I am saying goodbye to the organization that has been my home for the past seven years, and it is a bittersweet farewell.
I came to LCIA fresh out of college, a very green, rubber-stamped "workforce-ready” candidate, hopeful of changing the world and all that stuff. While pursuing my business degree, I had worked for a nonprofit in Baton Rouge called the Urban Restoration Enhancement Corporation (UREC), where I assisted in developing their Small Business Development Center. Through the center, we put on LED’s Microenterprise Development Program, which was geared towards helping low-income households start businesses and create their own income streams. I carried that business development experience from UREC to LCIA, and in 2010, I found myself the Associate Director of a fledgling organization. I was basically given a blank slate, and LCIA quickly became a project that was very personal to me, very dear to my heart.
I wanted to share seven things I’ve learned, one lesson for each year I’ve been at LCIA:
1) Business owners are everything. They are strong, persevering people who are constantly working to balance home life, work life, and their checkbooks; and most of them still find the time to be gracious and kind to people around them. We need to prop them up. As our close partner StayLocal touts: "shop local.” Remember that if you aren’t patronizing your local businesses, they won’t be there one day. These are our neighbors. We want them to succeed.
2) You can’t do it alone, and you don’t want to. This is a two-parter: (1) You need to forge partnerships with other organizations, coworkers and employees. (2) You need to nurture those relationships.
I am a task-driven, goals-oriented person; I always have my to-do list on my mind. I could even be described as a bit of a loner at times, working on projects by myself. After some time, I realized that LCIA was never going to achieve big things if I didn’t get help. I learned that you need other people to increase capacity, to teach you new things, to introduce you to new people, and to bring more ideas and creativity into the fold. You will never be able to do it all on your own, and who would want to? Fostering relationships will pay off, personally and professionally.
I’ve had the pleasure of working side-by-side with talented people within the LCI and LCIA organizations and within partnering organizations. Remember to stop and listen to your partners, your employees, and your coworkers. Remember to put time and effort into those relationships. People are not cogs in machines, and they are most certainly not obliged to you in any way. There’s an understated outpouring of empathy in two simple questions, "How are you doing?” and "What do you think?” Take off your blinders, reach out to people, and continuously strive to be a good friend.
3) Always have a Plan B... and C. Planning events over the years has taught me the importance of contingency planning. Prep work is the dream work. I had a bag that I toted around to every LCIA event that we called "the Mary Poppins bag" because it was reminiscent of the endless bag that Mary Poppins used to carry all of her belongings. The Mary Poppins bag had everything we would need in a pinch: rope, tacks, band aids, scissors, wrist bands... everything I could think of. That bag was assembled from experience. I tried to be prepared for every situation. We all know you can't be. Things are going to happen, and you go with the flow. But that doesn't mean you can't put some serious thought into how you're going to handle possible situations when they arise.
4) I think I'll always be working towards mastering the art of the initial handshake because it’s incredibly important. If you’re like me, you might be worried that the lunch you just had could be lingering in your teeth, but the trick is to put all of that aside and focus on the person in front of you. Slow down that introduction. Slow down your conversations. You can really set a tone and make people feel very appreciated just by being present and fully receptive. I've met many business owners and company reps over the years, and the ones that stand out are the ones who took time to look at the person in front of them and show genuine interest in that person. (Side note: always remember to consult the mirror before the meeting!)
5) Operations is key, and technology is your friend. Document and template your work as much as you can. It may be a bit painstaking and time-consuming to do this at first, but it will make your life so much easier from then on. Find the best technology that works for you and for your business, even if that means starting with an online calendar. You can optimize your capacity by utilizing small instances of automation, and it will change your world. If you’re really interested in automating work flows, I encourage you to look at Zapier. It connects platforms and automates processes.
6) This is a minor callback to #2, but seek help from the numerous organizations that provide services to small businesses at little or no cost. If you are a business owner or manager, I implore you to call Louisiana Economic Development, the Small Business Administration, your local Louisiana Small Business Development Center, and your city’s Economic Development Department. They will not only provide assistance but also direct you to local partners that can help you with a variety of development tools. Other organizations to look into: Louisiana's Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Urban League of Louisiana, Good Work Network, MEPOL, StayLocal, Urban Conservancy, One Acadiana, Propeller, and Cohab – just to name a few.
7) Call your workers' comp provider if any of your workers are injured. (What kind of LCI/A alumna would I be, if I didn’t include this?) I’ve had the pleasure of working, literally, next to the Claims Department at LCI Workers' Comp for years. They’re great people. Call them if you have workers' comp through LCI and if you have a hurt employee or if you have any questions. We all want our friends and family to come home safely at the end of a work day.
With that, I’ll say, "thanks for everything.” Thank you to the LCIA Board, thank you to Mark Tullis, thank you to my coworkers, thank you to our partners, and thank you to our LCIA members. I’ve truly had a great time working with all of you, and I wish you nothing but the best in the future.
Friday, September 22nd, is my last day here at LCIA. If you’d like to keep up with me, please feel free to add me on LinkedIn. I hope to hear from you.