My parents ran a corner grocery for over 20 years though neither of them had more than a high school education, their operation was successful enough to put five kids through college. Their example gave me hope when I ventured into self-employment. Though entrepreneurs follow different paths, here’s five tips that entrepreneurs at any age and stage may find useful.
1) Save money in a separate account for your venture, even if you don’t know what exactly it is yet or how much you’ll need. The simple act of putting aside money, hopefully regularly, and considering various savings plans and interest rates is a useful exercise on deferred compensation. [As a side note for parents, studies like the Marshmallow experiment show that children who are able to wait for a reward do better in many aspects later in life.]
2) Figure out what you have to offer. This means you have to believe in yourself and your work enough to put it out there and stand by it. Whether it is a product or a service, the start-up entrepreneur has to love it enough to spend a lot of time perfecting their skill, craft, and deliverables – often without immediate payback. A little self-confidence goes a long way. When I started consulting as an associate in a firm, I was told outright that I couldn’t be a consultant without some real world experience. Many of the consultants were 20 or more years into their careers and I was not. But I did have real world experience – and a unique perspective that didn’t readily fit into the current market definition. Turn’s out, it was the beginning of my market niche. I just had to get over the doubt they planted in me that I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. Whether you are 9 or 39, if you are female and/or a person of color, you have had that doubt planted in you. Let it go. Having confidence in yourself will help others have confidence in your product, too.
3) Understand your values, both financial and priceless. Itemize necessary resources (your time and supplies) and how you will make, supply and market your product or service. Make a list of what you have, what you need, and how much it will cost. Then separate the start-up costs from the on-going or per-unit product/service costs; this will help you figure out how to price your product or service. It is important to do the math to see how much you are putting in and getting back from each deliverable. At this point, you will also need to talk about your values, what you are contributing to the market, consumer, and community. The non-quantifiable part of entrepreneurship is the impact – what added value have you put in or will your customer get? What is new or different because of your product or service, and how much is that worth to you and to your target customer?
4) Build relationships with integrity. Business too often focuses on transactions, but successful businesses are built on a series of small conversations, interactions, negotiations, and partnerships between people. Build trust. [Remember the delayed gratification reference above, a key component in making that work is trust that a reward would follow.] Develop a sounding board of trustees. Don’t be afraid to market to your friends and family, if for nothing else but a practice pitch and some feedback. And don’t be afraid to make new friends and colleagues. Remember what you figured out about your values and value-added, here’s where you put your values to action. Give people something to think about, talk about, and try out. The best marketing comes from seeing the difference you’ve made.
5) Learn and grow. It seems all entrepreneurs have a drive to keep finding better ways of doing things, new products or processes. With daily effort (some of that in the form of practicing patience), I saw my independent business grow a little more each year for almost four years. I learned tremendously about my field of work and my values. I grew; my business changed. Success isn’t an end – it is a process of continual improvement. Even as I am in an adventure, I am always wondering and preparing – what’s the next venture?
Perspective by Sida Ly-Xiong