Lessons I Learnt from Arlene Dickinson

Photo from Ann Divine's private collection 

Photo from Ann Divine's private collection 

My business book of the month is "All In" by Arlene Dickinson, Co-star of Dragon's Den TV program and author of the number 1 bestseller Persuasion. Arlene is also an inspirational business woman, so I was excited to read her book and take away some lessons and apply them to myself.

I was captivated by the first paragraph, especially the opening sentence. "Entrepreneurship isn't a job." What is it then, I asked myself?

Arlene's reply was clear, and her words were; "It's a demanding, rewarding, scary, thrilling, and ultimately all-encompassing lifestyle." All of these feelings I have experienced and continued to feel them daily as a small business woman.

It has been three years this month since I left my  "excellent job" in government. There were few women of colour in a management position in the Public Service Commission of Nova Scotia Government. Something I had to grow accustomed to since arriving here in 2004. 

Many close friends and colleagues were afraid for me. Some questioned why would ''you", an immigrant, a black woman, leave management position in government, don't you know we don't get these jobs? For us, those senior management jobs are akin to winning the lottery. 

I knew it was not going to be easy, but I was completely unprepared for some of what I'd experience.  It was no easy picnic! 
According to Arlene, everything we own, cash, savings, home, whether we are at the dinner table or on the beach (if you can get there), all have to coexist to support the business. There is that close bond between business, family and work. All are interconnected. "There are no half measures." You have to put everything into the business. In my case, I did not have savings, the finance or the capacity to borrow. What I had was my talents,  family support, determination and gift of a good sell. 
She reminds us "to be an entrepreneur is to pursue a dream with everything you have and all that you are." We must also expect to face challenges beyond our imagination. We have to draw on our inner strength deep inside us to succeed.

There were many days I would go out, promote my business, follow a lead or a recommendation only to return empty handed. That hopeful contract, well, someone else clenched the deal. The product I was offering was not what they wanted.  I started to question myself, doubt myself and fear for my future. I was nervous among those I networked with because I was not in their league and could not participate in the conversations. What was rewarding are those individuals from the companies who invited me to various events. Given me a seat at the table with people who wanted to hear what I was offering. It allowed me to learn, listen and act on what I gained. I started to attend networking initiatives, navigating my way through the business world. 

Arlene Dickenson invites us to be confident and proud of our accomplishments, our small business and not to apologize for who you are in the company of the big boys and girls.  I found it was so comforting to read about how to behave in their presence and not to feel small.

Many large companies often have an army behind them, and as a sole proprietor, I'm doing everything myself, which can be a huge struggle. In these moments we experience fear and self-doubt.
I was encouraged by Arlene's candidness because she recognized that it takes "tremendous emotional resilience" to remain in the game. 
My biggest take away from reading Arlene's introductory chapter is,  I am "the cornerstone of my business." She said I have a "unique skill set to offer the world." No reading that made me proud of what I've accomplished.

Many times people would say to me, "I see you're everywhere; you're doing too much; you're just one person. You can't possibly do all those things; Do you sleep?; Are you making money; Does she eat?" Perhaps at one stage in my life, I would have said the same to a new business owner.  At that time I did not know about business, and the challenges entrepreneurs face starting out and struggling to maintain a business.

What Arlene said is true, I am the "greatest resource for my business." I have to promote myself, market, sell and close the deal for my business. I am the researcher, investor and must be able to build to sustain my knowledge base, as well as reinventing myself to keep abreast with changes in the world of business.

Being at the forefront or being visible does not equate tonnes of money in the bank.  It means using the tools I have at my disposal, such as being an active listener, social media, network, innovative and conventions ways to grow my business. Most of all I have to value my customers and clients.

Stay tuned for more lessons from Arlene Dickenson.
The passages in quotation marks are Arlene Dickinson's words.