Like Learning to Ride Your Bike…

In an email conversation with one of our APHA mentors last week, a point that is so often lacking in the understanding of an independent advocacy practice was made: That it usually takes 3 to 5 years to know if someone will be a successful business owner, advocacy included.

That so many advocates quit before they get there, never giving themselves a chance, really. They start out thinking it will be easy because, afterall, many have been advocates for decades in previous careers… just a simple switch to self-employment, right?

When they finally understand that the first few years are more about business than advocacy, it’s a rude awakening. When that lightbulb goes off, when they begin to understand it’s about running a business, they begin to panic. That’s when I hear:

But I’ve never done this before!

That statement is too often used as an excuse; as if it makes it OK to just dive into a practice without business preparation because, well, that person can’t know how to do it right because she has never done it before.

So… let’s think back, for a moment, to times in our lives we have had to do something for the first time… How did we succeed?

How did you walk for the first time? None of us was born walking – we had to learn it. At some point, maybe around one-year-old, we all started to pick ourselves up, put one foot in front of the other… even if we did so by grabbing the side of the sofa – we walked!

Very few of us (if any) did that in isolation. We had encouragement and support all around us; our parents, our siblings; our grandparents. They held our hands, they cheered us on, they dried our tears when we fell down… and every one of us was brave enough to get up and try again.

Do you remember riding a bike for the first time? OMG – I remember the falls, the sore wrist, and the scraped knees far better than I remember the moment I finally balanced well enough to go any distance, and pedaled to keep going (and we didn’t even have helmets!) There was my dad who encouraged me, who pushed me to do better, who supported me – and who cheered even louder than I did when I finally got it right. Like all of us, eventually – yes! I got it right! (And you did too.)

There are so many other first times in our lives… first day of school, first kiss (awkward!!), first time behind the wheel of a car, first day of college, getting married (and for some of us, more than once because we didn’t get it right the first time!)…. first day at a new job, first time giving birth, raising a child… and now, for 98% of us, the first time we’ve started a business.

NONE of those things were easy. All of them took trial and error, learning, improving, regrouping, fixing, reorienting, seeking support. In all cases, we eventually realized we would need to work at it, get better, develop our skills.

In NO cases did we give up at the first sign of trouble. In EVERY case we tried to fix what wasn’t working. Even if we quit something (maybe dropping out of college, or getting a divorce) – most of us figured out our equilibrium afterwards – maybe returning to college, or choosing a different career, or finding another relationship…

You did it then, and you can use those examples from your own life to help you build your independent advocacy practice.

BTW – I am no different from all of you. I’m not sure why, but most of the new advocates I meet think I must have been born knowing how to start a business. Nothing could be further from the truth! I took my first “Start Your Own Business” course in 1977. I started my first business in 1978. It failed. I read a dozen books about starting a business and being my own boss. I started my next business in 1987 with a business partner who I didn’t know well, and didn’t research well (remember – no internet in those days) – and who took me for almost every penny I had (he ended up in prison). But I didn’t give up! I started my next business in 1993 (while working full time for an employer) which morphed into my (self-employed) marketing business by 2001, and then patient empowerment and advocacy by 2005.

It was a process. There were times I had to stop, regroup, ask for help, learn more, improve my processes, reorient my marketing – then get on with it. But I did it.

And you can, too. (Don’t forget. If it was easy, everyone would do it!)

Tenacity is the key. And marketing. And good contracts. And high-but-fair pricing. Without tenacity, marketing, good contracts, and high-but-fair pricing, we cannot succeed.

The real point here is that if you want something, and you want it badly enough, and you are struggling to make it work, you don’t just let it die, give up, and walk away. Our lives have all been full of firsts – and starting and growing an advocacy practice is just another one of those firsts.

Just like learning to ride your bike.

Only, in this case, instead of Dad, we have hundreds of already successful advocates, plenty of great learning opportunities, a great discussion forum you can use to ask for help, and plenty of additional great resources to help you find your equilibrium.

Prove to the world that you’re one of those who can pick yourself up and keep going; just like when you learned to ride your bike. It’s worth it, I promise.


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