Janel Sykora, founder of Thought Leader Creative, shares her inspiring journey towards entrepreneurship and valuable insights for those looking to take the leap.

She emphasizes the importance of starting a side hustle before quitting a day job and understanding one’s niche and customer to add value and succeed as an entrepreneur. As someone who loves helping CPA firms achieve their goals, Sykora believes that passion and problem-solving should be the driving forces behind entrepreneurship, not just making money.

With a virtual assistant, a good writer, and a business advisor, scaling a business efficiently is possible. Plus, the conversation briefly touches on the topic of closet organization, adding a touch of relatable humor.




[0:00:00] Glenn Harper: Hello, everybody. Welcome to another edition of Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. This is Glenn Harper, Julie Smith. What's up, girl?

[0:00:06] Julie Smith: You know, just before we started recording, I was talking about how I'm facing one of my biggest fears today, and so tax season. It's definitely tax season with the ten key, with all the paper and all the things, but but it's so it's it's going to be a good day.

[0:00:21] Glenn Harper: What's your fear that you have to face today?

[0:00:23] Julie Smith: I didn't think we were going to actually have to talk about it, but.

[0:00:26] Glenn Harper: You can't bring it up and just let it hang there.

[0:00:28] Julie Smith: I have someone helping me purge my closet. So I think all the fellow female listeners will understand that there's just something about buying clothes and having that new trend or whatever that is. And I definitely fell into that and have not taken the time to go through the past maybe five years worth of trends that I no longer no longer have a need for. So have someone helping me do that because I might have an emotional attachment to my closet.

[0:00:57] Glenn Harper: Did you talk to a therapist about this?

[0:00:59] Julie Smith: Well, I thought that's what we were doing.

[0:01:00] Glenn Harper: Got you. All the guys out there. We have no clue what she's talking about, and that's okay. No, we've got a special well, good luck with that. But we've got a special guest returning. We got Janel Sykora here. She's a wonderful entrepreneurs, great friend, works with us on multiple different things. And we just want to talk about she had a little slight event happen in her life here a few months ago, and she's now gone full entrepreneurs. So congratulations. How are you doing, Janelle?

[0:01:31] Janel Sykora: Thank you. It's so fun to be here. I really appreciate it. What a nice introduction. But I have to say, Julie, I can relate because I read a statistic that said 60% ish of entrepreneurs. Small business owners would rather do things like wear a mullet or lick a dirty subway pole than do taxes. But I'm one of those entrepreneurs who would prefer to deal with taxes over cleaning out my closet.

[0:01:59] Glenn Harper: Wow.

[0:02:00] Julie Smith: I feel like we could have a whole thing on this because it's a big thing to females and especially yeah, I definitely think it's a thing out there, but we'll move on from that.

[0:02:12] Glenn Harper: No, I think it's an intriguing topic, but maybe there's opportunity for entrepreneurs out there to do this. Is this person they run a business doing this for you?

[0:02:19] Julie Smith: You know, I don't even know how I got this person. I just gave her the keys and said, just take care of it, because my whole house is organized. But that specific area, I can relate.

[0:02:31] Glenn Harper: Janelle, is that a true statement? You have the same situation?

[0:02:34] Janel Sykora: Absolutely, yes. And it would terrify me to allow someone else to go into my closet and make decisions because I love clothes, I love shoes, I love bags, and have somebody else make choices. To remove anything of that nature from my closet would stress me out more than taxes, for sure.

[0:02:52] Glenn Harper: Well, that's an interesting point. Entrepreneurs generally have to be somewhat orderly in what they do and very have things in place, but everybody always has a place that's just messy, where they can just throw stuff and have clutter, and it's okay. Is that your guys'closet? Is that what we're talking about here? Interesting.

[0:03:13] Julie Smith: Janelle, I have a question for you not to say on this topic, but if I'm having a stressful day or I just need a moment to get it together, I will literally go lay in my closet floor. It's, like, a safe place for me. And I know everybody in this room is laughing at me, but I'm having a very vulnerable moment here of, like, for whatever reason, I'm like, okay, I can go. It's just my space.

[0:03:42] Janel Sykora: Absolutely. A girl's closet is her woman cave. It is totally a girl cave. Girl hut. Honestly, I do the exact same thing. When I used to live in St. Louis, I'm now in Florida. I had a whole fourth bedroom that was completely converted into my closet room, and I literally would go hang out in there. I had a TV in there. I had a wine refrigerator. I spent a lot of time in there. It was like a man cave for me.

[0:04:10] Glenn Harper: So are you suggesting that for our male listeners, they should really strive to have the woman closet cave for their significant others? Is that an important thing?

[0:04:20] Janel Sykora: Absolutely.

[0:04:21] Glenn Harper: Who knew?

[0:04:22] Janel Sykora: Wonderful.

[0:04:23] Julie Smith: Because no one else wants to come enter into there, right. And I think it becomes this I don't know if I can say that's like men in the bathroom, right? But it's like we can go in our closet, and no one will enter it, and we can just have a moment of peace, of like, okay, I got to get it together. You walk back out, and you're good.

[0:04:41] Janel Sykora: So true. So true. Only another woman would understand that.

[0:04:45] Glenn Harper: Yeah. Woman's closet, I think, is a terrifying place for a guy to be. We just don't want any part of that. As a general rule. We don't even know what goes on in there.

[0:04:53] Julie Smith: So, back on topic, janelle, tell us what life event has taken place and exactly where you are today.

[0:05:01] Janel Sykora: Yeah. Wow. It's been a crazy start to 2023. It's super exciting. I completely entered the 100% business owner entrepreneurial realm. So I actually read something by Brene Brown this morning. She's, like, one of my favorites, and she said it's not called a midlife crisis. That's not it at all. It's more of a you're for so long pulled towards something you're really meant to do. That's what it is. So I didn't go out and buy some big, fancy corvette because that's what I was pulled to do, but I took that big leap. I've always had my own business on the side, but I've never been exclusively working in that business, and I had the opportunity to do it, so I did. And it's terrifying and liberating and amazing all at the same time.

[0:05:56] Julie Smith: So last night I was watching a show, and I'm not going to do the quote correctly, but it was said, you go through life and it's a constant battle of what you feel like you have to do and what you actually truly want to do. And so do you just feel like you've just been forced with that internal battle?

[0:06:21] Janel Sykora: Yeah, 100%. And I think that's part of where that piece from Bernade Brown was coming from. Like, you go through life to a point doing what you feel like you're supposed to do for whatever reason, for financial reasons, because that's what is expected of you, type of reasons, because maybe you just have too much fear to do what you really want to do, but you always have this burning passion. At least I think entrepreneurs all have. They're all wired a little bit differently, a little bit more risk tolerant, if you will. And there's that inner drive, that spark, that passion that constantly tugs at you until finally you're like, okay, I'm doing this. What's the worst thing that can happen? I'm doing this. And then I think something switches and you finally go, all right, it's time. There's no perfect time, right? But I'm doing this.

[0:07:17] Julie Smith: And do you feel like some people.

[0:07:18] Janel Sykora: Do it from the get go, but I didn't, so it's interesting. My daughter will never have a w two. She graduated from college, business owner from day one. Me, on the other hand, it's like I have a career, a sales career, and then business owner.

[0:07:34] Glenn Harper: Remember, I think you're a closet accountant, so that makes sense. We got to do things methodically and process driven, and then we eventually make the decision. Did you feel like you were kind of serving two masters? You're trying to serve your real job and your passion to be an entrepreneurs. And I guess it's probably at a certain point in time where, look, I can't do either one of these to the extent unless I stop one. Is that kind of where you went to and just said, that's where I had to be?

[0:08:03] Janel Sykora: Yeah, 100%. And I always recommend to people, too, that before, if people think they want to go into business, don't just quit your job and cold turkey decide, I'm going to start a business. I can't even imagine the stress associated with that. I think it's really good to start a side hustle, start a business on the side and grow it, grow it, grow it. But what ends up happening, to your point, Glenn, is you're working your quote unquote day job, your W two job, and you're doing what you need to do. And then if you're someone like me, I'm very competitive and highly driven. So I always still, when I was selling, had to be at the top of the leaderboard. I always wanted to be there, so I'm killing myself to get there. But then it wasn't what I really was passionate about. What I was really passionate about was doing what I do, which is helping. I mean, I love working with accounting firms, and I love helping them figure out their content strategy, figure out their entire marketing strategy to grow their business and to attract talent, which is a huge problem in the profession right now. So while I was like, that's where I would geek out because I enjoy that, truly enjoy that so much, it doesn't feel like working. Then when I was doing my regular w two job, it's not very gratifying. So eventually, when you grow it big enough, you can take that Glenn and just blossom from there. So, yeah, eventually, you do have to kind of make a decision and make a choice.

[0:09:32] Julie Smith: And for all of our listeners out there who were in your position and were serving essentially two masters, as Glenn says, do you feel like once you took that leap of faith, the gates just opened up for you?

[0:09:45] Janel Sykora: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So a couple of things definitely they opened up, but I think, too, the other important thing is to really, truly, truly understand your niche and your customer. I think that's the most important thing, because the more immersed you get in what your clients do, the better you understand it, the more value you can add. So I think that that's really important. But, yes, it does. Just the minute you niche down, understand your niche, and then go full blown, the doors just open. They literally do. It just happens. And it happens through networking. It happens through properly marketing yourself. But, yeah. And it happens in immersing yourself in that community of clients that you serve.

[0:10:32] Glenn Harper: I got to tell you, I feel like I got to question your judgment a little bit of who would pick to work with accountants. That is brutal. But I'm just kidding. We're happy that you work with us. You're an amazing person, and you've really helped us tremendously. So, yeah, you've definitely found your niche. But, no, if we can't poke fun of accountants, what fun is that? But, yeah, even if it's a weird industry, if you can help them, that's what it's all about, right? And if you bring the need, they'll solve the problem.

[0:11:03] Janel Sykora: Yeah. And I think what I find most fun about working with accountants, because I get asked that question a lot, like, why accountants? Why CPAs? I actually really love it. As you two know, I actually went to school to be an accountant and took a completely different path after doing an auditing internship and going, this is definitely not for me. But what I really love about working with them is that we're at this crossroads in the profession where you've got small firms who really, really want to grow. They don't want to just be the tax guy anymore. They want to have those ongoing long term relationships where they can actually help business owners grow their business. And that's a little bit of new territory for a lot of CPA firms because they can't completely rely on referrals anymore. So how do I market this advisory service, this whole pass or whatever they want to call it, in their firms? How do I do that? I'm used to marketing tax returns. And by the way, I'm a CPA. I'm not a marketing person. Well, for me, I've always sold two accountants.

[0:12:07] Janel Sykora: So I understand what it's like to run a small practice. I understand the challenges, and I understand that accountants aren't marketers. So I can take my background in sales and marketing and apply that to an accounting firm that's trying to grow by marketing themselves differently than they ever have before. And to me, that's really gratifying. That's a lot of fun because accountants are really organized, they're very analytical, and in general, they're really nice humans, too. So it makes them really fun to work with.

[0:12:34] Glenn Harper: I bring a tear to my eye. No, the funny thing is the market has changed so much because the opportunities for entrepreneurs in the United States has just exponentially grown. So that particular client now needs to be served. There's a ton of them out there. And before, they just needed an accountant to do the task of a tax return because nobody was employed by The Man. Now everybody, not everybody, but a lot of people are really making the break from working for The Man and saying, I'm going to hang up my shingle, do it my way. And they need that advice. And that advice that they need is exactly what an advisor CPA can do. And so, yeah, I think you're onto something for sure.

[0:13:15] Janel Sykora: Yeah.

[0:13:18] Julie Smith: No, go ahead.

[0:13:18] Janel Sykora: No, I was just going to piggyback on that, Glenn, to say you're 100% right. And I think a lot of what stops people from going into business is that fear of, oh, man, I wouldn't even have a clue how to set it up, how to track expenses, how to pay myself, what to do. And I think that stops a lot of people. But if they just realize that, have that conversation with an accountant, let them show you how they can help you and guide you and take that stress off your shoulders, that might kind of open the door for them to go, okay, I can do this. And as I've said before, and you guys know this, having a good CPA business advisor is literally the best investment you can make in your business.

[0:14:03] Glenn Harper: And right. And I think the industry is going the accountants think they're just there for the task of doing a tax return, and they're not. And they're slow to realize it. But once every single CPA out there in their practice knows this is happening, they're in total denial. But once they realize it and like, wow, it's really easy because you just do what you normally do, just do it a different way, and you market to those kind of folks, you're going to change your practice over. So that's huge.

[0:14:28] Julie Smith: So, Janelle, for our listeners out there, because this is like, your update, what advice would you give to someone who is on the edge of like, okay, I have this corporate job I'm getting. Glenn calls it a real job, however you want to define that. And I really have these strings tugging at me to go do and find this passion. What advice would you give them as you've gone through that and now you're on the other side?

[0:14:56] Janel Sykora: Yeah. So two things. One, I think I would absolutely tell someone if they're thinking about if they've got this entrepreneurs tug, then start a side hustle. Everybody can start a side hustle. You can do that. And that's the most that's the safest way to do it. That's where you can really test the waters and see if what you think you want to do is what you really enjoy. Begin to immerse yourself. I think also into that community of people that you want to serve, truly understand them and understand what they want, what their problems are, what success looks like for them to see if you can serve them. But another thing, too, that I'll throw out there. Now, I didn't have this, but I would recommend it to anybody who's thinking about starting a business. Now, there's a new book that came out by one of my favorite people, Amy Porterfield, and it's called Two Weeks Notice. And I read that book when it came out, and I thought, oh my God, if I would have had this several years ago, I would have followed it to a T like it would have been my textbook, and I would have done every little thing in there. So for anybody listening who's even thinking about, man, I'd love to own a business someday, wouldn't it be awesome? I would highly recommend that book.

[0:16:06] Janel Sykora: Amy Porterfield, two weeks notice. And the other thing that I will say, though, too, because I get this question all the time of, well, wow, can't you just go hang out on the beach all day? You could go to the beach whenever you want. I do. I live really close to a beach. That is the exact opposite of what is like owning a business. I think you work more even because you're more invested than if you do have that w two job where you can totally disconnect on the weekends. In a lot of cases, not all cases, but it's hard work, and you have to really when it's your baby, you're just attached to it mainly because you want to be. You don't necessarily feel that you have to be all the time.

[0:16:46] Julie Smith: It's a choice. Right. And when you're given the choice, you're going to choose it. But when it's dictated to you in general, I think Janelle and I's personality run the other way.

[0:16:57] Glenn Harper: Yeah. We're going to need the TPS reports at 09:00 A.m. Tomorrow. Yeah, nobody wants to hear that.

[0:17:03] Janel Sykora: Exactly.

[0:17:03] Glenn Harper: But the good news is, again, if people have that tug and they want to go do that and become an entrepreneur and they just don't want to do it, that's okay. Somebody else is going to take that opportunity and really make the best of it. So it's really incumbent on you, the individual, to kind of make that decision that life is what you make it. And if you like working for somebody, that's great. There's nothing wrong with that. If you have those proclivity to do those type of things, that's fine. But if you want to jump, try not to wait too long, because the opportunity may not be knocking too much longer.

[0:17:38] Janel Sykora: Yes, that's absolutely true.

[0:17:41] Glenn Harper: Well, that's fantastic. Well, we're so excited for you, Janel. You don't look stressed, you don't look tense. You look, in fact, very relaxed and very confident, ready to rock and roll. So I think it's working well for you to make those choices.

[0:17:54] Julie Smith: I have one more question as we can go back to your first episode. Do you still believe your superpower is the same?

[0:18:04] Janel Sykora: Oh, man, that's a really good question, Julie. Yeah, I do, because I think the more I've grown in my business, that superpower has been really affirmed, which is basically and this just gets me so energized and jazzed when I can talk to a CPA firm like the leadership and like with you guys, and you're like, okay, here's our vision. Here's what we want to do, where we want to be. And if I can take that vision and turn it into reality, that gets me so excited. I absolutely love to be able to take what someone wants to do and make it happen for them. That's super exciting.

[0:18:46] Glenn Harper: Ain't it, though? When you help somebody achieve their success that they want or their goal, it's the best feeling ever. Nobody really does it for the money. They do it to help people. That's one of the coolest thing about being an entrepreneurs. If you help people, the money will come.

[0:18:59] Janel Sykora: I think that's a really good point, Glenn, because I think some people think, oh, I want to own a business because I want to make all this money. Yeah, that's great. You can, but I think that's the wrong reason to go into business. I don't think you're going to be as successful as if you were to go into business because you're super passionate about solving a problem or doing something to help a certain group of people.

[0:19:21] Glenn Harper: Yeah, people see right through that. If you're doing it for the money, if you're really trying to help people, it sells itself do you have any.

[0:19:28] Julie Smith: Plans to grow a team around you or are you just okay being just Janelle?

[0:19:35] Janel Sykora: Yeah, well, that's an interesting question because I think about that a lot. And when you are the business, you have to stop and think about, well, how there's only one of me, how am I going to scale? So it kind of goes back to also another reason why you need to have a really good business advisor to kind of help you through brainstorming some of those things. But yes, I do plan. Another really smart thing I would advise any small business owner to do is have a VA. And I do have a VA. She's amazing. She takes a lot of administrative things off my plate. And then I have started working with another person that is just an amazing human being and has this really good propensity for writing. She's a teacher and so she wants to write on the side and she's been learning and I've been teaching her. My idea is to be able to bring more people into my business that can help me in specific areas of the business, but there are certain parts that I'll never be able to let go of. But I would like to scale. I would like to have a team so that I can run really efficiently. Not a giant team, just a good sized team where I can trust them and they can help me grow.

[0:20:51] Julie Smith: And so when we talk to you in twelve months and we go from a decent sized team to a big team, I'll be excited to know that.

[0:20:58] Glenn Harper: Like I told you so.

[0:20:59] Julie Smith: And for all of our listeners, a VA is a virtual assistant. Just to make sure that everybody I.

[0:21:03] Glenn Harper: Was wondering about that.

[0:21:04] Julie Smith: I knew you were. So when we came in here, Janelle, he was like, I need an assistant, so now maybe you can help him help him get one.

[0:21:12] Glenn Harper: I need a VA. Yeah, I wish I had a V eight actually. But anyway well, Janelle, we appreciate you coming on and chatting with us. I wish you great success, I know you will be. And if you need anything, please don't hesitate to reach out.

[0:21:26] Julie Smith: And before we go, can you give a little plug of your business?

[0:21:29] Glenn Harper: Oh yeah.

[0:21:30] Janel Sykora: Thank you so much. So thank you for having me on. I am thoughtleadercreative.com so you can find me there. You can follow me on Instagram. J-A-N-E-L-K sykora S-Y-K-O-R-A. Or you can find me on Facebook, thought Leader, creative. And then of course on LinkedIn. So yeah, I would love to connect with anyone out there. I try and put a lot of content on LinkedIn so you can follow me there. It's probably the best place. But thank you. I really appreciate the time and the opportunity to join you guys today.

[0:22:00] Julie Smith: It was great to have the update.

[0:22:01] Glenn Harper: It is awesome. Take care. Glenn Harper signing off.

[0:22:04] Julie Smith: Julie Smith.