Hello everyone, welcome to the Balanced Business Leaders Podcast hosted by yours truly, Claire Jones, owner of Liminal Clarity. We are a business development agency that helps small business leaders scale and grow without burning out.
So this is the first podcast in a series where we will be discussing the various trials and tribulations that lead me to creating my Three Pillars of Business Success, a framework that represents the foundational systems that contribute to sustainable, long term business growth.
If you’re interested in learning more, please join us in our free Balanced Business Leaders Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/balancedbusinessleaders.
Ready? Alright, let’s dive in.
So I started this podcast as a way to tell my story, specifically the many, many different lessons that I have learned over the years when it comes to founding, developing, running, and growing small businesses.
In this episode, I will be introducing myself and my backstory so that you can start to see how I got to where I am today. It’s been a long, convoluted journey fraught with peril, confusion, and guesswork and I imagine that some of you will be able to relate.
So I’ve been working with small businesses for my entire career. Starting at age 15, I got my first job working as an art camp counselor.
And that was where I first learned a lot of important skills for the workplace, like:
How to show up on time, how to develop relationships with coworkers, how to wear a lot of different hats at the same time, how to pick up job duties that may or may not be my direct responsibility.
These are often considered “soft skills”. These are the skills that are required when working in small businesses. When a company has a large workforce, it’s much easier to “stay in your lane”. It’s much easier to stay within your comfort zone, doing only the things that you are directly responsible for.
But that’s not how small businesses work typically. Small businesses rely on all team members to pitch in whenever and wherever it’s needed. Working as an art camp counselor was no different.
And I actually ended up returning to that job every summer for the next four years…
Over time, I learned…how to remain calm in stressful situations, how to avoid gossip and provide balanced, thoughtful counsel to the people who asked for it, how to facilitate deliverables and team efforts, and how to manage a variety of expectations and communication styles…
These are a variety of soft skills that directly contribute to developing a reputation for being a trusted, reliable worker. It’s hard to quantify the exact impact that these skills have on overall business performance, but they are vital to business success.
This is exactly why relationship and communication skills are deeply interwoven into my Three Pillars of Business Success. Whether it’s in the context of delegating, managing, leading, marketing, making sales, or developing trust with customers and team members – these “soft skills” are super important.
During these high school years, I also picked up a few after school jobs and volunteer positions.
At age 15, I worked as a volunteer store clerk for Ten Thousand Villages – an organization that has stores across the US who specializes in fair trade goods from third world countries.
At age 16, I was hired as the first employee for a small, family-owned retail store that specializes in modern home decor and gifts.
And at age 17, I was hired as the sales and office assistant for a musical arts center that offered music lessons, instruments, accessories, and sheet music.
All of these positions taught me how to… Manage people, develop interpersonal skills, work with different tech programs…
These positions made me a very adaptable worker – almost a chameleon of sorts. They directly contributed to me being able to approach any work environment, any software application, any business structure and not only get by but actually thrive.
As an only child of divorced parents, I have often been a social outsider – someone who adapted to the environment that they were placed in. But these positions molded that tendency into a strength, into an employable skill set.
I now had the experience of bringing that outside perspective to businesses in a way that allowed me to see how their current structures and systems could be improved. I re-organized store rooms, I updated filing systems, I streamlined operations and found short cuts.
Bill Gates is often credited with saying, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
Was it because I was smarter than the people working there? Probably not. Was it because I was lazy? That’s more likely. But the point here is that I was intent on making things easier for myself and everyone involved. Oh man, how I love efficiency.
So then, once I got to college, I picked up a few on campus positions –
I volunteered as a library research intern for an art museum.
I worked as a humanities assistant for one of my professors.
I worked as a dorm patroller on the weekends making sure that students were safely enjoying their recreational activities.
And, during the summers, I worked as an administrative assistant for a small advertising company as well as a gallery assistant for an art gallery.
All of these positions taught me… How to organize and document information, how to respect confidentiality, how to mediate disputes, how stagnant workplaces can become, and how to occupy myself when I didn’t have any work to do…
Because of my (dare I say?) obsession with efficiency, I often finished my work well before my shift ended. Some of these workplaces recognized this and tried to give me more to do, some didn’t.
These were the positions where I learned the dangers of rocking the boat, per se. Some people just don’t want to change. They aren’t interested in optimizations and improvements. They have grown comfortable with the way things are – the status quo.
One of these positions even tried to hire me back after I graduated from college. I had proved myself to be a hard worker who got a lot done, but their company culture was oppressively stale. Nothing had really changed within their business since the 1980s. So as someone who loves innovation, I had to politely decline the opportunity.
As college was wrapping up, I was aiming to focus on the art world in particular so that I could put my BA in Art History to good use.
So at the end of my senior year, I worked at the New York Frieze Art Fair as a press relations assistant.
During that summer, I volunteered at the Seattle Art Museum in their rights and reproductions department.
And then, that fall, I interned at the Actors Theatre of Louisville as their festival management intern for nine months.
These positions taught me… how to take initiative, how to network, and how to manage complex projects and team relationships in a variety of both formal and informal social environments..
From there, I settled down in Seattle and started looking for a long-term, career position.
But while hopping around from hourly wage, PT job to hourly wage, PT job for a couple of years, I realized an important truth when it comes to finding growth-oriented positions – it’s all about who you know, not what you do.
It was the beginning of a very hard lesson for me. I had always been the honors kid in the 90th percentile. I had always overperformed and overproduced in every job I had, because I believed that my work would speak for itself. I believed that people would recognize my value and reward me accordingly.
But, unfortunately, that’s not really how it works. This was the beginning of the phase in my life where I realized the importance of social circles.
Maybe it was because I was an only child and was used to moving around a lot. But I hadn’t found my tribe yet.
So eventually, after a couple of years of dead end positions, I got fed up and decided to open my own retail store. Because if no one else was going to offer me a growth-oriented position, then I was going to hire myself.
In this business, I learned A TON. It was basically my crash course MBA program and, while it absolutely sucked at the time, it started me down the path that I’m on today. It ended up lasting for two years and it was two years of constant stress, self doubt, depression, frustration, and loneliness.
After burning myself out multiple times, I spent a year trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And, unfortunately, I went from one extreme to the other. I went from working FT, 60 hrs per week to working 60 hrs per week in six different PT positions – thereby making the burn out even worse.
It was really a shitty period of my life.
But eventually, with some encouragement from those close to me, I started advocating for my own value and pivoted into more advisory roles. Because I realized that, over the years, I had learned how to found, develop, run, and grow small businesses.
So I started applying all of my experiences and lessons in a couple of different small businesses in the Seattle area. And I also started diving headlong into research, reading every book I could find on business development, marketing, and leadership skills.
These roles directly led me to starting my second business, which eventually became Liminal Clarity.
Over time, I had realized that many small business leaders weren’t actually equipped to run businesses. They had their own zone of genius that they loved doing and wanted to monetize, but they didn’t have the know-how to run and grow a sustainable business. So I founded a new business to address that need.
This was really when I started to implement my lessons when it came to social circles. Thanks to all of the research I had done, I knew I needed to develop relationships with people first and foremost this time around.
So I launched myself into networking and fortunately found my tribe. As I connected with more and more small business leaders, I realized that, while there were many other competitors out there who offered specialized business support services – like social media, finances, etc. – there weren’t many people offering holistic business strategies.
There weren’t many people out there who addressed the needs of a small business as a cohesive organization, as an integrated system that could be designed to be self-sustaining.
And that’s exactly why I ended up creating my Three Pillars of Business Success, which will be the focus of this podcast series.
So next time, I’ll be introducing my three pillars and giving some background on why I structured them the way that I did. Because they represent the structures that I wish I had had back when I started the retail store.
Throughout this podcast series, I hope to interweave my personal experiences with the business lessons I learned along the way so that I can paint a full picture for you guys. Call me your trusted guide, or your bullshit filter, I’m here to help you navigate the many pitfalls that befall small business leaders as they try to scale and grow their businesses.
And please let me know what you think! I am always open to feedback and love connecting with my audiences.
If you want to learn more, I personally invite you to join us in the Balanced Business Leaders VIP Group Program. In as little as one hour per week, you will walk away with a clear action plan to grow and scale your business sustainably.
Please visit linktr.ee/liminalclarity for more information.
You can find the episode outline, video recording, transcript downloads, related links, etc. below.
And, until next time, love you all, take care, and I hope you have a good day wherever you are.