Last Thanksgiving I began a journey of faith, believing it possible to find financial success as an entrepreneur while simultaneously having a positive impact on my community. I founded Custom Taylored Solutions (CTS) in November 2016 with the goal of providing mission-driven organizations the same access to high-level management consulting services as their counterparts in Corporate America. During this Thanksgiving weekend (one year later) I am extremely thankful for the support of my family and friends that has allowed me to establish and grow CTS over the past year. I am also thankful for the many lessons learned during this stage of my journey as a social entrepreneur. Summarized below are three important lessons I have learned over the past year. I hope that reading them will be valuable to others who, like me a year ago, are considering a leap of faith to pursue their passion through entrepreneurship.
1. You don’t know how much you are worth until you sell yourself on the open market. – Despite having 18 years of experience and a track record of delivering high-value results to Fortune 500 companies, I doubted myself.
“Can I continue providing for my family without a corporate salary as my safety net?… Am I better off playing it safe, sticking with what I know even if personally unfulfilling?… Is my value primarily derived from my affiliation with PwC – my employer for over 10 years?”
Yes, the imposter syndrome is real. I feared that my success was less valid than the success of my peers and as a result, I might not be able to build a successful business on my own. Fortunately, my fears were invalidated as soon as I began describing to others my passions and my vision, I received the affirmation I needed. Some wanted to hire me, others wanted to partner with me, and others wanted to connect me to their personal and professional networks.
If I had kept silent and played it safe I wouldn’t have fully understood how much others valued me, my vision, and my capabilities. Instead, through discussions with others, I was given the confidence that I could build and grow a business that in less than a year (a) added three long-term paying clients, (b) delivered more than 400 hours of pro-bono services, and (c) more than replaced my prior year’s salary.
2. Aligning your passion with your profession not only allows you to do more of what you love, but also makes the rest of life more enjoyable – While working for PwC I led two separate lives – My personal life as a husband, father, and active community member and my professional life as a corporate management consultant. I learned early in my corporate consulting career that sharing my excitement for non-work activities leads others to question my dedication to the company potentially limiting my career progression. This perception was reinforced when I heard comments like, “It’s great that you are helping to start a school in Oakland, just be sure that it won’t impact your work on the project.” Managing two separate personas was not only difficult, but also time-consuming – eating into quality time with family and friends, and putting self-care on the back-burner.
As a social entrepreneur, I no longer need to compartmentalize my life. Starting Custom Taylored Solutions has allowed me to bring all aspects of who I am together – my profession is my passion and vice-versa. This new reality creates more synergy between my many activities, enabling me to have a greater impact through my work, to spend more of my time doing what I love, and to have more time at the end of the day for family and self.
3. Unwavering support from a spouse/partner is invaluable – Despite a plethora of entrepreneur/ startup advice books, relatively little attention is paid to the role a spouse or partner plays in the business’s success. Without my wife’s encouragement and support, I probably would not have taken the leap into self-employment, nor would I have pursued the vision for CTS as aggressively as I have. Knowing that she was there to have my back regardless of the outcome gave me the freedom to think more boldly and push harder for the vision I believed in. I acknowledge that not all entrepreneurs are fortunate enough to have a partner to support them emotionally, spiritually, and (if need be) financially. For that, I am truly blessed. I encourage those who are similarly blessed to acknowledge this critical role early in the planning stages of their new business.
While these three lessons are specific to me and my journey, I anticipate many parallels with the journey others have taken, or may soon take. If you have similarly made the transition from Corporate America to social entrepreneurship as a mid-career professional, What are your first-year lessons you would like to share?