Guest Article Written By: James Tapankov
NOTE: When I first moved to the corporate world, many of my teacher friends would say to me “Ah, going over to the dark side, eh?” I thought it was a funny perception, so I used it for my title here. In truth, people in the corporate sector with whom I’ve worked with have been very easy and fun to work with – and they care about the people around them just as much teachers care about their colleagues and kids.
Just goes to show – context sure is important to clarify content, isn’t it?
There IS a life outside of teaching. You CAN run your own business. Just be prepared for your life to be nothing like you know now.
If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever have imagined owning my own business today, I would probably have looked you straight in your eyes and said, “Are you nuts?”
So why is it that on this Monday morning, I’m down in my home office preparing for a day of contacts and networking to support my virtual meeting consulting start-up? Because I decided to see if what I did and believed in the insular world of education could hold up in the fast-paced world of business.
If you are considering moving into the private sector, and especially if you want to start your own business, hear what I have learned so far. Take it as you will – but I’ve learned a lot I would never have if I hadn’t taken the plunge. In fact my baptism of fire is still warm, and I’m shaking off some ashes as I write.
1. Pick ONE thing you do really well and focus on it.
One of the big mistakes I made initially with my own company was focusing on a LOT of different little things. This is helpful in a school, but made it hard for me to quickly tell a potential customer how I could help them do #2 on this list. Right now, my focus is on making virtual meetings for organizations reduce costs and produce results.
2. Businesses care about one thing – how you can help them make money.
I had to throw my ego out the window, but keep my principles intact. The message I learned they must hear is “How can working with you help ME?” They won’t care about the projects your kids did, or how you managed the school network, or how you took extra classes in new learning theories, if you don’t show them how that helps THEM, and NOW.
3. Enjoy going into situations where the groups constantly change – sometimes overnight – and be able to make connections with them.
Building new relationships and maintaining current ones – sometimes at the same organization – is key to growth and profitability. That is a skill I learned as a district coordinator working between 16 schools, and it definitely applies to this world.
4. Learn how to live without a regular paycheque and plan accordingly.
It has been somewhat rough, but I have learned more about money management last year than I EVER would have as a teacher. Add four kids to that mix, and you get an idea of what money really, really means to me now.
5. Work with mentors who have experience in the world of business.
I had to find people who can give you insights on how to approach potential customers, show how you can help them, and build those relationships. ASK people for help and feedback so they can learn what you do and help you focus it – and maybe work with you, too.
6. Find ways to upgrade your skills professionally as well as academically.
Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are fantastic – you may find that certain professional designations hold more weight with companies. Find out what they are in the area you’re considering and invest in obtaining the ones you find are most valuable.
7. Be prepared for the long haul.
Go into this knowing it may takes years before it is profitable – and live accordingly. My personal philosophy is that if you don’t work at building your business, every day is an unpaid holiday. Throw yourself into it – that’s the only way you’ll have a chance to make it work.
I’m willing to bet many of you are reading this and saying to yourselves, “This guy is nuts. I have a great job, steady paycheque, and if I keep in here and build my pension, I’m set.” And if that’s you, no problem. In fact, it was ME not too long ago.
But, if you read this and thought “That’s interesting”, give me a shout. And I’ll leave you the advice my last sales manager gave me before I started my own business:
“James, you’re going to have to learn to walk on water. And after a while, you’ll sink up to your ankles. Then, it might get up to your knees. Keep going. After a while, you’ll start to rise again. KEEP GOING.”
Isn’t this what we try to teach our kids?
James Tapankov, BPE/BEd, was a teacher in Alberta for a dozen years before moving to the private sector, working with schools, companies and organizations to help them use technology to collaborate at a distance. Since 2008, he has worked across Western Canada and is passionate about helping people use virtual meetings to learn, meet and share with meaning. He is also married and a proud father of 4 children, who all do their best to teach him patience and understanding.