I recently visited with an entrepreneur whose journey over the past nine years included excitement, challenge, transformation and growth. Brand Castle founder Jimmy Zeilinger and I first crossed paths in 2005 when he and his wife, Andrea, were honored by Smart Business as one of that year’s “Rising Stars.”
At the time, Brand Castle was a scrappy startup with a few cooking products — some under the Crafty Cooking Kits name; others licensed under the Crayola name. The company was born from the Zeilingers’ passions of cooking and doing crafts with their children.
Today, Brand Castle looks much different. It employs a few dozen people (more than 50 in the busy season); does business internationally; holds expanded licensing agreements with well-known brands like Disney and Hello Kitty; engages in private label creations for top retail and grocery chains; and sells more than 500 active SKUs. For the Zeilingers, it has been an amazing journey that Jimmy says is still in the early stages.
All of us have our journeys, whether they are in life or in business. Each journey has its own purpose and length of time. Some take days; others weeks, months or even years. And what better time than a new year to pause and reflect on our journeys — those completed, those still in progress and even those that are just beginning.
Ken Lanci is another entrepreneur whose journey I watched this past year. Lanci has been on a journey of faith since 2007, the year he nearly died.
His journey involved re-evaluating his purpose in life. He re-devoted himself to his family and friends. He invested more of his personal time and money toward giving back to the community. He even ran for public office. And Lanci took the time to chronicle his journey in a book, “Working For The Greater Good of All … Really!!”
Next month, one of my personal and professional journeys reaches a milepost as my fourth book, “The Unexpected: How to Build Market Share and Earn Loyal Customers for Life,” is published by Smart Business Books.
Looking at lessons
What makes this journey so special is that the Smart Business brand will grace the book’s spine. Taking the time to reflect on this journey reminded me of a few important lessons:
1. Going to market is not a journey’s end. Unlike my first experience writing a book, I now recognize that publication is not the end. Instead, going to market — whether it’s a book or your company’s new product or service — is just the culmination of the first or second leg of a much longer journey. Too many of us forget that once the product or service hits the market, the real work actually begins.
2. You must embark on a journey for the right reasons. Many people fail to establish a concrete goal when they begin a journey. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll likely end up running in circles with little to show for your efforts.
3. Few things beat compelling storytelling. People love stories. They are what connect us. One of the greatest lessons we learned while researching “The Unexpected” was that strong storytelling can help enhance — or damage — an organization’s brand.
4. Entrepreneurship is the bread-and-butter of innovation. Speaking with more than 100 entrepreneurs during my journey reinforced a long-held belief that entrepreneurs are among the most innovative and energetic people on the planet. They are constantly on a journey. Never, ever, doubt an entrepreneur’s ability to achieve his or her goals.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: We all have our journeys. What is yours?
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.