long enough and it is not worth any further investment. I have learned that I must do what is best for my company, even if that means raising prices with confidence or letting go of employees who don’t fit.

And finally, I have learned to trust my intuition.

More from Women Grow Business:

Founder and President of School Choice International, Elizabeth Perelstein was recently named one of Fortune Magazine’s “2010 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs.” Headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., School Choice International is the leading global educational consulting service specializing in school placement services in private, public and international schools, from nursery through college. The company also conducts research projects and policy analysis for corporations, schools and governments seeking strategic policy decisions or implementations. You can reach Elizabeth at info [a] schoolchoiceintl [dot] com.

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