I went to a lecture last night at my Alma Mater, Harpeth Hall, to hear two business women (also alumnae) discuss what it takes to be an entrepreneur. The first speaker on the panel was Olivia Mullin who started her own stationery business 15 years ago, Olivia Mullin Co. With over 1,000 retail stores and a very distinctive look, it is a very well known and respected company in my opinion. I was very surprised to hear she had just closed it in December but her reasons why made sense, but that's a whole other topic. The other speaker was Allison Wills Brooks - she started Calypso Café with her husband Phil about 22 years ago. I eat at Calypso Café often and even worked there for a couple of weeks (shortest job I ever had!) - they're known for fast, affordable, and healthy Caribbean food. There was also a moderator whose name I can't remember - he seemed like a small business/entrepreneurial coach who led their discussion.
I don't really want to re-hash the entire lecture, so I'll just mention a few key points that struck me.
An entrepreneur's first decision is "Do I want to do this or delegate this?" Are you someone who enjoys doing something or are you someone who can recognize talent in others, nourish it, and keep them happy as employees?
This was very interesting to me because I have always skated this fine line between artist and businesswoman and after hearing it put into terms like that, I think I really fall more on the artist side. I don't think I'd ever want to delegate out the making of the jewelry and just design it - I enjoy making it, selling it, promoting it, etc. I enjoy everything about running Freshie & Zero - except maybe calling for credit cards and dealing with disgruntled customers. It would be hard for me to delegate out certain aspects of my business, which is a lot of the reason why I haven't seriously considered bringing in help yet.
"Salary" is not an entrepreneurial term.
Basically, what's left after you pay your bills and your employees is your profit and what you take home. That makes me feel a lot better, too since I really have no idea what my income actually is until I file my taxes at the end of the year. I thought after 2008 I would have a better understanding, but since I spent so much on wholesale shows in 2009, my expenses went up by thousands of dollars and I was afraid to "pay" myself. I just spend money as needed and put money in my bank account when it's low. It's "very gray" as a friend of mine put it, but it doesn't really bother me doing it this way.
True profit is what you make after you hire help, and it's obviously a lot less than what you make when it's just you.
Yuck - another reason I haven't wanted to hire anyone. Luckily, I've been able to get a few necessary things done here and there for trade, which is definitely my ideal situation!
Don't let your ego get tied up in your business.
Allison said that they have closed a location or two of Calypso because it wasn't profitable and they couldn't worry about how it would look to consumers. Their ego wasn't so tied up in their company image that they had to keep a store open just to save face.
Start out knowing you can't do it all.
That's tough - especially when I pretty much am doing it all! I recently got someone to write a press release release for me, and it's embarrassing that it took me about 5 years to get that done. I felt like I could do it because I knew it wasn't rocket science, but I kept putting it off because I really just didn't want to do it. I should have known 5 years ago that I needed someone else to do it for me.
Many entrepreneurs start by asking themselves "Why can't this be better? Can I do something to make this better?"
Both Allison and Olivia took calculated risks - they saw a need for something and thought they could fill it, i.e. make it better. They tested their products, did a lot of research, and did not take out loans to start their company much like myself. Allison said that what they spent on their first year in business was basically like paying for a year in graduate school but with a much better education - even if they failed in business, they would have gained an immense knowledge and they wouldn't really have lost anything!
Seek out a mentor.
When asked if they had mentors they each had to think long and hard and both named their fathers as inspirational since their fathers were both entrepreneurs. But they both suggested that if you want to be an entrepreneur that you seek out a mentor.
It was a nice lecture - I don't think I yawned once which is saying a lot! I am personally asked all the time for advice and tips about being a small indie business, and let me tell you - I am SO over me. It was such a relief to listen to other women talk about it who are way more established than myself. It was also great that they were so forthcoming with information. The handmade jewelry business can feel a bit cut-throat especially when a stranger out of nowhere emails you and asks you pretty detailed questions about where you buy your supplies or even just an open ended question such as "how did you get started?". Ummm... forget about my lack of free time to type out an extensive email - do you really think I want to freely give out advice to someone who could become my competition? I think a lot of people who want to start an indie business are so starry eyed that they don't realize that there is a reality of always watching your back and being on the lookout for your competitors. Luckily, the longer I'm in business, the less I care about the copycats out there, and the less it stings when customers tell me that so-and-so is copying me. So what? They may try and mimic the product, and they may try and sell it for less, but they'll never be you, your brand, or your heart. And of course, they'll always be one step behind as they say!
All in all, I don't know that I would even classify myself as an entrepreneur. I don't have dreams of building up this big company and sitting behind a desk all day delegating responsibilities and employees. That sounds a lot like management, which I can do but that's not why I started this business. I think I prefer self-employed artist, thank you very much.