THE REALITY OF STARTING & OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS: WHAT I'VE LEARNED ONE YEAR LATER.
The past week marks an incredibly rewarding milestone. It's been twelve exciting months since I left the daily grind, a bi-weekly paycheck, and a 9 to 5. At the very end of April 2013, I took a leap of faith—I became my own boss. And so far, it's been a liberating and humbling journey that’s required discipline, flexibility, and a tough skin.
More recently, a number of people have reached out to ask me what it’s really like being on my own. The first thing I usually remind them is that I’m still learning! But by asking the question, you’ve taken the first step. When I considered leaving Korn Design to give myself this opportunity, I asked the same question—in fact, I still do. The truth is, you can’t prepare enough. You will however find encouragement and comfort from those who have taken these steps before you. When I began this chapter of my career, I knew I had to ask for not only the good, but for the bad and the ugly. So, this is my version for those out there wondering: “What's it really like?”
1. TALK TO AS MANY PEOPLE [IN AND OUT OF THE INDUSTRY] AS YOU CAN.
Very early on, I created an ambitious list of shop owners, entrepreneurs, investors, financial gurus, and creatives. They came from all walks of life; people I already knew, people that I had admired from afar and contacts based purely on recommendations. I chipped away at it one coffee date at a time, sometimes doing multiple espressos in a day. And now I try to do one a week because there's no greater perspective than that of those you admire or who have done it really well. Although I've reached out to almost everyone on my initial list, I add to it everyday.
You can learn a great deal from listening to other's experiences, mistakes, and successes (and you'll find they love to talk about themselves, too). And they’ll walk away having learned something about you.
I have to thank Jake for encouraging me to approach learning in this way. He encouraged me to have open, honest, "non-threatening" conversations and to be vulnerable. Share your story, your passion and let it be contagious. You'll find that those who absorb your energy will want to continue the relationship. They’ll support you, mentor you and introduce you to the right people. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and when you do, ask for raw, real advice. From doing this I have a handful of people who I know I can reach out to anytime throughout the growth of my career. They come from all walks of life and industries with valuable perspectives. Diversify who you know, and who knows you.
2. IT REQUIRES GUTS & A BIG RISK.
For me, branching out on my own was going to take me out of my comfort zone. My heart, passion and vision for my company was very clear; I've had the right type of luck throughout my career; but I was going to have to dig deep to find the guts and level of risk that I was comfortable with. Because no matter how you slice it, leaving a "secure job" is a risk—there’s just no guarantee.
I had been thinking about making the move for a while. Entrepreneurship is in my blood and this was always something I wanted to do. I knew the time was right because I was ready to give myself the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do—build a brand of my own. More than anything I wanted to give myself the CHANCE.
Side note: my employer asked me to work part-time to help transition the team. I agreed to stay on part-time for three months. This time period was equally helpful to my transition as it was to theirs.
Venturing out on my own was not an easy decision but one of the best life choices I've ever made. My life has changed forever. I realized that if I didn't take the risk, I would lose the chance of reward and potentially something amazing on the other end. Taking a risk leaves room for failure, but you can't let fear discourage you from pursuing your dream.
I recommend reading Heart, Smart, Guts & Luck by co-authors Anthony K. Tjan (CEO of CueBall Capital), Richard J. Harrington (former president and CEO of The Thompson Company and Thomson-Reuters), and Tsun-Yan Hsieh (of McKinsey & Company) to find out if you have what it takes. And you should take the Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (E.A.T.) to find your dominant strength. I'm all heart. "Not surprising," Tony Tjan says :)
3. GET READY TO WEAR MULTIPLE HATS.
This was one that I was not necessarily prepared for. I knew owning my own business was going to be a lot of work but I didn't think about how I was going to manage all the moving pieces at once. I was confident in my work ethic and ability to multi-task but being a one-woman business requires you to handle the responsibilities of more than just one person. If you don't have a partner or team, get ready to be marketing, accounting, client services, sales, and human resources in addition to production and design. Your business needs to be well-oiled. Your appearance needs to be on point. Your customer service and client relationships can't fail. And your services and products need to deliver. Most likely, you once had a specific role, but you’re now you’re it—and only you are responsible for the success or failure of your business.
I do my best to cover all of the things my business needs to be successful, but I'm also aware of what my strengths are. While I'm trying to stay on top of my social media, billing, and hiring my first intern, the truth is, at the end of the day, you'll realize you probably missed a thing or two.
4. LOVE THE #HUSTLE.
I like to hashtag “hustle” to the many things I do because launching your own business is a constant hustle. Owning your own business takes a whole lot of work and even more perseverance. For me, hustle means going after what I want without fear, trying new things, being assertive, grinding all day and all night without a minute of down time. Sometimes this means time passes you by before you get to take a shower or get out of your pajamas, leave your house or brush your teeth (not the first time I'm admitting to this but it's real). It means eating lunch at dinner time and working odd hours. The hustle is doing everything in your power to make sure your business grows and succeeds into the big dream you set out for. You have to love the #hustle. I do.
5. THE 7-DAY WORK WEEK.
The work-life balance changes. Although now I'm very committed to working the 7-day work week, I used to check out at 6pm every Friday. But I realize that was a result of falling out of love with what I was doing. Now my week takes shape in a much different way. Although I set my own schedule, I also hold myself accountable. There is no vacation time, sick days or personal days. I usually work through every weekend, into every night and from the moment I wake up. So I still look forward to every Friday (trust me!), but my business needs me on Saturday and Sunday too. And that feels just as good. If you love what you do, it's a rewarding trade off. The trick is to find a more efficient way to work while maintaining the best balance you can.
6. TRUST YOURSELF.
I constantly remind myself to stay focused and trust in my process, vision and experiences that have led me to do what I do. It's easy to be influenced by trends and what’s happening around you, but it's the rewarding challenge of staying true to your vision that will truly set you apart. Comparing or judging yourself based on those around you, can leave you feeling like you're coming up short. Instead, trust your vision and be you. Be badass and be bold. Stay humble and surround yourself with those who see the vision behind your ideas. I received some good advice from a creative entrepreneur who I look up to. She said, "Stay true to who you are. People are going to want to work with you for who you are, your authenticity and your style." (Thank you.)
7. THERE WILL BE NAYSAYERS.
It’s a competitive world and you will face naysayers. It's even more difficult when you’ve put heart and soul (and blood, sweat and tears) into something. Your business might not resonate with everyone but that’s OK. You can actually learn from rejection and tweak your products and services to a degree that feels right. I can defended my process, ideas, and creations, but I've never had to convince someone of my value. That’s the sales hat you have to wear and for me this has been the toughest part. I've also learned it's not worth convincing naysayers who simply don’t get it. Listen to what they have to say and move on! Not everyone is the right fit. Spend your time with those who believe in you and your vision; have the ability to see the potential, and understand the value in what you do. Keep them close. They will be your biggest advocates. For every person who says yes, there will be two that say no. The no's will make you stronger.
8. COLLABORATE IN THE NAME OF LOVE.
Collaborate for the love of working as a team to reach a shared goal. Going off on your own can get lonely but you’ll start to notice the magic that happens when creative minds share ideas. Collaborating is a great way to help one another. Everyone steps away with a victory, especially if there is an amazing story you can take away from the experience. I've found that the best people to share these experiences with are those who mutually want to learn from their peers and team up with like-minded creatives for the greater good of the industry. Share ideas, celebrate creativity, and each other. Be open to collaboration and partner with different types of people. And remember, no one is too good. The best things happen when worlds collide.
9. MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.
I was recently reminded to take time for myself when chatting with my photographer for this post, Sarah Del Buono of Made in March. And I should take my own advice because I barely get to this one myself. But when I do, oh! does it feel good. The key is that you have to make the time, if you try and find it, you won’t have any luck. There will always be something to get done. So get to know your limit. Launching a business is a thrilling ride but you'll hit many breaking points. So before you get to that point, MAKE some time for YOU. Carve out an hour for a quick run, hit up a yoga practice at the end of the day, curl up to a good book before heading to bed, or sit with a tea with no agenda in mind. It will feel so good.
10. IT'S NOT EASY, BUT IT'S THE MOST REWARDING & INCREDIBLE RIDE!
And that is my honest advice and more importantly, what I've learned through this process. Going after your passion takes guts and often times it may feel like a lonely place but I promise you, if you open yourself up to the opportunity and surround yourself with a supportive network of creative entrepreneurs, you will find that you are not alone.
Cheers to giving yourself the chance to achieve great things,
HERE'S A SNEAK PEAK INTO MY CREATIVE SPACE . . .
Photos by photographer, entrepreneur and mommy, Sarah Del Buono of Made in March. Thank you!