It can feel like there are a million things you need to do to succeed as an entrepreneur. Your brand development. Your long-range business plan. Your backroom. Your sales pitch. Your customer relationship tools. And on and on. It’s exhausting to think about, and a minor miracle that any person with a brain in their head would brave such a path. And thank God they do. Because beauty, creativity, ingenuity and innovation are the result. And the world needs more of all of that! Oh, but the hard work. It’s so fucking hard.
Here are 5 tips to make it a tiny bit easier. (Caveat: this is not an exhaustive list by any means. But in the spirit of simplifying the entrepreneur cray-cray, I hope it helps!)
1. Leverage your network. People want to work with folks they know, like, and trust. Find your advocates, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And at the same time, be a resource for them. Start there. I love all the new technological ways to get your message heard (Facebook must be making billions off every small business $5 boosted post), but nothing replaces vetted recommendations.
2. Focus on 3 things. Find the 3 things that you are passionate about, you are good at, that the world needs, and that you can get paid for. 1-2 is better. Be the best at THAT. Become a passionate expert. Sure – be willing to evolve your offering based on market needs & trends, but don’t try to be something to everyone. There is already too much clutter and too many offerings for consumers to remember or make sense of. Stand for something and make that “something” your point of difference. We worry about alienating people. We worry about being relevant. We worry about not making enough money. Fears like this ensure playing it safe. And that means being unremarkable and unmemorable. I remember initially trying to keep my offering super broad because I wanted to help all people. (and full transparency: I wanted to make as much money as possible doing what I love!).That’s a lofty goal, but unrealistic and meant I was hustling ten times as hard, developing content for various clients’ challenges – and sometimes not around areas of my expertise or interest. Nobody wins there. Now, when I work with corporate clients I simply tell them my offerings are under the umbrella of “Empathy Based Leadership” including: Emotional Intelligence Acumen, Personal Brand Building and Women & Leadership. And even if they don’t need those professional development workshops right now, they may think of me in the future, b/c I stood for something in the meeting we had way back when. And I don’t have to recreate the wheel during each meeting I attend. AND I get to focus on areas I’m passionate about. What I’ve learned (both in corporate America and within my own business) people want to work with vendors who are passionate, knowledgeable, and meet a specific need.
3. Root down in your integrity. People are always going to try to put you off your game. Especially when you are doing something that is so against the grain. As Taylor Swift says – “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate”. (sometimes the loudest voice is in our own head, in the form of self-loathing… imposter syndrome? Perfectionism? Good times!). The way to best overcome the dissenting voices is to get clear on your integrity. Your business’s purpose. Your purpose. The WHY. Why do you feel compelled to bring this business in to the world? What value are you providing? How are you making the world a better place with your product or service? What character strengths of yours are utilized every day, as you build the business? If courage is a key character strength, maybe you include speaking engagements in your portfolio of offerings? If your soul dies a little when you aren’t surrounded by beauty or creativity, maybe design is a critical element of your business? There’s Harvard Business Review research that shows when you outline your personal values (or better yet, create a personal mission statement!) in advance of building your business, you are more likely to find success (especially for women btw). Our individual values are deeply connected to our sense of self-worth and by articulating them, we shore up our resiliency against self-doubt and potential threats to our self-worth (including gender bias). And to quote one other pop queen, Rihanna… “people are gonna talk, whether you’re doing bad or good”. So keep going.
4. Action Planning: The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. And you are on a journey, building this business. That said, between the lofty big picture goals of what long term success looks like, and staying in your integrity… not to mention the dissenting voices screaming hateful things at you … it takes real discipline to keep going. I recommend Action Planning. This is totally not a character strength or passion of mine. I hate being disciplined. I hate spreadsheets. I hate details. I hate action plans. But I also am ambitious enough to utilize tools that will help me get ahead. Even the ones I hate. The first time I did a “small wins” action plan, and started checking off boxes, I felt great. And I didn’t hate it as much anymore. It didn’t feel the same as my old corporate quarterly business reports.
A. this action plan had to do with MY business and MY success (vs a big giant corporation, that I was hustling on behlf of). B. I saw how, as I took each step, it felt like a small win. And it built upon itself. Reward, reinforcement, and then more motivation to simply keep going. Also, hand-writing it out (vs typing on a computer) felt great. And using color for various categories like “training” or “marketing” appealed to my more free spirited side. I finally looked up the science of small wins, because I needed some proof around how and why this template worked on me (I’d been real resistant to doing any business planning, claiming I wanted it to happen “organically”. That was a total bullshit excuse; I just hated this measured approach to business and life in general. It didn’t play to my strengths or interests) Here’s how this action plan works: start on the right side of the sheet with a box that includes your “goal”. The sample “goal” below is “becoming a renowned Bagel Chef”. Then work backwards. What is the previous step right before you become a renowned bagel chef (or your final goal). What’s the step before that step, and before that? Until you back all the way up to the first small step of “creating action plan”. Yep, that is a step. There will be some steps that you won’t/don’t know about, or steps that will present themselves throughout the journey.
Include a box with a question mark for those steps. But the idea is to break down the steps until they are so small that you can’t NOT take at least one step. And then another. And then another. Til you become a renowned bagel chef. Or whatever your long range plan is!
5. Know your worth. Lots of entrepreneurs get tripped up on pricing. Money is weird. Deciding the value of your good or service is a big part of your business. And integral to your success. Do all the homework about what the market will bear, and what competitors are charging, not to mention hard costs like retail space or systems. Then be crystal clear on your pricing. Have it on your website. Have it in your contract. Communicate it verbally. Clearly and concisely. If you hem and haw, or make adjustments based on others’ hopes and dreams, you are devaluing yourself right out of the gate. Similar to being crystal clear on your offering, having straight forward uncomplicated pricing allows customers to buy, not buy, or use it as a negotiation starting point. But ultimately you are making it easier on them to respond with a yes. From this place, you can make pricing a boundary no one moves EXCEPT YOU.Perhaps there is a client you’ve always wanted to work with and they let you know their budget isn’t to the level of your pricing. From there, you can decide if you’ll discount. But you’ve got to have a starting point. You’ve got to control your pricing. Only you know your worth, and the haters will be trying to devalue you every step of the way…don’t help them along. You are running a business, not a charity.
6. Bonus tip: Give Back. There will inevitably be time in your schedule (and if there isn’t, good for you. But find that time anyway!) when you can decide how you want to spend that free time. Especially in the early days when the client roster isn’t jam packed. My recommendation is to use this time to give back. Take your skills and your offering and share it with people in need. It’s a win-win. You get more experience honing your craft. And folks, who would normally never be able to afford you, get support. Have unsold inventory? Think about who could benefit from it. Have free time as you build your letterpress business. Lead Letterpress HOW TO workshops for budding designers. Have something to say? Offer your speaking series to disadvantaged high schools in your city.