5 Tips For Budding Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship is hard. Most of us start out with very little information and just figure things out as we go along. That’s why events like Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: How To Get Where You Want to Go put on by Go Play Denver and General Assembly are such incredible opportunities to learn top tips from seasoned entrepreneurs and small business owners.
I spoke on the NVNG panel this week and I’ll be honest with you, when I was contacted to speak at this event and sit on the panel a few negative thoughts went through my head. Some of those included:
But guess what? I said “yes” anyway. I basically convinced myself that I would fail and embarrass myself miserably but I also felt this thing inside me, this pull, to do it anyway. Those kinds of feelings are the ones that tell me “this is just fear talking and you actually want to do this…you SHOULD do this.”
I only had to come up with 5 quick tips for budding entrepreneurs and I was convinced I had nothing to say until I gave it a little thought. I realized that my 5 tips would be all about things that I struggle to get right EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Sometimes I totally nail it. Other days I don’t even come close. To me these five tips are things that I’m personally always working on and revisiting so I believe they’re also the most useful to someone starting out.
If you didn’t get to make it to the talk on Wednesday, fear not, I’ve included my slides and presentation below! So dig on in.
Your first attempts are going to be ROUGH. There’s a reason that a rough draft exists in writing and the same applies to starting a business. For me, that looked a whole lot like this (see embarrassing image above). I’ll give you a quick backstory so you can better understand how my path to entrepreneurship began.
I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado after graduating with my BFA in photography and fiber art. I started working a retail job and I wasn’t creatively fulfilled so, like everyone else in 2012, I started an Etsy shop so I could flex my creative muscles. I started out creating and selling this line of Star Wars themed apparel which included hoodies, tees, hats, totes, onesies, etc. with fabric sewn and stitched on to make the wearer look like R2D2, Leia, Yoda, Chewbacca or Boba Fett. For a million different reasons, this was not a sustainable business. Despite that, I hated my job so I convinced myself I would just make this work and I was going to set out on my own and become an entrepreneur. I put my notice in and within 1 week, because I’m extremely responsible and very aware of money, I freaked out, realized I had no plan and I was NOT ready for this. So I applied to the first job I found and happened to get hired. It turned out to be an amazing job where I learned so much and was able to really figure out what I wanted to do and grow my business on the side. I worked there for 2.5 years and have been doing Stitch & Shutter full time for just over 3 years now.
So. That was a ROUGH first draft. And I tried to force something to happen that I was definitely not ready for. I had this timeline in my head and I told myself these stories about where I SHOULD be in my life by 25, by 30, etc. “Shoulds” simply don’t belong in your vocabulary. It’s great to have goals for your life but having a rigid life plan is going to hold you back or lead you in the wrong direction. Make sure you’re being a little flexible with your life goals because none of us can plan what’s down the road for us.
Acknowledge that you, like everyone else, are on your own timeline and you are ready when you’re ready.
And then? Just get out of your own way. Our beliefs tend to dictate what action we take. We tell ourselves all these stories about who we are and what we’re capable of and often times that becomes our reality. We’re dealing with fraudulent feelings and Impostor Syndrome on a daily basis and while you WILL continue to feel those things—daily—it doesn’t make them true or legitimate.
But when we feel those things, often we just don’t even try. It’s easier and safer than actually trying because if we try and fail we have to admit we actually tried. If we don’t try and technically don’t “fail” but rather just do nothing we get to say “well, if I had tried I would have…” (fill in the blank for whatever story you’re telling yourself).
Give it a reframe. Shift your mindset around it. Always acknowledge that what you’re seeing from other people involves so much behind-the-scenes you don’t see and a lot of work, often years of work, that happened before they were where they are now. We tend to compare our beginning stages, our first days of starting a business, to where someone is maybe five years in. That is simply not fair and unfortunately with social media, we do it to ourselves multiple times a day, every day of the week.
So just start. Perfection is an excuse. Start the thing. Allow yourself to have that terrible first draft and be embarrassed by it while also seeing the value and the necessity in it.
Part of coming up with your business plan involves defining your why and your who, you’ll hear it all the time.
Really get to know your ideal customer. Who do you serve and how can you serve them? What are their pain points? What do they need and how can you provide it for them?
Get really specific with this. You’ll do this when you start your business but it’s also something really valuable to revisit. For example, if two years down the road you feel like you’re yelling into the void and not really getting through to anyone, come back to this point and define the details even more because it’s likely you didn’t get specific enough in the beginning. I’m talking about defining who they are, where they hang out online, where they hang out offline, their likes and dislikes, are they married?, do they have kids?, do they drink coffee or tea?, etc. Get SPECIFIC!
Set goals and make sure to write them down. Keep them where you can see them. It serves as major motivation. Whether you’re writing daily, weekly, monthly, or annual to-dos or laying out goals for the next five years, write them down and keep them somewhere where you can see them daily and get really motivated to take action.
It’s also important to give yourself some grace, recognize how much you’ve achieved by charting your progress toward the goal. Even if you don’t quite make it, look how far you DID come. This is great to do by creating a chart with empty boxes for you to check off as you work toward a goal. For an example, if you’re a maker and it’s your goal to add 15 new stockists by the end of the year, make a chart with spaces you can check off with each new retailer you add.
BUT. Here’s the most important thing about goal setting. Make them tangible goals and plan out the steps it will take to get to where you want to go. Smart, tangible goals are specific and measurable. So set up realistic goals with realistic deadlines.
Deadlines give you a sense of schedule and urgency, which is something we have to create for ourselves as entrepreneurs. We don’t have a boss telling us “this project is due by 5pm on Friday, have it on my desk by 3pm for review”, we have to create that sense of structure for ourselves.
Then TAKE ACTION. There’s nothing “woo-woo” about goal setting. You’re not just putting it out into the universe and hoping for the best. You have to make them tangible goals, plan the steps, set a deadline, and TAKE ACTION.
Okay. Here’s my favorite topic and I think the one that entrepreneurs tend to struggle the most with. Me time equals MONEY. It seems so counter intuitive because we’re so GO-GO-GO, but it’s a real thing that we need to take the time for.
Your health matters most in your business, it’s the foundation to everything. It’s 2019, and we’re finally realizing and acknowledging that health includes physical health AND mental health. And your mental health is really what I’m going to touch on here (but don’t forget that physical activity and mental health are BESTIES).
For me, it’s always been the easiest thing to put on the back burner, but it matters the most. It really is the core to all success. Here’s an example of why this is so relevant to me, especially in 2019- This year I took about 3 months off in the first quarter of the year for family and I was terrified about my end-of-year numbers but I’m having my best year yet. That’s because I made this a priority but I also set myself up for a strong year by doing all the other things that I’ve talked about leading up to this slide.
Define your non-negotiables. What I mean by that is, define what things you need/need to do on a daily basis to be at your best. The things that get you motivated and inspired and set you up for peak creativity. For me, that’s having a morning routine that makes me feel that I’m achieving things before I even start my workday.
I wake up, make the bed and do some light cleaning and tidying up so that it’s not there to distract me later in the day (I work from a detached garage space at my home).
I eat breakfast and do my “morning pages”/journal. This tends to be a brain dump where I can either work through things that are distracting me or holding me back or just start a bit of a creative flow.
I get in some sort of physical activity, lately taking the dogs for a short walk.
I meditate for 10 minutes.
All of these things set me up for a productive day and feed my creativity. So define what those non-negotiables are for you and then make them an absolute priority.
So, I wanted to leave you with a fun but challenging exercise. Here it is: Stop multi-tasking for 24 hours. This is an amazing way to start slowing down and focus on what’s around you/be present. Don’t allow yourself to multi-task AT ALL. No reading while listening to music, no tabs open while responding to an email. It’s hard, probably nearly impossible for most everyone, but as you notice yourself multi-tasking throughout the day (because you’re guaranteed to catch yourself doing it even when you’re trying not to) simply note it and cut out the distraction. For one full day challenge yourself to use the silence around you and really slow down and be present.