There are scores of articles online about how to start your own business but learning the practical steps is the easy part. The greatest challenge is in the way we think, feel and therefore approach the process (or don’t). Our fear of the unknown, finances, failure and even success are the greatest roadblocks to achieving business owner status.
I started my own businesses because I wanted the freedom to make more money and follow my own schedule. I started them because there wasn’t a job available that perfectly aligned with my interests and salary expectations. I was afraid -- terrified, actually -- to leave good paying jobs in exchange for the unknown. It’s true that starting your own business is risky but don’t be deceived -- job security is an illusion. It’s possible I have some control issues but even when I was happy in my 8-5 I’ve always had a business plan in my back pocket -- just in case.
I have started four businesses -- the branding and design firm Studio Absolute, a private chef business, a photography and marketing agency called DONE and lastly a digital asset brokerage. The latter of the four fell flat and we’ll come back around to why in a moment.
The three successful ones began like this:
I saw a need in the market that aligned with my creative passion.
I filled a notepad with service offerings, points of differentiation, naming concepts, elevator pitches, financial planning, goals and to-do lists. Then I organized my thoughts and scribbles into a basic plan that I could refer back to whenever I was feeling overwhelmed.
Once I had an elevator pitch and a basic understanding of how I was going to make money, I asked for feedback. I even sold my services in verbal and/or written agreements prior to launch to ensure I had enough clients to warrant going out on my own.
The first attempt at starting my own business was the digital asset brokerage. Sounds like a fun one already, doesn’t it? Here’s what happened:
I saw a need in the market that I was vaguely interested in and knew I could make money at it. I spent months drafting the quintessential A+ business plan that would make any college business professor swoon. I guarded my idea like a junkyard dog. The few people that I granted a whisper of a hint had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to ensure they didn’t run out and start their own digital asset brokerage because you know that’s exactly what everyone’s dying to do.
For starters, the breakdown happened because I wasn’t passionate enough about it to power through my fears. I spent so much time hiding behind the ever-evolving perfect business plan that by the time it was complete the industry model had changed and my margins would have been too small to make it worthwhile. Had I been open to feedback, I would have anticipated the shift and had I been passionate enough -- adjusted my plan to adapt to a changing market.
Knowledge is fear’s greatest enemy. Get to know your field of interest and target market better than anyone else. Give your fiction books a rest for the next year and consume as much as you can on best marketing and business practices. Subscribe to Skillshare and watch YouTube tutorials. But most importantly, remember that it’s ok to learn as you go. You will always know more than most about your area of expertise and less than some -- and that is 100% okay as long as you continually grow.
It is our natural inclination to find a sweet spot of homeostasis and resist change even when change is the goal. Our amygdala (or lizard brain) wants to tell us that change = death which is why we tend to self-sabotage when success is on the horizon. It’s up to you to acknowledge that it is a primal fear of risk that seeks to compromise personal growth but has little or no bearing on reality. It’s the WCS (Worst Case Scenario) approach to doing business and except for maybe the mafia, no successful business is rooted in fear.
Here is what worked for me and the clients I’ve partnered with:
1. If you’re not sure how to monetize your passion, seek coaching.
2. Start immediately with bite sized tasks and a timeline for accomplishing them.
3. Be flexible. It’s a fluid process and your business will evolve beyond your initial vision.
4. Know your market and fill a need for them differently than anyone else.
5. Ask for opinions from successful entrepreneurs and surround yourself with ambitious, positive people.
6. Network like a champ.
7. Bootstrap as much as you can before involving investors.
8. Hire a professional (versus your creative brother in law) to design your logo, website and print materials. It is your only chance at a first impression -- you can’t afford not to make it shine.
1. Quit your full time job until you can project your income with relative certainty. However, if you're lucky enough to get fired -- it may be the best incentive you will ever have. Own it!
2. Let negative people get in your head. Their fear holds them back from being happy and successful -- don’t let them project that fear onto you.
3. Let people tell you that you can't do it -- but don’t be tone deaf to good advice either.
4. Rush into business or financial partnerships.
Finally, don’t allow your lizard brain boss you around. If accomplishing great things were easy and comfortable, we’d all be millionaires. Just get out there and do it!
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