Like any “get‘er done” entrepreneur, I was once a pro at going solo. Whatever needed to be done I did it, and then I did everything else, too. Need a great idea? Just give me one minute. Need a genius marketing plan? No problem, I’m on it. Need someone to execute the plan flawlessly? Consider it done.
It’s the nature of the beast, really. Most first-time entrepreneurs have the monumental task of pulling off major miracles from scratch with little or no help. We get used to seeing our own name next to every task on the “volunteer sign-up sheet” that is our massive to-do list.
Even when I hired assistants to help me with this or that, I still felt like the captain, first mate, and the crew of my own ship.
And while this approach certainly wasn’t practical on any level, the real problem was there was no one to tell me when I drifted off course. And boy did I drift!
In the second year of working on a dark, depressing, soul-sucking documentary about father’s rights and the child support industry, I realized I was totally unhappy. If you knew me you would know that I don’t do unhappy. I’m always bubbling with positive energy, so to find myself actually using the D-word—despair—was quite unusual territory for me.
It was as if I had a mind-meld with the subjects of the documentary, despondent individuals with whom I spent most of my time; first in person, and then for hours on end splicing together their tragic stories in my edit suite.
One day I noticed an ad for an event for entrepreneurial women. I decided to drag my friend Claire with me for moral support. It seemed like a good idea for both of us—I needed something else to focus on, and Claire was an up-and-coming brander who could use a few contacts.
When we walked into the event we were stunned to find three hundred women dancing like they had no worries—no bills, no fears, no responsibilities. Leading the group was a perky blonde who reminded me a lot of how I used to be. Her name was Allie. Vivacious and carefree, she danced like she was not, in fact, wearing business casual and three-inch heels.
Allie mixed and mingled with the celebrity guests who breezed in to inspire us, and every time she took the stage she made us all feel like all of our dreams were possible. I looked out across the room and thought, “I need some of that!” I needed some of the inspiration and energy radiating off of Allie. I needed leadership.
I was stuck captaining a ship I had no business being on, and here was a woman who appeared to be completely at ease leading hundreds of total strangers.
During the first break we made a beeline for Allie. I had a serious case of hero worship; I couldn’t help myself—I gushed. She listened attentively as I bubbled forth with ideas she had inspired, so many that Claire whipped out a micro recorder to capture the steady stream of million dollar business ideas spewing from my mouth.
Claire revealed she had been waffling about whether or not to launch her own branding business, and right there and then she committed to doing it. We wowed her with our enthusiastic support. Allie listened attentively to the abridged version of my own story. I shared what I had hoped to achieve with my documentary: to shed light on issues I had experienced in my own family in an effort to effect positive change.
We had an instant rapport, and so I felt comfortable sharing my frustrations about how the universe seemed to set up roadblocks at every possible turn, and how ultimately, the experience had given me a serious case of the blues.
“Wow. That sounds like a chore, not a labor of love,” Allie offered.
“What did you love to do before you took this on the documentary project?”
Good question, I thought. And then without missing a beat, I answered her question. The truth just poured out of me. I told her I had been fearless once, pulling off major wins on instinct alone. To ensure the success of my films and other projects, I had learned how to market myself. I became a whiz at self-promotion. I was shameless. Spunky. Brave.
“So I guess we have a lot in common,” Allie said, giving me a big smile. In that moment I realized I needed more people like Allie in my life—pronto!
Taking a mental inventory of my circle I tried to come up with names of people who were like Allie in spirit: fun, positive, and energetic. I believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I had been spending my time with bitter, desperate, and depressed people, and I was becoming all of those things.
Over the next few months Allie and Claire helped me realize it was time to tell my story in a positive way. They gave me permission to stop working on the documentary. It was as if I was drowning and they showed up in a lifeboat saying, “Come aboard. You can let that go now.”
Suddenly my path was clear. I hatched a plan to write a book about my experiences, a book that would help women protect their assets, and help people understand the family court system. I met regularly with Allie and Claire to share fresh drafts of chapters, and refine my marketing plan for the book.
We reinvented “girls night out,” devoting our time to brainstorming, troubleshooting, and encouragement. We were a three-woman cheerleading squad. Each one of us was supportive, always positive, and dedicated to helping in any way we could. It was so much fun, I felt like I had been let out of prison!
On paper, the three of us really appeared to be competitors. After all, we all specialized in some aspect of marketing and self-promotion. Soon the honeymoon would be over, and the catfights would begin, right? Wrong! We just kept helping each other stay on our true paths. We opened doors, and knocked down a few, too. And we had an absolute blast together. Bye bye, darkness. Hello, happy girl. I remember you.
As I prepared my book for launch, I realized I loved, loved, loved helping people learn how to do their own self-promotion. I was finally in my zone, but more importantly, I was not alone. Solopreneuring as part of a positive circle of inspiring female founders was the answer to sitting at home alone bouncing ideas off the mirror.
Over the next several years we relied heavily on each other in our business ventures, referring clients to each other, brainstorming ideas, and helping each other to stay on course.
Allie is fond of saying, “There is more than one kind of chocolate chip cookie!” In other words, there is room for all of us. We never competed for the same clients—we used all of our best skills to help the same clients achieve their goals. The more clients we “shared,” the more clients we gained. It was as if our energetic, enthusiastic coopetition attracted people to us. Could you get more awesome than that? Two supportive, fun, positive colleagues who not only refer business to you, but also help you stay focused to tackle your monster to-do list?
I called our group The Trifecta. In betting on horse races, placing a trifecta bet requires you to choose the winner, and which horses will place and show. Or, the first, second, and third place horses, in order.
I called our group “The Trifecta” because it promised that we are all winners, and because I knew that the three of us racing together would always take all three top spots.
Since that first collaboration, nearly a decade ago, I’ve been advising bootstrapped startups, and heard the same stories over and over, of burnout, lack of balance, and frustration. I knew it was time to step back into entertainment, and created Wake Up! – a Saturday morning talk show, created in response to all of the requests I’ve heard from women entrepreneurs needing a guide to find balance. This new venture—helping entrepreneurs live their dreams and a more happy life–-is about more than just business, it’s about teaching the principles to live Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.
As entrepreneurs, especially female founders, we are more powerful in a group of supportive colleagues than we are solo. I know I certainly was. Now, after years of mastering collaboration and cooperation, I know I am stronger, faster, and smarter—together. I surround myself with powerful women who fill in each other’s blanks, sing each other’s praises, and rise to each other’s challenges. And we dance. We dance like noone is watching.
And what became of my one-woman band? I put it up on eBay and called it a day. Just because I can do it all, doesn’t mean I should. Neither should you. Take advantage of the power of three, and don’t try to do everything solo!
Hi, my name is Adryenn Ashley. I'm a high-tech priestess, startup advisor, and CEO of Loly—an augmented reality dating app.