Business Success By Design

From Corporate to Entrepreneur: What Worked & What Didn't

December 14, 2023 James Lawson
From Corporate to Entrepreneur: What Worked & What Didn't
Business Success By Design
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Business Success By Design
From Corporate to Entrepreneur: What Worked & What Didn't
Dec 14, 2023
James Lawson

Hello! We are James and Angela, entrepreneurs and strategic marketing coaches living in Northern Virginia! Nice to meet you!

We began our entrepreneurial journey in 2009 after spending 25+ years as Sales and Marketing execs in high-tech Corporate America generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues earning multiple 6-figure incomes.

Our mission - to help NEW or Early Stage Coaches, Consultants and Small Businesses, COMPRESS the time it takes to get to a 6-figure revenue stream without the stress, overwhelm and costs of advertising, hours on social media and complex sales funnels.

We quickly learned that NO amount of success at the corporate level would prepare us for such an income level as brand new business owners.

After too many years of scrambling trying to get clients and build predictability and consistency in our business, we finally decided to get out of our own way and got some coaching help (every business owner, especially coaches, should have a coach!)

We re-examined WHO we wanted to help and WHAT problem we best solved. BOOM! In less than 9 months, we were generating 6-figures using our own methodology and have helped hundreds of small business owners, coaches and consultants do the same.

It all comes down to 3 core concepts - CLARITY in your messaging, CONFIDENCE in your offer and CONTROL in your business.

Show Notes Transcript

Hello! We are James and Angela, entrepreneurs and strategic marketing coaches living in Northern Virginia! Nice to meet you!

We began our entrepreneurial journey in 2009 after spending 25+ years as Sales and Marketing execs in high-tech Corporate America generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues earning multiple 6-figure incomes.

Our mission - to help NEW or Early Stage Coaches, Consultants and Small Businesses, COMPRESS the time it takes to get to a 6-figure revenue stream without the stress, overwhelm and costs of advertising, hours on social media and complex sales funnels.

We quickly learned that NO amount of success at the corporate level would prepare us for such an income level as brand new business owners.

After too many years of scrambling trying to get clients and build predictability and consistency in our business, we finally decided to get out of our own way and got some coaching help (every business owner, especially coaches, should have a coach!)

We re-examined WHO we wanted to help and WHAT problem we best solved. BOOM! In less than 9 months, we were generating 6-figures using our own methodology and have helped hundreds of small business owners, coaches and consultants do the same.

It all comes down to 3 core concepts - CLARITY in your messaging, CONFIDENCE in your offer and CONTROL in your business.

James Lawson (00:02.606)
So hi, welcome everyone to this week's podcast, Business Success by Design. I am your host, James Lawson. And with me as always is my incredible partner in business and in life, Angela Inzerillo. So listen, this week we thought we'd have some fun and actually give you a little bit of background about how we got to where we are from our days back in corporate. Yeah, it's a bit of a journey. So I think we're gonna have some fun with this, but 

James Lawson (00:32.482)
kind of way to get started. We're definitely going to have some fun. We're going to just pull back the curtain and share some of what it's really like to go from corporate executives to business owners. The good, the bad, the ugly. Mostly good. Welcome to the Business Success by Design Podcast, where you'll learn everything you need to know about building a thriving business. This is in theory, 

James Lawson (00:56.744)
It's hardcore strategies and tactics designed to help you win. Join us as top business coaches, marketers and business insiders pull back the curtain on what really works in building the business you want and what's just complete BS. Sit back and listen to rock star host James Lawson. He's the one with the funny accent and Angela Inzerillo as they go deep, cut through the crap and get to the core of making your business work for you. 

James Lawson (01:26.542)
Good. So listen, here's what I want. I want to go back to the beginning, right? So 2009. everybody what happened back in 2009. A lot happened in 2009. We had a lot of stuff going on personally, but that's when you and I got let go from our corporate jobs. Yes, no one wanted us. Hard to believe, I know. Shocking. We actually had some of the best years. 

James Lawson (01:53.358)
at those companies, but it just was time. was kind of the economy, things were going down. So yeah, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. But yes, 2009 corporate didn't want us anymore. So, and I don't know if this is where maybe some of you guys, if the same something to you, but here we are like the two of us, husband and wife, suddenly out of work and we're like, shit, like what are we going to do? Like what's the kind of next stage for us, right? 

James Lawson (02:18.434)
Cause going back to corporate was always an option. Typically, what do you do? You brush up your resume, you call your friends and you people that you used to work with and you say, Hey, I'm looking for a gig. So, right. but we didn't because someone we knew said, Hey, have you ever thought about entrepreneurship? So I think part of the problem was we couldn't spell entrepreneurship. so, so yeah, so we, we get this opportunity, right? 

James Lawson (02:45.614)
Yeah, something we never really even thought about. yeah, Sig came to us and said, Hey, what do you think about business ownership? Didn't really know what that was defined as, but in layman's term, owning a franchise. So we were like, well, I really don't want to own a Subway, a five guys you might've actually liked to own. But back in that day, we were looking at different models, business models for owning one. And yeah, there was a lot. We, mobile dog grooming was one, hotel, 24 hour gym. 

James Lawson (03:14.84)
A lot of brick and mortar. And we're like, man, is that what we want? There was a high level of investment in money and startup. And we knew that's something we didn't want. But plus our experience and we definitely went through a process of identifying where our skills were and yeah, business coaching, believe it or not. So our background had been in sales and marketing, right? So yes, so we get this idea. We find ourselves spending some tens of thousands of dollars and buying the franchise. 

James Lawson (03:42.126)
All in was close to six figures, but yeah, go ahead. all in. So that's one thing you want to think about if you're thinking about a franchise. It is not a cheap investment and it doesn't in any way, shape or form guarantee that you're going to be successful either. So we're in the franchise, right? So we get into this coaching franchise. What do you think was the single biggest mistake that we made once we got into the franchise? 

James Lawson (04:08.598)
We thought we knew everything. we didn't, we kind of followed the model, but we didn't really follow the model because again, we thought we just knew better coming from being successful in sales, being successful in marketing. We thought we knew better. So I'd say we probably got into it questioning really what the process was. Right. And I think that's lesson number one. Yeah. Right. If you're coming out of corporate and you've been successful and by the way, we were really successful. We had some great years back in our corporate days. 

James Lawson (04:38.306)
Don't think for a second that your success in corporate is going to translate to your success as an entrepreneur. Yeah. Yeah. I think that was probably one of the big mistakes that we made was thinking that that was going to happen. So rather than going with the system, what did we do? We kind of fought against this system. We tried to change the way the franchise was working, quite honestly. Not that I said we thought we knew better, but we thought we knew ourselves better. And back at corporate, we did have a lot more systems and processes in place that supported us. 

James Lawson (05:06.53)
And now we didn't have that anymore. Although we did have a great coach within the coaching franchise and we learned a lot, but it just took us way too long to kind of figure out what worked well for us. So how long do you think it took us to move from excitement, hey, we're business owners, right? Yeah. To really this really high level of uncertainty about how we were going to make this 

James Lawson (05:33.634)
Yeah, I think early on, probably within the first year, because we had a nice runway. So we weren't eating the dogs and all that. So that was kind of good. So we had a bit of security with money. We were testing things out. We were excited. We were trying and we were failing quick. So I would say probably after the first year, it's like, shit, it's really hard to make six figures. It was a little bit easier back at corporate. And I remember one of the first questions I asked of the franchise is, hey, when's the first six figure, when am I getting to my first 100K? 

James Lawson (06:02.156)
You know, and they were like, you know, after a year you got to, I understand getting your footing. I understand putting, you know, your process and getting your business started, but it took, I would say probably after the first and a half, maybe two years. Two years, right? Yeah. Yeah. I was going to say the same because it felt to me like when you get in. So one of the big challenges is when you get into entrepreneurship, especially if you've come out of corporate the way that we did. Right. And even though we bought a franchise, 

James Lawson (06:30.594)
hey, they've got some lovely systems, though they weren't very good. The thing you forget is to your point, that safety net, right? So in corporate, you've got people behind you. You've got a team. You've got people out there who are doing the sales part. They're bringing the sales in. So you're part of a much bigger cog. But when you're in business for yourself, you're everything, right? So we had to kind of figure 

James Lawson (06:57.964)
during that time, like who's going to be doing what in terms of the business. And I think from that level of excitement, because we're duplicating a lot of work. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We thought we had to do everything together. Yes. Yeah. That was not a good idea at all. But that was a big problem, right? Because now we're duplicating a lot of the effort. Right. Right. Once we figured out that's not what you do, and you'd made this point before about 

James Lawson (07:27.906)
We were told to build an organization chart. Yeah. Yeah. Right. And what was your response? I dude, there's only two of us. Right? I tell people this today and they look at me and go, dude, there's only two of us. There's only two of us. It's probably the best thing we could have done though. Right. Because what you want to do is to understand what part each of you are going to play in the organization and where the ultimate decision is getting made. Well, where our strengths were. You still have to do like the finance, the marketing, the sales, 

James Lawson (07:56.354)
president, there's that top role. So once you define what areas of the business are critical to a successful business, then you say, OK, who's going to do those? Or who's going to do the majority? There certainly was leadership in each of those areas where we'd follow up with each other. But yeah, that was huge. So lesson number two, no matter how small you think you are, get an organization chart built for your business. And if you're in a partnership, especially, understand the roles and responsibilities of each of you in that partnership. 

James Lawson (08:25.71)
Right. So here we are now, we're going through this. I will say one thing, Will, too, to consider, especially if you're one person starting or consulting or coaching business or what it might be, that getting outside help is critical. So if you think you're going to do everything on your own, I remember us participating in some marketing resources program, it was like 200 bucks a month. I'm like, what are you kidding? What do we need that for? $200 month. Now I would like, you know, kill for that. Right. So getting those types of services that can help you. 

James Lawson (08:55.736)
So if it's just you, because I know we said we have two of us and everyone thought, wow, we're going to be super, uber successful, make millions of dollars with the two of us. When in fact, we really needed to kind of outsource some of the smaller things that we weren't good at that just took too much time. And that's the key word. This is not about bringing people in as employees. When we talk about building your org charts, understanding who's going to do what, even if that means outsourcing to people like in Fiverr or whoever, or getting a virtual assistant, whatever it might be. 

James Lawson (09:24.92)
Right? Because your time is the most valuable thing you've got and you don't want to waste it on a whole bunch of stuff that you're not really that competent at. So fast forward, right? Four years in, before the lousy four years, we've made a little bit of money. It's okay. We didn't know. We weren't eating the dogs. having fun. We like learning. Enjoyed that part. It's expensive. But it was four years in before we realized like we need to be doing something different. Yeah. Right. 

James Lawson (09:52.526)
And a lot of that was really because the franchise, being a franchise, was still stuck in how they became successful like 10 years earlier. The markets moved on. We've seen the market move on. We've seen how people are moving more online. People are doing courses and programs, et cetera. Their franchise was still in that one -to -one coaching model, which there's nothing wrong with that if that's what you want to do. But we wanted to make a change. Yeah. And you also felt like you were not really best utilizing your resources. You were talking to one person about 

James Lawson (10:22.418)
X second person, know, one -to -one coaching. Next person about pretty much the same X, next person about the same X. So if we really wanted to leverage our time and build a business model that worked for us longer term, we had to make a change. Right. The catalyst for that, I think, was when we really sat down and went, okay, what's, what's sort of life vision? We really hadn't done that, right? We hadn't sat down and went, what is it we're really trying to build and why we're really trying to build it that way. So when we 

James Lawson (10:52.212)
clear around what our life vision was, right? Sit on the beach, drink margaritas, make six figures. You kind of get to the point, right, where you figure out, there's only a couple of models that are going to help me do that. And what it really meant was, hey, we need to build a business we can run from anywhere. So we didn't want to be stuck here in Fairfax and the business can only survive if we're here in this location. We got to build something where we've got clients from all over the world, preferably. 

James Lawson (11:20.622)
Yeah, so the business model had to change, the processes we used had to change, the infrastructure we used, it just had to be more flexible. And a lot of the tools have changed over the last five, so we've been in business now going into our 15th year, 2023, right from 2009. it's a lot, in my opinion, a of things have changed. So it's been consolidation of companies and resources, so we're better utilizing, internet's faster, right? You can really 

James Lawson (11:48.814)
pretty much from anywhere with good internet? Yes, yes, yes. So the environment in which we're working has drastically changed. And we saw that happen over the COVID period, over the pandemic. Everybody went online. We were already doing that. So with a leg up, at least at that point. So here we are, right, in 2023. Things are going well, all right? We're doing really well as a business. 

James Lawson (12:15.99)
or client basis, kind of where it needs to be and what attract the right kind of people. But I always look back and go, how much of that was because of the way we went or because we went online or how much it was really just the power of the networks that we kind of built up? yeah, power of the network, no doubt. One of the things the franchise taught us was get involved in your local chamber of commerce, not knowing what that was. 

James Lawson (12:42.242)
We're like, okay, I'm the chairman of the board of one of them. So it's interesting how things change over a few years, but we did, we got involved in our local chamber thinking we're going to do business with everybody that we met. When in fact our business really turned around, I tell people this, when we started giving back and getting more involved in the community. So we did free webinars at the time, also seminars in person. And we did, we would start leading and taking leadership roles in whether it's committee or on the board. 

James Lawson (13:12.172)
And that's really when people, and in our world, it really is about know, and trust. So it was really important that we built that network of not just potential clients, but also partners and ventures, know, the business bankers, the accountants, folks that are your champions. It's really important to be leveraging other people's networks, right? So you can get more eyes because you could only be so, you know, everyone says, Hey, I just see you everywhere. Yeah, I get that. But I'm only in so many places. It's just because I'm leveraging my 

James Lawson (13:42.184)
Right. So I think the key in all of that was even though we're online now and we'll see online like virtual and you know, we've got YouTube and we're doing a lot of stuff virtually. The foundation, the business was still built on activating our network. Yes. Right. So was the people we met, the people we had like partnerships and JVs and really starting to hone that and build on the network. 

James Lawson (14:11.042)
that allowed us later on as we are now to actually get online and do some of really cool things that we're actually able to do right now. Which is a lot of fun, which is doing the webinars, doing virtual trainings and that type of thing. So lesson number three in all this is don't get ahead of yourself. There's a lot of people talking about getting online and doing Facebook ads and Google ads and this type of thing. And I think we're testament to the fact 

James Lawson (14:40.138)
if you really want to, if you're early stage and you really want to get moving, is build your network, build your list, activate your network and work with the people that you can actually touch and feel. Yeah. If you think you don't have a network. Not gross way, know, people. touching feeling things. People. But people that can actually get hold of and shake hands with and have a, like build a relationship around. Yeah. But I want to make sure people know too, I hear this a lot. We don't, I don't have a network. I don't know anybody. You do. And it's just a matter of reaching out. So whether it be former, 

James Lawson (15:09.954)
colleagues or people that maybe you worked with, people that go to your local church, right? Or your kids' soccer teams and families and neighbors. So you always want to consider that people around you are your network, but you have to build it. And that's what we did. Went to the local chambers, we went to networking events. I grabbed cards. People would opt into our, at the time, newsletter, or they'd come to our free events. And so that's how we built the network. And it's just a little bit, it's just a little 

James Lawson (15:38.926)
you know, every day. And I mean, it's not like our list is 50 ,000 strong. No, not at all. Yeah. Right. It's not a big list, but everyone in that list, more or less, we've actually got a relationship with, we know them for the most part, or we've met them at least physically once or twice. So I think from that standpoint, like building the network and this was all, I just wasn't me at all. But Angela getting out there and meeting people and going to events, 

James Lawson (16:06.24)
allowed us then to get those same people into our own live events, or workshops, et cetera. And that's what helped kind of jumpstart the business once we left the franchise. And let's be clear, it was me because that was my genius, my strength, and what I enjoy doing, and what I do fairly well. Your strength was more about the presentations and doing more of doing all of the coaching, essentially. So that really kind of separated itself and made very much clear sense for our business. 

James Lawson (16:34.69)
What would you say to people who are watching this, are kind of in that early stage, maybe struggling a little, right? Where we were in that first two or three years, right? Because it was painful. Well, because we tried to do too much, you know, and not everything was working. So yeah, it was a little bit, but we just thought we were supposed to be further along than we were. So what do do when you do that? You just work harder, right? Right. We did more of the wrong thing. So as James always says, you got to... 

James Lawson (17:03.916)
the right thing at the right time. And we were doing the right thing. was just the wrong time in our business. think we were trying to play much bigger than we were. Sorry, go back to your question. question was, what would you tell people in that stage right now who are maybe struggling a little bit, or even a big bit, and they're thinking to themselves, is this ever going to work? What's the advice that you would give them? I think it's important to take a 

James Lawson (17:27.66)
back. mean, for you and I, it was fortunate that we had the same end mind in play. We get there very differently. We do things differently. And for some reason, he doesn't do things my way all the time. So I think it's really important that you get really crystal clear on what your end game is and then really understand the steps that it's going to take to get there. And I think we just struggled for so long trying to identify like, who do we really want to work with? What we could work with anybody. And I hate that word. You can't work with anybody. 

James Lawson (17:56.664)
Who should we work for? So I think getting real clarity on kind of who we want to work for, but what makes us unique and what stands out so important to have, because then you're like everybody. So I think having clarity in that is critical. So clarity around who you want to work with, call it your niche, whatever, right? But getting really clear on who that is going to be, making sure that the messaging is congruent with that, right? Yep. But the differentiation was a biggie for us. 

James Lawson (18:26.444)
because we struggled with that for so long. And even today, like we look at coaching and don't take us the wrong way for doing real estate. But it's like everyone who comes out and is trying to be a coach, it's almost like a plan. It's like their plan B, right? Or they've come to corporate and they're going into coaching because they think it's a, it's an easy business to be in, but it's not right. Because it's like everybody's trying to get into coaching. 

James Lawson (18:54.03)
Yeah. And back in 2009, when we did it, it was really just starting to get traction, think, as an industry. this last kind of 14, 15 years, it's really taken hold. So yeah, I think the differentiation part is really key. For us, it took us all of a while to kind of figure it out, but it was almost an organic thing because we looked at the way we worked. 

James Lawson (19:21.814)
Yeah, right. And then we looked at everybody else. We're working different to everybody else. Yeah. Yeah. Because with coaching, was that whole, was I also like ask deep penetrating questions, right? And hope that the business is going to have a breakthrough. And we were like, well, why don't we just tell you the answer? Right. Don't, don't try and work it out. Like we've been through this. We know what it is. Exactly. We know the path to go down. know the mistakes that we made, by the way, there were plenty of mistakes. 

James Lawson (19:52.05)
And that became our point of differentiation. And then we asked our clients. That's one thing. That's the biggest way to find out what separates you from your competitors is ask your clients, why did they choose you? And for most of the folks that you talk to, any of the folks that used to work with us or work with us currently, it's about what James just kicked my ass, right? He's going to tell me what I need to do. So if you're serious about owning a business, you need to have reality. Don't let your ego get in the way. Don't put your head in the sand. 

James Lawson (20:19.522)
face up to reality. And I think that's what we did early on where finally things turn. Cause you know, we both have egos, yours bigger than mine, of course, but it's really to say, you know what? We need help and we're not as good as we think. And until that happened, things just started turning around. there's this whole idea of like, you know what you know, you know what you don't know and you don't know, or you don't know what you don't know. There's right, that's whole thing. And that's the biggest piece. Like you don't know what you don't 

James Lawson (20:48.782)
So for us to expect people to come up with the answer because we've just asked the right question, I'm not saying that can't happen. just takes way too long. So what we want to do is we want to make sure we can track that time for our clients because again, we've been through it. So as we end this little session, which has been very cool, a lot of fun, what do you want to leave them with? 

James Lawson (21:17.302)
Well, first of all, getting into business with your spouse. Follow us first. All on that one. But really, we wanted to just share with you how excited we are to start this. Because everybody asks us how we got to where we are today coming from successful corporate to successful entrepreneurs. You guys always look like you're having fun. You look like you're not working. And we're like, well, we are working, but we're just trying to work smarter. 

James Lawson (21:42.338)
I just want to leave it with that. If you've got any feedback or thoughts or things that you want to hear, we'd love to talk about them. We're happy to share kind of, I said the good, the bad, the ugly, and there is mostly good, but there was definitely some bad and some ugly, but we would have never had the good if we didn't have the ugly. Yeah. I would say embrace the challenge, right? Because you're going to get challenged a lot doing this and there's going to be times where you're like, I don't know if it's worth 

James Lawson (22:09.21)
I don't know if this is worth me going on and doing this. And not everyone is going to have the kind of runway that we had when we came in. We knew we had a runway. We knew we had time to get this thing going. Not everybody does. Which is why we've put a lot of effort in making sure that the clients that we work with, we get them to that success level really, really quickly. So they start to kind of make money. So I'd say embrace the challenge. But more importantly 

James Lawson (22:38.442)
is reach out and get help, whether it's from us or from someone else. Just figure out someone that's in the place that you want to get to, who's been through what you're going through, who knows the way out, and utilize their expertise. Buying that talent is invaluable because you're going to waste so much more time and money trying to figure this crap out on your own versus just getting someone who's been there and done it. 

James Lawson (23:05.912)
So that's it for this first episode of the Angela and James show. Of course, we do have our normal podcast, which you can go and get either through Apple, Spotify, whatever. Go to our website at impactbusiness .com and you can see the pod or you can listen to the podcast there. I do a video podcast probably every week, right? So you're going to get 

James Lawson (23:28.394)
We've got a lot of stuff going on for you guys. So make sure you subscribe. I know that somewhere down below and so you can hear us. Click the bell to get notified. Subscribe to the channel so you'll be part of a listening audience. Hopefully you've enjoyed this first one and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them. all good. So yeah, we'll be around in the next week or two again. Can't wait. It's going to be fun. Take care. Bye.