I am proud to report that 4 years ago this month I officially filed my business paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office and launched my website. It was an exciting and scary time. As I look back on the last 4 years, I have learned more than I ever imagined. Most of it is good, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you today just in case you were thinking of starting your own business too.
1. The fear of success is just as paralyzing as the fear of failure.
I cannot tell you just how many times I backed away from doing something because I didn’t want to be too busy and not be able to do it all. After all, the point of starting my own business was to better manage my family life and work while my children were in school. I know now that was just my excuse for not doing whatever it was because I was scared to do it. At some point I realized that I should wait to address those issues when I actually had them. Guess what? I never had those problems because I managed my business as it came. Some times of the year are busier than others, and my family survives those seasons as well as the slow ones.
TIP: Go for it! Push yourself to do something a little scary. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised with what you did and what it yielded, other times you will discover what you don’t ever want to do again. Both are very valuable, and the latter actually helps you better define your target audience, business decisions and future plans.
2. You don’t have to have a formal business plan, but you do need some sort of plan.
I was not growing an empire that needed massive funding, so I didn’t have to present a formal business plan to anyone to get my business started. I did; however, need to have some sort of plan to launch my business in my little community. The thought of a giant, formal business plan is overwhelming and enough to stop some would-be entrepreneurs in their tracks. My plan just had to have enough information to give me direction. I needed to know what I wanted to do (my goals), how I was going to do it (my service offerings) and what I was going to charge (my value). Then, I needed to know who my customer was and how I was going to reach them. The rest just fell into place. What I didn’t realize was that my goals and plan would change quickly and often. Some of that was done for me and some of it was done by me. Regardless, it happened. I think and talk about my business very differently today than I did 4 years ago.
TIP: Don’t let perfection get in the way of getting started. At some point good has to be good enough to get you going. You can fix the rest on the fly. I often say, “It is perfect for today.”
3. It is okay to have a small business.
When I first started I believed that since I owned my own business I was supposed to grow it to something huge. Lots of employees, many different service offerings and maybe even a real “office.” That was very stressful, until I realized that I didn’t want to grow an empire. My life changed the day I decided that I wanted to own a successful small business with a hand full of service offerings. I was more relaxed and comfortable with who I was and what I was doing. I was able to develop my plan around those service offerings, focus on what was important to me and do my best work. I own a small business and am very proud of that. I don’t want more employees or more work, but I would happily take more money!
TIP: Size doesn’t matter! Do not compare your business to others, unless you are trying to be just like them. Create the plan that is right for you and gets you to the point of achieving your goals. Stick with it, be proud of it, and then go ROCK IT.
4. Pay for help and guidance where necessary.
I am not sure if it was a lack of money thing or a control thing, but when I first started I tried to do everything myself. I wanted to create my own website and develop my own logo, but it was very important to me that everything I did look and feel professional. I didn’t want a homemade looking website or logo. I tried, it took me forever, and then I realized that I am not qualified to do either of those things well. I finally decided to employ others to help when and where necessary, and keep the stuff I was good at in-house. I hired a business coach to help me sort through the should do’s, must do’s, and want to do’s of my business. I initially bartered my coaching services with a web-designer friend to develop my website. I came up with the concept of my logo, but turned it over to a graphic designer to actually create it. Oh how good it felt to have those things done!
TIP: Be the expert in what you do and work with other experts on the rest. If you can trade services, that is great. If you have to pay, it is usually money well spent. Just be sure to budget and prioritize your expenses appropriately. There are very few jobs too small to be outsourced.
5. Be true to yourself and your customer base.
If you know your goals and have your plan, you have a roadmap. The hard part is staying true to that map when you are in a group of people with different ideas. It can be overwhelming. I remember walking away from lunches and networking meetings and replaying many of the conversations in my mind. They went something like this:
“Have you thought about …?”
“Do you have a…?”
“Have you tried contacting…?”
“Are you a member of…?”
STRESS! All I could think about was that I had no idea what I was doing. In reality, I did know what I was doing. Did I know it all? NO. Did I know enough to get started? YES. I would have to talk myself off the ledge and back onto my roadmap. It works every time – if you have a roadmap.
TIP: Be open to new ideas that fit WITHIN your roadmap. You will always have something to learn and should always be open to new approaches, ideas and ways of operating. Make your decisions based on what is best for you, your customers and your business, not your well-intentioned, all-knowing counterpart. If you decide to alter your roadmap, be sure to thank the one who gave you the idea for helping you grow your business. That is good karma!