“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Suzanne Evans

Success comes from the most unlikely places — Sometimes you can’t explain why things work out the way that they do. When you land a client out of nowhere or a sale you weren’t expecting fight the urge to dive in and figure out where it came from, just look at is as a sign you are […]

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Success comes from the most unlikely places — Sometimes you can’t explain why things work out the way that they do. When you land a client out of nowhere or a sale you weren’t expecting fight the urge to dive in and figure out where it came from, just look at is as a sign you are on the right path.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Evans. Suzanne went from secretary to a $7 million dollar business in record time. Her company, Driven Inc, has been on the Inc 500/5000 list of fasting growing companies for 5 straight years. Her NY Times Best Selling book, “The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything”, set hundreds of thousands of business owners on their fast path to success. Suzanne has grown her brand from humble beginnings inside a 350 square foot Manhattan apartment to a sprawling office where she works with clients around the world. She currently lives with her family in Chapel Hill, NC.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

As a little girl, I always stood out. I was born with a big and over the top personality. Guided by my natural intuition to do “whatever’s” right at the moment, I was always making others smile or finding a way to be helpful. I grew up in North Carolina, my parents always encouraged me to try new things and experience what they couldn’t in their childhood. This ranged from tap dance lessons to basketball. Basketball was a huge deal in my family- my mother was a coach and I was raised to always go for the win.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

When I realized I could actually make money from doing what I love, that was a true game-changer. I love helping people, it’s something I have always excelled at.

While working full-time as a secretary in New York, I started a side hustle as a life coach. I was able to grow that into a quarter-million-dollar business in record time. I was fueled by doing what I love, helping people. The biggest “ah-ha” was when I discovered I was putting my effort into the WRONG field, talk about a true facepalm moment.

Turns out, I was actually really BAD at giving life advice but really GREAT at giving business advice. When I shifted to business coaching that is when my side hustle became a real moneymaker.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Don’t be afraid to hustle and fail. The hardest step is to get started. Not everything is going to work at first, it is about recognizing what does work and how to grow from there. Every challenge welcomes a win, I was taught this life lesson as a child. When you recognize a win, no matter how small, and grow upon that you are moving in the right direction.

For me, it was literally setting up a life-coaching booth in Whole Foods. I was stationed between the bananas and tomatoes asking people if I could offer them life-coaching. If I did not take the leap and put myself in that awkward situation I would not be where I am today. It starts with an idea pushed with hustle and followed by recognizing your wins, even if it’s the smallest thing.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Simple. Are you a business owner or a hobby owner? Business is about hard work, tough decisions, and learning. You do all of the hard work so you can live the life you want. Maybe you want to have financial freedom, make your own schedule or even travel the world. It’s what you gain by being the owner of your own business. A hobby is just that a hobby. If you are serious about making your hobby a business you recognize what you quickly. It’s about working hard to do what you love.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Each day is a new day. It sounds so simple but it’s important to keep this mindset. Not every day is going to be your best day, life and especially business does not work that way. But when you start your day not worrying about yesterday that sets the tone for success. Also, if you are busy growing your business and celebrating wins, you will see your success. The goal is to work so hard you don’t look back, you can only go forward. If doing what you love is providing you with the life you want to live (even if it takes a while to get there, and it will) it’s all worth it!

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I have always said, “Love something besides work so much that you will work your ass off to be able to have more freedom to do the things you love.” It is not about the job, it’s about working so you can live your dream. Because I am the boss and own my company, I have a dream life instead of a dream job.

There were lots of fumbles along the way and moments that challenged me. No one is perfect and in business, nothing works out exactly the way you plan. It’s about recognizing what works for you and growing upon that. There are thousands of business coaches out there. My success depended on me being my authentic self and growing upon my own wins. I teach and practice this with my clients, it is the key to overcoming drawbacks and moving forward.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I never thought it would be easy and I always knew it was going to be hard work. Since I started my company over a decade ago every day has been different. I would not have it any other way. This is what makes my job great and fuels me each day. I get to do what I love, which is helping people to make more money and live their dream lives. I am always working forward and enjoying the wins and lessons along the way.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

Nope. I worked too hard to walk away, but I know I could start all over again if I had to. It is very empowering knowing you can take care of yourself and your family by using hard work and your natural talent. If I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest lesson I learned is that I need to be willing to look like an ass. No, it’s true. I got my start in coaching in a small booth on Sundays at Whole Foods. Draped over my table I had a cheap piece of fabric from Wal-Mart a stack of cheap business cards and my logo printed and in a frame. My success depended on me putting myself out there and asking people if they needed help. It wasn’t about the people that walked by and thought I was crazy, it was about the people who stopped by and I was able to help. You can not grow if you do not put yourself out there.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

As I mentioned, I am a huge college basketball fan! Jim Valvano aka “Jimmy V” was who I drew my inspiration from. He coached his players to never give up. He is a coaching legend. Many of the lessons the sport teaches are inline with owning your own business. You want to give up, but you can’t. Coach Valvano embodied the virtue of perseverance into each young player. If these young athletes can fight through to victory, so I can!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My impression goes far beyond business coaching. I want to inspire business owners to be giving, caring and engaged. I teach this because embracing this pay-it-forward mentality has been an essential part of my success.

It is important for me to create an even stronger sense of community for my clients and teach how they can pay-it-forward through their businesses. It’s more than making a donation, it is how you do business, you reputation and what you are putting back into you your community all while you are finding your success. Each conference I host I provide an opportunity to teach how to make the world a better place, my clients walk-away eager to pay-it-forward in their businesses.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be clear about what you want — When you are starting out it is important to have a firm goal. What are you working towards that you can achieve in the next week, day or even hour. Claim what you want and work towards it. It’s yours- now go get it!
  2. Stop being realistic — I know this sounds counter-intuitive. But when you are first starting out it is so easy to get caught-up in the details and worrying about what is really going to work. Are you putting more thought, time and energy into figuring out why your plan is going to fail? Stop. you never know what really works until you try.
  3. Stop looking for the results — Are you obsessed about what you have done? Stop constantly checking, if you are on the right track the results will come and often once you stop seeking them. You have one job — be clear, take action and repeat.
  4. Know that your faith will constantly be tested — As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you are holding on to.” There will be times that you want to walk away. It’s all part of the process. Don’t give up. Not every moment is going to be the worst. Pause, take a breath and remember you are stronger than you think.
  5. Success comes from the most unlikely places — Sometimes you can’t explain why things work out the way that they do. When you land a client out of nowhere or a sale you weren’t expecting fight the urge to dive in and figure out where it came from, just look at is as a sign you are on the right path.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My idea would be encouraging youth to be entrepreneurs. Something happens to us as adults, we are afraid to dive in put our all into our businesses, even if it means our livelihood. Youth are in tune with technology and grow with trends, they recognize challenges and are dedicated to finding a solution. They somehow make anything seem possible. If we can harness this in our youth our future would be in good hands.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Independence is happiness” — Susan B. Anthony. This quote captures what it means to run a successful business. When you are independent by living your best life and inspiring others to do the same, it is almost impossible to not find your happiness.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Jean Georges because his food is art and his business is brilliant!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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