Taking the plunge One woman’s journey to the risky entrepreneurial side of business

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Fourteen years ago, a well-intentioned financial advisor asked me if I liked to take risks. I put on a wicked smile and replied, “My slippers have non-skid soles.” Before I was an entrepreneur, I led a safe corporate life as an employee. I enjoyed a regular paycheck and benefits, went to the same office every day, and worked with a team of professionals who were always on hand to help resolve different issues—or, sadly, to stab each other in the back.

I could have never imagined becoming an entrepreneur, let alone a solo business owner. I never saw myself as a risk-taker. Even though I had left Lebanon when very few young women were leaving without their parents, pursued university degrees and jobs in Canada without any real guidance, moved from city to city, changed lives many times over, married, divorced, and raised a child by myself, it wasn’t until the day I decided to launch my business that fear nearly paralyzed me. Maybe my youth under the bombs of Lebanon’s civil war had used up my courage. Is there a bravery quota?

And then one day, I jumped! You might remember the icy cold swimming pool at Coral Beach. Many swimmers tried the gradual-entry strategy, but the most successful were those who dove straight in. So what does it take to dive into your own business? What kinds of qualities—or chromosomes—does one need to take that plunge? It really depends. For some, it’s instinct, flair, a great idea, or an opportunity. For others, it’s a crisis. The latter was the case for me. In the midst of my marital Titanic, I realized I was going to become a single mom overnight. Knowing full well that an upper-management position would mean never leaving the office before 8 p.m., and with no one to pick up my four-year-old from school, I had to find a solution.

I had worked in communications, public relations, and journalism for years, so offering those services would be easy. But how was I to start? Write a business plan? Consult a professional? Where was I supposed to invest first, and how was I to spend wisely in order to make money? Rent an office? Design a logo? I built a name for myself in four cities in Canada with the hard work and perseverance that immigrants deploy in their adoptive land, so I decided to stay away from a company name and logo, and rely solely on my name. As a PR consultant I’d offer services and counsel. I started by designing and printing my first business cards myself. The design wasn’t the prettiest, but it became my weapon everywhere I went. Just like prehistoric man, I went out hunting with it, killing prey to feed my business and my kid.

Motherhood and entrepreneurship feel like a circus performance where acrobats keep adding difficulties, dangers, and risks in a horrendous crescendo of suspense. I found myself combining four separate departments—service, marketing, operations and accounting, and human resources—into one person. As a solo parent, I had to put on a juggling act every day to handle my business and family life. But unlike a circus, where the crowd cheers on, this was a solitary fight on a tough battlefield with very little help or encouragement. My tools are mental determination, psychological strength, tricks, hacks, shortcuts, a fine sense of humour, and loving friends and family to motivate me even when I was an ocean apart.

Today, 14 years later, I can look back and say: What a ride! Clients come to me and stay with me, interesting assignments land on my desk, I go from crisis management to strategic counseling to public speaking coaching to media relations to social media advice to content writing­—all in one day. I juggle with different clients: pharmaceutical companies, a preschool, a candy maker, a meat wholesaler, and an apparel company. The pace is crazy, but it goes well with my temperament.

Success is not born out of luck. I believe in hard work, combined with creativity, flexibility, stamina, passion, positivity, integrity, humility, and even fear. Why would you jump in the first place if it wasn’t to conquer your fear? Conquering the rest is a breeze.

Lamia Charlebois is a public relations consultant, speaker, author, and reporter based in Montréal. She works with clients in Canada, the USA, Europe, and the Middle East.

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