Discover your top priorities to forge a path to success

From the pages of In Business magazine.

In October, I was privileged to speak at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization national conference in Orlando, Fla. It was an incredible experience for many reasons.

I presented two breakout sessions on how to create a networking strategy that builds business relationships by providing people with value before you actually ever need anything from them.

I also sat on a small business marketing panel and answered questions ranging from how to create a marketing plan to how you can get the most bang for your buck when you have a limited marketing budget.

In addition, I got to be a “shark” on a pitch panel where we chose the top five student business pitches in the nation. The winning entrants each received cash prizes to help them with their ventures. At the end of each session I presented, I gave attendees my email address and told them to send me a message if there was any way I could answer questions, help them move a project forward, or otherwise be a resource for them. After spending three full days with young entrepreneurs who were motivated and champing at the bit to get things done, I was excited to see what types of messages would pop into my inbox.

During the next couple of weeks, I noticed three distinct categories. The first was a bit disappointing, but something I have seen quite frequently in the business world. These were people who were really excited at the conference and had a lot of big ideas, but when they returned home they took no action to move those ideas forward.

The second category included people who followed up as suggested, said “thanks,” and maybe asked a couple of brief questions.

The third group included a few students who really knew what they wanted and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. They emailed and requested ongoing feedback, advice, and mentorship to help them further their careers and develop their business ideas. These were the emails I was most excited to get because I know these are true future leaders and game-changers. I told everyone in this group the same thing: I was proud of their initiative and the way they took action, and I would be glad to have one-on-one structured coaching sessions with them in addition to providing them with unlimited email advice, suggestions, and feedback.



The only condition was that they would need to pay $50 per month. The reason for charging a fee was not to capitalize on these young entrepreneurs’ enthusiasm. It was to convey a lesson I have learned in both my professional and personal life: When you have money invested in something, even a nominal amount, your dedication to that thing is more serious.

I wanted these college students to find that same dedication to their ventures that I experienced once I had a little more skin in the game. I understand that in college, $50 a month can seem like a lot, but every student I offered to help was more than willing to pay once I explained my reasoning, and I know they will be glad they did.

This holiday season, when you are busy searching high and low for the perfect gifts for your friends and family, remember to include yourself on that list — even if your budget is tight. What are you going to invest in for yourself to help make 2015 your most productive and successful year yet?

December Fast Track Action Items:

■ Make a list of three to five things that would help you be more successful if you purchased them today. The list can include services like a personal trainer or coach or physical items like upgraded software.
■ Research different options for each of the things on your list. Make a list of goals for each item. If you had this in your life, how would it help you? If you made the investment today, what would success look like for you in a month, six months, and a year?
■ Take action and purchase at least one of those items in December!
Email me at to let me know what “gift” you will be giving yourself this holiday season.

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building
opportunities to local business leaders.

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