About a year ago, I opened the doors to my new business. I remember looking around at every fixture and detail of my location proudly. I finally made it. The exhausting months of preparation and planning were over and everything I dreamed about had finally come to fruition. At least this is what I believed at the time. I stared at my business cards with pride. I checked out my website five times a day… just to see it there in all its glory. I touched the décor and rearranged the shelves. I picked out seasonal books and cute toys to display in the playroom. I opened the fully stocked cabinets in the kitchen and gleamed. Then I noticed the quiet. The silent hum that comes from opening a business without any customers. The bank account that had so far only moved in one direction. The dream and work was only beginning.
Here are the Six Lessons Learned During My First Year in Business
1.) You Need to Hustle: During this first year in business, I discovered what it means to hustle. What it means to make “the ask.” What it means to sell. And no matter how many times I privately said to myself that I AM NOT a salesperson, I realized that ultimately all business is about the sale. It’s about top line growth. It’s about figuring out your cash-flow. It’s about all the things I used to believe were my weaknesses.
2.) Test, Experiment, and Learn: From the very first day, I pushed and pushed and leveraged every strategy and relationship I had in my arsenal to slowly and painstakingly grow the business. With each month, we grew. We grew and grew… and sometimes stumbled. Because this is what a first year in business is like. You experiment, you A/B test, you throw things at the wall and hope it sticks. Then you take a step back and you learn. You identify trends and discover the seasonality of your venture. You pivot and hopefully — like your business – grow as a business owner.
3.) Understand that Numbers Rule: I’m a creative out-of-the box thinker. I’m passionate about my purpose. I want my business to help others. To help real families. This is and was always my drive. Before I started, the numbers were secondary. The numbers were what I had to fill-in on my business plan. What I had to project before I had any notion of what it takes to get a business starting at zero to profitable. What it takes to manage and more importantly fund a payroll connected to real people depending on you to pay their bills. What it takes to keep customers happy and committed to the community you want to create. What it takes to bring in fresh faces and close the deal — over and over again.
4.) Set Monthly Goals: Every month I write on a sticky note attached to my laptop a monetary goal. It’s a simple low-tech, yet powerful reminder to stay the course and keep hustling. That little sticky note represents the next benchmark and number I need to crush. Often, I hit that goal. In the few instances I am shy of my target, I push harder and always exceed my own expectations in the next month. But, the pride I feel in hitting those goals last much shorter than I would like because there is always the next benchmark. The next number I not only want to hit, but need to hit.
5.) Surround Yourself with Other Business Owners: Often friends and families want to know how business is going. They ask me if it’s going well. In other words, is this thing working? Was I crazy for taking such a huge risk? I never know how to answer because it’s not a simple yes or no. Success for the first year in business is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t own a business. Only other business owners will know how to ask the right questions. Are you able to make payroll and cover expenses? Are you able to reinvest back into the business to help it grow? Are you growing month over month? Do you have reliable staff that allow you to carve out time for your family when needed? The first year in business requires personal financial sacrifices, but this doesn’t mean business isn’t going well just because you can’t yet pay yourself. If you surround yourself with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs then they will not only “get it,” but they will also act as your support system when you need it most.
6.) Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Never Give Up: As an introvert, being the face of a new business model has tested and pushed me in ways I never imagined. I am tenacious and working harder than I have ever worked because this is what it takes. Sometimes I feel like this business is growing solely on the sheer force of my will and determination. I do not give up, even during the moments I feel like I have hit a wall. When I briefly think that it would be easier to simply walk away. But, I don’t. I keep going because just when I start to get uncomfortable is usually when the break-through happens.
I am ending my first year with much hope and anticipation. I have big goals for myself and my business. But, as I discovered, the end of the first year is really just the beginning of the adventure. The real work is only getting started. I chuckle as I write this because I wonder if I will ever feel like I “got there.” Or is the end of every stage in business only the beginning of the next? I suppose I’ll have to wait and see for myself.