It’s been nearly 2 years since I left my good job in the city to start my own business. My friends and family thought I was crazy since this was never a part of my plan nor was it a dream of mine. The idea popped into my heart on October 15, 2015 during a meeting at work and on December 4, 2015 my doors were open for business – it happened just like that. In 6 weeks I filed paperwork, came up with a business name, developed a business model, hired a designer to create a logo, drafted contracts, hired a web designer, drafted copy for a website, recruited my first clients and rebranded myself.
In the back of my mind I knew how risky this was, as I had zero experience building anything. However, I was tired of being comfortable. I was tired of moving from company to company doing similar work. I was tired of navigating politics. I was tired of being unchallenged. I was tired of coming up with good ideas that just sat on someone’s desk. I was tired of being limited. Yes, I was nervous, but life without risk leads to an unfulfilled life. So, I gave myself permission to try something hard.
Here are 5 things I learned along my journey:
1) Be very clear and honest about your core skills.
Before I started my business I was privileged to sit with the CEO of About.com (now Dotdash), Neil Vogel, who offered me some sage advice. However, there was one thing he said that stood out the most: “You can’t be good at everything. You have to decide what you want to be known for and do it really well.” You lose credibility when you try to do too many things. There’s a restaurant in Brooklyn I’ve walked past that serves Chinese, Mexican, American and Latin food. While I enjoy each of these cuisines respectively, I’ve always been reluctant to step foot in this restaurant – I prefer that they master just one of them.
Conduct a skills assessment and determine which ones are marketable. Which ones will people be willing to pay for? While building a brand is, in some part, learn-as-you-go, people want you to be the expert at the thing you’re asking them to pay for. You should be able to speak about it at great length, share intelligent perspective, project what the future looks like for the industry and be able to come up with progressive strategies that might disrupt the industry. If you don’t consider yourself a thought leader, rethink your plans.
2) Determine what audience you want to reach.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it requires a lot of research and thoughtfulness. If your audience is EVERYONE, you are bound to fail. It’s important to pick a customer demographic so that you can come up with effective communication strategies that will resonate with them – you need to be able to speak their language. How you communicate to recent college grads might be vastly different from how you communicate to men between the ages of 35-44. There is no one-size-fits-all communication/messaging strategy – customization is key.
3) Determine your brand voice.
Brand voice is the consistent tone and personality of a company as it relates to messaging – it’s how you speak to your audience. Brand voice helps customers identify authenticity. For example, my aunt texted me recently and I said to myself, “this doesn’t sound like something she would write.” She used words she had never used before and the message itself was too long – she’s all about brevity. Later on that day I found out that her fiancé had her phone and had sent the message on her behalf. Though brand voice can change and evolve over time, it’s important to be consistent and predictable so that your audience always knows what to expect. You should be able to describe your brand voice in a few words – mine is professional, down-to-earth and relatable. You’ll never read anything from me that sound conservative, edgy or quirky.
4) Give everyone a good experience with your brand.
Every experience with a client (or potential client) is a PR campaign. After they walk away or hang up the phone, they leave with an impression and they will talk about you when your name or business comes up. Treat them like a customer even if they aren’t. I’ve intentionally given free advice to almost everyone who has reached out to me – contrary to popular belief; it’s not always about the benjamins. I’ve reviewed resumes; I’ve scheduled calls after hours to help people with challenging situations; I’ve met people for early morning coffee (I don’t drink coffee and sometimes I’m not a morning person) all because these things go a long way. When you give people a good experience they’ll go out and sing your praises and become a brand champion.
5) Celebrate your losses just as much as you celebrate your wins
It is important to find fruit in failure. There is a lesson to learn from losing and it will teach you how to win. It’s a humbling experience for sure, but here’s an opportunity to study or rethink your strategy and ask yourself some tough questions: What could I have done differently? Did I give 100%? Was I prepared? Losing is essential to our development. It is designed to stretch us and encourage us to work harder, smarter, better.
Starting a business is tough work, a lot of stress, late nights and early mornings. I’ve been told “NO” many times…even from people I expected “Yes” from – this motivates me even more. This journey has been amazing and equally unpredictable, but I’ve never felt so fulfilled, so stretched, so creative, so intentional as much as I do now. In the words of Beyoncé, “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it.”
Originally published on LinkedIn.com
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