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Kathy Haan is the definition of a multi-hyphenate: business coach, travel blogger, motivational speaker, and more. A few years ago, that list included one more hyphen: full-time employee in corporate America.
Haan spent eight years saving money and building her personal brand before fully launching out on her own—and it wasn’t easy. But as the breadwinner of her family, Haan, who lives in Denver, Iowa, had to make sure she was financially prepared to be a full-time entrepreneur.
To get through the day (at a job she didn’t love), Haan learned to disassociate. “Don’t look at your employer as someone who’s holding you back. Look at them as an angel investor,” Haan said.
Today, Haan draws from these personal experiences in her work as a business coach. Figuring out when to leave a nine-to-five job is one of the biggest challenges her clients face. If they wait too long, they might never leave. But if they leave too early, they might not have enough savings in the bank. “Having a nice cushion is essential. It’s going to take you several years to start turning a profit,” Haan said.
Having a nice cushion won’t totally eliminate the fear that comes with striking out on your own, and that’s okay. Haan said every entrepreneur struggles with imposter syndrome at some point, including the most successful ones. The key is channeling that emotion into something more useful. “Fear and excitement share the same biochemical response in your body. Tell yourself it’s exciting rather than scary,” she said.
If you’re just getting started on a business idea, Haan recommends writing out every step that needs to happen to get your business up and running. And she does mean literally—she’s filled journals with lists like this. “Every day, take that next step. After a year passes, you’ll be amazed,” she said.
There are parallels between this advice and Haan’s personal journey. She’s written and spoken extensively about her 123-pound weight loss, a feat that required taking small steps every day to achieve a big goal. “When I first started working out I couldn’t get through an entire workout, so I’d do two minutes and then be done,” she said.
But she kept taking small steps forward.
Haan’s personal stories are inextricably tied to her businesses. People who have followed her journey are interested in her as a person and want to see what she does next. This has allowed her to try new things and not risk losing her audience. This summer, for example, she launched an artisan soap shop. “Had I not built my personal brand, I wouldn’t have been able to transition,” she said.
Haan’s clients (and most introverts) struggle with the idea of sharing stories about themselves. But doing so can be a huge driver of your business because, as Haan pointed out, people buy from people. “They want to know the person behind the business,” she said.
Although aspiring entrepreneurs are (understandably) worried about failure, Haan said it’s also important to make a plan for success. She said overachievers, a group she counts herself in, often want to do everything for everyone, but that becomes unrealistic when business is booming.
Haan learned to outsource some tasks, even if she was perfectly capable of doing them herself. “I outsource Facebook ads, even though I’m a pro at them, so that I can focus on the things that I love,” she said. If you find yourself working 16-hour days, Haan said it’s time to explore options like virtual assistants. And if you can’t afford those services, it means you should raise your prices.
That advice fits with one of the most important things Haan teaches budding businesses: plan for profit. Over her career, she’s encountered people who appear to be extremely successful but in reality have tiny profit margins on their products or services. To avoid this mistake, she said, it’s important to assess not just the cost of materials but of every aspect of your business, such as website hosting, marketing and packaging.
And, whatever you do, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Haan said the most important thing is taking steps forward, even if you have to take a detour and even if the path isn’t always pretty. “Women like to run a tight ship. But it’s okay to run a pirate ship as long as it’s moving forward,” she said.
- “Being an entrepreneur isn’t just a job title, and it isn’t just about starting a company. It’s a state of mind. It’s about seeing connections others can’t, seizing opportunities others won’t, and forging new directions that others haven’t.” – Tory Burch
- “As entrepreneurs, we must continue to ask ourselves ‘What’s next?’ It takes humility to realize that we don’t know everything, not to rest on our laurels and know that we must keep learning and observing.” – Cher Wang
- “Entrepreneurs have a mindset that sees the possibilities rather than the problems created by change.” – J. Gregory Dees
- “The Mind of an Entrepreneur: Mental Strategies for Navigating the World of Business” by Wendy Muhammad
- “Your Next Five Moves: Master the Art of Business Strategy” by Patrick Bet-David
- “The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries