20 years later: Mistakes and lessons learned

Celebrating 20 years in business

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since that fateful email message – the one that changed my career. At the time, I was in grad school, about to earn a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. I was working two part-time library jobs, and one thing I learned from both jobs was that I didn’t want to work in a library. Wasn’t there some way I could use my information and research skills outside of the library?

Then, just like everything else in life, the answer arrived just when I needed it. The message was from Kim Dority, someone I had always admired, because of her non-traditional library career. At the time, Kim was a VP with Jones International, developing a virtual library for students enrolled in online degree programs. In the email, Kim explained that they needed someone with a math background, and she asked if I was interested in joining their team. I did, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

In the 20 years since that fateful message, my business took off, morphed a few times, and here I am – a licensed private investigator and Certified Fraud Examiner, using my MLIS skills for investigative research and analysis. It’s been an interesting journey, with lots of mistakes and difficult lessons learned.

Here are just some of my biggest mistakes and what I learned from them:

  1. Build it and they will come – I was under the impression that, since my first two clients reached out to me, I just needed to hang my shingle, print my business cards, and others would find their way to my doorstep. I quickly discovered, though, if I wanted to grow my business, I needed to put in some effort. I joined the local Chamber of Commerce, (gulp) attended their networking events, and found a business coach who taught me how to think like an entrepreneur.
  2. When you’re busy, you don’t need to market – It’s natural to avoid marketing and focus on client work, but it leads to a cycle of ups and downs, and the downs can get really bad. I learned that, even when I have plenty of work, putting in the effort to get out and meet people or write a few blog posts definitely pays off.
  3. Client needs never change – When business got slow, I kept trying to market the same services to the same people. Then I realized that times had changed. My clients no longer valued my skills as they did in the past, so I did some market research and found out what they did value and how I can meet those new needs.
  4. Chasing clients is the way to get more business – When I decided to pivot, I thought that I could pick a new industry, sell my services, and I’d be busy again. Wrong again. Prospects sense your desperation. I discovered that attracting clients by establishing myself as a thought leader and sharing my knowledge through speaking and writing was a much better approach. 
  5. I can do this alone – One of the reasons I started my business and why I work from my home office is because I’m an introvert. When faced with a choice, I prefer to be alone and to work alone. I’m also a big control freak, so I couldn’t imagine letting someone take over a portion of the work. I quickly learned that this limits what I can offer clients, and now I regularly work with subcontractors so that I don’t need to turn away business.

I’ve never regretted that fateful decision to join Kim’s team, and, even with these painful lessons, I’ve never looked back – and I’m looking forward to the next 20 years!


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