It’s been over a year since I was invited to speak at the Kent State Entrepreneurs club and later this month will mark the one year anniversary of opening Popped! When the CEO club invited me to speak last year it was shortly before I opened the doors so I had little advice to offer them other than what I thought had gotten me to the brink of opening a business. I offered up only two pieces of advice:
- Talk. Start talking about what you want to do and let people know you're serious.
- Write. Write letters, emails, blog posts whatever you need to write that answers questions and introduces you to people with the knowledge that you need to start something.
When I was asked to return this fall to talk about my first year in business I wanted to offer something a little meatier, a candid picture of what owning and operating a business is like. This time I had three pieces of advice for future entrepreneurs.
- Stay Positive- Try not to spiral into self doubt and insecurity. This sounds so easy and obvious, but it's not. I told them not to listen to anything anyone says for at least three months. It took about three months for people to get over the "newness" of Acorn Alley and not look at Popped! and all of Acorn Alley as some pipe dream or ambitious experiment. When it's slow, or you're feeling queasy, look back on the business plan that you fell in love with and follow it. It takes awhile for customers to find you, explore your idea, and like it enough to come back. So stay positive, be patient and don't listen to the criticism that's born out of unfamiliarity. It takes people a little while to get used to something new- share your enthusiasm for what your doing and soon enough they'll be sharing it with others too.
- Stay Focused- A while back I wrote a post about highs and lows involved in business. I should have added that while being tossed about like a cork it’s important to lock your eyes on the horizon and stay on the course of your vision. I never wanted to do candy colored, artificial flavored popcorn- it's just not my thing. There are plenty of other shops that specialize in that, but I just wanted to make my own recipes. Early on, at least once a week customers came in looking for cotton candy, or grape, or strawberry flavored popcorn. I received phone calls for colored popcorn to match wedding dresses or birthday themes, but I turned them all down. It's not my thing. You can't do everything and be everything in any business. I decided to cherry pick and build a business around what I cared about most. Even disappointed customers should appreciate the honesty that it takes to say "No, sorry. I can't do that."
- This is probably the most important of all the advice I've ever given. Lean into hard work- Hard work is a necessary ingredient in any successful endeavor. It’ll beat you up, intimidate you and overwhelm you. I think it’s best to just put your head down and lean into it. You'll succeed by working harder, staying up later and getting it done. This year I missed two family reunions, parties, family birthdays (even my own), lunches and dinners, my anniversary, concerts, everything on TV and every movie, and almost an entire Christmas season. I’ve had big orders that kept me in the shop past two in the morning. I’ve gone to sleep in the clothes I wore all day- and then I got up and did it all over again.
I don't think I've ever worked as hard or pushed myself so far as I have in this past year and I've never been more happy. Creating a business and watching it grow into a something bigger than I had dreamt it could be is exhilarating. I've learned more about what I didn't know than I thought I could. I also have a new appreciation for anyone who puts their neck out and tries something. The Kent State students I spoke with all had plans for future businesses, I want to wish them all the best of luck and thank them for inviting me to speak.