Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Ahern.
Andrea Ahern is a founder and part-owner of Mid Florida Material Handling, a material handling company based out of Orlando, Florida. With no formal background in material handling and no college degree, she runs a rapidly growing business in a traditionally male space. She leads company operations and human resources.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Andrea Ahern: I’m going to sound like a broken record on this one, but my advice would be to never make promises you can’t keep. Like I said before, it takes years to build trust and only one mistake to ruin it forever. Be careful about the promises you make, people will remember your dishonesty and failure to deliver.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Andrea Ahern: It’s so essential — even more so now that we’re in a digital age. Any negative experience a customer or vendor has can be made immortal through various online review platforms. Dishonesty will not only impact your relationship with that specific customer but also with anyone that reads of their experience.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Number one is hiring friends and family without a proper, unbiased interview and discussion of expectations. Friends and family can be some of your best assets or some of the worst. We vet friends/family extensively here, making sure they are given unbiased interviews and understand they will be under the same expectations as all other employees.
- Expand too quickly before knowing their business. This is super common; you get a taste of success and try to eat the whole elephant in one bite. Take your time, make sure your business processes are sustainable before expanding into new territories or product verticals.
- Losing sight of the customer experience. Ultimately, your customers will make or break your business. You need to be in tune with what your customer is experiencing. (Are they happy? Was the product delivered on time? What can we do, as a company, to improve their experience?)
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Andrea Ahern: Absolutely, we are an authorized Komatsu Forklift Dealer, and last year we sold our record number of new forklifts. When we were just starting up, we didn’t even have a forklift line — we were just selling used trucks. Now we have a phenomenal line of forklifts, and we’re hitting great numbers year after year.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Andrea Ahern: This one’s kind of obvious — when news broke of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shut-down that followed it, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I think a lot of small business owners felt the same — I didn’t know if we’d be able to keep operating, I didn’t know if sales would keep coming in, and I didn’t know if I would have to lay employees off. All the uncertainty brought me to a very low point.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Andrea Ahern: Really, we just went back to basics. Our sales team picked up the phones instead of doing site visits and we started investigating new industries to sell our products into. We tried to target industries that were exploding (e-commerce, biotech, etc.) to replace the industries that were slowing down (amusement parks, events, etc.).
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Always maintain your integrity. Don’t sacrifice your core values for a sale, the sales will come in time. We treat our customers with respect and foster a two-way relationship. There has been plenty of opportunities that we could have used our knowledge of the industry to take advantage of someone — instead, we educate our customers and know they will come back to us.
- Build a reliable support network outside of work. I’ve surrounded myself with a great set of friends and family. I know when I’m at a low, they’ll support me. On the other hand, when I’m on a high, I share my success with them. I know I have someone to vent to when I need it, having that support system is huge.
- Surround yourself with a winning team at work. This goes hand in hand with #2. Just like you need a solid support network outside of the office, you need a team you can rely on in the office. One of our big initiatives in 2021 is improving our hiring process to bring in the best talent. Having employees you can count on takes a massive weight off your shoulders, allowing you to direct your focus to business development.
- Take some time off! Shut off your phone, unplug and disconnect. Taking a few days to reset will give you a renewed energy and a refreshed motivation to run your company. I took a wonderful, one-week vacation to a remote island in the Bahamas (NO CELL SERVICE) and I’ve never felt so fired up to return to work. You will return to work with new ideas and a burning entrepreneurial spirit.
- Try your best to keep a level head. When it’s your livelihood it’s easy to get emotional (whether it’s screaming or crying). Maintain an even keel — don’t let your emotions consume you. Most of the time, it’s more effective to be calculating and logical than emotional and “from-the-hip”. Making calculated decisions will help prevent a lot of the lows that can be caused by making poor decisions.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Andrea Ahern: My business partner and fiancé, Paul, is the key to my positivity during difficult situations. He has an uncanny ability to find the bright spot even in the darkest times. I tend to be more on the anxious side. We work great as a team, together we find a great balance between over-optimism and unproductive anxiety.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!