When I was a sophomore at Boston College, I decided that I wanted to start my own business. I had a background in business, but I was never formally trained in the field I was about to enter, jewelry. Reflecting back on my experience, almost eight years later, here are my steps for others who want to do the same.
Working for yourself may sound like a dream come true, but the truth is that it requires hard work, diligence and perseverance. First and foremost, when you start a business from scratch, you are the brand, regardless of the day or time of the week. So, you must be prepared to walk and talk that brand at all times. Secondly, unless you choose to have investors or hire management, you will not have a boss giving you deadlines or telling you what to do. This may sound great to some but if you are not your own boss then things will not get done. Be hard on yourself, set goals and check in. Finally, growing a business from the ground up means being patient; success will come with hard and honest work, but chances are, it will not happen overnight.
That is definitely the question when starting a business. For me, the entire point of starting my own business was to be in control of my own destiny. So, in my mind, having investors and giving up control defeated that purpose. However, if you are looking to grow and sell as fast as you can, then investors may work well for you. There is no right or wrong answer, but instead, the answer that is right for you.
In my opinion, when starting any small business, this is a key step that is often overlooked. When you are a small business, you do not have teams or departments to collaborate and to brainstorm with, so it is vital to identify a group of people that you can get together with from time to time to share your ideas with. Make it fun, over coffee or a meal, but be prepared to listen and adjust your ideas accordingly. Just make sure that the group is as diverse as can be in age, lifestyle and way of thinking.
Before any business can launch, it needs to have a plan. I would recommend starting with a master list of everything that will need to be done in order for your business to launch and grow. Ask yourself basic questions like: What is your mission statement? What is your short-term goal? What is your long-term goal? Will you need packaging? A website? How will you launch? How will you grow? Who will do your accounting? Where will the money come from? If selling a product, how will you price your goods? Identifying all of these things sooner than later is essential. Once you have your answers, you may then begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and devise a business plan. Business plans are vital because they give you something to look back on and see how you are doing. Knowing that your business plan will change is perhaps the most important part of this step. But, when revisiting your business plan in the future, remember this: It doesn't matter how well you stuck to your original plan, but instead, what matters is how adaptable you are in getting back on track or changing the path to success.
Reflecting back now, this is one of the areas that I could have improved on when starting my business. I was so set on achieving my own goals that I never fully stopped to listen. In the end, it all worked out and I listen now more than ever before, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and mistakes. Listening doesn't mean that you have to go about something in a different way. But, listening to the ideas, advice and experience of others can significantly improve your own ideas as well as save you time and errors along the way. In a day and age with so much noise, listening has become a rare quality. Ironically, those who listen before talking or sharing their own thoughts and ideas end up reaping the benefits.
If you choose the route without investors, like me, then you must be prepared to be your own investor. During the first five years of my business, I not only reinvested all of the profits but I also invested some of my own money along the way. This allowed me to do things like buy better materials, redo my packaging, hire a publicist, recruit sales reps and, most importantly, grow. In addition to reinvesting, you must always think "how can we improve?" Improving both tangible things, like your product, and intangible things like customer service will not only keep your brand relevant but also keep your fans excited and the "buzz" alive.
Last but not least, never, ever, ever give up! I guarantee you that there will be times in which you question whether or not all of your hard work has been worth it. But, in that moment, think back to when and why you wanted to start a business. Reflect on the wild ride that you have had, how much you have learned and all that you have left to learn. Turn any road bumps into challenges and focus on how you will get over them stronger and smarter than you were before. Sure, there are downsides to being your own boss, but, in my mind, the positives far outweigh any negatives.
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