5 Lessons Learned From Starting a Small Business
You're your own boss now, yay! Nobody is watching the clock to make sure you aren't leaving at 4:55 instead of 5:00. You make your own schedule, and don't have anyone scolding you for a minor one-off mistake. You finally have the freedom you've always wanted and get to do what makes you happy (#goals). But that week long vacation you want to take with your friends? Yeah, you aren't going to get paid for that like you did with PTO at your corporate job. You don't have a co-worker covering your email, and you may even feel guilty while on vacay if you aren't working a little bit. Your day doesn't stop at 5PM anymore, it stops at 11PM. Even so, being my own boss and putting my creativity to use is a goal I always knew I wanted to achieve since the day I graduated college and started a cookie-cutter entry level role in an extremely corporate company. But navigating that shift has been a change I wasn't as prepared for as I thought.
This post is dedicated to the 5 lessons I learned along the way within the first year of starting a business. Hopefully it will give some insight to those with similar goals, as many of these lessons were quite unexpected!
1. Have patience and remember why you started.
I have had a few other (very small) ventures before launching Trailer + Tap. Each time, I didn't see quick results, so I stopped. Sometimes I think back and wonder where they would be if I hadn't given up. My advice to you is this - don't wonder, because it will drive you crazy. Work hard and stick to it. You started your business for a reason. Whatever that reason is, remember it. Take it and run with it, and let it fuel you. Small businesses don't grow overnight. We don't have tens of thousands of dollars to pay celebrities to promote our product for us and gain us a massive spike in followers and sales in one day. Heck, just getting featured in a local magazine is exciting enough for a small business. Usually, we are a one or two person team, handling the marketing, sales, taxes, inventory, customer service, networking, and everything in between. There is a lot going on at once. And while it's good to have high expectations, those expectations also need to be realistic, or you'll never feel satisfied, and where is the joy in that? You'll burn out quickly, and all of the effort you put in will be for nothing. Be proud of where you are, and have faith and patience that your biz will grow as long as you work hard and continue on the path you're on.
Images of when we first got our trailer to the finished product.
We were featured in Philly Mag's spring wedding issue which was great exposure.
2. Try not to compare yourself to competition. Instead, befriend them.
Being in an industry that is becoming more and more popular is exciting, but it can also house a lot of competition. And let's face it, it's only human nature to get a little nervous or frustrated when similar businesses pop up, and to compare yourself to them. We've even had someone replicate our bar down to the smallest detail after giving them start-up insight (eye roll). However, I quickly realized that focusing on someone else's concept or branding was doing nothing but hurting myself and taking away energy that I could have been putting towards fresh ideas for my own brand. You can't control what people are going to do, but you can (try to) control your reaction to it. So, I'm going to be the mom voice of reason here and say - befriend your competition! In reality, they are just like you, trying to bring a dream to life and create a business, which you should be able to respect and relate to. If our bar is booked on a prospective client's date, I will refer them to another company, and in return, hope that they are doing the same for me. We are all on the same mission after all. I've met some great people and we bounce thoughts and ideas off of each other quite often, which is way better than the alternative of being a lonely grump!
3. Don't just allow, but anticipate your initial vision to change.
This is something I wish I had been told when we created Trailer + Tap. When we first started, we wanted the name of our company to be pretty self-explanatory. "A trailer, with taps. It will be easy to remember, simple to say, and to the point". However, now that we are looking to grow, we want to expand our services, products, and offerings, and it's tough to do when the name is geared towards one thing only - a tap trailer. Now that we have had success with our first baby, I'm ready for more. But initially, I was so focused on just getting this one idea launched. If you are anything like me (and what I think most business owners are like), you are always looking to improve and grow. Keep that in mind when creating your brand so that down the road, expansion is easier to navigate through.
4. Don't rely on or expect things from others.
Isn't it better to have realistic expectations, and then be really really happy when something or someone pulls through for you with flying colors? Of course! Nobody is going to care as much about your business as you are. This is true from a peer standpoint and a business standpoint. If friends don't show up to an event you're at or buy the product you're selling, try not to take it personally. While support is awesome, it should not always be expected. I have been blessed with very supportive friends and family, which does not go unnoticed. However, I also understand that everyone has their own things going on, and my 'thing' is not always going to be top priority for other people, nor should it be. Contractors may not get the job done early, or even on time. They have other jobs to focus on, and I hate to say it, but yours probably is not as high importance as you think it is. Take their timeframe of completion, and add about two months onto that (I've learned this from experience). Being rational prevents you from feeling angry or upset, and allows you to soak in all the good things going for your business, which I'm sure there are a ton of.
5. Be prepared for both highs and lows, and be sure to celebrate your achievements.
Your first few sales - thrilling. Then, maybe you hit a lag - panic mode. You probably put a lot on the line to do what you're doing (no risk, no reward, right?), so you're of course going to feel all of the emotions you never felt while working a routine desk job. But, you will also feel prouder and more fulfilled than you could ever imagine feeling in any other role. Don't let the lows scare you away, but do brace yourself for them. And don't forget to celebrate every achievement and goal you hit. You are making your vision come to life, and there's nothing cooler than that. I write down monthly or quarterly goals I have for myself, and when I hit them, I celebrate. Treat yo'self to drinks, a nice dinner, or something else that makes you feel good (food and alcohol are my personal happy places). It's really awesome to not just think up an idea, but to actually do something with that idea and turn it into a business. Sometimes in the chaos of it all, that can be hard to remember. So remind yourself often, and feel happiness in what you have created!
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