Three Things they Probably Didn’t Teach you at Business School

So you’ve just quit your job (or you’re dreaming about it) and starting to establish your own brand new business venture.  Exciting times!    Well you are not alone.  Right now, there is a big shift by women to step into the realm of the entrepreneur.

Across Australia and the  USA data is showing that an increasing number of women are establishing their own businesses – either in addition to their paid employment, or as their main income source.

The gender salary gap

Traditionally, paid employment for Australian women doesn't have a great track record when it comes to salary. In fact in Australia, according to the 2014 WGEA report, the gender salary gap is still sitting at around 18.8%  - and strangely this is right back at the levels it was some 30 years ago.  Even more alarmingly, the higher up the ranks you go and the gap widens to about 45%, with the gap average being the largest in the finance and insurance sector (29.6%). 

Just this week the Financial Review provided some pretty compelling insights from both KPMG and PWC further highlighting the discrepancy in salaries between men and women in professional services firms and laying out some of the strategies that they are putting in place to mitigate this.

ANZ Bank has recently capitalised quite cleverly on quantifying the gap with some very slick media and advertising that estimates that this gap pans out over the span of a career to around $700K.

So perhaps it’s no wonder women want to do something about this and are heading out on their own to see if they can carve their own piece of pie, rather than rely on others.

Avoid being a statistic

“According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80% crash and burn.” — Forbes Entrepreneur September 2013 

But if you've worked in paid employment - and not run a business before, then as you might guess it's highly likely there is a HUGE  gap in both your skills and knowledge.  And that gap is not necessarily in the technical aspects of running a business.   From my own experience in speaking with both men and women heading out, this gap is about the things they don’t teach you in business school – the emotional and energetic requirements for running a small or medium sized business venture.

So in the absence of cash reserves, chats with peers, a boss who has done it all before and a team of fully qualified others in the office (those things we might take for granted) - here are a few of the things that I've found particularly helpful around remaining buoyant and resilient, bringing you closer to achieving that successful new venture you are set on. 

“Being an Entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death" — Elon Musk

1. Eliminate Frazzle

When you first head out  it is highly likely you’ll start on your own. As mentioned above, you’ll be doing everything from marketing, to cleaning, to graphic/website design, to setting strategy, from book keeping right through to social media. And the whole lot combined is a surefire recipe for feeling "frazzled".

Frazzle is actually a technical term and it feels and means, exactly like it sounds. 

"Sorry, I'm feeling rather frazzled at the moment!"

Daniel Goleman refers to the term in his book Focus: the hidden driver of excellence.  He says that;

“Frazzle occurs when the brain switches into crisis mode. Thought control shifts from the executive center in the prefrontal area just behind the forehead to the more primitive emotional circuitry in midbrain, roughly between the ears. This emergency response causes the brain to give priority to speed (over thoughtfulness) and knee-jerk responses (over creativity).”
— New York Times

In a nutshell, frazzle makes you unproductive, stressed, less creative and unable to execute bold and audacious moves.  It’s a passion killer and productivity killer all in one. It definitely keeps you playing your B game.  

I strongly recommend you develop a bunch of really good techniques for dealing with frazzle so you can nip it in the bud before it does serious damage to your motivation and output.  Here are mine - and I practice most of them on a daily basis.


2. Undertake some failure practice

Who knew that practicing failure could be so helpful?  Certainly not most women that’s for sure!  We’re socialised as young girls to value the condition of perfect: doing things right and doing things well.  

I’m sure you’ve read by now, even if you haven’t quite worked out how to apply it in your work and life, that success correlates just as closely (if not more so) to confidence as competence. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code have unearthed heaps of evidence that clearly points to the power and importance of confidence when it comes to getting ahead.

The problem being that as young girls most of us have been indoctrinated with the notion that competence will get you there!

So how does this apply to making mistakes?  Well if you are socialised to believe that perfect is good, then the opposite of perfect must be bad. Ergo mistakes must be bad.  

So what happens?  You become less likely to take action in case its wrong. You slow down and inertia sets in and nothing happens. Lack of action in and of itself contributes to lower confidence. It's definitely a Catch 22. Nip that one in the bud early.

  • If you are scared of failure you don’t take risks, you play safe, you play small,
  •  If you always colour inside the lines, you end up doing things the way they’ve always been done and there is zero need for creativity,
  • If you keep on doing what you've always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

So instead why not think about mistakes with the following framework. A mistake allows:

  • Finding one more thing that doesn’t work,
  •  One option to be ticked off the list as not needing to be done again,
  • One step closer to finding something that does work.

So bring on the failure practice for kids (girls) in school. Help them design experiements and tasks where finding out that something doesn’t work is part of the process. Help them see that testing ideas and eliminating options is equally as (if not more) valid as being right the first time.  When we colour outside the lines, new solutions to old problems are easier to see – and maybe that new way of operating that you just discovered by accident fills a gap in the marketplace and could in fact become your big ticket to success anyway.

3. Create a game out of rejection

Unless you’ve got a product or service that’s got "genie genius" (like a never ending packet of Tim Tams), the reality is that in your first year or two, you’ll have to face rejection. A lot. And rejection of your own ideas, products or services that you’ve lovingly crafted, selected and tended for months, is a whole other ball game.  

So instead of resisting rejection – make a game of it like Jason Comely, a freelance IT guy from Cambridge, Ontario did.

Jason was terrified of rejection so he designed an approach to immerse himself in his fear in order to lose the fear.  He decided he needed to get rejected by someone at least once per day.   And by making a game of it – by needing to get his rejection, this turned the actual receiving of a rejection on its head. In fact it made receiving a rejection a good thing! He couldn’t wait to ask someone for something because it got him closer to his goal of getting his rejection.

“Jason had totally inverted the rules of life. He took rejection and made it something he wanted — so he would feel good when he got it.”

So how does it work? Well if you are scared of rejection then you won’t put yourself out there in situations where you will get rejected (i.e. making those sales visits). But if instead your goal is to get 10 rejections per day, then it actually becomes a win win. Get the sale? Win! Get rejected? Win! 

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good - simply get started

So while the lessons they teach you in business school are immensely valuable, I reckon some of the lessons we can learn around failure, rejection and focus are equally, if not more, important. Even then, don't let your tendencies to over prepare get in the way of getting started. Rest assured you'll get to experience plenty of "frazzle", failure and rejection along with way - and just in time learning is equally as valid as old school learning in most instances.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
— Winston Churchill
  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 

  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.

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