A few days after I wrote the President’s Perspective for the June issue of The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA, I noticed a Facebook blog by Andrej Juriga that touched on some of my thoughts. However, I really liked what he said so I wanted it to be available to all our readers.
-Sandra M. Fowler
Four years ago, in July 2015, I founded the consultancy and training company Cultural Bridge after years of leading teams at national and global level in corporate Sales and HR, and after considering all the well-meant advice of my family, friends, peers, managers and headhunters, “don't throw away your successful corporate career", “once you leave corporate there is no way back,” “it's too risky to be on your own," “there is not enough demand for intercultural training and Diversity & Inclusion consulting in Central Europe so you won't be able to pay your bills.”
I carefully listened to all these messages and kept reminding myself that they might be coming from the personal experience of those giving me the advice, and that their experience is not the norm. I also did understand that those caring messages might be a reflection of individual fears and resistance to uncertainty.
Yet, deep inside I knew my decision was right. Leaving corporate career and starting my own company was not a spontaneous idea but rather a well-thought-out strategy which included:
- Intentional assignments (including my relocation to Africa as an HR consultant) to projects where I had to collaborate with peers from all continents so I could consciously experience differences and observe strategies that work well, or not, in multicultural settings.
- Formal intercultural education so I could back up my personal experience with a strong theoretical foundation.
- Market research which helped me to understand who was already providing intercultural development in the region, and what the pool of potential clients was.
- Mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs who helped me to explore how I could use the principles of corporate business in running my own small business.
- Strong financial plan needed to bridge the transition period.
And above all, I knew my decision was right because it was based on the very deep understanding of who I was, what strengths would help me to succeed and how I would compensate for what was missing, and what my job needed to offer so I could thrive in it.
In those four years, I have been very committed to my professional development being surrounded by the best teachers of intercultural communication and by experts on Diversity & Inclusion. I have built a stable portfolio of clients from a variety of industries and countries. I have delivered development programs in three continents and the fourth is coming just in few weeks. Being a member of several intercultural communities and organizations, I have developed some strong business partnerships and made plenty of great friends from all around the world.
Many ask for the golden recipe how to transition so smoothly from being a corporate employee to becoming an entrepreneur. I don't think I have such recipe because there's no universal template for success. What works for me might work less for someone else as our realities might be different. Many want to learn about my way of selling, negotiating, marketing and using social media. Anything I would have said in this regard would be just a duplication of what has been written in hundreds of business books. But what you won’t find in any manual is your personal signature—those things you want your clients to think or say when they hear your name. I am creating my personal brand based upon these few principles:
1. Authenticity - I don't try to be the way the others want me to be. I am who I am and that attracts the audiences who like my true self.
2. Passion - I accept working only on projects that I am passionate about. Many try to differentiate themselves from the others by better prices, their own frameworks or methods they developed. The real competitive advantage is passion.
3. Humility - I am not the best. I don't know everything. And I will never have answers to all questions. This gives me a huge drive to constantly work on myself to be better than I was yesterday.
4. Credibility – I use every opportunity to get exposed to differences (generational, cultural, racial, linguistic, cognitive or any other kind of difference) and try to lead by example in the way I act in face of those differences. I can’t be an ambassador of inclusion if I use divisive, polarizing and judgmental narrative each time I face someone with different opinion. As an interculturalist, I hold myself to high standards cause no matter how forgiving people are of my mistakes, they are measuring their trust based upon my consistency in what I teach and the behaviors I demonstrate.
These four years felt like a dream. None of those fears came true. I am in my flow. I don't take it for granted, which is why I will continue practicing my four principles and re-evaluate them constantly. That is my commitment to my clients who need to know who I am. That is my commitment to the community of interculturalists who need empowerment through success stories. That is my commitment to myself because I want to make this flow last as long as possible.