Four life-changing lessons for entrepreneurs

At my core, I am an entrepreneur. Simply put, I am a person who has always tried to figure out life in a fearless way. When I think back to the years I spent creating and growing my business, I recognize that there were defining moments that made my organization and career what it is today. The way in which I handled those particular situations proved to be life-changing decisions that were integral to my success, as well as fundamental lessons for any entrepreneur.

1: Believe in the opportunity and make it happen

When someone opens a door, recognize the opportunity and go for it! Even if something feels a longshot and you aren’t sure if you’re ready, know that some chances truly are once in a lifetime, and your best option is to grab on with both hands and enjoy the ride.

Seizing opportunity was how I got my first big client. I was driving in my car and my cell phone rang. On the other line was Bob Caruso, President of Consumer Lending of the country’s largest bank. My heart actually skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe he was calling me directly, and what he said was even more amazing! “Jane, I heard what you are doing. You are the only innovative person I know who is brave enough to build software to change an industry.” I held my breath as he continued. “Would you be willing to come and show it to us?” I hesitated for a second and then replied, “Yes!” In the back of my mind, I started worrying about the fact that we were still in the early stages of development of the software. Was it ready for a quality demo? Could my team and I give a compelling delivery of what we had invented? And what would I wear? At that moment I second-guessed everything, but I didn’t dare back down from the opportunity.

My team and I went to the meeting, and the rest is history. This huge organization was the first to buy our product and work side by side with us to make it even better.

2: Don’t be afraid to fail.

In any new company, as you are learning and developing your offerings, there will be hiccups along the way. Take comfort in knowing that failing is an integral part of learning, growing, and succeeding in both life and business.

When I first became an entrepreneur, I wanted the perfect product and the ideal solution for the customer. But I soon realized that I would never have a product ready for release if I kept waiting for perfection to arrive. Alongside my first seven employees, we adopted an iterative development approach and implemented the first version of our product. Clarifire, my company, was born. Looking back, if I had been too afraid of failure to take a smart risk and push forward, my story would be much different.

3: Believe in yourself and your passion.

When you’re confident in yourself and passionate about the product or service you provide, your energy will shine through in every aspect of your business. So, remove those inner voices of self-doubt and focus on the end goal!

My confidence has been tested many times over the years, but a single meeting sticks out in my mind as being especially tough. After having success with our first huge customer, a senior executive at our country’s largest financial investment company called me and asked me to come and show CLARIFIRE to them. Dressed to impress, I soon found myself in a room with mostly men sitting around a mahogany conference table. I was both anxious and thrilled all at once. Determined to share my passion about the product and the vision, I demonstrated our solution and presented the business case. When I was finished, the room was uncomfortably silent. Finally, the key decision-maker leaned over to me and in a deep voice said, “Jane, you’re a small woman-owned business. Why would WE, a huge organization, give you an opportunity to deliver this?” I momentarily paused and decided to speak from my heart. “Well, it’s the American dream.” With every ounce of confidence I had, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Bill Gates started in his garage. All he needed was someone to believe in him and buy his first product. I can assure you that I will not let you down.” They signed the contract right then and there—a story that is now famous in the industry!

4: Deliver on what you promise.

If you tell someone you’re going to do something, you need to do it. This is a simple thing, but so many entrepreneurs end up losing business and damaging relationships because they don’t follow through with whatever they told customers or clients. It is always better to under promise and over deliver.

We were fortunate to earn a large customer in the early stages of forming Clarifire, but one of the challenges was that our software was still in the development phase at that time. We could anticipate the amount of work needed to close the gap between where we were and delivering a finished solution, but the initial implementation ended up being more difficult and time consuming than we expected.

To follow through on what we promised, my team and I lived in a hotel for two months and worked seven days a week around the clock to make it happen. There were times I doubted whether we could do it, and I was so tired I wanted to cry, but I kept pushing and inspired my team to do the same. Our efforts paid off! We delivered a quality product on time, showing our first customer and the industry that we are a trustworthy and reliable partner. Thirteen years later, my original team of six employees is still with the company.

Being an entrepreneur is an incredibly rewarding journey. But over time, it’s easy to get so absorbed by the day-to-day tasks of running a business that you forget about the fundamentals that got you there. Going back to these four lessons can help put any business challenge into perspective.

Jane Mason

Jane Mason is president and CEO of Clarifire an automated workflow application and has been a C200 member since 2016.

This story was originally published by Forbes Magazine. 

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