10 Things I’ve Learned from Starting a Business
It has been four years since I started Within/Without. Four years! While some days it seems like just yesterday I was baking granola in my home kitchen to sell at the farmers market, other days I can’t remember what my life was like before founding the company. Starting with a recipe and a desire to help people eat better, to now selling granola in over 500 grocery stores, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way. Here are my top 10 learnings since starting Within/Without.
1. You can’t do it alone
In the beginning, it’s easy to wear all the hats to get things done and keep the business moving forward, but eventually (and hopefully) the business gets to a size that it’s no longer possible to do all-the-things. How can you expect to double sales if you’re worrying about managing your QuickBooks or writing a blog post? You can’t. My saving grace was finding good freelancers to work with. Not only are they experts in their field and will do a better job than you can alone; they’re relatively inexpensive if you put a price tag on your time. I’d rather pay $100 for someone to fix a bug on my website vs. me spending five hours trying to learn code.
2. Your hair will turn gray
Stress is REAL. I was 28 when I started Within/Without, and by 29 I was seeing gray hairs. I think we tend to forget what stress can do the body, but once you see its effects (literally sprouting out of your head!), it’s a reminder to take a pause. The hours that go in to building a company – early mornings and late nights, the highs and lows, up and downs, it all takes a toll. We all want to go fast and grow quick, but that’s not sustainable if you’re not taking care of yourself. Scheduling workouts, meditation, taking an extra hour to sleep in on the weekends or any form of self-care is so important.
3. People want to help – so let them!
I’m the absolute worst at asking for help; and even worse accepting it. Maybe that stems from growing up with a single mom and watching her to it all, but I’m finally ok with asking for help. There is pride in accomplishing something on your own, but eventually it gets to a point where you need to lean on others. You’d be surprised how often people say “yes” when you ask them to help you out. Everyone likes to feel needed. Whether it’s an intro to a potential customer or investor, ask away! If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “No.”
4. It’s ok to brag
I’ve read several articles lately that say male-founded companies have an easier time raising money and raise more money than their female counterparts. The biggest reason they say is that women are more humble when speaking about the potential success of what they’re building, while men flirt with the truth to make their companies appear bigger and better than what they really are. I’ve seen this happen first hand. And we all know that perception is reality. So you know what I learned? To brag like hell about my business and its growth. Not in a cocky way; but in a matter-of-fact “this is what I’ve done and this is where I’m going and here’s how I’m getting there.”
5. Customers are everything
I repeat, customers are EVERYTHING. I wouldn’t be here without them. The business wouldn’t be here without them. They are what keep me going and the reason I get up everyday wanting to get to work. Whenever I have a moment of “why am I doing this again?” I’m reminded by an email or an Instagram message from a customer telling me how much they enjoy the granola and appreciate that a product like this exists because they can “eat granola again!” It’s the most rewarding feeling in the world.
6. Surround yourself with like-minded people
Entrepreneurship is a lonely road. Of course family and friends are supportive of the business I’m building, they’re huge cheerleaders, but they just don’t “get it.” And that’s ok. Unless they’ve walked the entrepreneurship road themselves, it’s difficult to image the day-to-day ups and downs of scaling a company. It can be really hard to connect with and feel understood by anyone other than a fellow entrepreneur. If you can find other entrepreneurs in your space to meet up with regularly to talk about successes and challenges, share ideas and contacts, it can be an incredible support system.
7. Don’t take it personal
This is especially hard to do when you’re the creator and maker of the product you’re selling. Whether in a meeting with a buyer or interacting with a consumer, it still comes as a shock to me to hear something negative because the other 99% of the time it’s always positive. Comments like, “I prefer <insert competitor’s name>,” or “I make my own granola,” are always deflating. I’ve learned to keep the smile on my face and let the comment roll off my back. I can’t please everyone and my products aren’t for everyone. They never will be. They’re just not my customer and that’s ok.
8. Find good partners
The more you can outsource, the better. Why? Because this keeps cost down, which is hugely important for a growing business. Cash flow is the one thing that is a constant stressor. Instead of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to build out a manufacturing facility or warehousing space, find companies to partner with that have the skills you need along with the necessary certifications or audits (ex. gluten free dedicated production rooms, food safety audits, etc.). Connect with these companies early on to build the relationship so that they’re ready to onboard your business when you need it.
9. Do it now
Timing is never going to be perfect. There will always be a reason to put-off starting your dream business, calling your dream customer or hiring your dream employee. The more time that passes and we don’t act, the more unlikely it is to happen. It’s scary and risky to take that leap, but where will you be if you don’t? A colleague shared with me Wait buy Why, “Your Life in Weeks” and it really hits home that our time is limited. It feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks. But they are fully countable, staring you in the face. If we’re not living out our dreams, then what the heck are we doing?
10. Pay it forward
I’ve gotten help from countless people throughout my entrepreneurial journey – mentors, colleagues, professors, you name it. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them, which is why I believe wholeheartedly in sharing my lessons learned with young entrepreneurs. If I can help someone avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way so that they can grow faster or work smarter, then it’s worth it.