In today’s working world, everyone is so fascinated by entrepreneur success stories out of Silicon Valley that they forget one’s ability to be entrepreneurial within a corporate environment. In fact, you use an entrepreneurial mindset to excel at your job.
The following is an excerpt from Lauren Berger’s book, Welcome to the Real World.
I wholeheartedly believe that there is a way to feel like an entrepreneur without owning your own business. Everyone has the ability to be entrepreneurial within their companies; they just don’t know it yet.
Can you organize, manage, and assume the risk of a project or concept within your current company structure and still feel entrepreneurial? Yes, you absolutely can. I would go further and say that in order to succeed within your role you need to be entrepreneurial. You need to find business, create opportunities, own your projects, and prove to your boss that you have some sense of autonomy within your position and can think on your feet. People often think, “I don’t own my business. I work for someone. How can I be an entrepreneur?” But there is another way to think about it. In many ways, an entrepreneur manages his or her own time. An entrepreneur comes up with an idea, builds out the concept, and executes the plan. Now, this idea could be a tangible product, but it could also be a service, a new idea within an existing company, a project, a philanthropic activity—anything! An entrepreneur looks for ways they can add value and be responsible for their own time.
Jared and the Tennis Match
Once you demonstrate that you are capable of executing projects on your own, you might get that promotion you’ve been waiting for. I have a rock star example of someone who worked at a corporate company but was able to find a way to be entrepreneurial within his role. Jared Snyder works at HSBC Bank in New York City. He has worked in the banking industry since he graduated from Georgetown. About five years ago, Jared connected his hobby (playing tennis) with a niche need inside of his company. He came up with the idea of organizing unique, high-profile tennis events for the clients of the bank, where they would get to play alongside some of the best players in the world. Jared was always an exceptional tennis player, had great connections within the tennis world, and knew that his clients (wealthy executives) enjoyed tennis. I spoke with Jared and had him break down how he went from idea conception to final execution. Here are some thoughts he shared about how he brought his concept to life within a large corporation:
Jared’s job was to get in front of the wealthiest, smartest, most influential people on Wall Street and build relationships with them so that he was the first phone call they made when making any banking or investing decisions. He wanted to add value to the client. The only way to differentiate was to develop relationships, internally and externally. Jared knew that he wanted to find his own niche within his company.
In 2008 and 2009, the bank started taking their top clients to the US Open, something Jared thought was sort of ho-hum. Being a tennis player, Jared thought, “How can I take something kind of average that my company is already doing and make it a unique experience the clients will never forget? How can I bring this to the next level?”
Jared decided that instead of taking clients to the US Open, he could put on an event and bring the US Open to them, giving them “a money can’t buy this” type of experience.
To bring his idea to life, Jared had to create allies in the office. He needed people to support him and his idea. In terms of building strong relationships with clients, an event like this would surely do it. So he took himself out of the equation. He thought solely about his boss: What would this event do for his boss? How would it make him look good? It was important that Jared understood his boss’s goals he could pitch this concept in a way that would resonate with his superiors.
Before bringing the idea to his boss, though, Jared had some prep work he needed to do. “You have to know your market, your competitors. You want to be well versed in your world. Who else is doing this? What other companies? Are there enough tennis players? Are there compliance issues? What kind of legal issues are there?”
Once he’d done the leg work, he went to his boss and explained why this event would make him and his department look good. When Jared approached his boss he only had notes with him, nothing formal. Jared said, “When I first approached my direct manager, I wanted to give him a high-level overview of my idea, one I felt strongly would enhance our brand in the marketplace and increase our distribution channels. I did not have a formal pitch book or pages of notes. It was simply a well-thought-through idea presented on a scale where multiple areas of the bank would benefit. As the idea gained traction and support, I most definitely presented a model for how it would take shape for the bank’s clients. You just need enough notes so that you can talk about it. And if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to do that with no problem.”
Sure, there was a chance of total rejection, but Jared wasn’t nervous. “Ninety percent of my regular day job is rejection,” he said. “Failure and rejection are irrelevant in life—you might feel badly here and there but they mean nothing.”
Today, the HSBC Summer Tennis Championship is in its fourth year and Jared is about to take his vision global. The company he works for has expressed interest in Jared putting on his event for their branches in Dubai and China. I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs in my life and a lot of people that work in major corporations, but I’ve never met someone who has been able to embrace entrepreneurship within a major company quite like Jared has. He truly represents an entrepreneur within a large corporation.
How to Act Like an Entrepreneur in the Workplace
Here are a few tips to becoming an entrepreneur within your current position or job:
Do Your Job
No ifs, ands, or buts. You can’t embrace entrepreneurship until you are comfortable and excelling within your current position. You want executives to take notice of your great work, earn your trust, and then be open to hearing your ideas. If you aren’t doing the job you were hired for, they might not be open to listening to your ideas. You were hired for a position. You know what that position is. You must complete your daily responsibilities efficiently and correctly before starting to take on additional projects. When I was at my first job, it was difficult to earn respect for my ideas because I was busy messing up my real job. Because I had no systems in place and had things slipping through the cracks left and right, nobody paid attention to my bigger ideas. You have to successfully accomplish the challenge in front of you (that is, your day job) before you can start to add more to your plate.
Be Familiar with Your Boss’s Projects, Pitches, and Clients
If you understand your boss’s goals and everything that goes along with their business you can pitch them ideas in a way they can gravitate towards as long as they’re relevant and in line with their goals. For example, look at what Jared did. He made sure he understood that his boss wanted to build stronger relationships with clients. So when he pitched him the tennis idea, he knew to emphasize on how much this event could positively affect the relationship the firm, and specifically his department, had with the clients.
A television writer friend, Aaron Weiner, told me that he gets up and reads everything he possibly can from 9AM to 12PM before he starts writing for the day. He reads the news, his favorite blogs, industry gossip, and more. He forwards me articles that are relevant to my industry (a great networking tool), is aware of everything going on in the world, is on top of pop-culture gossip, keeps up to date with industry news, and stays constantly inspired and inundated with fresh ideas. This helps him stay current and relevant, which is key for business and conversations.
Seek Autonomy within Your Role
Look for ways to be a self-starter within your current role. What projects can you run point on? Which projects can you make your own? What steps can you take to speak to your boss about the process? Sometimes the desire for autonomy needs to be voiced so that your boss knows that’s what you are looking for.
Be Open to Collaboration with Peers
When I first started InternQueen.com, people would always tell me about the power of collaboration. I learned that if you share your ideas with like-minded people, you never know who might want to help support your cause. In 2006, I was in search of a design student who could draw my signature logo for my website. I told everyone about my ideas and people were excited to hear about them but no one actually wanted to help with them. Finally, Phil, a guy in my Spanish class, approached me. He was trying to be a professional web designer and needed more experience. He said he would draw my crown logo for $30 and I could use it indefinitely. He drew an amazing crown—I still use it on my site today as the main logo. And yes, I had him sign a contract on a piece of paper that I laminated and still keep. You see, the power of collaboration!
Get to Know Other Executives That Respect Your Boss
Getting friendly with other executives in the office can be tough. If your boss sees you acting too friendly with another executive they might doubt your intentions or your loyalty. You don’t want that. Who are the executives in the building that your boss wouldn’t be intimidated by if you formed a relationship with them? Remember, if you lose the support of your boss that could be a big problem. Once you identify some execs who wouldn’t be an issue, try to find out what they are working on and looking for as well. Once you establish a relationship, you should be able to share ideas with them in the future and they could potentially be a support system for you.
Take Calls and Emails from Strangers
Sounds crazy, right? If you’re an entry-level employee, you might be in charge of answering the phones. If someone from outside the company (an entrepreneur, a salesperson, or anyone out of the ordinary) calls with an idea, think about it for a minute before you hang up the phone and tell them you don’t accept solicitations. You never know when the next big idea is around the corner. When a person cold-calls you and pitches an idea it could mean that:
- That person is actually doing their job. Perhaps she is supposed to call a certain amount of people in an industry each day to build relationships. At least you know this person is proactive
- Even though they are annoying and I don’t care about their product, kudos to them for calling. Most would have been scared to cold call.
- Talk about chutzpah! I’m not saying that you need to sit on a call with some shady salesperson for twenty minutes. But what I am saying is that when someone calls you or emails you to pitch you certain ideas, she is clearly proving herself as a go-getter, so take a second to listen. She might have the next big idea.
Connect Your Passion and Skills with Your Job
I think Jared’s example explained this point in the best way possible. He took his passion for playing tennis and linked that up with a great idea that would allow him to be a true entrepreneur within a company. You are always going to be better at your job and more engaged in the office if you are working on something you truly care about. Your passion always prevails and shines through.
If You Fail, You Try, Try, and Try Again
You are bound to fail. You will find a way to pick yourself back up and go after what you want again (trust me, I do it daily).
Tell Your Superiors What You Are Passionate About
My friend John works at an architecture firm in San Diego. After putting in one year at the company he noticed something missing: a department dedicated to sustainability and the environment. He approached his boss to express his passion for green buildings, and used examples of what other people were already doing in the industry to demonstrate value to the company. His boss agreed to the design and construction of green buildings. As result of his drive to implement what he was passionate about, John was able to change the way his firm approached every project.
His company now implements a nationally recognized green building system known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as the baseline standard for their work (now the standard for all new California state and federal buildings). John led his firm to complete the design and construction of forty-five LEED certified projects including the first LEED Platinum project for the military. The firm is now nationally recognized as one of the leaders in the green building industry.
Google used to require employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects they came up with. Linkedln and Apple also have their own variations of programs like that. This is definitely an established trend and I expect to see more companies encouraging this in the coming years. Regardless of how much your company encourages you to channel your inner entrepreneur, you must take action. Remember, this is your life, your career—and you decide how others will perceive you, the success you will have, and what this job potentially becomes.
In Welcome to the Real World: Finding Your Place, Perfecting Your Work, and Turning Your Job into Your Dream Career, career expert and entrepreneur Lauren Berger shares all of the essential information that no one told her when she entered the workforce and reveals the secrets to excelling in whatever version of the real world you choose.
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