How to Leave Your Corporate Career and Successfully Launch Your Own Gig
Debra Bednar-Clark is the CEO and founder of DB+co, and the curator behind the popular style blog DB Style. Her business today -- a leadership coaching firm dedicated to helping leaders bring their whole self forward to achieve success with fulfillment -- was formed from her own personal struggle. She was at the top of the tech world in her position as a global head of strategy and growth at Facebook, which came after time at Microsoft, McCann Erickson, Arnold Worldwide and Accenture. But she realized that in order to climb up the ladder, she’d left pieces of herself behind. She had success without achievement. So she decided to launch DB Style as a hobby for her feminine, creative side, and began the slow transition to where she is today.
Here are her steps for leaving one career in order to start another, more fulfilling venture that incorporates all of your passions and talents.
Assess where you are.
If you’re thinking of going solo, changing careers, redefining your brand or switching industries, take a look at why you’re unhappy. Before you start to blame the market or your managers, look within.
“You start to externalize,” Bednar-Clark explained. “'It's my manager that's really frustrating. It's this role, it's this company.' Year after year, even though you're succeeding, there's always something missing, and for me it was a pattern. I needed to really understand the pattern over time.” The pattern, she realized, was in denying her passion for style, stifling her creative side, and thus leaving a key part of herself out of her life’s work.
“I wanted to find a day job that brought all these sides of who I am together. I [realized] I want to be in a position where I can align my skills, my interests, my talents and my passions -- and that didn't exist.”
So she began to brainstorm what her ideal work would look like. Once you see your pattern, she says, you then have to find the courage push through the discomfort and step into your true self and your true desires.
Explore where you want to go.
Once you dust off old passions or uncover new ones, start to explore how you can combine your past experiences and current knowledge with your new dream. You can start researching and testing your new ideas before you leave the stability of your salary.
While Bednar-Clark was still at Facebook, she created a -- wait for it -- Facebook Page for what would become her popular style blog. This allowed her to learn the platform for her job while also curating content and creating a community.
“It was a hobby in the beginning -- curating things that I thought were lovely, inside the home, outside the home, at the office, what you wore. And it took off.”
It takes time, effort and consistency to grow your dream “side hustle” into something that can support you full-time. Prepare to put in the hours before and after work, for months or even years.
“I spent time in the evenings and weekends really building [the Facebook page]. I invested in Facebook ads, connecting more of the community and talking with external partners to see how I could grow the blog.”
As she did so, more and more women started to come to her for not just career coaching or style advice but for guidance that was really a blend of both.
Promote your past successes and results.
The traits and skills that made you excel in your career will also help you serve your prospective clients and customers -- so make sure people know what they are. Do people in your industry or community know who you are and what you’ve done? Bednar-Clark explained that to make it in the tech world she had to not only perform well and meet expectations, but also make people aware of her impact.
“I really struggled with the humility of that. I thought, ‘Am I coming across as braggadocious?’ And what I started really understanding is that it wasn't about me, it's about the mission of the company . . . so I always say visibility begets opportunity.”
Tap your existing network.
This one seems obvious, but when you’re transitioning to a new industry, you may default to thinking you have to start from scratch and build an entirely new network. Bednar-Clark decided instead to reach out to existing colleagues and contacts that she respected, not to become clients, but for feedback about her new direction.
“I think seeing the value of the proposition, tapping into your network and asking for advice and seeing if there are opportunities there, was really important.”
Though you’re excited about your new venture, it may not make the most sense for you to immediately launch a press blitz or throw a grand opening party. Bednar-Clark, being risk-averse, transitioned her brand and services over time.
“I'm a big believer in seeding things along the way to see if they take off and grow. . . . When I first left Facebook, yes, I was focused on helping businesses adopt mobile and social strategies but inevitably I was also helping these stakeholders [empower] their talent,” she explained. “So when I went back to those organizations and those leaders to say, 'Hey, I've evolved my business value proposition, I'm now focused on women's leadership coaching,' I had already proven myself within the context of a different role.”
When she wanted to get the word out about her consulting, she started with a simple, indirect Facebook post with her new logo, which started to create some buzz and interest. Later she did an official press release, which she said helped expose her services to new people, and those who only knew her in her past context.
Determine your definition of success.
If you want to build a business that encompasses all of your passions and interests, you may need to let go others’ expectations, and define what success really means for you.
“I think for a long time my success was based on what I thought I should be doing and that can be, for any woman or any person, influences from your family early on or society early on,” she shared. “Success without fulfillment for me isn't success, and so I had to completely redefine what success meant for me.”
Any article on taking the leap needs to remind aspiring entrepreneurs of a key factor -- one that Bednar-Clark mentioned: Once you leave your department at a company, suddenly you are the departments, all the departments, and you make up the entire company. She was overwhelmed at first, but then she started to “ruthlessly prioritize."
“To grow the business, I have to drive revenues. So, I'm going to prioritize [certain] products and services first.”
She also recommends that for solo success you keep your eye on the overall priority and philosophy.
“If you can make decisions that always align to the core of who you are, the core of your business, it's going to keep you on track.”
Stay true to yourself.
Venturing out into new waters is always scary and filled with self-doubt. Bednar-Clark was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, and even she was nervous. Her advice? Rather than thinking about what you should do or the “right” way to launch and grow your new business, remember:
“You are your greatest asset. I love that quote, ‘No one is you and that is your power.’ If you can think about how do you take what makes you unique from your skills, your interests and and your passions and align that to the needs of the business, that's when the magic happens."
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