Editor’s Note: Today I have the incredible opportunity of bringing to you a very inspiring article by Shashank Shekhar, the CEO of Arcus Lending, a California-based mortgage lending company. He is a national speaker, a blogger and an Amazon.com best-selling author of the book “OutFront.” He is a consultant for small business owners and coaches them in online marketing and personal branding. You can connect with him at Shashank@ArcusLending.com . I hope you enjoy reading and learning from this article as much as I did!
(Note: If you have an inspiring story to share, feel free to contact us, so we can feature you in one of our future stories).
Handing it over to Shashank now…
“What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur that you would like to share with aspiring businesses?”
This is a question I’m often asked as an entrepreneur, speaker and an author.
As I contemplated writing an article for this website, those answers became core material for this article.
First, let me start to answer that question by sharing a little bit about who I am.
I came to America in the fall of 2005, as an immigrant from India. I had a high-paying job and a loving family. Others considered me quite successful.
Success, however, was short-lived. After a little more than a year, conditions began to slide downhill for the mortgage lending company where I worked. The company closed shop and overnight, I was out of a high-paying job.
Job searching for months failed to turn up work sufficient to sustain my lifestyle and the responsibilities that come with a family.
That’s when the thought of starting my own business began to evolve. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Perhaps this was an opportunity in disguise.
Most businesses need two ingredients to get off the ground – capital and contacts. I had neither. All I had was a vision of doing something on my own. I knew I had to do something in the mortgage lending industry to capitalize on my experience.
In 2008, with little more than a couple of thousand dollars, a laptop, and a desk in my two-bedroom apartment, I founded Arcus Lending. Most people thought I was insane to launch a mortgage lending company in the same year America’s financial markets plunged into the Great Recession.
Business was excruciatingly slow at first and, as a new kid on the block, real estate agents did not want to send any client referrals my way. Cold calling was not my strong point.
I had to change my strategy
I exhaustively researched my industry for mentors and stumbled upon a great guy who became my coach. (Editor’s Note: Another great resource for finding help when you start your own business is the free website Income.com)
Of all the creative ideas he suggested, the one that changed my life and turned around my business was his encouragement that I write. With no prior experience with the written word, except for writing monthly checks to pay my bills, I wondered where I would begin.
If that idea wasn’t enough to send my head spinning, his next suggestion made me doubt if I’d ever succeed – my coach wanted me to teach loan programs and mortgage financing to my potential referral partners – real estate agents – people who would send clients my way. I was adept at corporate presentations, but had never really tutored anyone.
I joined Toastmasters and started pitching my oratory skills to local industry and association meetings. My daily routine became driving long distances on cold mornings to speak free-of-charge. I slogged it out for a year and barely made a third of what I made at my job with the mortgage lending company.
Eventually, my persistence paid dividends and Arcus Lending took off.
Client referrals began pouring in. My first book got published and speaking also began to generate income.
In just four years, I successfully created a thriving mortgage lending business and grew Arcus Lending’s sales by more than 2,000 percent since its inception.
What did I learn along the way?
Based on my experiences, here are three valuable lessons I learned that I would like to share with you.
Become an expert – If you do not have the idea package that will attract millions in venture capital funding, if you don’t have the software code that can change the world, and if you are trying to launch a business in a traditional category, the only way to get ahead of the pack is to raise your profile and differentiate yourself from the crowd.
How do you do that?
You become the most knowledgeable person in the business. You become an expert in your industry so that you are the go-to person when it comes to doing business.
This means spending hours scouring through trade publications, learning the industry’s ropes and formulating an opinion about how macroeconomics impact your industry and the consumers it serves. You develop thought leadership and that is a gold mine.
Brand your business - Fortune 500 companies invest billions of dollars building strong brands because they know that named brands command top dollars. I started my own lending blog and began writing daily until I had enough good content to attract visitors.
I built a strong reputation by guest blogging for other blog sites.
Blog writing gave me the confidence to write my first book and speaking at small events led to me getting booked by national industry events. Media interviews followed and very soon I became the go-to person in California for mortgage lending.
Don’t rest on your laurels – My greatest entrepreneurial lesson learned has been to continually educate myself. Knowledge allows me to grow and evolve my business. Initially, I spent hours every day learning, reading and testing my ideas.
Now, with my hands full, running the business, I continue to dedicate a few hours every week to keep up with the latest tools that could help fuel the next phase of business growth.
As a closing thought, entrepreneurship is like riding a roller coaster. Be prepared for ups and downs and develop the fortitude to ride it out. With imagination, a solid work ethic and a great attitude you can win.