Everyone wants it: the secret to success. But there’s no single, one-size-fits-all secret to building success. Every single successful moment of my life was the result of thousands of choices, hundreds of chances and many moments of luck in the midst of a few unlucky draws. While this is true for most entrepreneurs and CEOs, people always want us to distill our “secret sauce” down to just one talking point. And I get that – it would have been a much smoother journey for me if it only required one really good piece of advice!
The truth is, my success with Aerial can’t be boiled down to a single ingredient, but I’ve identified seven things that really drove us forward. And these keys to success aren’t industry-specific; you can use them in any business that’s a Force for Good to level up your success.
SECRET #1: We had a mission bigger than ourselves.
When I started, my vision was to be a full-time missionary. To be able to fully live in my purpose and make the impact at the level I wanted, I knew I’d need a lot of money. Then I met someone who taught me I could use real estate to create cash flow to fund my mission work. At first, I had no interest in what he had to say – who cared if I could buy a house for no money down? But once he applied the concept to my vision, I was interested. If I could purchase a house and rent it for more than its mortgage each month, I could fund my own mission work. That’s when I made the decision that I didn’t want anyone to cap my calling. Having to rely on somebody else saying yes or no is not the way any of us want to live our lives!
I didn’t get into real estate for the sake of real estate. From Day 1, I kept the focus on our mission. Nothing we did mattered unless we were truly helping others. No matter how hard it got, we did not sacrifice our values for any deal, any partnership, or any investment. We focused on the purpose of the project without getting lost in the problems.
SECRET 2: We never let obstacles become an excuse.
No matter how valid our excuses might have been, we overcame our obstacles with sheer effort and hard work. We started our work in 2008 with the economy crashing and burning around us. In order to put in our offers, we’d estimate after repair value by looking at the area’s comps, and automatically run the numbers knowing that house values would drop again by the time the house was ready to sell! I was a 21-year-old girl in the construction industry in the South, and I had no network or education. My only path to success was outworking any obstacle that came my way. It is a quality that I seek in my team as well and a huge reason we have seen the growth we have.
SECRET 3: We worked to learn, not just to earn.
When I saw how our work in Africa shaped the perception of opportunity in an area, I knew that my skills stretched beyond profit. I was learning a tool that could eliminate poverty at its root. My plan was to practice transforming hopeless areas in my own backyard into economically self-sustainable neighborhoods so that I could take those lessons and apply them overseas.
We made business decisions that not only helped us make money, but also taught us what we needed to go to the next level towards our vision. Some folks called us crazy, but we were okay with that because our work aligned with our why.
SECRET 4: We were intentional about the details.
Once the market started picking up, the accepted industry standard was to simply “build a box” and send it out, focusing on the profit over everything else. But we were always intentional about the details, and it helped us develop our compassionate brand. We honored historic neighborhoods and were intentional about the community because we care about the people and the planet, not just the profit – and our customers and partners absolutely responded.
SECRET 5: We hired aligned team members.
Finding people with experience who were willing to work in a new way was one of the most difficult things we had to accomplish, but our company operations and activities aligned with our values, which attracted the dream team. We’d go into neighborhoods to help people in the community, which would attract people who wanted to work for us. It was instrumental in helping us scale.
SECRET 6: We strategically shared our story.
Telling our story strategically allowed us to attract the right partnerships, projects, investors, staff, and clients. It can be very tempting to hide, especially if you’re a woman-owned company, but sharing your success is so integral to your business success. PR is a great tool for bringing more momentum into your life.
SECRET 7: We were trustworthy.
Even in the face of contractors and partners breaking contracts and promises with us, we always paid our people back. In spite of sometimes immense financial strain, I always repaid all the subcontractors and every single one of my investors. I thought those people would never work with me again, but investors learned that their capital was safe with Aerial. Because of my trustworthiness, our investments grew, and we were able to scale.
BONUS SECRET: We surround ourselves with good coaches and mentors.
We found people that had done what we wanted to do with Aerial, and knew that by learning from people who had done “it” already, we would succeed faster. Having a coach or mentor does not make you a bad leader – it makes you a great one.
Even with these secrets of success, however, we got some things wrong! I think it’s important that I share the 7 mistakes I’d avoid making if I knew then what I know now.
MISTAKES YOU CAN LEARN FROM
Even with these secrets of success, however, we got some things wrong! I think it’s important that I share the 7 mistakes I’d avoid making if I knew then what I know now in addition to our secrets for success.
MISTAKE 1: We worried all the time.
We spent so much energy, time and resources on worries. But if I could give myself any advice, it would be to stop worrying and instead use an emotion that will actually serve you. More than anything, stop questioning your approach.
MISTAKE 2: We kept bad guys around for too long.
These people created value, but we should have trusted our gut feeling that they didn’t fit with our values. Don’t be afraid to create that blacklist and get rid of the snakes!
MISTAKE 3: We avoided paperwork and lawsuits.
I was so scared that I would miss something and cost the company everything that I simply avoided it. After my first lawsuit, I became really organized and now know there is nothing to avoid or fear regarding lawsuits. It’s simply a part of the process.
MISTAKE 4: We didn’t fire fast enough.
I was scared of the overload, and I was scared that if I fired someone, other people would quit because of the overload. We didn’t have the processes in place to fire or hire quickly, so we avoided firing people. We also didn’t realize how poisonous one bad apple could be.
MISTAKE 5: We didn’t know that we were a big deal.
We definitely had some negative attention at times, mainly because we didn’t realize how many people were watching what we were doing – closely. Had I known that, I would have been more strategic with some of our big project announcements – once you’re in the spotlight, you have a responsibility to show up well even on your craziest days.
MISTAKE 6: We stopped prioritizing PR and awards.
We got busy! As we continued to scale, we had a change of staff, we stopped applying for awards, and we didn’t feel like dealing with haters, so – we stopped. To continue to grow your impact in your one chance on Earth, you need to have a PR strategy.
MISTAKE 7: We became too friendly with staff.
This is a classic problem for people who work a lot. You want to have fun! We lost good people because they couldn’t handle how to have a fun boss as well as remain respectful when it matters. You have to keep your authority as the person who signs the paychecks.
When you are a pioneer, there are seeds in your mind that are already growing and preparing to blossom. But as a pioneer, that means you will often be moving into areas and trying things that no one has ever thought of before. More than anything, I wish I had trusted my own gut more. You are bigger than anything that can ever happen to you. Go after your dream. Build your vision. Use your business as a Force for Good.
If you would like to join an incredible group of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and millionaires who share the advice and tools that drive their success every week, I’d like to invite you to join the G-FORCE mastermind. You can learn more at gforcemastermind.com.