What I learned and the full-circle moment of sharing about it here now.
When you look back at your life, can you immediately recall mile markers that sent you down a path that forever changed your trajectory? This article happens to be a meta bookend to one of those road signs for me, as it was a mention in an Inc. article that sent my business in a direction I’d never have imagined (as well as taught me a number of lessons along the way).
I awoke to a Google alert on a March morning in 2013 that my name was in the press. Upon opening it, I saw that I’d been mentioned in an Inc. article called “Why Networking Doesn’t Work,” written by a guy I’d considered to be a business friend. I had no idea he would be writing about my company after attending one of the events. My heart rate increased as I wondered if this might be some sort of teardown about my then-nascent second business: a networking events company for young professionals.
This was before I knew about the time-saving genius of the “command F” function to find my business name in the article, so I read it as quickly as possible.
As I skimmed, I was nodding my head because his piece stated a lot of what I also despised about events that wore the “networking” moniker: self-serving, transactional, stuffy …
“What could have given him the impression that we were yet another networking event contributing to the bad rap of networking events?” I asked myself. After all, the genesis of the business was to help a friend who asked me to suggest a place to go where she could “make friends after college without being hit on, sold to, everyone being in the same industry, or all her parents’ age” (her words, not mine).
And then I saw it: my name and then company name, Atlanta Under 40 (this was before I understood the importance of intellectual property and naming your business something that wasn’t so generic you’d never qualify for a trademark), as the counterpoint to this: a place where you could actually enjoy, and benefit from, a networking event.
Those sentences opened up a portal to global interest in how to run a networking event differently. This new way was based on true connection first–not on valuing people based on their titles, but on who they are. People reached out by the dozens asking me to teach them the logistics and secret sauce to creating this kind of environment.
I wasn’t planning to expand and didn’t think I had something worth packaging. So I got on the phone with every one of them and shared my insights. I asked them to report back to me when they put my high-level suggestions into practice.
Some actually did follow up months later, and the results were unanimous: We need more guidance and support to get this right.
Finally, the light bulb went off in my head. It’s difficult for us to see our own shadow. What I mean by that is, because we are so close to our skills and gifts, it can be easy to write them off as “obvious” or “not valuable.” It often takes an outside viewer to mirror that back to us.
In that moment, I set off a chain of actions whose reverberations affected the next eight years for that business. It catalyzed me to systematize and operationalize what we were doing, resulting in growing the company into multiple markets through licensing partnerships, ultimately serving over 30,000 people. Doing so ultimately set me up to sell the company in the spring of 2021.
And now I’m back here at the place where the mile marker told me to make a sharp turn. I’m looking back on the road it set out before me, using this platform to help you create a business and a life you love, in part, by trusting those signposts along the way.
My next piece for this column will break down the high-level steps to sell your business, if and when you’re ready, even if it’s a “lifestyle business.”
Ready to take this ride together? I’d love to hear about a mile marker moment in your life, where it took you, and what you learned. If you’re game, share it with me here .
Remember this as you dive back into your work today: You never know who’s paying attention. So show up every day as though the writer of an Inc. article will be shopping your business secretly and you want what (s)he says to be a portal into your businesses’ next chapter.