We all have friends and family who fantasize about leaving their 9-to-5 jobs in pursuit of a business dream. In fact, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, on average, 42 percent of working-age adults see good opportunities for starting a business in their given fields. The reality, however, is that very few aspiring entrepreneurs ever take that leap.
I, like so many other enterprising college graduates, joined the work force in 2012 with a pipe dream of one day starting my own business. The difference, however, is that two years later, in 2014, I did just that when I founded my public relations and digital marketing agency Flackable. But that didn't come before learning a great deal about myself and making a swift decision that changed everything.
Entering the Real World
I graduated from college on the heels of the Great Recession with aspirations of launching a career in public relations. Knowing opportunities were scarce, I applied to just about every creative agency in the Philadelphia region, but after several rejections, I expanded even further and began applying for sales positions.
Eventually, I accepted a corporate retirement sales and marketing position at an independent financial services firm. From day one, I brought an energy and attitude that didn't go unnoticed. After only two months in my entry level role, I was promoted into a different division where I was able to work directly with new and existing clients.
In this role, I also took it upon myself to bring the company's public relations and digital marketing to life. I took over the firm's blog and social-media accounts, and after work I'd build media lists and create public relations materials. After several months, though, it became clear that I didn't want to do public relations and digital marketing part of the time; I was meant to do it full time.
I connected with a mid-size, independent financial public relations agency based in northern New Jersey and New York City, and after several weeks of interviews and email exchanges, I got the job.
My Big Break
My initial job was a support role with limited decision making or direct contact with clients. But that changed abruptly when my primary supervisor's wife went into labor and I was called to take the lead on several accounts and other responsibilities during the weeks he was out with his newborn. I knew it was my time to shine, and I took full advantage.
My performance grabbed the attention of all levels of the organization. As a result, in addition to my account role, I started going beyond my job duties to work with nearly every aspect of the company. I was a lead member of the digital committee, a part of the marketing committee, assisted with business development, served as interim social-media manager, and even helped to select the company's group health insurance plans.
Despite quickly earning a promotion and establishing myself as a top performer, I felt I was supposed to be doing more. At this point, I thought to myself, "I think I can do this on my own. No, I need to do this on my own." Once I had that realization, there was no turning back.
During the following weeks, I slept with a pen and paper next to my bed because I constantly found myself waking up with business ideas racing through my head. After burning through an entire notebook, I decided to take my scattered ideas and craft them into a business plan.
Originally, after creating my business plan, I planned to stay at my job for at least another year. I was flat broke at the time, and I knew you needed money to start a business. Also, I thought I needed more contacts, experience, and business knowledge before I would be confident enough to branch out on my own. But in 2014, one LinkedIn message changed everything.
The Wildest Week of My Life
On a Tuesday in April, the day after my one-year work anniversary, I was contacted on LinkedIn by the business development manager at a wealth management firm based in Los Angeles. They had just let go of a PR firm whose traditional approach fell short of their expectations, and they were looking for someone who could truly become a part of the team and bring a fresh energy and approach to their PR efforts.
While on a phone call, they introduced their firm and discussed the frustrations they had with their previous agency, and I explained how those frustrations were the same frustrations I had with the traditional public relations model in general. When I gave them an overview of my business plan, which I had been sitting on for a few months, they loved it and asked me to send them a proposal.
The next morning, I sent them a proposal, and that afternoon, on my lunch break, I negotiated pricing and services with the managing partner and we came to a verbal agreement. He asked, "What are the next steps?" I replied with something along the lines of, "Well, I guess I'd better go quit my job and send you a contract!"
The next day I hired a lawyer to draft a service contract and expedite a limited liability corporation. And the following Monday, I went into the office and quit my job. I felt like I had just jumped off a cliff. It was a rush unlike anything I had experienced at that point in my life.
The next day, it was time to get to work. Not only did I not have money, but I quickly realized my business plan was full of holes that I'd have to fill on the fly. I sublet my apartment and temporarily moved in with family while I built up my clientele. I also maxed out my credit cards and took a small loan from a family member. And to compensate for the several areas of business where I didn't know what I was doing, I called just about every business owner I knew and trusted to pick their brains and request advice.
Ten months after going independent, I hired my first full-time employee. Two months later, I hired my second. Today, three and a half years after taking the plunge, I lead a team of 10 with plans for further expansion. It's amazing to think that five years ago I couldn't even land an interview with a Philadelphia PR agency--now I own one. And it all started with an unexpected LinkedIn message.
In that moment, I knew the temporary pain of failure, had I started my agency and fallen flat on my face, would have been nothing compared to the lasting regret I'd suffer if I hadn't tried at all. Waiting for the "right time"--a common excuse for those who never put their business ideas into action--wasn't an option. The opportunity I needed was right in front of me, and I went all in on it.
The process of building a business from the ground up is grueling, but after taking the leap into independence, it unleashes an unwavering drive to power through some of the toughest challenges. The path I took surely isn't for everyone, but those who are serious about making their business dreams a reality will find the courage to take the plunge whether they're ready or not.