Building a business never quite happens the way one might imagine. In a perfect world the steps would be fairly simple. Have an idea for what business you would like to start. Get funding for said business. Find a location, move in, and welcome all your new customers. It’s an easy path, right? For entrepreneurs all over the world their pathways have led them up mountains, around corners, and down into the depths of the business trenches. No story begins the same way, nor do they end the same. Being a business owner is a frantic endeavor. It can put a mirror up to your life and, in the midst of digging your entrepreneurial heels in, you might not always like what you see. Building a business can prompts you to sit down and take stock of a lot of things in life – namely yourself.
Elayne Smith, founder of The Center for Connection, Healing & Change, built her therapy practice after learning what her true passion was, as well as discovering things about herself she never knew. “After I finished my degree in England, in psychology, I went into the charitable section in England – which is quite diverse. I was originally just managing projects. I realized really quickly that I wanted to work on a lot deeper level with my clients. That’s when I started on my training to become a psychotherapist. I met my husband who was in the Navy, stationed in England. This dream got put on hold and I realized when I moved to the states that some of my education didn’t crossover seamlessly. I realized pretty quickly that I was going to have to do a master’s degree. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. It changed my life. It’s a program that really required a lot of personal growth. It was like…if you are going to be working with a lot of people’s stuff in the room, you need to know where yours stops and starts.”
Armed with a master’s degree, Smith discovered her passion had been there all along just waiting to be discovered. “I didn’t realize that in some ways I had been searching for that as well. I think most of us get in this profession because we’re somewhat looking to kind of figure our own stuff out. We moved (to Woodbridge) in 2011 and I was still working towards a license and it took me four years in the end.”
Having a passion for a specific thing, be it an idea or product, is important to ensuring your business has a strong foundation to begin with. Once Smith had found her true passion and decided on private practice, The Center for Connection was born. “We got the keys in May of 2015. The staff started from July 2015 onward. Before then it was just me rattling around. It took some time to get the right staff in. Because I had such a clear vision and treatment philosophy I wanted to make sure we had a staff that really believed this philosophy and was skilled in different areas. I’m glad I waited to find the right team.”
Along with the right amount of passion, a solid team, and the keys to your company comes the need for business knowledge. For many entrepreneurs the idea for a company comes long before knowing how to run a business the right way. For Smith, lessons were learned when she first began her career. “I started in management in the charitable sector so I had some skills in some management and budget areas. I certainly didn’t have any in marketing or branding…nothing technological. When I went into private practice I realized really quickly that if you want to find clients then you have to have a website, you have to do marketing, you have to try and build relationships. One way of getting more clients is through insurance. Was made it really clear that I didn’t want to go through insurance because at times they can tie your hands a little bit about what you can and can’t do. If I wanted to have more clients then I had to go out there and find them. I’ve had a series of websites and learned from each one of them about which ones were more successful. This is definitely a business where people want to feel you. They pick up their phone because they feel like you will get them and that you know what it is they’re going through. That is no mean feat in marketing.”
Elayne’s practice has continued to grow and develop. Assisting clients with getting through difficult times and understanding how best to help themselves is what she does on a daily basis. Entrepreneurs and business owners are under mountains of stress when starting a company and also making sure their businesses prosper. Smith understands that entrepreneurs could use some methods for coping with all this stress. “I think knowing yourself really is the core of that. If you’re the kind of center of your business then if you’re not sure who you are and what you’re doing this for and why this drives you and why you love it, those kinds of things, which I hope that most people do it because they love it, then that can be a struggle. If you know that you struggle with self-esteem or you know that putting yourself in front of people is tough for you, or feel anxious, then I think it’s helpful to be able to know what you do when you get anxious and what kinds of things you do and don’t do when you get that way. Once you find that out you can get some support to work on those things and then those things are no longer barriers which come from within. These things can ripple out and impact your business. How you run a business is a reflection of you.”
From the moment you have an idea to the moment you get the keys to your business – no two paths are ever the same. Where you end up is not always where you thought you would be at the end of the day. While entrepreneurship can happen anywhere, huge city or small town, the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas are a hotbed of activity when it comes to making it on your own. “It definitely is,” says Smith, “In our case there are a lot of people who are very successful who have busy lives who are commuting and they have kids, with all their activities, and they have good jobs, but often very stressful ones. So I think this is a pretty high functioning community in lots of ways. Life is fast-paced here. I came to Mississippi from England and it was a shock to me on both levels. I think people are stressed…and I think people haven’t got enough time for their families or time for themselves. Most of us are just doing the best we can to keep up with everything. It’s tough. But it’s also a very transient community. People are coming in and out with military and with government and those kinds of things. It’s a changing community in which case you’ve always got new clients coming your way on a pretty much monthly basis. For us, because we work with a lot of military and people who have got really great jobs but who are stressed, it means we have an ongoing audience for the work that we do. I’m grateful for that. Self-care is essential to sanity here.”
To learn more about The Center for Connection visit their website or call (703) 878-3290, or fill out the contact form on the website to connect with Elayne or members of her staff.