Break the Cookie Cutter Approach to Becoming an Entrepreneur

From early on, we’re taught that to reach our career goals, we have to do a predetermined number of things, usually in a particular order. Typically, excelling in high school, being accepted to the right college, getting good grades, interning at a company of note and landing the perfect job out of college.

While this cookie cutter recipe for success works well for some, what about when life intersects and has a different plan? Do you have what it takes to be a self-made entrepreneur?

Since starting my business more than two years ago, I have built my client base on referrals and a strong work ethic. I took the reporting background that failed to keep me employed and used it, along with my public relations expertise, to help build greater awareness for a variety of small business, nonprofit and local government clients. I deadened the rallying cries for 10 years (or more) of agency experience for every marketing and public relations job listing I saw by creating my own agency.

Finding inspiration

Years before I even thought about becoming an entrepreneur, I was inspired by Tom Sofield, a young reporter who had worked alongside me at the then AOL-owned Patch.com.

Tom Sofield went from working alongside me as a reporter to starting his own news organization.

Tom Sofield went from working alongside me as a reporter to starting his own news organization.

I was a local editor, covering news, writing articles and taking/posting photos, videos and managing social media for this 24-7 community news site. Tom was a 20-year-old journalism student at Bucks County Community College.

Even before then, Tom showed promise as an entrepreneur, having started and managed his own online news site, BuxMontNews.

“It started as a school project. I had to write articles for a journalism class and put them online. All of a sudden I looked and people were actually reading the stuff,” he says of the venture he began in the fall of 2010. “One story had 200 people reading it.”

I, along with the other Patch editors, mentored Tom and watched him develop as a reporter. Even in the wee hours of the night, Tom not only found the news, but reported on it.

More times than I can count, I woke to find breaking news stories and photos from overnight happenings already posted on the site.

“I kind of had everything lined up to do the traditional things. At Patch opportunity really presented itself,” Tom says. “I think it was the best education I could have gotten.”

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Fast forward to the end of February, 2013, Tom’s last day as a Patch contracted editor. The honeymoon was over and Tom, who had managed the Levittown Patch site long-term and had amassed tens of thousands of new followers, had already been plotting his next move.

Fifteen days after parting ways with Patch, he launched http://levittownnow.com.

“I had some other job offers and I turned them down,” Tom says. “I figured I didn’t have any kids. I didn’t have a mortgage. I had everything pretty much ready to roll. I just sped up the process.”

His instincts were on target. After three years, his self-made entrepreneurial effort, LevittownNow.com, had amassed 17 million page views and gained close to 28,000 Facebook followers – more than half of the community’s total population.

Piggybacking on the success of that site, in early 2016, Tom launched http://newtownpanow.com. In March, one of the site’s first full months, it had 18,000 unique visitors and 40,000 page views.

“I’m pretty happy,” Tom says of its early success.

When I first met Tom, his plan was to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. But, what could sitting in a classroom teach him that he has not already learned in the last four or five years of on-the-job training?

Armed with an Associate’s Degree in communications, Tom is gradually taking classes “whenever I have time” toward a Bachelor’s Degree in business from Thomas Edison University.

While still very much a journalist and editor, Tom has evolved as a self-made entrepreneur, carving out his own path instead of following the traditional route.

His greatest lesson?

“You can do all the planning that you want. Usually in the end it doesn’t matter,” he says. “Being an entrepreneur is kind of like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down.”

How did you get your start? Share your entrepreneurial journey here.

 

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