In late 2008, the financial crisis terminated my 25-year mortgage career and my Inc. 500 company.
I lost everything and was forced to reinvent myself. I began a 5-year journey of rebuilding. Some of my original skills were useful; others I had to develop. I had to take new risks and most of all I had to focus on a path that would support my passion with a good business model. The journey has not always been easy, but I have had many successes and it has been fulfilling in many ways.
This week I enter a big new phase of that journey. I get to use my writing, theatre and producing skills in my new role as Executive Producer and sidekick for Amilya! on 77WABC, Talk Radio, New York. Every week I am now responsible for writing, producing and delivering on air, highly entertaining audio and digital content that will give listeners the Awesome Experience. It's a very rewarding opportunity.
Many people struggle with reinvention whether they are making a small change or really overhauling their life like I did. The thing about reinvention though, is that you get a mulligan, a do-over. You get to start again with a clean slate--only this time with more wisdom. Wouldn't it be great to do things the way that will make you most successful?
That's why it's no coincidence that I brought on Inc. columnist Lewis Schiff, author of Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons, as Amilya's very first guest. Schiff studied hundreds of self-made success stories in great detail. Below are the things his subjects did differently to get to the top of the pack. Even if you are not reinventing, these tips from his observations will still help you achieve more success. And if like me, reinvention was thrust upon you, use them to make this reinvention your last.
1. Leverage Your Best Moneymaking Skills
As my grandmother used to say: "I've been rich and poor, and while there's no shame in being poor, I'd rather be rich." When I first started out, I only followed my passion. Much of my early success was by accident. This time I have been highly focused on activities that lead to wealth and stability. There are lots of good ideas, but great success comes from a well-developed, sustainable business model. Everything else is a waste of time and resources.
2. Go With What You Know
There is no sense in trying to reinvent the wheel if you don't have to. In my case, my industry and investors were decimated. I couldn't have done the same business even if I wanted to. But I was able to take the skills and resources I already had to rebuild in a new-but-related direction, which saved me years of exploration and failure.
3. Fail Loudly
You are going to fail. It's hard after a massive failure like mine to get over the embarrassment and talk about it. But I did. In fact I shared my failures with my friends and advisors so often even I got tired of hearing about them. (I have very patient friends and advisors.) But all that sharing helped me to analyze and learn from those failures and learn a new and better path. Now I celebrate my failures. I mitigate my risk so I can experiment often and fail safely. This is a big factor in fast reinvention.
4. Make Network-building a Key Priority
When you're reinventing, your network is never big enough. In my case, few in my existing network had the connections and resources to help me. And they didn't know me as a marketer or writer, only as a mortgage and construction guy. Meeting new, dynamic people is part of your rebranding process. You need to strive for bigger, more powerful networks that fit your new business model. As Schiff says, you want to "Know people who know people." And don't hide who you used to be. Be willing to share with others about your past experiences. As my success grows from the ashes of my 2008 failure, I continue to receive more support and respect than if I had been consistently successful from the start. Wear your reinvention as a badge of courage and fortitude.
5. Make Opportunities Happen
The year my business collapsed followed one of the best years I ever had. I was I thought in a safe and prosperous place. I was not in growth and opportunity mode; at 44, I was happily cruising. Since losing everything I have been a fierce opportunity generator. I never wait for things to just happen. I learn and inquire, and hunt for opportunities. I also filter them carefully and give them proper energy and weight so they don't distract from my path for success. Capitalizing on opportunities comes from knowledgeable recognition, not chasing bright, shiny objects.
I wouldn't wish my 2008 drama on any other entrepreneur, but looking back it's gratifying to be achieving at a whole new level in a field that fits so well. The lessons were valuable. I think many of you can get those without the hardship if you watch and learn or just read Schiff's book.