This post was written by Jill Hinton. Jill is an Army Veteran, an enterpreneur, and a regular contributor to Command Your Business.
What a difference a year and a half makes. Eighteen months ago, when I was just starting my business Outdoor Book Club, I was like Superman, emerging from his spacerock sent from Krypton: filled with superhuman strength and and endless optimism as I filled out my LLC paperwork and endlessly studied my business plan in a single bound. Fear not, good people of earth!
Fast forward to today, where I am up to my nostrils in stresses of running my company. I am exhausted, a bit jaded and at least once a week the phrase “It would be so much easier to get a job runs through my head.” I really thought back then entrepreneurship would be as easy as saying, “Here I am, world! Ready and open for business!” and the money would start rolling in. But it wasn’t until until I was lying on the kitchen floor, sobbing over having to cancel yet another trip, that I truly understood how hard entrepreneurship would be.
In an effort to save you from that same fate (spoiler alert: no one can save you from that fate [INSERT EVIL LEX LUTHER LAUGH]!), here are 7 nuggets of wisdom that, if you can follow them, will shorten your learning curve and make a huge difference in the success of your business later on.
1. Prove your concept.
Every superhero goes through a period of discovering her superpowers — and her weaknesses. Just because you love your business idea, and other people say they love your business idea, doesn’t mean you’ve got a viable business idea. Unless you can actually get someone (preferably lots of someones, and preferably someones not related to you) to put down their credit card, you don’t have a business.
I thought I’d done everything I needed to as far as proof-of-concept: I put together a comprehensive, beautifully designed survey that I sent out to my target audience (about 15 people). I interviewed everyone I knew plus a handful of strangers about my idea, and got all sorts of really encouraging feedback. “Wow, I wish I thought of that!” and “What an amazing idea!” they all said (and still say). But it turns out that unless those people put their money where their mouths are and buy your stuff, your business is going to fail. And never forget that that’s why you’re in business: to make money (and save the world while you’re at it).
2. Start networking. Like yesterday.
We all need a Justice League; mine just happens to meet for coffee every other Friday morning at Arnies. If you’re like me and trying to bootstrap your business in almost every way imaginable, you know there’s an endless amount of work to be done: social media posts to schedule, suppliers to follow up with, planning and operations decisions to make, etc. It’s easy to think, “I don’t have time to meet with Robin today.”
There will be times when you have to weigh whether meeting with a minor player is worth your time and effort, but at the beginning, you need to be meeting with everyone. Go to every event. Be friendly and helpful in whatever ways you can (Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi is one of my favorite books on this topic). The rest of the business stuff can wait (or be prioritized), but the relationships you build today are going to come in mighty handy next year, when you’re really going to need the help. Network now, and the rest will follow.
3. You never know until you ask.
Most superhoes work hand-in-hand with the authorities, the good guys. In this case the good guys are the nonprofits, government entities, veteran groups, private sector organizations and even individuals who can work with you to help achieve your goals. You’re not bugging them to ask for help, and even if you are, so what? Recently, there was a high-ticket conference that I really wanted to attend. It turns out they needed someone to write about the event, and as a writer, I had the skills to help them out. It was a win-win situation, and one I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t asked. (A related nugget of wisdom is to always, always barter for what you want; your P&L statement will thank you later.)
4. Don’t take rejection personally.
Lois Lane was rebuffed again and again by Superman before they finally got together. So trust in the process, things will start to happen for you eventually. I knew this logically when I first started my business, but it was still often hard to grow a thick skin, especially when I was excited about a new joint venture or client that eventually went south. But the good news is that you can learn just about anything if you have enough education and take action, so start practicing your graceful rejection skills now by asking your least-favorite teenager if she wants to hang out this weekend (I’ve got two if you want to borrow one).
5. You are your own sidekick.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely, rejection-filled life (see above). If you don’t motivate yourself daily by listening to podcasts (Command Your Business is an excellent starting point), reading business books, following blogs and joining a Mastermind group, there’s going to be nothing stopping you from throwing in the towel when things really start to suck (and they will absolutely start to suck). Since you’re going to get up close and personal with all the things you like least about yourself, you might as well spend some time developing your inner sidekicks to help shore yourself up when the going gets tough.
6. Focus on the things that will make you money right away so that you can focus on the things you love later on.
I love planning trips for groups of women who love books. But if that’s all I depended on for income in the beginning, I’d have never made it. So I did some coaching and writing on the side to keep the rest of the business afloat while I built my audience and my brand. I also wrote and sold an ebook. (Even Wonder Woman rescued cats from trees on the side.) All of these things contributed to my business while I was building my core product, but they weren’t my core product. Cash flow is king, never forget that.
7. You are not your business.
Just like Bruce Banner was, at his core, not The Hulk, you, at your core, are not your business. [Sidenote: I admit I just wrote “Bruce Jenner” before my husband pointed out my error.] Even if your name is on the business, know that the business and you are two separate things. Developing a healthy detachment will go a long way towards buffering the inevitable bumps and bruises that go along with being a superhero business owner. There are sides of you that you would never put out in a professional environment, and that’s perfectly fine. Take time to step away from all the networking, marketing and talking about yourself constantly (this was another part of entrepreneurism that I didn’t expect) and just be you. For those times when you do have to “be your business,” I’ve found that, just like superheroes who want to protect certain parts of their lives, having an alter ego is helpful (mine a combination of Maggie from the Walking Dead and my dead grandmother, whose grace, warmth and poise were legendary).
It’s no secret that running a business is filled with challenges and even a few villains (ever tried to get a bank loan?), but you can shorten the learning curve. What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur/superhero, full of vim, vigor and enough naivety to fill a swimming pool?