Over the next four weeks, we’re going to be posting a special business how-to series with , a platform where creative entrepreneurs and small business owners can easily create beautiful and powerful websites and online stores. This series is inspired by all of the incredible makers, artists and business owners we’ve gotten to interview and learn from over the past 14 years. Between the hundreds of entrepreneurs we’ve spoken with for In the Company of Women, our new magazine Good Company, and all of the incredible people we’ve talked with for our Life & Business series, we’ve been able to cull some serious wisdom, life and work lessons and great reader feedback on the major topics and stumbling blocks people face when turning a dream idea into a real business. So we’re going to be breaking down our advice, along with stories from online business owners, into four posts (complete with homework assignments to get you started!) covering: inspiration, what to know before you start, how to tell your story, and what to do once you’re live.
Today we’re starting a the beginning: finding inspiration to take that first step.
Thanks to the revival of DIY culture, craft businesses, and the rising support for artisans and makers, more and more independent businesses are popping up across the globe. But as of 2017, only . While that’s a good place to start, we want to see more people follow their dreams into entrepreneurship (either full- or part-time) and we particularly want to lift up and support women in that process. So today we’re going to talk about some of the tools and techniques to turn those ideas you’ve had kicking around in the back of your mind into real life businesses online — whether that business is a full time or part-time project or one of many side “jobbies” that you pursue. –Grace
What are some of our community’s biggest fears about starting a business?
Over the past 14 years of interviewing small business owners, I’ve come across two fears that seem to be the most universal: Can I really make a living (and enough money to pay my bills) doing this? And can I find a way to still balance my personal life and running a business?
To get some perspective on these issues and how people have worked to overcome them, I reached out to customer and . She lives and works in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places to live, work and find studio space. I asked her what her biggest fears were when thinking about starting her own business. She said:
My biggest fear was, ‘Am I going to be able to pay my bills and live a good life? Is this really gonna work?’
“I think anyone that starts a business feels this basic fear. I live in San Francisco so rent is a huge part of life and [I have to] compete with the tech industry in order to survive in this city,” she clarified. And that fear was one that I’ve heard echoed over and over again — and with good reason. Starting a small business isn’t just a huge financial commitment, it’s also a huge commitment in terms of time and resources. So I asked what she did to push past those fears and hurdles.
“Whenever I felt fear taking over my body, I took immediate action. I pushed harder. Even if I felt badly emotionally [because of] fear, I kept going and did all things that needed to get done, while still holding the [fear] and it eventually subsided.” That sort of perseverance is a quality that almost every small business owner I’ve ever interviewed has mentioned. It is an essential part of being your own cheerleader, therapist, boss and employee: you are the primary person that will be helping yourself through your toughest spots.
said, “At first, I just was so afraid of being able to make ends meet when I opened my studio. I would work, then get a little ahead, invest a little, and then work harder and invest a little more. It’s about trying to get yourself in the right place at the right time to get that next step going for the business. And then one day, my studio was built, pottery was being made, and students were rolling through the doors and bills were being paid.”
What Tools and Techniques Get You Through Fears?
Some people are born knowing how to persevere and be their own boss, but a lot of us have to learn how to do that along the way. And it helps to have some tools and tricks to get yourself there. I asked what her tools were and she said that she learned how to push through hard times by focusing on small things, one at a time.
“During hard times, I stay hyper-focused on the next small step. Even if it’s the smallest thing like putting on my socks, writing one email or making a difficult phone call. I didn’t know or understand how all the things that needed to get done to be ‘successful’ were going to get done, so I just focused on the six inches in front of my feet. Learning to push myself through small accomplishments each day kept my momentum up to get me through to better days.”
It’s not always easy or painless, but taking the time to cut your to-do list down to tiny items and focus on the feeling of accomplishment that comes from them is a great way to overcome the larger fear that comes with worrying about money, time and getting your business started.
I think one of the most important things you can do to find inspiration to overcome fear and start any new business is to physically visualize what you want that business to look like. How do you do that? Vision boards!
I make a vision board every year for work and any additional projects we’re doing and I find they help me really clarify not just the aesthetics of that project, but the overall mood and goal.
Here’s how I make mine. The process is simple, fun and lets you turn off your worries for a minute and focus on all the things that make you excited about starting a business. Whether you’re envisioning uniforms for your team, the way your office will look or what your logos and products look like, taking this first step to turn your idea into a real life vision is crucial in taking that first step toward launching your new business.
Building a Mentor Group
Once you’ve created a vision board and worked on creating small tasks you can accomplish to help yourself push through fears, it’s time to work on building a mentor group that can support you in these early stages of business.
A mentor group can look like anything you want it to: a group of remote friends you talk with over Skype, a few trusted business owners in your neighborhood you meet with for coffee, or people you feel comfortable just emailing with now and then.
Building this group is so important because these are the people you can talk to, turn toward and trust for advice, support and wisdom while you’re getting your feet wet as a new business owner.
Too often the word “mentor” conjures up visions of famous people who are decades into their careers, but a mentor group can absolutely be comprised of people who are still new in their work, closer to your age and easier to access in terms of frequent communication. The best place to start is to make a list of people you respect and admire in your friend group who run their own businesses (it doesn’t have to be the same thing you want to do/field!) and reach out to them to see if they’re interested in building a mutual support system. Getting these supports in place before you launch is a great way to set yourself up for success and longterm motivation, which is necessary for a business that can stand the test of time.
Play in the Sand Box
Now that you have a physical representation of what you’d like your business to look like and a group of allies to support you along your journey, it might be a good time to literally play around in an environment that you may eventually use to create your online presence. The key word here is play! This exercise is all about having fun exploring fonts, layouts and even words that align with your vision board and your conversations with your support system. Seeing memorable phrases or advice from this post on a screen can be a powerful way to keep the momentum going. This is not about learning how to create a website, but about trying different ways to cement positive messages and images in a format that at some point in the future will welcome customers to your world. Take advantage of platforms like that offer free trials and easy-to-use interfaces that can help you create an on-screen version of what your business could look like. Even though you’re just “playing,” you’ll probably pick up some knowledge that will come in handy down the road.
Image above: The available on Weebly
Homework to get started!
So now that you’re ready to start thinking about your new business, here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re home and have some time to focus. Don’t think of it as homework you “have” to do, but rather a fun exercise to get you in the right headspace to start making plans for your very first business idea. You can download the sheet right here or just follow the questions below!
I’ll be back next week to help you through the next step: what to prepare before you go live with your business. We’ll talk legal and financial ducks to get in a row and have advice from experts who can help you set things up in a way that best prepares your business for success!
1. What are your biggest fears when you think about turning your ideas into a real business?
2. What are some books, resources or people you can talk to who have worked through those fears? List at least 2 (here are !) and work on reaching out to those people or looking through articles or books that can help you better understand ways to process those particular concerns. (Don’t forget libraries are great and affordable ways to access business books and advice!)
3. What are some small steps you can take to help your business start to feel real? Can you brainstorm a list of business names? Logo ideas? Create a mood board of packaging ideas you like? Pick at least two small tasks, write them down and finish them this week so you can feel the wheels start to move forward.
4. Create your business vision board! Whether you use a Pinterest board or a real-life board (I always prefer a real-life board you can hang in a place where you’ll see it every day), start collecting images, sayings and text that make you feel motivated and remind you of parts of the business you’d like to run. There are NO RULES in brainstorming! Anything that grabs your eye is fair game — you may come up with ideas and angles you hadn’t thought of before. When you’re done, place your vision board somewhere you will see it every day!
5. Make a list of 6 people you admire that you would feel comfortable reaching out to about being part of mutual support/mentor system. Think realistically about people who you have at least one personal connection to and who might have time to meet with you once a month (or email) to talk and run through ideas and concerns. Contact at least two people on this list to get started! It’s okay if they don’t have time — keep working through your list until you find at least one person who is open to the idea of creating a support system you can both benefit from!
6. Hop over to and play around with a website for free. Test out different fonts, colors, and layouts using takeaways from your vision board or motivating words or phrases from conversations with your support group. Remember you’re there to play, not build your perfect final website.
Once you’ve finished this, you’ll be ready for next week’s post on legal, financial and business structure steps to take to get your business off the ground. Good luck — you can do it! xo
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