The Hardest Lesson I Learned in 2016
This week has been one of reflection. Looking back at what was accomplished and achieved in the past year. It's been a huge year for KES, but instead of listing off everything that I was able to do, I wanted to dig deeper into the hardest thing I experienced in 2016. I wasn't sure if I should or should not share this learning lesson, but after hearing other business owners share similar experiences, I thought it could maybe help someone else.
Let's rewind to when I first started working from home in 2012. Working from home can be lonely. I wanted to connect and network beyond my computer screen. I only had a few 'co-workers' or other contractors for the firm I primarily worked for and most of my clients were based in LA/NY and Australia. I was anxious to get more involved in my local entrepreneurship community and dove right in. I planned and hosted meet-up's, conferences and coffee dates. I reached out to others and made sure to meet with anyone and everyone that I made a connection with. I loved it.
I quickly realized that my 'why' was helping others succeed. I so badly wanted to help others with their business through honest conversations and advice. I love watching businesses launch, evolve and grow. I became a 'giver' of my time, services and creative energy. But I was happy.
In 2015, I took my business full-time. I had amazing connections and knew that it would all work out, it had to. And it did. Thankfully! I still continued to crave the 'connections,' but knew that I had less time. I hosted monthly coffee meet-up's instead of doing one-off coffee dates. I continued attending networking groups. I knew that I had to be very strategic with my time and wanted to make valuable connections vs. becoming 'biz besties' with anyone and everyone.
My new goal was to build a vendor list of other creatives that I enjoyed working with. Other creatives that I could even pass work on to from my retainer clients with skills that were outside of my scope (web design, graphics, photography, styling, etc.) I thought it would be a win-win.
Sure enough, I built a pretty solid vendor list. Some of the creatives I even built friendships with, while others were strictly individuals that produced quality work and that I could trust to pass on to my clients. I collaborated on projects with several of them. I passed on work and referrals. I even created a course series with one. I wanted them and their business to succeed just as badly as me. At the same time, I loved having others to lean on and to support. And thought they would be the same for me.
And then things shifted. As my client roster grew and grew, I started to pass on more work to my outside vendors. One of the vendors I was referring to for my clients was taking on almost every project I passed along. They were producing quality work for my clients, which was a win for me.
But then, that vendor went through a re-brand and started to offer the same services as my business. Services that the vendor was trained on by me as a way to better work with my business and though other partnership opportunities. I thought we would compliment and support one another. But looking back, it was a one-sided partnership with me helping their business and portfolio grow. At the same time, I had given away too much of my business secrets.
I had been burned. I felt completely betrayed and lost all sense of trust. I stopped attending networking groups, stopped hosting monthly meet-up's and started to cut ties with my vendors. I decided to do the work myself instead. I trained myself to serve my clients in other skills. I did not want to experience that again. I did not see myself opening up for partnerships in the future.
But that was not the answer. Because of one terrible situation and a not-so-great vendor, I became overworked and overwhelmed. I stopped focusing on my 'why' and took on way too much work. I became bitter and unsupportive. I stopped sharing and connecting.
While I cannot undo this experience, I realize now that it was meant to be an incredibly valuable lesson both personally and professionally. While I still am learning to trust again, I have since added on new vendors, grown my teams and built new connections. I have gotten back into the networking scene and am starting to open up again. And it's seriously the best feeling!
And most importantly, I've realized that anyone can take my processes, my systems, my strategy guidelines, my clients, and offer my services...but they will never, ever do it in the same way as me. So, if you were burned by another business this year...move on. Don't let that burn out your flame. Don't become angry and bitter. There will always be a new competitor or someone that wants to take over what you have accomplished.
But they will never be able to take away the most important thing: you.