So you want to be a success?

I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad:

It’s extremely hard to make a business succeed in the startup world today.

Sure, we know JK Rowling was a single mom and wrote a book and she made a billion dollars. We read in the news all the time about some 25 year old guy who’s company, Snapbuzzbook, got bought for a billion dollars. And Sophia Amoruso went from buying clothes from thrift stores and selling them on eBay to a multimillion dollar clothing line called Nasty Gal.

Even I fall to the trap of thinking, “DAMMMMMMNKNNNN, if they can make their first business work, so can I!”

And we start spinning our wheels with our great invention. And a lot of us even go buy the name on GoDaddy (I have a lot of them, I’ll admit). And some even buy an LLC and get our moms to give us 10K to get started for real. And we think, THIS is going to be my big break.

We work and work, and it doesn’t pan out. The reality is, most of us will fail. And this totally sucks and we feel like losers.

This is problem number one: you can’t think of yourself as a failure if a business you created failed. You have to remember that failing is part of succeeding. It’s just an early step in a very long process.

Most of the time, there really isn’t a “big break.” That’s a myth that comes from seeing that one in a million person strike it big in the news.

So here’s the good news:

You actually CAN succeed, very well, if you understand several really important things:

First, get rich quick is for losers.

I mean, sure, you might get your five minutes of “I bought a Chewbacca mask from Walmart” fame, and get on TV and maybe even write a book about your experience making sounds like a alien fur creature. But was that the BRAND you really wanted for your life? And isn’t it possible that by the time this book goes to print, people are going to say, “Walmart Chewbacca mom, who?”

Second, failure makes you stronger and better, and actually more attractive to investors and partners.

From personal experience, if I talk to a founder who has never started a company before and he asks me to invest my time or money into his business, I pretty much run the other way. He doesn’t know what hardship is yet, and he’s about to be bitch slapped in the face with it. I’m tired of being bitch slapped, so I give him a hug and wish him the best.

Third, building an “over time brand” takes years, but once built, it will last a lifetime.

That is, provided you don’t go and do something unforgivably stupid. Like post a video of yourself streaking through Manhattan. Aside from that, you should be good.

Remember, a long term personal brand isn’t about one funny video or that one time you sang karaoke and Ellen thought it was really good. This real brand is about all of the people you’ve helped and the relationships you’ve built. It’s about all those failures and those beautiful rare successes. And its worth the pain!

When I started over recently, it certainly felt like that “”building over time” part was running out of steam.

I remember the night I sat on my back porch, overlooking the woods, sipping a glass of chardonnay and listening to the new Apple Pride Playlist. I looked over that second story patio railing, down to the huge lawn, of a house I had moved into when I was promised the world by entrepreneurs who thought we were invincible. My notebook was in my hands. I had scribbled Who am I? Like a hundred times on the page. After all I’ve done, I still felt like I was a hack.

My last business had failed. Or it had failed ME, rather. What was I going to do? I had thought I knew my path. At 32, I had had everything planned out. I had a venture capital fund, a digital marketing agency, employees and some mad design skills. I had the world at my fingertips. And yet, suddenly it was gone. Another story for another blog.

I took another sip and looked down at my notebook, filled with stupid scribbled notes.

Who am I? What do I want with my life?

Science. Space. Medicine. Robotics.

How can I get there?

Hard work. Branding. A million lifetimes….

This was never going to work.

I scratched out my notes. They were stupid. I was nobody. I had failed.

The crickets were loud that night.

Maybe I needed to just get a stupid job and give up being an entrepreneur. Maybe I really was just a hack.

Suddenly, my cell phone rang. I looked at it in surprise. It was one of my old clients from my marketing agency days. I almost didn’t pick up, because I didn’t work there anymore. But something made my fingers push the button. “Hello?” I said hesitantly.

“Hey, its Dillon. I just heard you don’t work at your company anymore. What the fuck?”

I took a deep breath. I needed to act like everything was going according to plan. Stay cool, Christy. “Hey Dillon. Yeah, I just felt like it was time to move on! So, I sold my half of the company to my business partner. If you need help, you can call him.”

The man on the other end of the phone laughed. “Christy, I just want to work with you. You built my brand. You built my investor deck. You helped me raise money. You designed my product.”

My voice caught for a moment. He wanted to work with ME, not my company? How was that possible? I was just working from my patio while eating vegan cupcakes and listening to Lady Gaga.

“But I’m just one person,” I argued.

“I know, but you do the best job of anyone. You’re the one I trust.”

At first, I thought this was a fluke. Maybe he was the one founder who would call me after I left my company and sat around like a teenager trying to figure out what the next chapter in my life would look like.

But I got another call almost immediately.

“I want you to help me with my social media and my brand.”

“You can call my old company—“

“No, I want YOU, lady. I just heard you left, and I want you, not anyone else.”

I sighed. I did love her, and she knew it, so I agreed to help her.

A third call. “I’m ready to go to the next level with my company. What’s the next step I should take? Development or marketing?”

I couldn’t stop myself, “Marketing first. Get some users then rebuild.” I spent an hour explaining how he could achieve the next level without breaking the bank.

He hired me on the spot as a consultant, even though I nearly refused.

By the end of the month, ten clients had already begun working directly with me. And I hadn’t even started selling!

So I started a company, out of need, not desire.

I called my CPA and we sat at Panera bread, sipping smoothies and signing documents.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come up with a cool name for your company?” she asked me in her perky voice.

I shoot my head. “Nope. I don’t care about titles or companies anymore.”

And that’s how Christy Harner, LLC started.

It wasn’t based on trying to sell a product to people, or faking my way through it, or putting up ads. It was built on my PERSONAL BRAND. Built on the relationships I had cultivated through honesty and compassion, the work I had accomplished, and the kindness I had shown.

They loved my brand. They loved me.

After 10 years of working hard and creating a name for myself, my brand began to sell itself wherever I went. I was known for being trustworthy, talented, knowledgeable, and efficient. Every proposal I sent out was turned around with a check. On good days, I felt like I couldn’t fail. On bad days, I remembered how much I was still hurting from the past.

So, back to you and YOUR BRAND:

Do you want to succeed in business? Do you want to get your dream job, or create your dream job and be the boss? The beauty is that there is really one secret to success. And that secret is your BRAND.

The reality is that no one especially cares which particular company you are currently working for or what precisely you’re trying to sell them. If they buy, its because they want YOU. They want your quirks, your skills, your honesty, your authenticity, your sex appeal, your humor, your portfolio. YOU are the brand, not what you’re selling. Elon Musk isn’t Tesla Motorcars. He isn’t Paypal or Solar City. Elon Musk is fucking ELON MUSK. Whatever he sells, we want. Just like Steve Jobs. And Mark Zuckerberg. They are brands.

You can be a brand too.

By being a good, reputable personal brand rather than by being just part of company, you are guaranteed to succeed, even when a project fails. Investors will invest. Friendships will last. Clients will follow you. Money will be steady.

So start today looking at your brand. Because if you start there, failures will happen but YOU will NOT FAIL. You will continue to grow, improve, change and sell. A business can fail. A person keeps going.