April 30, 2020
40th Anniversary Letter – Stay Curious and Adapt
Today I have been in business for 40 years. It’s gone by in a flash. The only two pieces of advice I have to offer today are to stay curious and adapt. It’s the only way to survive and have fun.
When I started the first version of my business, The Professional Image Inc, there were not many women who owned their own businesses. That did not deter me since I had very little to lose at the time, and I had great passion for my business idea. I designed a program and a process where women (and men) could market themselves visually if they knew the rules. They could learn to present themselves confidently with credibility and competence, even if they didn’t feel that way. It would help in getting a job and once on the job, being viewed as a viable candidate for promotion. So I offered one-on-one coaching and small group workshops. I did it by both winging it and reading everything I could get my hands on. I read a lot of biographies and asked a lot of questions. I learned and adapted my approach from every engagement.
At the time I started the business, I had exactly two well-accessorized outfits. I would mark on the client file folder which outfit I wore at the first meeting so I wouldn’t repeat it on the next. As a team of one, when I answered the phone, I would affect an accent so it sounded like I had an international assistant. After three months, I had one small client and had used up most of my savings. This wasn’t working out quite the way I had planned.
Before the first workshop I did, I got lost in the building. I started out so flustered because my class was walking in, and I was frantically unboxing materials. Right off the bat, this was a hard lesson on time management. But amazingly my clients were patient with me. They mentored me and seemed to want me to succeed. I would knock myself out, trying to over-deliver on what I had promised. That actually worked against me at my first seminar for my first true corporate client. I had a hard stop of 4:30 pm, but I wanted to give them “extra value” so the class ended at 5:30 pm. The written evaluations straightened me out on that pretty quickly. No one wants a facilitator adding an hour. Most prefer ending it early.
As I was building the business I needed credibility, so I wrote a newspaper column, which I self-syndicated. I knew nothing about how to syndicate to a newspaper, but I learned. The column ran in the San Francisco Examiner and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, two newspapers to whom I will always be deeply grateful and indebted. The problem was they paid $15 per column, which was probably what they were worth. So I decided to write a book. The Professional Image was my first book, and once it was published in 1983, I figured I could rest on my laurels. USA Today featured me on the front page of the Living Section, and my mom called to congratulate me. So did my friends.
While it was a stepping stone, it was certainly far from an instant success. I realized I had to stay alert and engaged. It took many phone calls, hanging around book signings where no one showed up, and trips to over 100 book stores to shake hands with employees who might promote the book to customers. I penned many thank-you notes until the doors opened to Maria Shriver, Diane Sawyer, 90-year-old legend Dorothy Fuldheim, and a young Oprah Winfrey. I know that each stepping stone matters. Some are just plain luck, but most are hard won. When you have your own business, things need to keep running no matter what is going on personally or in the world. I had to stay on top of the business while I survived personal loss, assumed unexpected family responsibility, raised my wonderful son, navigated financial bubbles bursting, clients going out of business, 9/11, the recession of 2008, and now a pandemic.
When I get fearful, I force myself to make my world bigger, be curious and adapt to the new circumstances. We human beings are designed to adapt. We have the DNA of generations of survivors, or we wouldn’t be here. I heard an author say that if Martians were to land on earth today, a month later they would be old news. Life goes on and we adjust to our new normal. We have to do the best we can and lighten up along the way. COVID-19 won’t defeat us. Of course, our businesses and institutions will look and run differently in the future. We will be different. But we can decide to conduct our lives with vitality and optimism through this and create something even better.
I am forever grateful for my team at Bixler Consulting Group, my encouraging friends and supportive family, my cherished clients, and the non-profit organizations that I care deeply about. Whatever I have accumulated and whatever I have learned, it’s time to share it all and pay it forward. I have a multi-generational idea that I hope we can get off the ground in 2020. Wish us luck. Whether we are friends, clients, or I have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet, I wish you the best. And I genuinely believe that the best is not behind us but ahead of us.
Take good care,
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