Aunia Kahn is CEO of Rise Visible and took some time out to talk with The Industry Leaders and provide some golden rules for business owners in 2023.
What's your industry?
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
Owning a website design and digital marketing agency was not in my career plans. My dream was to become a therapist, but while in college numerous roadblocks occurred to change the trajectory of my life.
One of the biggest hurdles was dealing with an onset of health issues that affected my day-to-day life with no medical support. I was told over and over again that it was in my head.
9/11 also happened in tandem, which resulted in a job loss. At that time, I was working as a dental assistant to help pay for school. It was extremely difficult to find work in that field right after 9/11.
While searching for alternative ways to create income that could work around my health struggles, I leaned into a website and graphic design. I had been doing them both as a hobby since 1998 and it had never occurred to me that they could be part of a career path until then.
My whole life changed and as you can see, I am still doing this today and loving it. It has given me the freedom and flexibility that I need.
I finally received my first diagnosis in 2018 and the final and most important one in 2021 which meant I was able to take my agency to the next level over the last few years.
What does an average day look like for you?
Each day is different and it is always filled with surprises. As an agency, we have things lined out each day, week, and month with clients as well as our own endeavors as a growing business.
However, we are often thrown off the rails a bit with things that come up out of nowhere that have urgency and we have to pivot and readjust priorities as well as keep deadlines and set schedules.
There is no way to predict how a day will go, however, this is one of the things that I love about what we do. It is always changing, and evolving, and problem-solving and strategy is one of the factors that keep things interesting.
How do you balance the needs of your business with the needs of your personal life?
I love what I do, so keeping a balance is something I always have to keep at the forefront because I can get caught in wanting to overwork. When you love what you do, it can become your world and you have to be very careful with that.
I believe that successful people love their work, but they spend time with family and friends and have hobbies that help refresh them so that they don't get burnt out from work. It doesn't matter how much you love something, you can burn out.
If you love apple pie and you eat it every day for 3 months, I bet you will get sick of it. Same with work or anything you love, you have to have a balance.
I make sure that I balance my life and spend time with my family, friends, and fur kids. I also have an art career so I am working on an art exhibition and right now a solo show. My art is something that helps me balance work and life.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
I think some of the best pieces of advice come from a quote I carry with me.
"Fall down 7 times, get up 8", is a Japanese proverb
I was also encouraged by a mentor years ago that being authentically and unapologetically yourself will take you places you could never imagine.
I have lived by this because for me I don't know how not to be. Being a neurodivergent person makes it very hard not to just be me which at times can feel really uncomfortable but I have learned to embrace it.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
My health has been my biggest hurdle, but learning to adapt and find alternative ways to get things done has helped me greatly. I think learning to adapt, pivot, and not get stuck when a roadblock comes up is an amazing skill that I encourage others to lean into.
A roadblock is not a "no". A roadblock is there to perhaps push you in the right direction. We all have goals, visions, and expectations just like I did with becoming a therapist, but my roadblock actually gave me a better life, a more flexible life, and a more financially rewarding life.
You can fall down, we all do. Take your time and when ready get back up. You can do it.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
One of the best books that had a huge impact on me was “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. The wide application of this book makes it an extremely important resource for my life. I can’t tell you how many times I come back to it when I am in a challenging situation.
I also love anything by Joe Dispenza, Simon Sinek and Evy Poumpouras.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner or executive to have?
When pondering this question, I think that answer would be relative to the field and environment in which the owner or executive participates. This question is hard to answer due to relativity.
However, I think one of the most important qualities in any field where you are leading people would be communication. Communication is a skill that so many people lack even at an executive level. Being able to communicate effectively, clearly, and contentiously is a skill we could all improve on - even myself.
Communication is the connectivity that we need to better understand each other as a team or with partners or potential clients. Communication is key.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a business owner?
The advice I would give to a new business owner would be to take it one step at a time. Understand that when you start up it is an uphill battle (for most entrepreneurs) for the first couple of years. That is why most businesses fail in the first couple years.
Also, understand that working for yourself can take way more hours than working a 9-5. To be successful you will most likely have to put in long hours and dedication, but it will pay off.
What are the top three things you think are essential for business success?
The top 3 things that I think are essential for business success are being authentic, being creative around roadblocks and setbacks and keeping solid boundaries but being kind. Clear is kind.
Be authentically and unapologetically you. No one can be you, that is where your success lives. Never change to be someone you are not. Changing to fit in or to be something you are not is inauthentic. People can spot a fake.
Creatively and strategically find your way around roadblocks. Use them to your advantage. If you fall down, regroup and get back up. Always get back up. You can always start again.
Boundaries are important in any relationship - business or personal. Know your boundaries and stick to them. You will have great respect for yourself and so will others. Be kind, but never let anyone walk all over you. Kindness is not being a doormat.
Do you think someone can be a great business owner without having many years of experience first?
You have to start somewhere. I think anyone can do anything that they put their mind to. I think that people often limit themselves by age, gender, experience, etc. The only thing that is stopping you is you. You can do anything!
In general, do you think the world is producing better business owners in 2023 than it was fifty years ago?
I am not sure if it is better, but it is different. I think there are way more opportunities to own your own business now than ever before which means there are a lot of crappy businesses out there. If anyone can start a business then anyone will.
Those that stick around for the long run and are not just in it for an ego trip to call themselves a CEO will go on to do great things. People passionate about what they do and those willing to put people first will gain the most ground.