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The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson


How to Start a New Endeavor

Success begins by taking the next imperfect step

Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 15:59

In the early years of running my advertising business, I had my own clients, but I also freelanced for advertising agencies. This was before email, so I delivered my work in person. During those visits I ran into agency copywriters whom I knew, and usually one of them would say, “I wish I could be self-employed like you. If I could just get one good client, I could quit my job and freelance, too.” To which I replied, “You won’t find that client until you quit your job, because then you’ll be motivated by making your monthly mortgage payment.”

When I first started my business, I didn’t have any published writing samples to create a portfolio to show prospective clients. So, I wrote a couple of articles on current events and created mock-up advertisements of well-known products. My articles were typed on plain white paper, and my ads... well, they just looked fake. I cut out pictures from magazines and pasted them onto poster board, and used LETRASET transfers (alphabet stickers) for the copy.

My homemade samples didn’t get much attention from the big ad agencies and newspapers from which I was hoping to get work. Then I got the idea to work pro bono for nonprofit organizations. They still wanted to see samples of my work, but those I had created from scratch satisfied them. In two months, I had a portfolio with several published articles and advertisements. Slick paper, printed words, and four-color graphic design gave my portfolio the professional look I needed to call on marketing directors at local firms.

Those marketing directors didn’t know I had done the work for free. They were impressed, and hired me to do their advertising and public relations. Within a year, I had a portfolio fat with ads and articles for which I’d been paid.

If you are spending a lot of time writing a business plan for the business you wish to start, then you are afraid. Getting all your ducks in a row before you can get started is a problem with perfectionism. And perfectionism is procrastination. You are procrastinating because you have a fear of failure. You are looking at the big picture when all you need to look at is the first step or next step that you need to take.

My philosophy about starting a new business is: “Take imperfect action.” Start by taking the first step—even if you find out later that it wasn’t the right step. The important thing is that you got started. Second, focus only on the next step (whatever you determine that to be), then continue one step at a time. Tweak—correct the problems—as you go. Starting is much better than never starting.

Quitting a full-time job and starting a new business is a bold move. Being bold will make you feel awesome. It forces commitment, and there's something amazing about committing to something: It creates opportunity. It’s like the planets line up to make it work for you. People who can help you and resources that you need seem to appear out of nowhere. I’ve written about this phenomena in my article, “The Magic of Commitment Is No Mystery” (Psychology Today, Aug. 10, 2010).

I have started nine businesses. A few failed immediately or within a year or two. But that was good because I learned things I was able to use later on to make other businesses succeed. It doesn’t have to be a business that you are hesitant to start. Maybe you want to write a song, or a book, or paint a picture, or ride a horse, or go scuba diving or snow skiing. Whatever it is, there is a first step. Go ahead—take it!


About The Author

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson’s picture

The Un-Comfort Zone With Robert Wilson

Robert Evans Wilson Jr. is an author, humorist, and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Wilson is also the author of the humorous children’s book The Annoying Ghost Kid, which was self-published in 2011. For more information on Wilson, visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.