5 Lessons from my first year in business
In the midst of a global pandemic and nation wide shut down, our little business recently celebrated it's first birthday. It's a huge milestone. It's something we are incredibly proud of. We have come a long way in our first year. We even managed to make a (small) profit! Despite the very real hustle, I personally, have never been happier.
If you have fantasied about starting your own small business, or are just curious about how a start up actually starts, then here are 5 top lessons from my journey. Sharing is caring, right?!
- There is never a ‘right’ time
Claire and I dreamed for years of running our own creative venture. Three years before we launched Burbridge + Burke we had our name, logo and website domain locked in. We were both working, unhappily, in our comfortable 9-5 jobs and always meant to make time for a side hustle. It never happened. The right time never came. Something else always distracted us, or we were too exhausted from our days in the office we didn’t have any energy left.
We easily could have kept on going that way. We realised we had to make the time. In our case, that meant selling the house, making a sea change and one of us giving up our full time job to work exclusively on the business.
I’m definitely not suggesting all small business wannabe’s need to quit their job. A side hustle works for many. What is critical is that you make a decision to make it happen. It won’t happen for you. You need to actively create the time and space in your life to dedicate to it.
2. A level of naivety is good
If I had of actually realised what was involved in running a small business, I probably would not have ever started. Fear and uncertainty would have scared me off.
The only aspect of the business I had confidence in was creating. Claire too. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. So much so it’s crazy to look back at the huge risks we took. Everything we have done has been picked up on the run. Negotiating a commercial lease, taking on wholesale partners, working out commission agreements, how to buy for retail, visual merchandising, not to mention accounting, marketing and building a website.
Those that know me well will tell you I am a perfectionist. To the point where fear of things not being perfect mean they don’t get done at all. Launching the business meant I had no option but to get things done. I was given the very good advice early on that progress was better than perfect. It’s a mantra I repeat to myself often.
If you are holding back on launching a business or project for fear of not knowing everything, do it anyway. Figure it out as you go. Which leads me to #3.
3. Make good use of resources available to you
I am happy to admit we would not have survived our first year had we insisted on going it alone. Seek out the information you need, join groups aligned with your industry and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are after general business bits and pieces, like registering a business name, GST and some handy getting started checklists, head to https://www.business.gov.au/.
A good business coach could mean the difference between success and failure. Get one. Business NSW has a great program, Business Connect, which gives you access to free business coaching sessions. I was able to secure my coaching through Creative Plus Business, which I highly recommend for those in the creative business industries. The coaching I had was so helpful I went on to paid, but also subsidised (yay!) sessions. You can check them out here: https://www.creativeplusbusiness.com/
Some of the best tips and advice have come out of Facebook groups I am a part of. I have joined a few, each related to different topics – women in business, e-commerce, creative communities – and I am regularly active in them. As well as being great sources of information and networking, these groups are also where I share the highs and lows of business life. It can be a lonely journey and it’s nice to be able to share yours with others going through the same thing.
4. It takes more of your time than you expect
Ok. I admit I was one of those people who thought starting their own business would mean more time for myself and my family. Do not kid yourself. Being your own boss will mean you will work more than you ever have.
It is true that doing what you love doesn’t feel like work. The days I get to spend in the studio creating are bliss. Most days are not bliss. Not that it is horrible either. But there is a LOT of work involved that isn’t going to be your passion. I have late nights and work weekends. I have trouble sleeping either excited about new projects or stressing about something we didn’t get done.
Unless you can afford to outsource, you will be busy. Very busy. Which is fine, if you are fine with that. That leads me nicely to be final point.
5. You have to be damn passionate about your business
I have never, ever, worked this much or this hard. I have also never been happier. I am incredibly fulfilled by what I do. If we had started a business that was purely about profit I am sure I would resent the amount of my life it consumed. I certainly wouldn’t be having fun.
I LOVE what I do. I get to create. I get to support other creatives like me, doing what they love and putting that into what they make. I get to talk with customers about the story of the objects in our store. I have the satisfaction of knowing we are offering an alternative to mass produced, mindless, throw away consumerism. That passion underpins everything we do.
Along the way I have also discovered new passions. My wife often complains that I never stop working. The thing is, my hobbies have become my work and my work has become my hobbies. In my free time you will find me falling down Instagram rabbit holes discovering new design talent, devouring interiors magazines and listening to business, marketing and design podcasts. I love it. Sometimes I can’t believe this is my job.
So yes, its bloody hard work. It’s constant learning and stretching. Its time consuming. But, even when I’m doing the hard bits and the boring bits, I love our business. I can not imagine how you could succeed in running your own small business if you didn’t have a passion fueling you to go on.
That's it. My top 5 tips. If you have read through and feel more excited then ever to get started on your small business journey, do it! If you do, I'd love to hear about it. Reach out and say hi.