My path to entrepreneurship started when, while pregnant with my second child, I was laid off from my job as a producer for MTV. I was upset, sure. But I also felt like I was being given an opportunity to finally find my true dream job – one where no one else would dictate what I did, whether my position was secure, or how much I was paid. So, instead of applying for new positions, I turned my attention to building a full-service public relations agency based in Philadelphia. Enter: Skai Blue Media.
It took five years of feverishly building out my business plan, knocking on doors, creating a network, and cultivating my brand (on my own dime no less). Today, I’m proud to say I’ve created one of the leading PR firms in Philly and we’re changing the future of public relations.
But I didn’t get here alone. I owe a large part of my success to my advisory board of “friendtors.” My friendtors are a group of friends and mentors who have supported me as I’ve built my business. They are more than just pals or business acquaintances. They are my professional peers, whose guidance, wisdom, and care is invaluable to me.
My personal board of friendtors includes Mary Doughertry, who leads public relations for the fashion designer Nicole Miller; she’s taught me so much about achieving an appropriate work-life balance within our industry. I lean on Fox 29 producer Berlinda Garnett to always tell it like it is. Finance executive Payne Brown has helped me to determine whether a person’s vision is in line with mine (and whether he or she is capable of executing it). Last but not least, my husband Bram Reynolds – who’s also Skai Blue’s chief operations officer – is, among other things, an incredible friendtor. He recognizes where I can do better and keeps me honest and moving forward. I wouldn’t be the boss and business owner I am today without this group.
I encourage everyone I meet to establish his or her own friendtor board. Here’s how:
1. Enlist a diverse inner circle.
Taking the leap to change careers, ask for that raise, or become an entrepreneur can require a lot of planning. You may have graduated from a great school with a dual-degree, but you’re still only one person with a lens that’s limited to what you know. That means you have implicit biases, strengths, and weaknesses. Consider these when selecting your “friendtors.” Instead of picking a handful of cheerleaders who have the same background and work experience as you, recruit people who are at various stages of different careers. I’m careful to tap “friendtors” at varying life stages, since these people can offer diverse perspectives on everything from balancing your personal and professional lives to managing people effectively and creating company culture. You want to have people who aren’t afraid to tell you “no,” and who don’t see themselves as being in direct competition with you.
2. Look around, not up.
We so often think that in order for someone to help and mentor us, they need to be a big-shot vice president or have 20-plus years of professional experience. That’s simply not true. Don’t discount the people around you who have a host of wisdom, guidance, and skills to offer. My husband, for example, never gets caught in the gray areas of decision-making like I do. He’s the first person to tell me, “You’re doing great, but you handled that inappropriately and you’re not putting your foot down.” His strengths complement my weaknesses.
3. Be open and considerate.
My friendtors have helped me with everything from being an impactful manager to making difficult business decisions. And, like in any successful relationship, it’s important to reciprocate. Sometimes this simply means being open to receiving people’s advice and guidance (moving past defensiveness, which is often our first instinct). It’s also about offering support in any way you can. Find out what they think could make them more successful in their career and then work with your friendtors in a way that makes sense for them and their goals. Also make a point to meet people where they are – literally. If you know someone hates lunch meetings but loves the outdoors, for example, maybe you suggest going on a hike to discuss a topic of interest. Don’t forget to show your friendtors your appreciation, both when they help you and also just generally. Whether it’s with a thank-you note or a quick email update keeping them abreast of the successes to which they directly contributed, there’s no downside to being gracious.
4. Be transparent.
Even the most successful professionals struggle (and fail!). Much like a good friend, a good friendtor should support you no matter the circumstances. So it’s all the more important to surround yourself with people who will help you develop into the professional you want to be – people who believe in your purpose and plan. These same people should let you cry on their shoulders during the low points. My friendtors helped me through a particularly rough period, when I was blindsided by an ex-partner who stole money from our account and disappeared without a trace. You don’t have to hide your challenges (or triumphs) from your friendtors. Stay honest with them and know that they’ll be there to help you plan your next steps.
This article originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s digital magazine. The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American professionals and students. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.