My Big Break – Sponsored Post

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Thanks to American Express OPEN for sponsoring this post as part of the Big Break for Small Business program. Visit to learn more about the Big Break contest. Enter your small business for a chance to win a trip to Facebook headquarters for a one-on-one business makeover and $20,000 to grow your business with social media. See Official Rules for complete details.

It’s pretty easy to look around at people in your world that seem to have accomplished a measure of success and neglect to consider the ups and downs, flat out failures and lessons learned, and heart and soul that gets poured into creating the next 25 year over night success.

American Express asked me to share my story, my big break, as a way to perhaps inspire, or at least inform, someone else out there waiting for something to break.

Image mendhak via Flickr
When most people think of someone getting that big break they think in terms of a helping hand from a stranger or a mentor. (Chris Brogan tells just such a story as his big break) In my case, my big break came in the form of a grand jury summons and big fat slap in the face.

Now, I know this isn’t sounding like much of a break and, believe me, at the time I didn’t view it this way, but here’s the story.

I started my own marketing agency over 25 years ago and scrambled to find and deliver work with little more long term vision than making the next month’s overhead. Today I school lots of business owners on the virtues of vision and strategy and I can do it from a place of experiential knowledge.

About ten years in my business had grown beyond what I could have imagined and I was doing work for some very high profile institutions and causes. One sunny afternoon a couple of FBI agents showed up at my door to hand deliver an invitation to appear before a grand jury that was looking into the activities of several of my clients.

Now, no one was investigating me, I wasn’t guilty of anything illegal, but I was scared to death. If you let it, the hustle to grow your business can pull you outside of your ethical framework and blur what should be obvious decisions. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but did I suspect a couple of my clients may have been – perhaps.

So, this moment of intense fear and thoughts of letting myself and my family down actually turned into my big break because it gave me the kind of wake up I needed to remake my business in the form that truly served what I came to understand was my purpose in life.

My big break forced me to discover what I needed to do in my business in order for it serve what I needed to do in my life. At that moment, I vowed never again to work with clients that I didn’t respect and admire. Along the way I discovered that few things gave me more of a charge than helping small business owners realize what a freeing and enjoyable ride owning a small business can be – and that’s the higher purpose that makes what I do so fun today.

Below are three lessons that I’ve come to employ as I continue to learn and grow from my big break everyday.

1) Do work that feels like play

There’s a lot said about doing something you love and, while I won’t argue with the virtue in that, I’ll take it a step farther. I love what I do, but I get paid for what I finish. It’s that last 10% often that dictates whether or not a project is a success.

It’s very easy to get passionate about a venture in the beginning, but the true measure of staying power is in the pride to see something through to the end.

Work that feels like play to you will inspire you to finish.

2) Keep working on purpose

A lot of folks wring their hands about finding work that serves a purpose. What I’ve discovered is that purpose finds you, not the other way around. In the beginning it’s very hard to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, but ultimately purpose will evolve or you won’t stick with it.

Keep an eye out what for what really drives you to do what you do. A higher purpose is what makes this thing worth all the crap that comes with it, but don’t sweat it, live it.

3) Serve customers you respect

I’ve said that marketing is getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you, but the opposite, I believe, is true as well. In the long run, if you can’t attract clients that you come to know, like and trust – and ultimately respect – then it’s hard to perform in a way that feels very authentic.

Customer service is mostly about mutual respect.


AMEX Big Break

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