Today we are talking with Susan Martin of Business Sanity. Susan is a lifelong entrepreneur who has a really interesting story about how she created one very successful business, and when that wasn’t really meeting her needs anymore, she moved on to create another one. She focuses a lot on helping new business owners make that transition from working for somebody to working for yourself through better time management and outsourcing.
Meredith: Susan, you’ve been a lifelong entrepreneur, and you started your first business when you were 18. What made you decide to go the entrepreneurial route instead of taking a more traditional path in your career?
Susan: I’d had several jobs working for other people as I was growing up and in high school. I think that I’ve always been very independent-minded. I’ve always wanted to do things the way I wanted to do them and do what I wanted to do, as opposed to what was being offered off-the-shelf, so to speak. It just was a natural thing for me. I don’t think I put a lot of thought into whether I could be a good entrepreneur or not. I just naturally had those qualities, for whatever reason, and it didn’t come from my parents. My father worked freelance for a number of years, but he had worked for
someone else in many jobs before that, and my mother always had a job. So it wasn’t a familial type of thing. I just naturally gravitated towards doing what I wanted to do and creating a business out of that.
Meredith: You’ve had a couple of different businesses. You spent a lot of time in the garment and fabric industry, and then you decided that it was time for a change. How did you come about making that decision to move in a whole different direction?
Susan: I was a sweater designer and manufacturer for 25+ years, and the business really changed over the years. We were manufacturing domestically, and it was very, very hard to compete. The business was just going downhill. My leaving wasn’t calculated for this reason, but basically all of the little mom-and-pop domestic sweater manufacturers were gone within a couple of years of me leaving because it was just impossible to compete.
At any rate, I wasn’t having fun anymore. The garment center was just all about the dollar. There was just absolutely nothing else that was going on at the time. I had been thinking for years that I wanted to do something else, but it took a while before I really got up the courage to do it. I was making a lot of money. I was very comfortable. This is what I’d been doing for so many years of my life. I knew it inside and out. Actually, though, I was pretty miserable towards the end.
I had my young daughter. By the nature of the business that I had, I wasn’t able to spend as much time doing the things that I wanted to do, which was being with my family and enjoying summers. Summer was our busiest season. There were just a lot of things that were pointing me in the direction to leave. Then a friend of mine asked me, “Well, how are you going to figure out what you want to do when you’re in the midst of this mess here, this intense overwhelming business that you have?” I thought about it and said to myself, “She’s really right.” Even though I had made huge strides in terms of my own personal growth within the business, it was really time for a change.
I thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I realized that what I’d really learned was how to run a business without driving yourself totally nuts and still have time to be able to enjoy your life. I decided then that it was time for me to design my own business where I could really be of service to others, which was something in the back of my mind that I’d always wanted to do. So I asked myself, “what do I know? Well, I knew how to run a business, I knew the challenges that business owners faced, and I knew a lot of the solutions.
So I started working with a small group of people who were all transitioning from working for companies to having their own business. There was a real estate broker who had just opened her own office, an attorney who had been working for a big firm for many years and decided to become a divorce mediator, an art restorer… a bunch people who were all at that same stage transitioning. Someone said to me, “It looks like what you’re doing is coaching, and I said, “Yeah, it looks like that.” That’s when I really looked into coaching and realized that this was what I was doing without having any training. I decided to take a three-year training after that and just combined it with what I was already doing with coaching skills. Business Sanity was born out of that around 14 years ago.
Meredith: What do you think are the biggest challenges people face when they’re going from working for someone else to working for themselves, or even having their own professional service where they’re working for someone else, like attorneys, to go into working for themselves? What is the biggest shift that needs to take place?
Susan: There are several, but one of the biggest shifts that has to take place is realizing that running a business isn’t just about doing what you do best. Whether you’re an attorney or architect or designer or plumber, it’s not just about providing that service to your clients. It goes way beyond
that. You’ve also got to be able to run the business, or someone has to be able to run the business. In many cases, for the small business owner, that’s got to be you, at least in the beginning. You’ve got to be able to take a real “big picture” view of what’s going on in the business and plan where you want the business to go. Otherwise, it’ll just take you along for the ride, and you’ll end up somewhere that you don’t necessarily want to be. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for small business owners — a lot of people don’t realize that at the beginning. It’s not until they’ve been in it for a while that they realize there’s more to running a business than just delivering the service.
Jasper: What is the main question that people come to you with? I mean, at what stage do they find you and ask for help?
Susan: I can help start-ups, but I’d say that it’s usually the business owners who’ve been in business long enough. They’ve been banging their heads against the wall for a while. There are certain things that they’ve figured out they can do, and they can do them quite well and get them done. And, to a certain degree, they enjoy them. But there are other things that need to be done, in terms of the business or in terms of their own personal self and the business, that they just can’t seem to overcome or manage or deal with. When those things become painful enough, that’s when they start looking for help.
One of the qualities of entrepreneurs is often the belief that they can do everything themselves. They need to get past that “I-can-do-everything-myself” stage and realize that there are certain things they need help with. That’s where I come in. It happens at different times for everybody, but I’d say two to three years is usually the earliest time when people really realize that they need help. It can go anywhere from that up to much more experienced business owners, in business for 10 or 15 years, who just feel that they can be successful to a greater degree but know that there are obstacles standing in their way. That’s when they look for help.
Favorite Book: Drive by Daniel Pink
Favorite Resources: Blogs: You’re the Boss (NYT); Paul Downs – Custom Conference Table – Staying Alive
Want to get a free audiobook version of the book recommended by this week’s guest? Click here to download it
Susan’s top tips for managing the overwhelm
1) You have to have a plan — both a long term plan as to what you want for your business, and a specific action plan on how you are going to get there.
2) Take small steps consistently — and slowly you will begin to see progress towards your goal.
3) You need to take control over your time — get rid of the distractions. Learn to prioritize, do the important stuff, delegate the rest.
4) Taking control of your finances right from the beginning is so important. It will provide an important tool that will help you make good decisions for your business.
Guest: Susan Martin – Business Sanity
Business owners today are being pulled in a million different directions, spinning from one thing to the next, accomplishing too little, wasting their time, and losing sight of their long term goals. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
Susan Martin has a cure for that.
She helps business owners, self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs direct where they want their business to go and how to get it there, so they can be profitable and productive doing the work they love. And, she helps them do all of this without engaging in the insanity that’s all too common in small businesses today.
Susan is no stranger to entrepreneurship as she ran her own successful companies for 28 years before dedicating her career to helping others achieve Business Sanity in 2000.
She knows what it takes to build a profitable, productive and sane business, execute an effective plan and reach your goals without getting pulled off course by the myriad of distractions and “shiny new objects” that present themselves each day.
Susan provides the guidance, support and accountability we all need to ensure that you don’t just talk about what you want to achieve, but actually make it happen.
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