After spending over a decade in Corporate America, climbing the traditional ladder and making her way up to a six-figure income, Melissa Anzman decided to call it quits and pursue her dreams of being a solopreneur. Jumping into the entrepreneurial world is never easy, but Melissa managed to do it with grace and quickly develop her own business, Loosen Your White Collar.
Melissa currently spends her time coaching others as they pursue their dreams and find their passions. She is a certified coach who works with people as they explore and try to figure out what they want in their lives. After taking many risks herself, Melissa is able to guide others as they jump into the world of the unknown.
In addition to coaching, Melissa also spends time on the speaker’s circuit, presenting to corporations and individual entities. Her vast experience in the corporate world, coupled with her extensive work in Human Resources allows her to bring personal lessons into her presentations.
1.Tell us a little bit about climbing the corporate ladder straight out of college, when you moved to New York without a job. What led you to take that risk?
When I graduated college I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next, other than move to NYC. There was not a bone in my body that thought of moving to NY as a huge risk, as crazy as that sounds. My best friend was there, I had just finished a successful summer living there during my internship, and I was determined to experience NY regardless of any of the other obstacles.
Looking back at it now, I was very blind to the risks, especially as I moved there three months after 9/11. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a job, but I knew that it was my only chance to make something work – and I absolutely was not going to allow myself to “fail,” especially as everyone else thought I was nuts.
2.How did you manage to make your way up the ranks so quickly? What was your support system for the climb up the corporate ladder?
My path up the ranks was quick, although it still felt like it took too long at times. Most of my big moves and promotions occurred through taking some significant risks with my career. Some of those risks included quitting a “stable” job for a freelance gig without a parachute; jumping into new industries; and creating new departments. I was also never a “yes man” and was solution-focused; most of the leaders who I needed to help me along the way, appreciated that about me.
My support system during my climb was quite small (as in maybe one or two people along the way). Looking back, I had a well-placed mentor or two along the way that always rooted for me, even from afar. But the climb itself was a bit lonely most of the time.
3.While in Corporate America, you experimented with quite a few jobs. What do you suppose was the ‘real’ reason you had a hard time sticking to one job?
I definitely had a difficult time sticking to one job and one company! The issue was always… me (I can say that now looking back). I kept climbing the ladder and jumping ship and blamed the issues on “a bad manager” or a “ridiculous company culture.” I never really looked at what I really wanted to do with my life or figured out how to hop onto that path. And if I’m very honest, I’m not sure that Corporate America is really the best arena for me overall – there are some great things that I loved, but overall, I constantly struggled with some of the rules and restrictions it provided.
4.What made the job in Human Resources different from the rest them?
Overall, it was probably timing more than Human Resources – in fact, I enjoyed my Employee Communications responsibilities more, most of the time. But there is no doubt that it all finally… clicked for me. I was finally able to influence others, change people’s perspectives, think outside of the box, and make a real impact on people. Through HR, I was able to work directly with decision makers to make the workplace better; I helped employees create their own destiny; and I was able to flex my strategic muscles often.
5.What inspired or motivated you to make your move from the traditional corporate climb, leave behind a high-paying job, and start to pursue your dreams?
The initial inspiration to leave the climb was rooted in my unhappiness there, but also I finally opened my eyes to see other people being successful on their own. And I realized that I could do that too, it was a viable option for me. Until that point, I never knew it was ok for ME to create my own career path or that there was more out there for me than the corporate world.
I have quit my corporate job twice (insert ridiculous giggle here). The first time I left was my big leap – I planned it, I had a countdown and savings, I had to leave that job – it was making me sick (literally). I got scared once I was out on my own, so I went back to the corporate world. Nothing had changed in my comfortable climb, so I left again (without planning, savings, etc). This time it finally dawned on me that I was following my dream – not just quitting my job. And not going back is a constant motivating factor for me.
6.What are the advantages and disadvantages to being your own boss?
I don’t think there is enough space here to capture them all!
Some of the biggest advantages are:
Freedom of choice. I always struggled with being told to do something because it had always been done that way before; or having to be in the office during “work hours;” or being inside an office all day long. Now, I get to work on the things that truly interest me, when I want and where I want. My hours are really odd (this goes into the disadvantages bucket), but they work well for me and my own productivity schedule.
Creative control. That sounds a bit crazy artist-like, but setting things up the way I want them to look and feel is very satisfying. Not having to compromise on anything that is really important or be told that only one direction can/should/will be explored, makes a huge difference to me.
People around me. I get to surround myself with people I like, at all times. I don’t have to “play nice” in the sandbox or play political games. I never feel like I have to watch my back.
Some of the disadvantages:
Drumming up business. I wish this could be something that I’d say is an advantage, but it’s not something that I am great at… yet. To be honest, it is not something I am completely comfortable with as a general rule, but combined with the added pressure of full responsibility for making the business profitable, overall, it makes being the boss difficult.
Planning my tasks or outcomes. When I have a clear vision about something, I go after it with all cylinders. But when there are things for the business that need to happen that I have either no opinion about or dread some, I have a hard time staying on task. And there are so many distractions!
7.As you ventured into your own world and started to dream big, what led you to develop Loosen Your White Collar?? How did you determine which niche you wanted to dedicate your energy in and live within for your future?
For me, everything had to start from one point – my audience (who I was going to serve). I have no idea why I thought that had to be my path, but I literally could not move forward without my audience being identified. I absolutely refused to start working on my website/blog/title/company name, etc. until I had that part hammered down. Perhaps it was another self-stalling tactic, but I wanted to be sure I could explore one solid and consistent path for a time period before I wasted my energy on a dead end.
The lack of ability to determine “my niche” prevented me from starting my business for a good year. I was so stuck about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to serve, and questioning why I had to limit it, and if I did, who would find me. When I got serious about wanting to jump out on my own, I realized that I had to stop lollygagging and make a decision – it didn’t have to be a forever decision, but I needed to start working with something. So I started by asking myself some significant questions and being more honest with my skills, capabilities, and desires than I ever had been.
I focused on who I wanted to work with and what I wanted to help them achieve. Plain and simple, I ignored everything else and got specific and brainstormed a lot. It was literally like a light switch turned on as soon as I came up with my company name and niche statement. I kept playing with other ideas and services, but nothing made me as energized, so I figured I’d give it a try.
8.While starting your own business, what did you do to lift yourself up during the down times? How did you get yourself off the first step and dive into the entrepreneurial world?
Lifting myself up during down times is still something that I struggle with – we all hit dips, but when you’re out on your own, I find that for me, I take the dips a bit more personally than I’d like. I have supportive friends who help from a cheerleading point of view, but usually a quick reflection of my client notes and emails kicks me back into gear. I think you can easily become your own worst roadblock as an entrepreneur – that’s why so many fail at it. It’s easy to throw in the towel because you get consumed with all of the negativity and over analyze the issue, and then assign blame. I also have a secret playlist (mostly comprised of Pentatonix), that I will sing and dance to if I need to shift gears.
My first step before I dove into the entrepreneurial world was to set-up very specific goals for my company and finances before I allowed myself to venture out as an entrepreneur full-time, this go around (I didn’t do any preparation from a business perspective the first time). I wanted to have a certain number of clients, business items in place/up and running, and some cash savings ready to go. I also spoke with several people who were already successful in my field – they provided insight, suggestions and encouragement (with a dose of harsh reality).
9.As you’ve started to develop your expertise and background in the world of coaching, how did you decide which areas of training to focus your energy?
Coaching is something that I had been doing for about five years before I got my official certification in 2011, so it has always been a large part of my professional life. I knew that I wanted to continue to help people be happier at work – I was an expert at being unhappy there, but I also knew (from my own experience and from clients’) that unhappiness at work can come from so many things and have a large impact on many areas of life outside of work. My coaching approach is values-based and my focus tends to be around making life choices around your personal values and motivating factors, of which career choice, is the cornerstone piece.
10.Thinking back to your first ‘big’ job as an entrepreneur, how did you manage to land that job and what was the biggest lesson you learned along the way as you completed that job?
Most of my “big jobs” have come through word-of-mouth referrals from others, which is awesome but also hard to quantify. The biggest lesson I learned is confidence. I knew conceptually that I had value to add to the world, but having someone else echo that, was truly life changing. I also realized that I had finally found my calling – I felt more comfortable in my skin than ever before.
11.When you are coaching clients, what would you say are the three most important things for them to keep in mind as they begin to follow their dreams?
First and foremost, make sure that you are following YOUR dream (or idea, or concept, or adventure, or small step – the “dream” is not the important part, attempting something is). You are not going to be able to accomplish anything, if you are still doing something for someone else, doing what you think you “should,” or following someone else’s path. Second, you have to always remember to honor your own values when making decisions and following your dreams. And third, give yourself permission – in all things. It is not going to be an easy road, there will certainly be bumps along the way, but how you respond to those challenges will greatly impact your future. Give yourself permission to try crazy things; do something the way that your heart tells you to do it, even if the “experts” think you are crazy; let yourself fail – you learn so much from it; and most of all, be kind to yourself, not your worst critic.
12.How do you ‘drum up’ business and find clients?
My efforts to date have been mostly online and not quite full-throttle. As I mentioned above, this is not something that I love so I tend to get a bit distracted. However, I have used social media and am still figuring out what works for me. I have landed clients from Facebook, my website (through a Google search), recommendation posting on a niche site, and friend referrals. My extended business marketing includes my new book (Stop Hating Your Job) and publicity associated with that, speaking engagements, and more local community outreach.
13.Of all the jobs you have had in the past, which one gave you the most practical experience that you benefit from today? How did the past job influence the manner in which you run your own business today?
It is very hard to isolate one job because I have learned so much that I still apply, from each job I’ve ever had. To choose one, I would go with my role within HR and Communications at a large medical device company (my last big corporate job). The practical experience of interacting with thousands of colleagues, delivering many training sessions, time management due to traveling, and interacting with so many different types of people, have all helped me when coaching clients.
From a business perspective, I learned how to be flexible and agile with ideas and outcomes; starting down the path of something is worth the effort; your own “perfection” (or errors) is not noticed by others nearly as much as I would have hoped; and also helped clearly define for me, what I value in life and in others.
14.It seemed that you naturally fit into the speaking circuit, especially with the experience you had in Human Resources. What do you love most about speaking to and inspiring huge audiences?
Speaking is something that I have always found exciting and exhilarating. I enjoy the interaction that comes when you are speaking to a group – seeing people open their minds up to a new idea or concept and then sharing in their journey. Helping them make connections about ideas and concepts, or move past the clutter is such a special gift for both parties, that I am honored and moved by the experience each and every time. (And that includes the same session I delivered 19 times in two weeks – a new insight each time).
15.What is in your future? Where do you envision yourself three to five years from now?
I’m not great at picturing myself that far out, I tend to operate in shorter chunks of time, so I am always open to going where my business (and life) takes me. I will still be my own boss, have a few more books published, traveling more, speaking more, and meeting a lot of great people along the way. My business will likely be different in certain respects, but I know I’ll still be coaching and helping people choose their own career path.
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.