What I Am Learning As Entrepreneur of the Year:

To stand out as an entrepreneur you probably think you have to have that certain something. It’s been called The X Factor, or undeniable charisma

Don’t buy into limiting thoughts. The Truth is, just about anyone can stand out and remain at the top, if their attitude, time, and energy are thoughtful and directed.   

As owner and CEO of Rogue Wave Marketing, I was blessed with a big win last year: Being named BizX 2020 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Not one to rest on my laurels, I went for another Entrepreneur of the Year again in 2021 and am currently being considered among the top five finalists in the national competition. This, from someone who started out with absolutely nothing but ambition a few years ago.

I consider this most meaningful because of timing. Rogue Wave Marketing has taken off through the pandemic and we are on our way to exponential growth. 

So, it got me thinking, how is this happening and what have I done, that I can continue into the future?   

First, I thought of myths about those who thrive.

  • Misnomer 1: Winning is easy for people at the top. 

Truth: They might make it look easy, but I can tell you first hand, being a successful entrepreneur is a lot of work. 

  • Misnomer 2: People who find success have razor focus. 

Truth: I have learned that focusing on the bigger picture and how you fit in, will get you farther.  

  • Misnomer 3: There is a lot of luck in success. 

Truth: Chances are the folks at the top have made their own luck.

  • Misnomer 4: People who stand out are born with charisma. 

Truth: Charisma is often mistaken for a willingness to be open to  others.   

One of the joys of entrepreneurship is the opportunity to learn something new every day. During the past year especially, the learning curve has been on a straight line up for everyone in business. In that spirit, I’d like to share a few key takeaways that I believe have helped me get through the pandemic and thrive. That’s right! I feel I am thriving and I believe you can too. So, here we go.

Tip #1: Identify Your Talent And Passion 

You’ve heard it before and for good reason: Do what you’re good at and love to do. People at the top might make it look easy, for this very reason. They usually combine what they are good at with what they are passionate about. It’s important to remember, there is a difference between the two, yet both are important. 

For an accountant, you may be great with numbers but your passion is helping your clients make sense of the numbers and setting them on a path for reaching their own life goals. 

With Rogue Wave Marketing, my talent is creating perceptions that drive growth for business, but my passion is helping clients recognize the true value in what they offer and creating a message that helps them share that value.   

Tip #2: Keep Your Eye On The Prize 

The go-getters of the world are always looking at the bigger picture and therein lies the prize: Looking at the great landscape or market place, and being the best option to clients, customers, or donors in your specific field. Even more important, is figuring out what it will take to be able to position yourself to do so.

Part of the reason I was named BizX 2020 Female Entrepreneur of the Year was my willingness to invest in what I believed in. I started the company on my own, a one woman shop. In 2019, I took 30% of the company’s profits and used the funds to hire people who had exceptional talent, offered ingenuity in their services and had strong work ethics. They were all freelance talent. Just the same, I upped my game. Then the pandemic hit.

As a businessperson, what were you focused on during the pandemic? When disease wreaks havoc on the economy, it’s only natural to tighten your grip in business, narrow your focus on the bottom line, and tell yourself in the early morning hours, “Just hang on. It’s going to be painful, but this too shall pass”. Curiously, my instinct produced a reaction that was polar opposite. I loosened my grip, expanded my business, and embraced the opportunity to enrich my professional connections through collaboration. It was a rich trifecta, driven by a decision about what would have to happen to remain nimble at this time.

Tip # 3: Be Open To Calculated Risks 

What makes a risk calculated? A good plan. In fact, with solid planning, the risk will most likely make perfect sense.   

During the second quarter of 2020 when revenue was down 40%, I decided to take a huge leap and hire my first, full time employee. It worked out so well, that I made new hires a top priority. This was made possible by government subsidies, a Godsend to so many during our economic crisis. I used the money to establish a dramatic seed change at Rogue Wave Marketing.

My business received two government loans, a PPP and IEDL. I didn’t want to use the money to simply stay afloat as a one-woman shop. There would be no growth in that. So, I applied 100% of the proceeds to build a team. With unemployment up, qualified people were desperate for work and I was determined to create a win-win. 

During the past year I have hired a project manager, web developer, digital marketing strategy specialist and executive assistant. It was no longer just me and a group of subcontractors riding the Rogue Wave. I now had a growing team, giving me the freedom to focus on consulting with clients and increasing sales.

The result: Rogue Wave’s profit margin skyrocketed. By building on my vision in 2020, our Q1 revenue alone for 2021, was up 56%. Beyond the numbers, projects were being completed faster, and there was a marked improvement in client satisfaction, a trend that I am happy to report continues today.

Collaboration Is Key 

It’s important to me that I build a track toward success not just for my company but for the entire team, so I carefully hired people who shared in the cultural proposition of doing what’s best for the client, owning their own field, and pushing the envelope in terms of creativity and vision. I learned first-hand that respecting my employees ideas, and trusting their talent empowered them to realize and embrace their own strengths. THEIR success became MY success. 

I also believe in the power of collaboration with other entrepreneurs. So, I surround myself with like-minded professionals who are dedicated to personal growth and are willing to hold one another accountable. What I gain, with each collaborative group I start or help to lead, is far greater than I ever imagined. 

One of those groups is the Offsite Collaboration Center or OCC. There are two facilities at this time, one in Brookfield serving business members in the Milwaukee area, and the second in Neenah serving the Fox Valley. Each is within an hour and a half of the other, allowing members to stop in the business center to get work done during the course of their day or while traveling. At OCC, they find an environment of collaboration, have the opportunity to attend  scheduled educational programs or weekly networking groups. Each event is facilitated by a coach to ensure an even exchange of quality information and ideas. 

Another is Greater Milwaukee Young Professionals, a subgroup of OCC. Bi-monthly meetings are geared toward a balance of education, and networking. We cater to the younger crowd by ensuring that networking functions are centered around fun, engaging activities.   

Finally, I am the founder of Propel, an organization empowering women in business to embrace their vision with confidence, know-how and collaboration. I have seen too many female entrepreneurs fail without adequate support from their community. Propel holds a conference once each business quarter at various locations around Wisconsin. It is my goal to inform, inspire and motivate women entrepreneurs with knowledge that will fuel their fire.  Most recently, three dozen participants attended the day-long Propel event, with networking and interactive presentations on subjects ranging from the art of negotiation, to turning your competitors into collaborators, to eliminating your limiting beliefs.  

There will never be another 2020. We couldn’t have dreamed this one up.This past year has reinforced my view that the “win” in business also lies in knowledge, strategic planning, accountability, and connectivity. These standards provided me with comfort in taking a huge risk, setting the stage for unprecedented growth during a global pandemic, and building a culture of collaboration that helps others to thrive. It’s honestly why I believe I am a finalist for BizX 2021- Globally United Young Entrepreneur of the Year, after being awarded a similar title last year.