December 9th, 2009

Always an Intern

When I got my first job at an architecture firm, I entered as an intern. There was a three year period before I could take the registration exam. Once you pass the exam you become an architect. Along with that, higher pay and more responsibilities. As the years passed, the firm at which I was employed grew and I was no longer the 15th hire, but the 15th from the top. As a project manager, I not only oversaw projects, I oversaw others within the firm. Because it started as a small firm, we held on to a family atmosphere. Not only did we help others along their journey towards the top, we never forgot our loyalty to those who helped us reach our potential. Answering the others questions became part of my responsibility, but I always looked to others to answer mine. And I had plenty. After nearly ten years at the firm, one of my last projects was the most challenging. I was thankful I never hesitated to ask questions. I had the mindset, that no matter how high I climbed, I would always be an intern. There was always someone to learn from.

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I prided myself in the ability to work within a team to handle a task. I was always a component, never a leader. Yes, a project manager “leads” a project. But, the firm had an owner and he was the leader and my mentor.

As I started my business, I hung on to the mindset of an intern. I researched and did the hard grunt work it took. I lacked a mentor and the support of a team. But, by continuing to ask questions, I found the people who would have the answers I needed to continue my “project”. I eventually assembled a team and I am constantly adding to it. My team has proven successful in that I have received press that has brought some attention to my business. The phenomenon that has come from being an entrepreneur with a fledgling business is the attention I receive as a person.

Marketing has it’s down side for a small business, it’s high cost. But, the pay off, if you are willing to take the risk and feel you have the right people in place, is that it brings you success. Success is relative and all in how you measure it I suppose. It may not be success until you make enough sales to dig out of a financial hole (just ask my husband.) But, I will tell you, the sales will come.

The success I have seen is in the connections made. Press brings others to you. To be sure, you might not feel comfortable telling the interviewer production is slow and costly, but by them printing that information, opportunity knocks. A local sew shop might see the article and call offering help. They too need business and even if they aren’t a good fit for your company, it won’t hurt to talk to them and ask questions. A small monogramming company might call and suggest personalizing your product. You may have never thought of that, but it just might open a whole new interest level to your product. Another local mompreneur might call, introduce herself, and offer help. So many questions, so many people, and they all lead to sales.

But, by far the best connections are the ones where others reach out to YOU for advice. There is a tipping point in rank as much as there is in sales. At some point, you emerge from intern to project manager. For me it has become the most exciting part. It reminds me of my days in the architecture firm. Being able to give back and offer advice has it’s advantages. You just feel good. I’ve done some hard work, entered into an industry I knew nothing about, and now I have the opportunity to share my experiences. I am in awe of that fact.

And so I trudge on my journey, and although I have been given godspeed, as they say, I know where I stand. I am so thankful for how far I’ve come, but know I have a lot more questions. I may have reached a point where others can learn from my mistakes, but for me, I am still searching for answers and looking to others for guidance. In my mind, I will always be an intern.