Let’s start with a metaphor. You’re driving along down Route 1, like you do everyday, like you’ve done for years, and you look to your left. And for the first time you notice the really cool tree that looks nothing like all the rest. It’s taller, fuller, obviously older. It’s got so much more character and stands out so much from all the others that you wonder how you’ve never seen it until right now.
So how does this relate to starting your own business? Because the phenomenon is the same. You go about your day, doing what you do, and never notice the ideal thing that’s been there all along. You’re in the right forest, you’re just not noticing the mighty oak that is your perfect career path staring you right in the face.
But enough of the metaphors. Business coach Eric Asbeck, owner of Your Next Move in Manalapan, just wants you to see your future as clearly as everyone else around you does. Because that’s the toughest part to finding your ideal career path and knowing where to take your business — seeing it for yourself.
Asbeck will present “Get Clear About What You Love and Do Well,” a free seminar for job seekers and entrepreneurs, on Friday, June 20, at 9:45 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Visit www.princetonlibrary.org.
Asbeck grew up in West Virginia, where his father had immigrated from Germany at age 8. Today, the 99-and-a-half-year-old senior Asbeck, a retired Ph.D. and chemical engineer who invented a 24-foot amphibious motor home (which Asbeck says might have caught on if not for the gasoline crisis of the 1970s), still manages to remind him of the value of work and learning. “He told me that if I’m building a house and if someone’s a ditch digger, he knows how to dig ditches,” Asbeck says. “He can teach me something.”
Asbeck himself is a prime example of how easy it is to not know exactly what’s right for you. Your Next Move is Asbeck’s second business, built on the heels of What Business To Start LLC, which he says was almost entirely right. He started the first business in 2012, after 30 years developing business for companies like Bell Labs and Cisco Systems. He earned his bachelor’s in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Polytechnic and joined Bell Labs as a lab assistant in 1982. The job allowed him to finish school and build toward a master’s in systems engineering at Case Western Reserve and his MBA in new venture development and marketing at Rutgers.
Asbeck helped develop businesses at Bell, as what he calls “an intrapreneur.” In 1992 he became a product manager at AT&T, a position he later held at NCR. Asbeck then became a business development manager at Cisco Systems, before doing some business development coaching. He spent a year as a regional sales manager for Redspin and in 2012 formally went out on his own.
Over the years, Asbeck developed a knack for hearing people talk about what they loved and seeing the perfect career path for them to take. “I did it on the side,” he says. “For fun, almost.”
But Asbeck, as much as anyone else, didn’t realize that his knack was the right route for a business. He’d spent all that time being what he refers to as an entrepreneur “within the safety of the corporate womb,” and yet never saw his owner answer to “What business do I start?” right in front of him.
While Asbeck started by helping people find their right fit, he today has modified his business to more help business people find their way around the obstacles that stand in their own way.
Three things. Asbeck says there are three key steps to getting your business on better ground and moving your career forward. First, “don’t get ahead of your headlights,” he says. For all the talk of can-do, go-for-it, and you-can-do-it in America, Asbeck says the wise business person realizes the limitations of the immediate future. Don’t over-reach. There’s a lot you can do from within the scope of those headlights. “You can only see so far right now,” he says. “But your view will expand with time.”
Second, start talking to potential customers immediately. This is how you learn where you are and where you need to go. “No matter what you think you know, you’ll find you don’t know everything,” he says. A skiing enthusiast, Asbeck says he always took a lesson from a pro at the beginning of every season, even when he thought he was good. And every season, he realized he had more to learn. “There’s nothing like a teacher,” he says.
Third, trust your gut. Asbeck knows it sounds cliche, but your instincts are there for a reason. If it feels off, keep looking. You’ll know when you get it right.
Setbacks are all right. One thing that can get in the way of success, Asbeck says, are the ever-present stories of success. Business lore is filled with stories of hard work and sacrifice, of people who wake at five every day and work until 10 every night, and yes, there are people who do that. But for most of us, that’s not going to last.
What happens, Asbeck says, is that people let off the gas every now and then and soon start believing they’re failing. They’re not failing, they’re just easing up a bit. “Some days you’re on point and some days you’re not,” he says. “And it sounds so trite to say, but it’s true. You will have setbacks.”
And reminding them that everyone needs a little help with a side of patience. “I know you want to have it all solved beforehand,” he says of the journey into business. “And high-five to you if you can do it, but for the rest of us it doesn’t work that way.”
Perhaps the best lesson comes from the slopes. “Someone once told me that to be a great skier you have to fall 100 times,” Asbeck says. Making your business what you want it most to be has about the same ratio. “You’re going to fall. But that’s how you get better.”