I started my first business 12 years ago.
In that time, I’ve built up a successful event planning company that would later morph into a lifestyle website… the one you’re reading right now. I’ve had years where I made more money than I ever imagined. I’ve had years where I lost more money than I ever imagined. I’ve hired employees, fired employees, had people quit and been blown away by the incredible leaders many members of the Chic staff have grown into. I’ve worked out of my basement, my garage, a beautiful loft, a crappy pink house with no A/C and finally the awesome HQ we have now. I have learned so many things about starting a business and running a business and no matter what industry you’re in this is my best advice for those of you who are new to entrepreneurship or newish to this whole process.
- How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! When you’re first starting out in business it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many things to do and never enough hours to do them. If you’re like me, you have eighteen to-do lists going and they’ve got everything from “buy domain name” to “apply for Inc.’s Top 40 Under 40.” When you’re a newbie in business you tend to give all the items, from daily necessities for doing business to big five year goals the same priority. It feels overwhelming because you’re trying to do too many things at one time. Slow down. Make a daily list. Make a weekly list. Make a monthly list. Now double check it. Is everything on those lists essential to help you start making money as soon as possible? If they’re not, let them go. Take one thing at a time.
- Plan your day around your energy level – We tend to sit down with a to-do list and start tackling as much as we can as fast as we can. But the older I get, the more I’ve come to understand that I’m much more efficient in certain areas at certain times of day. If I’m going to write on my new manuscript or have meetings? I need to do it in the morning when I’m most awake and alert. Emails, don’t require as much brain power so I tackle them in the afternoon. I wake up each morning and make my schedule and when I do I plan the work around when I’ll be able to handle it best. Want to see how I lay out my planner?
- Figure out a daily routine that works for you – An awesome thing about starting your own business? There’s no one there to tell you what to do! But that, you might quickly discover, is a double-edged sword. If you’re not careful you won’t shower for four days straight and you’ll spend half your time researching “girly, stylish, office” on Pinterest instead of getting any real work done. When I first started working for myself I was adamant that I’d keep the same-ish hours as I had at the job I left. I got up every morning and showered, put on “real” clothes and pushed myself to be productive but still take a lunch/coffee break. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it as much as you can.
- Keep Learning! – You will never, ever figure all of this business stuff out. Don’t kid yourself for one second that the opposite is true. Every successful business professional I know is constantly learning, reading, growing in their field. So don’t kick yourself if you don’t have all the knowledge in six months or even a year. You are a student of your industry and you should be on a lifelong mission to excel in your class. Read books on your industry, read books on business and management and work life balance. Watch business Talks. Listen to podcasts.
- Think three times before you hire – When I first started I was anxious to get my first employee– that just made me feel especially professional if I had a “staff”. The truth is, I wasted so much money in the beginning of my business on unnecessary employee hours. Nowadays when someone asks, when should I hire? My response is always, when you absolutely cannot go one more second without help and not before! Also, if you’re going to hire someone they should be able to help you make more money because you’re spending more money. So if you own a bakery and hiring another baker helps you bake more bread/ sell more bread then by all means, do it. But if you’re a wedding planner like I used to be and an assistant gets you coffee and helps you look up things on Pinterest that isn’t a wise investment.
- Find a mentor – Every single conference I used to go to as a newbie in business, every book, magazine, etc. gave me this advice. I used to get so annoyed because it’s not like mentors are just dangling from trees waiting to be plucked by the next bright-eyed and bushy-tailed gal in their field. Where were these mythical creatures? The leaders in my field wouldn’t even talk to me at a party when I first started, they weren’t about to mentor me! The truth is, mentoring is an organic relationship not one you can just ask for (I mean, you can, but chances are you’ll annoy the mentor if they’re not already familiar with you). So when I struggled to find a mentor in my own field, I looked for a mentor in other industries. I was mentored by a jewelry designer, a spa owner and the owner of a local bakery. These people couldn’t tell me anything about event planning but the could tell me about worker’s comp, and how to hire, and how to put a budget together. They could also listen to me cry when owning a business was stressing me out. So yes, you should definitely find a mentor but all that matters is that they’re a great advisor the field they’re in is totally irrelevant.
- You can have a business or you can have a hobby – I say this in almost every talk I give on business. It sometimes rubs women the wrong way because they feel like it’s patronizing but I stand by the words. Too many women get excited about turning something they’re passionate about: quilting, baking, photography, blogging, writing, speaking etc. into a business. They spend hours creating websites and doing social media and six months go by and the very last thing they’re concerned with is whether or not their business is actually making money. If this is a business it will make money. Consistently. And not on accident. Take yourself, and your work and your time seriously so others will too. Even if it’s just something you do on the side, a business demands respect.