Though I concede that I’ve not yet built a Mrs. Fields-type cookie empire, I have learned a lot about small business in the four years since I launched CookieText. Since most of the wisdom out there comes from what seem to be unreachable big-wigs, I thought I’d give you the from ‘someone you might know’ perspective on what it takes to start something that will take off. I am “the cookie lady,” but what I’ve learned translates for anyone who is considering launching their own business.
Here are the things I know for sure:
You Won’t Be a Millionaire Overnight
I think one of the biggest hurdles is that in the era of Shark Tank and instant pop music sensations it’s easy to think that if you aren’t successful overnight, then you aren’t achieving. Since those are the stories so often seen in the media, we think instant success is the norm, it’s not. Slow and steady can win the race. In reality the slower but steady growth of CookieText.com is what has given me and my team the ability to continue to offer excellence despite increased volume.
If we had our current volume of business two years ago, we couldn’t have handled it. We didn’t have all the systems in place. We’d go through a busy time, be exhausted, and have to sit and figure out where we were wasting time or working too hard. Then we put something in place to fix that piece for the next busy season. It takes time and patience to build a brand, a reputation, an organization’s systems, and quite frankly, to build sales.
You Should Use Your Community Resources
Use the community resources out there to assist you as you write your business plan and formulate your concept. I had no idea how many resources there were that do just that–and they do it for free or practically free. Start with some books and basic internet searches, but you have to follow the trail of breadcrumbs and find the programs nearby that will help you get started or grow. The local colleges as well as city and county governments have numerous programs for small business owners to not only learn what they need to know, but to meet others who are trying to launch or grow their business as well. Cast a wide net. You might not find all you need in one location. In the tech-savvy age, it’s easy to think you can learn everything online–maybe you can, but that’s not been my experience. Start somewhere like Small Business Administration or the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center to get information about workshops and programs you can attend to learn what you don’t already know.
You need Money to get Started
Where do you find it? We launched Cookie Text on a shoestring, but that’s not typical. Of course we would all like a grant to start our business, and while checking around for these is smart, they are hard to come by. The best current resource we have found that gives amazing information about business financing is over at a site called lendEDU.com. They have an amazing comprehensive article that covers everything from how to qualify for a small business loan to special options for women, veterans, and start ups.
You Have to Really Want It
As a small business owner, especially in the formative years, you have to work your butt off. There are days that if I was punching a time-clock it would have said I worked 20 hours. Though I argue that I do have a life, Cookie Text LLC is constantly front of mind. If business is slow, I’m working on how to get more. If business is hopping I’m working on making sure everything is in place to execute properly or doing some other mandatory task that has to get done (did you know we pay property tax on our dough mixer)? Whatever you’re planning on starting or doing, you better like it. If you don’t, you won’t put the energy in it to make it a success. On the off chance you don’t love it and still make it successful, then you’re really in a bind…because you’re stuck doing a lot of what you don’t love.
If you think you’re going to launch your business and throngs of people are going to be knocking down your door to use your service or obtain your product then you’ve watched far too much reality television. Creating a business doesn’t stop on opening day, you have to create every day: connections, opportunities, plans, buzz, etc. My new friend, Zack Miller over at Hatch will tell you; if you want to succeed you have to hustle. My favorite definition of hustle is “to obtain by energetic activity,” but it’s often easier to spot than it is to define. If you have to ask yourself, “do I hustle?” then the answer is probably not.
Creating a business doesn’t stop on opening day, you have to create every day…
You Need a Support System
People that launch their own business don’t typically have lots of people working with them from the start. In the beginning it was critically important for me to connect with other women in business that were also balancing all that goes along with that. I found those people at Peninsula Women’s Network. I attend what is called the Leading Ladies Leads Group lunch twice a month and those women are my safety net. At many networking events I feel like I have to show up as CEO and have my game-face on. But the leading ladies women, those are the ones that can look at me across the table, figure out it’s been a tough week, and then offer compassion or advice. These women were my first work friends.
Since then my work-world has expanded. Tim Ryan, director of the Launchpad of Greater Williamsburg, would call that getting out of my ‘fishbowl’, which is critical to success. My environment had to expand. A smart thing to consider a co-working environment where you can work around other people in a space that inspires productivity. I promise it will result in some work-related relationships as well that will help you and your business thrive.
I know a lot of fellow entrepreneurs now, but among them I have a strategic handful that I call on when I face a big decision, dilemma, or want to share a success. Without them I’d flounder.
This doesn’t cover everything I’ve learned, but it surely hits the highlights. Here’s hoping some of it helps you on your path. Then again if you think you read all of this for nothing, reward yourself with a CookieText® !