Determination. You must be willing to see the situation through to the desired outcome, no matter what. Set your mind to your goal and stay focused on it.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Sizer
Dawn’s career in Information Technology started in 1995 and culminated in 2005 with the formation of her own Managed Service Provider, 3rd Element Consulting, where she has led the organization to numerous industry awards for excellence. During this time, she also completed her MBA in IT, earned a long string of industry certifications, led her clients to numerous Governor’s Awards for Excellence in IT, helped clients procure grants for law enforcement data sharing, and currently speaks at professional organizations and universities on technology and security topics throughout the year. In her personal life, Dawn is a mom of two boys, both neuro-diverse, one with ASD, and she has spent the last twenty years figuring out ways to help them better communicate, socialize with their peers, and support their educations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I went to college for engineering. There was no intention of going into IT. However, at my campus, it seemed like every time I needed to print drawings, or turn in an assignment, something was not working. I learned to fix it to get my assignments turned in. A few years later, I started answering phones for a tech company and eventually worked in a technical role. It snowballed from there.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I have been working in IT since 1995 in one form or another. At the last organization I worked for, I worked my way up to a service manager position. The owner decided to harass me and make my life miserable. I lived with it for a while, as that was more normal than I would like to admit at the time. One day I had enough of my gender, the fact that I was a mother, and not willing to do things that were immoral, being thrown in my face and I rage quit. If someone like that can run a company, I figured I could do it better. I started 3rd Element with the thought of a place that is inclusive and where no one should ever fear or be exposed to that sort of treatment.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I developed into a perfectionist early on. I grew up in a household with one narcissist parent and one that was an enabler. The only way to avoid the worst of the abuse and crazy was to excel at everything. Just working for someone is not enough, so you start to excel at your job. Then you learn other facets about business and excel at them. Eventually, you realize entrepreneurship is in your wheelhouse, you just must be able to float the idea financially. I would say the skill developed over time.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My husband and I married young. We have worked together most of our lives, moving from one company to another. When I quit the last one, he was also working there, and quit at the same time. So there we were in our early thirties, with two young children, a mortgage, car payments, and living the American Dream. Suddenly we were also unemployed and starting a business together. We helped each other, a lot. It’s easy to be discouraged in the early days of any business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
3rd Element stands out for several reasons. The obvious one is that we are a Managed Service Provider (MSP) that is woman-owned and led. The other big thing is that we truly build relationships with our clients. We say that we align business and IT to create growth for our clients, and that is true. I am just as interested in growing their businesses using technology as I am growing my own. That led many of our clients to follow us from company to company over the last twenty-plus years. Since we started the business, we have only lost one client.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Perseverance — When you have a narcissistic parent it damages your self-esteem. It can strip you of the feelings of well-being and safety, as well as your confidence and courage. I had to work hard (and still do) at overcoming a lot of those issues and imposter syndrome. The work it takes to overcome that is daunting and takes time. But, again, I’m a perfectionist. I’m not satisfied until I don’t feel that way and can get through whatever difficulty I’m having, even when I know I’m going to have to fight that battle again.
- Determination — When I quit my last job, there was no option to fail. We literally had no household income for more than a year as we built our business. We went into significant personal debt and we had to find our way back out. A lot of people told me we would fail. But I was determined to make the company, and us a success. So, we did it.
- Empathy — Most people think the tech industry is about stuff and code and the people who work with computers all wear hoodies and live in their mom’s basement. The truth is that as a managed service provider we are in the business of making people OK. Understanding and listening, really listening to why they are upset and having an issue, is at the heart of what we do day today. You must be able to empathize with the client first, care about their issue and make them OK before you fix their issue and make them happy.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I had lots of people who were not business owners try to give me advice on how to run my business. I did not really have a mentor and so I always did my own research and trusted my gut to see me through. That is not to say I always got it right, but my mistakes were my own.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Being in the tech field where everything is fast-paced, and information changes daily is a tough environment. Burnout is a real issue. We encourage our staff to take time off, go on vacation and make time for their families. We also encourage staff to lean on each other as a team. This ranges from sitting down and sharing a meal to sharing hobbies and pastimes. You must remember that your staff spends more of their waking hours at work than they do at home with their families. It is your job to make it a place they WANT to go.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
The trust of your clients cannot be bought or manipulated. Trust and credibility need to be earned every single day. You need to do a great job for each one of them to build that. When you have their trust, they build your credibility by telling other people about you and your product or service. That awareness develops authority.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
In a world that is insanely connected as we are today, lack of credibility and trust spreads faster than you can contain it. Be human as a business. Be kind. Treat your customers and clients the way you’d want to be treated.
(or you end up with Cinnamon Toast Crush Shrimp Tails)
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Insufficient funding, understaffing, and a general lack of business knowledge are the top three most common mistakes I have seen from new business owners.
Too many people start a business without a way to have enough funding to see them through the short term, or when things get tight. Every new business owner needs to be prepared with several months of funding to cover all expenses.
If you do not have enough staff as a CEO or founder, you end up working in your business and doing all the jobs. Eventually, you burn out and cannot keep up with the pace. Staffing properly allows you to work on the business while staff keeps it running.
Being good at whatever your business doesn’t make you a good business owner. You must learn how to run the business or be willing to hire or outsource to those that do.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The responsibility of the entire business is on your shoulders, and that is a heavyweight. Other people with regular jobs contribute to the success or failure of the business, but the ultimate responsibility is yours alone. You are the one who is responsible for making sure payroll is covered. You are the one who keeps the business viable and that the lights stay on. When something goes wrong, it’s your responsibility. When you have to terminate someone, you made a bad hire.
You as the owner don’t get to go home at the end of the day and simply be done with work the way someone with a regular job does. Your day ends when the work is done, no matter what time is showing on the clock.
The other big difference is that if they lose their job, all they have lost is a paycheck, and they can go find another one. If you lose your job, so does everyone in the company, and you’ve lost everything you’ve invested in it, which is way more than just a regular job.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Every owner has milestones. One of mine was breaking the first million in sales. That was extremely exciting and a measure of success I had set for myself. Winning awards for clients was another. Several of our clients have won Governor’s Awards of Excellence in Technology due to initiatives we helped bring to fruition.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
We started the company with no investors or personal savings. It was exceedingly difficult to not have household income, benefits, vacation time, and have children. Both of my children are neuro-diverse and one has a serious heart condition with zero heart function without his pacemaker. Knowing that the business had to succeed to provide the income needed to both financially survive but also to get my children the additional services and care they needed was more stressful than I like to admit. Having that much debt, general business stress, and then the stress of a special needs parent, made for a very tough time personally and professionally.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Determination and perseverance were the keys. It took years to dig ourselves out of the personal debt that we used to finance the business. Finally pushing through to that goal took a lot of stress off.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Determination — You must be willing to see the situation through to the desired outcome, no matter what. Set your mind to your goal and stay focused on it.
- Perseverance — Every day things change. To reach your goals, you need to be able to pivot and deal with the circumstances that come at you from all sides.
- An Outlet — Find a way to unwind and de-stress that is not destructive.
- Peer Group — Connect with others that understand and empathize with you. Find a group that you can learn from and find a mentor or mentors.
- Perspective — Sometimes the lows are so low you cannot see anything but doom and gloom. Owners can easily get into our own heads and contrite as it sounds, sometimes the world is a better place in the morning.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
If you have learned how to pivot and to thrive no matter the situation, that’s resilience.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I grew up in a trailer park where everyone lived at or just above the poverty level, and very few people graduated high school let alone went to college. Alcoholism, violence, and drugs were commonplace. Sometimes seeing what you do not want for yourself, or want to become, is the catalyst for change that you need.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
We come back to perspective. It may seem bleak, but you know that things will work out you simply have to find the way through.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Your attitude as a leader is a large part of the energy and culture that your team and clients experience. What you put out is what you are going to get back as well. So, if you put a positive attitude out, it gets reflected back. At all of our meetings, we ask everyone to share a good thing before we even talk about business. We feel this sets the tone on a positive note which helps us all keep a better perspective on whatever issues we need to deal with that day.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life you must accept the terms it offers you.” — T. S. Eliot
That quote really sums up a lot of my life. You must decide what you will and will not accept. If you do not accept it, then change it, bend it, and make it yours. No one gets ahead by staying the course that someone else decides for them. You must make your own way.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/dawn-sizer/
Podcast — Rebel Executives
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!