I spend a fair amount of time thinking about impact--my impact, my clients' impact, impact in general. Actually, I'm kind of obsessed with it.

Professional impact is the effect we have on our business's mission, organization, process, or people. It's the return on our time invested. I'm obsessed with it because, in short, I want more of it, and I want other people to have more of it, too. So, I'm intensely interested in the practices, tools, and ways of being and working that yield a greater return.

This desire seems so obvious that I suppose impact is something I always wanted. However, my efforts to understand impact--why some days I feel unstoppable but others I wallow in the minutiae--started when I came back from maternity leave after the birth of my first child.

I'd become a parent and was enchanted with my newborn daughter. Going back to work after she was born was never in question for me, though. So, while I teared up as I left her in very capable hands, I was excited to get back to my office and jump into the rushing current that was our management consulting business.

I realized almost right away that I had a problem. So much was the same. In fact, my team had put several projects on hold for me, "saving" them for my return. Thanks. And, while the environment was the same, our clients were the same, and our processes hadn't changed, I was different.

I had an immediate (negative) reaction to getting pulled into anything that I believed did not directly benefit our business. The volume of internal meetings seemed especially onerous and wasteful to me. The conversations that went on long after a decision was made were intolerable. And the internal reports, briefings, and updates to be created and polished? They seemed pointless.

My ability to take control of my time--even as a senior manager--was limited. I was limited not necessarily by overt, documented policies or even by client demands. I was limited because of the company's expectation (and, by trickle-down effect, that of my staff) for leaders to participate in all of these business "trappings." I quickly became short and snappish with people, where I hadn't been before. I recall telling a colleague that if he didn't provide an agenda ahead of time, I wouldn't come to his meetings. So there. (I'm sure he was actually pretty happy about my ultimatum given my then not-so-sunny demeanor.)

I soon found that I couldn't take it a second longer. But I waited two more years to quit. What?

I point out this disconnect because it's pretty common. I was intensely frustrated and knew there must be a better way, but I was unprepared to take action. The reasons for my delay were partly financial, partly a fear of the unknown, and partly a worry about inconveniencing others. Combine all of that with a sprinkling of interesting distractions and I had a ready-made list of excuses to procrastinate. I suspected all along, though, that getting a greater return out of my time--that impact I desperately wanted more of--would mean leaving my comfortable, big-company job and starting my own business.

I don't regret staying at the company for those two years, but if I had the chance to go back and talk to myself at the height of my frustration, I'd tell myself a few things--and they all come down to validating the pursuit of greater impact through entrepreneurship.

  1. Your instincts are right on. The how might change, but the driving why of wanting more impact will stick with you.
  2. Internal meetings and complex processes (anything with more than a single hand-off) are commonly what drain our ability to have impact. You hated them before; don't recreate draining elements like these in your own business.
  3. Engaging directly with a paying client, in any capacity, is, by definition, impact. Don't discount interactions with clients simply because you're not talking about what you want to talk about.
  4. You're fortunate to live in a time with more information on how to build a better business than ever before. And there is more help out there (much of it for free!) than you could ever take advantage of.
  5. A name and a website do not equal a business. Just because you build it doesn't mean that they'll come. Stop worrying about these details and focus instead on how you're going to convert an hour of your time into money in the bank.
  6. Build up your confidence and humility together. They work best hand in hand. Glennon Doyle Melton has a great essay on this necessary yin and yang, which she refers to as “The Golden Coin,” in her book, Carry On, Warrior.
  7. People who say they support you will. And even more people will emerge to cheer you on, especially after they see that you're serious this time.
  8. You need a plan, but your plan will never be perfect. Don't use business planning as an excuse for not starting your own business.
  9. Downtime has to be productive. That's the "hustle." All businesses have cycles that create slow periods--you're waiting on a client's decision to move forward after a pitch or waiting on feedback on a deliverable or waiting on a supplier. No longer is someone paying you to wait. The mindset shift needed is to start to think about these periods as gifts of time to reinvest in your business. Hustle.
  10. Erase "not enough" from your vocabulary--especially with regard to your network. I've heard would-be business starters get down on their network, saying that it's not big enough or not the right group to support their prospective business. Your network is enough right now, and entrepreneurship forces you (in a good way) to get focused on building it. There is no useful, objective way to measure the sufficiency of your network before you start your business, so don't bother. Instead, use that energy to reach out and connect with someone.
  11. Know that you're going to be lonely some days. Don't confuse this temporary condition with having made a wrong choice. Have a list of "go to" strategies to productively meet with other business starters (ideally local) and to "get and give" ideas (online communities).

Had I told myself even one or two of these statements, I'd have yielded that elusive greater return on my time invested much sooner--and with greater impact--in my business life. Looking for more reasons to get started today? Check out Jeff Haden’s article on why you should start now.