Technori partnered with the Young Entrepreneur Council to bring you a Q&A series featuring some of the most successful young female entrepreneurs in the country. The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only membership organization comprised of hundreds of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs.
First up in our 7-part female entrepreneur series is Jenny Blake, the author of best-selling book Life After College. Jenny runs a 10-week “Make Sh*t Happen” course, built to help people accomplish their biggest goals. Her goal—through this course, along with speaking and consulting—is to help people discover what makes them come alive, and give them the tools to do more of whatever that is. Jenny answers our questions about productivity, scaling a business, and startup success strategies.
What habits help you stay focused and productive day-to-day?
I work with coaching clients on Mondays and Tuesdays, then take the rest of the days to do behind the scenes work: writing, course building and planning what’s next. I am more likely to take Wednesday and Friday off than the weekends. In fact, weekends and holidays are my favorite time to work; less input, more output.
Whenever I can, I start every day with fresh air and exercise. Yoga, long walks and intense workouts, like CrossFit, keep me sane. Many mornings I lace up my shoes and go for a 20-minute run. No matter how busy you are, you can make time for that. Exercise helps activate my brain for the day and gives me time to think through what my biggest priorities are. When it’s in the evening, it’s the perfect way to let off steam and let the business stuff go for a bit.
Being your own boss can sometimes feel like a 24-hour a day gig. Exercise really helps remind me to step away from the computer and interact with other humans in person (crazy, right?).
What ignited the spark in you to start a business?
I had been writing a blog and book for years as a “side hustle” while working full-time, and I never in my wildest dreams expected them to become a business one day. Scratch that—I wanted them to, but I never imagined it would be possible for me, even though I had seen and admired others who forged their own path.
Eventually, when my book was released into the world in 2011, I took a three month sabbatical to go on a self-funded book tour. That’s when I realized that it was now or never to give my business every ounce of time and energy I had. I felt that it would be hypocritical for me as an author, coach and speaker to tell people to “live big!” and “take great leaps!” if I was unwilling to take my own. So, I made the tough decision to quit Google in June 2011. Then, I rented out my condo, sold my car, packed a fraction of my things and moved to New York that September to pursue my passions full-time.
What are the three key elements you’d attribute to starting and running a successful business?
1. Focus on your vision first.
I once had a coach tell me not to get bogged down by the “tyranny of the hows.” I bring big ideas to life by focusing on the vision first—getting super clear on what smashing success looks like and very specific about how I will feel once the idea comes to fruition. Creating a compelling vision gives me the ammo and excitement to move forward, and the “hows” often naturally fall into place from there.
2. Work on your own schedule.
My career used to be about doing things I “should” be doing to please my manager, parents, society and even blog readers. Since I’ve been on my own, the most important thing I have learned is to work on my own schedule, my own projects and to set up my time in a way that truly honors myself and my health. I’m still very goal focused but I put way less pressure on myself to be successful by external measures and I put much more emphasis on feeling happy and healthy above the work achievements. I may take longer to launch a new product, but I’m working at a pace and lifestyle that really works for me.
3. Take care of your health!
For the first month of running my own business, every day was a roller coaster. Some days I would wake up super productive, and others I’d feel exhausted or worse–just plain lazy. I wasn’t running my business, my business was running me. And as 100% of the company, the opportunity costs of operating at half-mast were extremely high. So I started exercising every day and even completed a 21-day cleanse. I felt clear-headed, creative, confident, energized, productive and happy. I was getting more done in one week than I had completed in one month. I was no longer experiencing crazy mood swings or unproductive days. I started sleeping like a rock. I was in a great mood, glowing and energetic at conferences and razor sharp during my coaching and speaking engagements. I was on a roll and I stayed there.
I used to scoff at the countless magazines that preach healthy eating and exercise until I experienced, firsthand, the insanely powerful impact it had on my business’s bottom line–not to mention my actual bottom, which now fits nicely back into my best jeans.
It’s no surprise that startup growth is often where entrepreneurs struggle most. What advice do you have for scaling a business?
Start slowly and trust your gut. Don’t take clients, contract work or agree to events that feel “shackles on,” to borrow a term from author and life coach, Martha Beck. They will just end up draining your energy and are ultimately not worth the money. As the saying goes, “learn to say no to the good so that you can say yes to the great.”
What is the most challenging aspect of being a female entrepreneur? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect for me is marketing in an authentic way. Sometimes there tends to be a masculine bias to marketing advice—how to write sales copy and sell yourself. A lot of marketing comes across as bragging and over-the-top.
I think the more feminine model of sales and marketing, or at least my own, is to be direct, transparent, authentic and relatable. I don’t want to claim to be a super expert up on a high horse. I am walking right alongside my community and inviting them to come along with me for the journey.
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with? What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs instead?
I disagree with the notion that we always have to be going, going, going–hustling, working around the clock and not sleeping. I think that’s an old school approach.
To run your business—especially a creative one—in an intuitive, heart-centered way, you have to allow yourself some time and space for reflection. Sometimes that might be a week, but in some cases it will be a year. Let go of the need to be selling and creating 24/7–your customers will be much happier and more engaged if they trust that what you are producing comes from a grounded, centered place.
On that note, practice being more transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve heard the advice not to show vulnerability, especially as a woman in business, but in my experience the more vulnerable and transparent I am, the more rock solid my relationships with my community become. Contrary to my belief that they’ll be running away in droves, they end up coming in even closer and staying there.
What mantra do you live by?
I like to tell people to “live big and start small.” Even the biggest ideas have a first step you can take, even when you can’t see the full path. Start there, then the next step will reveal itself and the next until you eventually have a snowball of momentum. At that point, you have already achieved intrinsic success for just for being on the playing field.