The Key to Being a Solopreneur? Create a Winning Team of Advisors
Threatened by people who are smarter than you? Feel slighted or defensive when receiving feedback that challenges you? Feel intimidated by business people who have experienced the kind of success that you could only dream of?
Yeah, me too. That is, until I opened my first brick and mortar business at the age of 50 and realized that these are the exact types of people I would need to surround myself with.
Each of the six (soon to be seven) members of the ModernWell advisory board are women I have known and admired from a distance or up close. Each member possesses skills and experience that I lack, or that I am in the process of strengthening. Each member does not hesitate to ask me the tough questions that prompt me look at myself and my business both critically and positively. Each member has inspired and motivated me to be a better leader, decision-maker, business owner, and ultimately a better person.
So how did I get over my intimidation of these types of women and reach the understanding that I needed them in my corner? Like most entrepreneurs, I tried things one way, hit a wall, tried them a different way, hit another wall, and then got out of my own way so I could stop banging into walls.
Originally I had hoped to have a business partner in the development and running of a collaborative, women-centered work and wellness space. But when that didn’t work out, I pushed ahead. As an independent thinker with strong opinions and convictions, I convinced myself that being a solopreneur would work well for me. I developed my business plan with Rob Smoland of Open to Business, hired my manager Laura Wood, who worked with me to build the ModernWell infrastructure, and met with lawyers, insurance brokers, bankers, and countless people in the Twin Cities who started and ran businesses. This somewhat scrappy process enabled me to get the basics of my business laid out without breaking the bank, and I thought I was good to go. However, as ModernWell opened its doors in January of 2017 and I faced the inevitable real-life challenges of running a new business, I began to feel more alone and uncertain of my decisions. The unfriendly impostor syndrome began to take hold and I could feel the self-doubt threatening to pull me down, “Who am I to run a business? I have no idea what I am doing. I am not qualified for this job. I can’t do this.”
Confiding in a close friend (who became an advisory board member) about my growing feelings of inadequacy and fear, she said with absolute clarity, “You need a board of advisors. You cannot do this alone. You need a team that will have your back, help guide you, and hold you accountable.”
The idea of a board of advisors scared the living daylights out of me. I would be exposed. They would see me. And they would see that I didn’t know what I was doing. How could I run a board of advisors when I didn’t know how to run the company I had started? No way. Wasn’t going to happen.
However, after battling more feelings incompetence and realizing that I was digging myself into a hole, I asked myself a series of questions that would change everything, “What if I could pick the smartest, bravest, savviest business people I know and have access to their brains and courageous energy? What would that feel like and what could that do for me and my business? Would they see me as a fraud or would they help me grow in areas where I felt weak, and be the compasses that I needed to help guide this company in a positive direction? What if business leaders I admired and respected would say yes to my request for help?
So, I made a list and identified women in different industries—a marketing strategist, a leader of a successful non-profit, a founder and CEO of a marketing branding agency, a vice president of a Fortune 500 company, a successful entrepreneur, a media executive, and a president of a bank. I wrote each one a letter asking them to be part of the ModernWell advisory team and almost all said yes (with the exception of a few who were already juggling too many commitments, and in their thoughtful responses I learned the importance of holding onto your boundaries).
I still pinch myself when I look around the ModernWell conference room table during our quarterly meetings and see the incredible women surrounding me. They were strangers to each other a year ago, and in addition to being the backbone of ModernWell, they have formed their own friendships and business alliances. Their intelligence, tenacity, and humor fuels and inspires me every day, and their words of advice and encouragement give me strength on the toughest days. Together we wrestle challenges and opportunities, celebrate milestones and breakthroughs, and tackle difficult decisions. We don’t always agree, which allows us to all learn and grow. There is no doubt that my advisory board has been critical to my ability to be a solopreneur and feel like I am supported by a powerful team. To anyone thinking of flying solo on a business venture, I would say to go for it! And get busy building your team of advisors. You will definitely need them!
Julie Burton has spent the past two decades working as a fitness instructor, freelance writer, author, self-care expert, and teacher while mothering her four children alongside her husband of 25 years. As co-founder of the Twin Cities Writing Studio and author of The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother’s Guide to Health and Well-Being, Julie experienced firsthand the true power of women supporting women. She combined her passion and creative energy and founded ModernWell—Minnesota’s first co-working and wellness space for women where women are empowered to connect with themselves and each other through work, wellness, and creativity.