Becoming an entrepreneur is born from a variety of different reasons. Some kids start selling and mowing lawns in middle school where they undoubtedly catch the entrepreneur bug. Adults hit on a product need that is nowhere to be found – so they make it themselves. But there is a whole sector of entrepreneurism which stems from a completely different place. Oftentimes there comes a point in life where paths diverge unexpectedly. One minute you’re running along knowing exactly where to go and the next you find that the direction is a little foggy and not quite what you had in mind. If you have a chosen a career where the pathway is usually fairly easy to find, and then realizing the path isn’t the one you prefer walking down, it can throw your entire career into chaos. Entrepreneurism can be one major solution when you find yourself stuck in a bad situation.
Virginia lawyer Sheyna Nicole Burt, founder of The Law Office of Sheyna Nicole Burt, PLC, knew she needed to make a change. “I graduated from William and Mary Law School back in 2001. I had a clerkship where I worked for three judges in Alexandria. Then I did what I thought I was supposed to do when that’s your pedigree – you go get a job at a big firm. I hated it so much. It was impossibly demanding, but not in a ‘you have to work hard’ kind of a way. It was demanding in a ‘we need your entire soul’ kind of a way. I did that for a little while. I tried going to a smaller firm and that was better but I still didn’t feel in control of my destiny. I just didn’t trust other people with my destiny. Full disclosure, I’m just not that good at authority. I decided that my best course would be to start my own firm so that I could have things go my way, serve the kind of clients that I’m interested in serving, and also have the flexibility to be able to do the community stuff that was interesting and important to me.”
Sometimes that interest in becoming an entrepreneur later in life is hiding somewhere in the background. Kids can tell their parents about owning a business when they grow up. Parents might laugh, but these words might foreshadow what will happen in the future. Burt remembers one such event from her childhood. “When I was a kid I actually told someone that I was going to be queen of the universe. I’m not sure if that counts, but I literally said those words to someone. I didn’t know that was not a job I could have. When I started out after law school, I was pretty sure that I did not want to be an entrepreneur. I thought that I would rather just kind of get to be a partner in somebody else’s shop and build my book of business and sort of gain from what someone else has done. It was really because I was so dissatisfied with my experience working for other people that I thought ‘why couldn’t I do it by myself?’ I have ideas about how to market and what the community needs and what my clients need. Why not? At the time I had a business partner at the same firm and we were of the same mind. It was very helpful to have someone else say that we could probably do this by ourselves. I was sort of led into the entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t know that I was necessarily born with it. Although I have always been very bossy. [laughs]”
Once Sheyna realized that running her own firm was the best move for her, that’s exactly what she did. Burt started her firm and began doing things her way as well as making sure the needs of her community were met. “I serve clients in Northern Virginia and DC. My practice is divided into three parts. There is a homeowners and condo association component. It’s helping boards of directors not get into trouble. The second component is family law and helping families not get into trouble. A big part of it is helping people escape the foolishness that they sometimes find themselves getting in. The third part is helping charitable, non-profits. I volunteer for a ton of organizations. I help Keep Prince William Beautiful which is an environmental organization, I serve on their board. I chair the Prince William County Arts Council. I’m currently president of the World Doctors Orchestra. I’m not a doctor, but even doctors need a lawyer to help keep them organized. If there’s a need, I try to fill it. I do a lot of violin playing which has led me into some of the charitable stuff I work on.”
With so many plates in the air, keeping so much going is hard for any entrepreneur, “Balancing it all can be tricky,” Burt says. “Part of why I was motivated to be an entrepreneur was because I wanted the freedom to do a gig if I was interested in doing that gig. I have the freedom to travel with the World Doctors Orchestra when they have their sessions in different parts of the world. The balance is tricky. A 9-5 day is an illusion. I don’t even know what that is. I can go days without seeing my townhouse in the sunlight because I’m just never there. So you try to make it a balance and you try to do stuff that is fulfilling to your soul. Some days I am more successful than others.”
With so much experience working with the community and in the legal field, Burt has some advice for those looking to break through into the world of an entrepreneur. “I would tell them to have a strong support system. I am very lucky to have family and friends who support what I’m doing, my firm, and the community activism that is important to me. Try to build up as big a nest egg as you can because when you start there are going to be lean times and there’s no way around that. And I would say that you had better love it because you are going to dump your entire soul into making the business a success. You had better be in it not just for money, but because you are really, really passionate about what it is you’re about to do.”
Being involved in the community of DMV can be great not only for assisting others, but also making the right connections. For Sheyna, living in the DMV definitely has some great advantages. “The growth potential. I look around and I see other new businesses popping up. I see economic development here (in Manassas) and also in Prince William County. If the local municipalities are smart enough to care about economic development then that’s a good place for you to plant seeds. I’ve noticed in DC that the communities really care about supporting small businesses. It’s a good market with a lot of potential for a small business owner.”
Thanks to Sheyna Nicole Burt for this interview. To connect with Sheyna, please visit The Law Office of Sheyna Nicole Burt, PLC or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org