Be your own boss. Make your own hours. Do what you love. Every day. Live the dream.
Whether it is out of necessity, in pursuit of that “million dollar idea,” or for sheer passion, starting a business has been the road taken by business-minded individuals time and time again. In fact, according to CNN Money, nearly 500,000 businesses start in the U.S. each year. Whether it’s your brother, your neighbor, your former coworker, a person you met at church or in a coffee shop, it’s likely that at least one of those people has started a business at some point. And if it was a success or a catastrophic, monumental failure, it’s also likely they’ve got a piece of advice or two that they’d be willing to share. Even though “what to dos” are valuable, “what not to dos” can sure come in handy, too. Ideally, you should seek out the most successful entrepreneur you know and try to emulate that success.
Successful South Texas entrepreneurs Ashlynn Elliff of Ashlynn Elliff Designs and Matt Wilbanks of HelpSocial, Inc. offered an inside look at some of the challenges, setbacks, and surprises they faced on their paths to success. Though these entrepreneurs came from unique backgrounds and different fields, they ran into many of the same challenges and agreed on four things they learned along the way:
- Make sure you have a relevant product, and then get ready to CHANGE IT.
This is a big one, and reasonably so. If you want to be successful, you need to make sure your passion translates into something tangible and valuable to your customers. When considering the long-term trajectory of your business, start with a vision but allow for flexibility along the way.
For HelpSocial, rapid changes in technology keep them on their toes and require them to be ready to adapt their product at any time. Wilbanks, along with co-founder Robert Collazo, opened up their business in 2014 after being coworkers for eight years. They started HelpSocial to focus on a platform built for social customer service with a product that differentiated from the many social media marketing products by helping companies to see the big picture in online customer service.
For Eliff, the challenge came in wanting to grow too big too soon. She has been designing and refining her skills for almost a decade. Last year, the Palm Valley City Commission chose her design to represent the City of Palm Valley with a new official logo. Her heart is in the creative aspect of things, and you can see the passion that translates into each beautiful invitation, business card, and website. She soon realized that when starting a business, you can’t accommodate every request, and sometimes you just have to say “no” to projects. Rather than trying to have do everything, having a clear focus on relevant services will help you to continue to enjoy what you do and better serve your customer base.
- People won’t come to you. PERSISTENCY is key.
There are many ways to get your name out there including collaboration, reaching out to people online, or by word-of mouth. It likely takes a variety of things to help you grow, but most importantly, you must be persistent. Looking back on their beginnings,Wilbanks said some people said “no” because it wasn’t their main priority, “so we had to keep looking for those that said yes.”
- Be willing to LEARN everything else (or else).
When thinking about their day-to-day activities, many entrepreneurs start out with expectations that may or may not be correct. Coming from a background in sales, Wilbanks expected his focus to be in that department; however, he quickly realized that leading a company entailed so much more. “It wasn’t just going to be things I had experience in,” he said. “It was going to be learning a lot of new things. It has just been a constant state of learning the whole time.”
Elliff, who loves being creative, said she learned that she is also not “just a designer” anymore, adding, “I am a bookkeeper, secretary, manager, customer service representative, assistant, and more.” Want to start a business? Get ready to do it all.
- Find your SUPPORT network.
Both Elliff and Wilbanks shared that a having a support system can make or break your business. Above all, Wilbanks suggested finding great mentors and advisers to keep you on the right track. Joining a business accelerator program could be a good option, or you can just ask people for advice. Wilbanks said there is a wealth of knowledge out there. Even those who you might never expect to give their time are often willing to share what they know. “Sometimes starting a business can feel very lonely, but that is totally wrong. There are so many people who are willing to help,” Wilbanks said. “There is such a great community.”
Entrepreneurship takes a special kind of person, but people try to do it every day. Starting a business takes focus, commitment, and depending on who you ask, maybe even a measure of luck. If you’re successful, you will likely find strengths you never knew you had, and you will definitely learn. You will learn a lot. You will learn the ins and outs that make a business take off and keep on running. You will learn how to do everything from the books to cleaning the bathrooms. At some point, you will learn how to delegate, or you will end up in over your head and missing out on the potential to harness the strengths of others. Will it be challenging? Definitely. Will it be successful? Maybe. Just think about it this way — it could be one of the best decisions you will ever make, and if it doesn’t end up being all that you hoped, you still learned a lot from it. Even if you have failed before, don’t let it stop you. Statistics show that even if you fail, you are more likely to be successful the second time around than if you had never tried at all. If you’ve been thinking about starting a business, get prepared, get out there, and give it a try.