When I was graduating from college in May of 2006, I never believed in a hundred years I would be running my own business anytime soon. In fact, I was anxious and nervous about joining the workforce, and had no idea where I would be working, even though I had just completed my Communications degree and knew I wanted to go into Public Relations.
Not even a month later, I had accepted an internship at a local, yet internationally recognized pr/marketing agency, Allen Consulting, where I helped organize street fairs and handled PR tasks, such as press releases and media advisories. At the same time, I began moonlighting as the publicist for a New York jazz artist, Sylvia Pilar.
The Beginning of GrapeVine Promotions
One day, I decided to create a company name and business cards. Almost serendipitously, the name GrapeVine Promotions popped into my head. Once I realized I wanted this almost fictitious PR agency to specialize in music, as that is what propelled me into PR in the first place, I came up with the simple tagline, “Helping People Hear the Music.” A couple of weeks later, I then had a logo created for GrapeVine. This logo was mainly blue, green and black, and was designed with a number of grapes that had musical notes in them, along with a classy black font below. Looking back, this was a highly amateur effort, but I needed to start somewhere.
Climbing the Ladder
But that autumn, I accepted a full-time position at a much larger PR firm that specialized in real estate, and put GrapeVine Promotions on hold. I could see the elongated ladder of my career path heading up through the clouds, and figured it would be years before I ever reached even the middle rung. Within my first three months at the firm, I was already scoring clients placements in large outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal, of which I was told had never been landed by an assistant account executive, but rather only VPs.
While I certainly enjoyed working there, and seemed to have been proving my worth very well, I was still only being given menial tasks, such as clipping. I began to feel as if this hierarchical corporate environment didn’t suit me, and I remembered how much I enjoyed the last summer being on my own, learning as I went along through GrapeVine Promotions. So I began firing up the engines, and started sending out a few new business pitches. About a month later, I received a response back from a notable TV/film actor requesting a meeting with he and his manager in Manhattan. Excited and highly nervous, I met with them over dinner one night following.
Living the Double Life
After our meeting, he decided to give me a go, and off I went, setting up video interviews with him in the middle of Times Square at night, sending out press releases about his participation in screenplay readings, and escorting him to nighttime events. I was feeling on top of the world having control over my decisions and feeling greatly empowered.
Soon after, I renamed the company to grapevine pr, and more clients began signing with me left and right. Within only a couple of months, I was soon realizing I was living a double life – working for this very corporate firm during the day, and running my own boutique PR agency at night out of my bedroom.
But then came time for my first major decision. Should I leave this other firm and go off on my own? I realized that although I was getting close, I still wasn’t generating any revenue.
I began to share this “want” with my friends and family, who almost all told me I would fail. They said I was too young, too inexperienced, and as my father stated over and over, that I wasn’t making any money, therefore I wasn’t running my own business.
On the other hand, I had my best friend, Lisa, telling me that she understood I didn’t fit into the corporate environment and wasn’t what they call a “worker bee.” She said I was cut from a different cloth and was an entrepreneur. However, she also told me I should give it a bit of time, but was completely supportive when I didn’t. She was there every step of the way.
With a bit of an impulse, I decided I needed to start getting press for myself. But I knew the risk involved, since it was highly likely my bosses would find out. But that all went out the window when I landed myself a front-page business feature in the state’s second largest newspaper, The Asbury Park Press. The clock was now a ticking time bomb, but I was prepared that it was time to either sink or swim.
As expected, a few days later, I was called into the HR office. The HR director and my team leader didn’t know how to react. They were shocked that a low-level employee had the gumption and the guts to go off on his own and form his own PR agency, and confused at how I did it and kept it under wraps for six months. They asked me if I was prepared to give up the company and stay there, or vice-versa. I told them that I had worked too hard the past few months and would never forgive myself if I gave up grapevine. I then told them, “So do what you have to do.”
They soon let me go in September of 2007. Within a month, I was handling paying clients, and grapevine pr was growing by leaps and bounds. I then made another critical decision and moved myself across country, for the first time in my life, to Los Angeles, where grapevine pr is now based.
When I come to the surface every so often, I realize that getting to this point was in no way easy. It took a lot of guts and could have very well failed. But how would I have known if I didn’t try? Luckily, it didn’t fail, and I believe that’s mostly because I was completely passionate about my decision and knew the risk involved, but threw everything into the ring anyway.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned that for most, failure doesn’t happen after one takes a risk and tries something new, but when one considers the risk of failure too scary and doesn’t even make an attempt. When you are faced with a crucial decision, there are always risks. That’s a given. But if you take calculated risks and are deeply passionate about what you want, for the right reasons, it will almost always pay off in your favor.
5 Tips for Taking Risks
- Always Take Calculated Risks – While there certainly may be times when you have no choice but to take a blind risk, always attempt to take calculated risks. What this means is don’t so much act on impulse, but rather think out your risks thoroughly, and the probability of whether or not you can succeed at taking them.
- Be Prepared – If you do decide to take a risk, always prepare yourself for the outcome. Not only should you be prepared for a failed situation, but also for what may happen if you do succeed. For example, do you have all of the right mechanisms in place to be able to manage what may come of success?. For instance, if you’re selling swimwear and you decide to invest in a publicist to garner you press exposure, are you stocked with the proper amount of swimwear, or do you have the ability to manufacture this swimwear quickly enough if many more people start ordering from you?
- Don’t be Afraid of Failure – When taking risks, even calculated ones, there is always an exceptional possibility of failure. It’s inevitable — otherwise, it wouldn’t be a “risk.” But that’s what makes it thrilling and exciting — and makes the outcome much bigger. Don’t be afraid of failure, but keep in mind the reality of it — and know what to do if things do not work out the way you had planned.
- Believe in Yourself – When taking risks, you may get many people who try to tear you down by lobbing predictions of failure at you. It’s always a good thing to consider what they have to say, provided their reasons are grounded in logic and not fear or other motives, but if you are truly passionate about your decision and your goals, don’t let this scare you away. I firmly believe that most people who don’t succeed do not simply because they are too afraid to try and take a risk, rather than because of failure.
- Learn and Move Forward – If you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end. Take a look at why the risk you took didn’t work out, and if you can, try it again. If you had it in you to do it once, you have it in you to attempt it again — provided that it’s well thought-out and calculated. For example, investing your whole house in something that may or may not pan out isn’t a risk, but a gamble. Always measure your risks and never give up too much.
This guest post was contributed by Steven Le Vine. He is the President of grapevine pr which has become one of the go-to lifestyle and entertainment PR firms in Los Angeles, boasting a client roster of close to 100 celebrities, entertainment artists, consumer brands and organizations, since its 2006 launch.