What does it mean to be an entrepreneur as a health care professional? What does it mean to put yourself out there with a business, where you brand your unique presence, products, and/or services? I’ve pondered this through my own journey these past 18 years, and know I’m not alone. I have at least one conversation weekly with other professionals and students about my entrepreneurial path , with curiosity about:
· The role
· What it involves
· How to get started
· How to keep it going, and especially
· How not to fail.
Amid the “Great Resignation”, or as fellow entrepreneur (and my esteemed professor) Dr. Fanike-Kiara Olugbala Young calls it, the “Great Awakening, the workforce is pondering new career paths and options. To this end, I want to share information and lessons to guide your entrepreneurial journey.
What’s an Entrepreneur?
The definition says it all: “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”
My fellow entrepreneur’s say, ‘I wanted to make a greater impact, or difference for the workforce”. For me, the journey began with a desire to provide colleagues necessary knowledge to be successful in the ever-changing industry. Being an entrepreneur involves energy, initiative, expertise, and creative vision. It also involves a comfort with taking risks; financial risk, and risk to professional reputation. Each type of risk influences the other; if you are unable to operationalize your vision successfully, you won’t earn money. Inversely, if you aren’t prepared to invest a little money, you won’t be able to clearly implement your vision.
Traditional academic health and human service degrees don’t feed the entrepreneurial spirit. There are few, to any formal courses on ‘forging your passion’. In fact, the entrepreneurial spirit can be unintentionally discouraged in formal degree programs, at least until the budding professional gains experience. Many innovative minds enter colleges daily, yet required content defined by academic accreditation takes priority. As an educator, I value the importance of theory and application. Yet, the growth of non-traditional professional paths mandate a way to empower distinct talents of budding entrepreneurs, sooner than later.
Starting the Entrepreneurial Journey
One of my favorite quotes is, “The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an illusion, the tunnel is” (Author unknown). This sentiment perfectly addresses the transition from full-time employee to full-fledged entrepreneur. The journey starts with a traditional job; you graduate with your degree and start a career. Yet, the rigor and routine begin to weigh heavily, and take their toll. The once, enthusiastic health care professional gets the itch to shift gears.
Underneath your frustration, passion takes root, and you long to do more than your current position will allow. Passion flourishes as you write a blog, article, give a presentation or webinar on a unique project. Word spreads about your unique perspective! Engaging in a different focus ignites more passion than you ever thought possible, and attracts attention. Conversations with other entrepreneurs empower you to develop a business plan, market your vision and you’re off; Leaving your full-time gig goes from dream to reality!
Ellen’s 11 Entrepreneurial Lessons
Here are 11 lessons to kick-start your efforts. I welcome all entrepreneurial colleagues to add to the list, and know they will! (hear that Michelle G. Rhodes, Deanna Cooper Gillingham, Thomas Dahlborg, Wilson Hurley!)
Lesson #1: Give yourself permission to be an entrepreneur-this is the toughest leap to make. Let’s face it, you need to earn a living. You may sit in your office and daydream for months, or years before taking the plunge. Don’t wait so long that someone else comes forth with your great idea. Give yourself permission to consider options beyond the safety net of your full-time job.
Lesson #2: Define and own your passion-You may have a clear sense of what you want to do. For others, the idea may come when least expected. For me, a switch went off one day in 2004. I saw my enthusiastic colleagues suddenly look fried to a crisp. Organizations were cutting professional education, taking away a vital benefit for the workforce. With many conversations about how to improve health care quality, I wondered; how could any quality care occur without a knowledgeable workforce. BOOM! As a result, every contract I take, every presentation or training I develop, every article or book I write, and class I teach is consistent with my vision. What fun to empower the knowledge-base of my colleagues each day, plus the students entering our ranks. Remember, if you have fun with what you do, you will never feel like you’re working!
Lesson #3: You don’t have to go from 0-60! It is ok to start slowly. Perhaps you keep your full-time job and do consulting on the side. Get a sense of who you are, your unique talents, and how much time and energy you want to invest. You may not be ready to go, full-time entrepreneur. Write a blog on a topic of interest, or give a presentation. Who knows where it will lead!
Lesson #4: Organize and focus your efforts- Passion can easily run amuck and take us in many directions. I’ve seen colleagues embark on their entrepreneurial journey with all the passion and purpose in the world, though become overwhelmed as they try to tame their newly unleashed energy. Start small, define your professional identity and brand, then you go global.
Lesson #5: Tout your clout!– Inform the industry who you are and what you do. Be organized and strategic. Create a website with clear messaging unique to you! Consider, how is what you do is different from others? Who is your target audience? What do you want them to know about you? Leverage social media, your messaging, and grow that presence!
In addition, since being an entrepreneur is not just any job, develop a 30 second elevator speech. When someone asks, ‘what you do you do?’, be prepared to respond. I often say, “I empower the health care workforce through professional training, mentoring, and consultation”; succinct and to the point. What would your elevator speech be?
Lesson #6: Being an entrepreneur takes a strong work ethic–Organization and consistency become your mantras; end of discussion.
Lesson #7: Never underestimate your value and worth-Consider what to charge for the services you offer. Ask around and investigate the competition. See what is realistic for your region, or specialty. You may decide to do a schedule of options, offer professional courtesy or pro bono opportunities; your business and vision are an extension of you!
Lesson #8: Develop, and maintain a network of mentors-Being an entrepreneur gets lonely. Surround yourself with colleagues you trust for their guidance, plus unconditional support. They have to be honest with you, even if you don’t like what they have to say. Also, join professional associations and networks that foster your connection with others with like minds!
Lesson #9: Set limits and a sound schedule-Once you find your passion and love what you do, it becomes tough to stop working. I remember hearing, I could work longer hours since I set my own hours; so very true. You can burn out as an entrepreneur, as readily as you can in a traditional role, so be mindful! Being an entrepreneur comes from the unique energy within you. Nurture that inner soul and energy so your passion, purpose, patience don’t fade.
In addition, learn to say no, or negotiate the date of deliverables. Back to that financial risk topic; you get paid when you work, or engage in successful products that will reap royalties. Fiscal vulnerability can push you to take on too much work, or work that you wish you hadn’t. Practice saying, “NO”, or “I’d love to do that project for you, but can only do it in March vs. January.”, or, “I only want to give you a quality product, and will need an extra week to do that”. You are in charge of your reputation, and destiny!
Lesson #10: There will be peaks and valleys-Financial scheduling is important, so prepare for inconsistent income. Be proactive vs. reactive, so diversify your business to allow for different revenue streams. In my case, I have contracts of different types and payment schedules to provide a cushion when I need it.
Lesson #11: Be open to all possibilities-Our passion is a blessing and curse; it can expand our opportunities, though also limit our scope. Opportunities that may at first, seem daunting, could turn into important projects.
I never thought of writing a book; articles, yes, but never a book. After co-authoring three articles on the same topic with a colleague, my mentor, Suzanne Powell said, “just write the book.” and we did! COLLABORATE for Professional Case Management was born. My ethics and health equities core beckoned: I have now authored 3 books with next editions in the works: The Essential Guide to Interprofessional Ethics for Health Care Case Management (2019) the Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier (2019) and End of Life Care for Case Management (2020). I’m writing my 5th book for publication in Winter, 2023: The Social Determinants of Mental Health: Advancing Wholistic Practice Excellence.
What else do I do? A Google search or glimpse at my LinkedIn Bio will fill you in; every day is different and uniquely inspiring. How high can you fly? That’s up to you. The world is your oyster: GO GRAB IT!
Have other entrepreneurial lessons to share? Add them below~