Many people have ideas and dreams but are afraid to cross the “line in the sand” into uncharted waters. What are you waiting for and what have you got to lose? I am going to share my journey from a practicing professional to a soft skills consultant to offer you tips on how to do this.
I practiced Dental Hygiene for over 40 years and also have a degree in education. As a dental hygienist, one of my most important roles was as a dental health educator because educating my patients about their dental health and how it impacts their overall health was very important in order to motivate them to follow their oral self-care instructions and move forward with the treatment protocols and options that we felt would be in their best interests. In order to do that, I had to gain their trust and confidence and establish rapport so that they would feel comfortable asking me questions, would actually do what I taught them, and trust that I had their best interests at heart. Over time, I got pretty good at doing that and took pride in helping my patients to be healthy, happy, and at ease in the dental office.
I also started the first Dental Hygiene Study Club in Canada with a colleague……we knew Dentists had these sorts of continuing education opportunities and wondered why Hygienists had never done it. We had fun and actually ran two in two different locations for many years. Now, there are lots of Dental Hygiene Study Clubs all over North America and they provide great learning and updating opportunities for practitioners, while gaining continuing education credits and interacting with colleagues.
The problem with Dentistry is that it tends to be a rather stressful profession both physically and mentally and I began to have both lower back issues and hand issues…..which are both common in the profession due to our positioning for treatments and in dealing with tight time constraints, anxious patients, and many other problems. Because I have an over-abundance of energy, my family was worried about what I would do if I retired and how nothing to occupy my time.
One day, after I returned from a weekend away training, my teenaged son said to me, “you are really good at this, Mom, why don’t you do it for real?” I said to him, “I do, do this for real!”
I was offered an opportunity to become a leadership trainer for a large international volunteer organization and used to travel from Victoria, B.C. to New York City and all the communities in between, empowering women in those local communities to feel able to take on higher responsibilities within the organization. It was challenging and fun and offered me the chance to contribute to the association in other ways than just fundraising and events. I loved the challenge! One day, after I returned from a weekend away training, my teenaged son said to me, “you are really good at this, Mom, why don’t you do it for real?” I said to him, “I do, do this for real!” No, he meant for “money” not as a volunteer. I told him not to be ridiculous, I was an “old hygienist”. He countered that I had a CV and a list of my modules, so I should just got to Kinkos (a local printing company) and get a business card printed and start soliciting contracts. So I stepped back and thought, what have I got to lose????
While still practicing one day/week, I started my soft skills consulting and training business by doing exactly what he suggested. In order to get some work, I began calling large law firms as I knew lots of lawyers and also knew that the large firms had training budgets. Those calls netted me lunch and learn contracts. However, since I had helped organize many events as a volunteer, I stepped back and asked myself how anyone was going to know that I was doing this and so decided to try and get myself in front of potential clients. I got out the yellow pages of the phone book and called every professional organization in the book. I asked them the following questions:
- Do you provide continuing education courses for your members?
- Do you have an annual conference?
- If so, how do you find your speakers?
- Would you be interested in the programming I could provide for you?
That opened the door for lots of conference speaking and the providing of continuing education courses for professionals in many different industries. As a result, I began to get spinoff business as well as this question: Do you have a website? I am embarrassed to tell you that at that time, I did not know what a website was. It turned out that one of my nieces was dabbling in web design while she was in High School. So, we sat down and talked and she developed my first website and I used it as a virtual brochure. Soon afterward I realized that people actually got business from their websites and that was not happening for me. So I asked my children why that was not happening and learned that I need my SEO (and what that was) adjusted and my daughter gave me the name of a fellow who specializes in that and he has been working on my site since 2003. He does such a good job, that I get 80-90% of my new contracts from inquiries from my website. He also rebuilt my website so that it was more open to hits on the internet. A few years ago, I had it transferred on to a WordPress platform and had the techie teach me how to use much of the backend. But I still use my original techie to keep my SEO up to date and he tweaks it a few times every year.
Did I have any idea what I was getting into when I embarked on this journey? I certainly did not! However, the steep learning curve has been challenging but also fun as well, it is good for an aging brain to have to open up new neuropathways as that keeps it healthier rather than just always doing the same things in the same way. I spend lots of time writing blogs, researching various exercises for my interactive, customized workshops, and reading other people’s articles in LinkedIn training groups. I even wrote a book: 5 Secrets to Effective Communication. But that is a whole other story.
I have a great job…..I go to work, thoroughly enjoy myself, get to meet lots of great people and am still helping people (just in different ways now), which is why I went into healthcare in the first place……and my clients pay me to do that!
So if you have a dream, make it a reality! Create a business plan, get help from other business people by networking and building your network, maybe getting into a Mastermind Group so you can brainstorm ideas to solve business problems with your fellow members of the group.
Make sure you budget for a professionally developed website as you want it to look professional and work properly and easily for your visitors. You need to be constantly adding content, so blogging is a good idea. I also add my speaking engagements and testimonials and sometimes new pages with new workshops topics. Those activities all help to keep my SEO working well along with whatever my techie does. I have learned to backlink topics in my blogs to my workshop pages and that is supposed to be a good thing, as well. I try to take care of as much as I can on the back end, but still get my techie to do anything I am not comfortable doing and am happy to pay him to do it.
Entrepreneurs usually try to do everything themselves, especially when just starting out, because we are trying to save money. However, it is actually better to get someone who knows what to do in areas that you have no expertise so that you can maintain your professional brand and do not look like you are handling things in an amateurish manner as that can hurt how you are viewed by your on-line followers or potential clients.
For example, when I decided to add video to my site, I looked at lots of sites and saw that many people had done their own videos and they did not look professional. So I got a few quotes from professional videographers and in the end was very happy with the team that did my videos and have had lots of compliments on them. So do not scrimp on your website, do it right! (That definitely means budgeting for it!)
Today, everyone is on their device…..either a smart phone or tablet and that is how they find everything. So if you are not there with a good website and also have a significant and professional looking presence on the main social media platforms, you will not get noticed and that will affect your business.
So, in summary here are some key issues to consider if you want to start your own business:
- Create a reasonable business plan including a line for your website and whatever other essentials you need for your particular business.
- Get your website done professionally and make sure your SEO is tweaked regularly and that you are adding valuable content regularly as this affects your Google analytics.
- Get a good business card and carry them with you at all times.
- Be sure to network through organizations and meet ups. Have a plan for follow up following the events.
- Consider a mastermind group, a mentor, or a business coach to keep you on track and help you solve problems.
- Be sure to set up your social media platforms and keep the content professional and the profile active with regular posts. If you do not want to do this, hire someone to do it for you.
- Prepare a short infomercial or elevator pitch to use at meet ups and networking events or if you are looking for investors. You need to be able to express your passion and demonstrate your expertise in a manner that entices people to learn more about you.
- Consider who your market will be and brainstorm how to attract them or how to get in front of them so that they will know what you have or do. However, keep it simple and direct, if they want more information and details, and if you have enticed them, they will follow up or you can if someone expresses interest at the event.
- Create a marketing plan and try to find ways to get free publicity with the press and making contact with those in those fields. You will need a unique approach and be as helpful as possible in order to get what you want “picked up”.
- Create an excellent and consistent customer service program that you will follow and teach to your staff. When things are going well, all is good. However, when something goes wrong, that is when you might need to be flexible with your policies and procedures because that is when you want them to remember how you fixed the problem rather than the problem.
I hope these tips and my story helps you to step out of your comfort zone and fulfill your dream whatever it might be. Too many people are stuck in jobs that they do not like…..we spend more time at work that doing anything else during our life, so make sure your work is something you love!