While entrepreneur and Collective Hub founder Lisa Messenger might now lead a global media company with staff located from New York to Singapore, it wasn’t too long ago she was struggling to pay herself and went to the second-hand store to buy office cups. She shares her top tips for personal business survival and breakthrough in those very early days.
Ten years ago if you’d told me I’d be hitting reprint on my seventh book, before it had even officially hit the stands, I’d have called you crazy. Before it even launched in stores. Ridiculous. Truth be told, the fact that the first shipment of my most recent book sold so quickly had me pinching myself because there was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when I’d sell three books in a month – and that was cause for celebration. Those were the days of long hours, hard days, sleepless nights, knockbacks, cold-calling and countless mistakes (gotta love ‘em), and it took every ounce of my mettle to get through.
If you’re in the very early stages of your business – or perhaps just dipping your toe in with a creative personal passion and aren’t even calling yourself a business yet, here are five tips for succeeding (and surviving) in the first few stages of business.
1) Believe that you can do anything – because you almost can
When everything goes wrong or you simply aren’t getting any traction, you will question what you’re doing and ultimately, you’ll question yourself. You need to be on the front foot with this because doubt catches you when you’re down, usually without much capacity to pick yourself back up again. So build your own bank of self-belief to cope on the bad days. We are surrounded by decibels of external noise, of people offering well-intended advice and opinions on what to do and when, or how not to be and why. You need to discern which advice is smart and relevant enough to take on board from the stuff that needs to pass on by. It might be an email from a friend that spurs you on, the feeling you get when you finish a project and know you’ve completely nailed it, or the moment you step back to acknowledge you handled a situation well, and have learned from poorer attempts in the past. These are small moments of validation that get stored in your self-belief bank, ready for you to draw upon when you feel your own supply dwindling.
2) Fear less (or not at all)
Fear in business is commonplace – there’s fear of failure and often the even bigger, and sometimes unconscious, fear of success. There’s also the fear of rapid growth (or not enough), worries that we won’t have the cash to pay the bills; that our suppliers will fall through; that our products will turn up faulty… The brain is a truly powerful thing and if we let it, we can get caught up in fear until it paralyses us. But if that’s the case, then surely we can ‘think’ and ‘project’ the opposite. I have always loved this quote from Brené Brown, who once told Oprah, “We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean we can’t also be brave.” The entrepreneur who can handle fear (with a healthy respect for any actual danger in any given situation) will end up with the competitive edge.
3) You’re going to fail, so you may as well get it over and done with
Who wants to fail, right? You. A lot (trust me). Because it makes you stronger, teaches you loads and propels you forward – exactly where you want to be. And while there are setbacks, they do just that – they set you back a bit and then you get going again, back on the path to awesomeness. But if you’re going to fail, then do it well – fast and with minimum risk. If I feel an idea has wings, I generally scribble out a few pages – literally back-of-the-envelope stuff – and share it with potential customers. If I get a bite, I start to make more concrete plans. If I discover that no one is interested, then I knock it on the head, moving on to something else. It’s a way to tackle new ideas and provides the opportunity to ‘fail’ before the situation becomes colossal.
4) You can’t do it all, but someone else can
I’m a big picture kind of person who is terrible when it comes to detail, so I learned very early on in my business journey that I needed to hire people who have impeccable attention to detail. Makes sense, right? And it was a very valuable lesson for every other area of my business as it grew (and for you, because your business will grow too, perhaps faster than you think). In the early days of your business, we’re not necessarily talking full-time staff members or even part-timers, but it could be a virtual assistant, or an intern (I had plenty in the early days), a graphic designer or a bookkeeper who you get to balance the books for a couple of hours each month. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you do have to do everything yourself. Be true to your creative self and create – leave the other bits to others (and increasingly as you can afford it).
5) Pay yourself a wage, today!
First and foremost, pay yourself. Even if it’s just $50 a week at first. It’s important to realise the value of your time and intellectual property, and symbolic value of your belief in yourself as a creator… It’s so easy to put ourselves last when we are leading a company, but set the tone early in your business – start how you want to finish. And nurture your creativity, and business, by investing in personal development. Take yourself out for coffee every now and then, attend courses and networking events. I’ll never forget writing a cheque for $1200 in my very early days of business when I really had no secure income, to attend a conference. But, whoa, was it worth it. In addition to the hundreds of tangible learnings – really meaty ones that I could take home straightaway and implement – the conference threw me into a room with smart, innovative people. It lifted me. It challenged me. But also, it gave me clients – and I wasn’t expecting that kind of windfall from the conference. Suddenly, my publishing company was firing, and that became the foundation of everything I do now. So with that in mind, I’ll be forever indebted to that single conference ticket.
For more inspiration to get your creative business moving, visit Etsy Resolution and make a change.
To hear from from Lisa Messenger on a monthly basis, subscribe to The Collective.