In 2007, I graduated from college in Washington, DC and moved to New York City, in pursuit of finding my "ultimate career." I had always wanted to move to a big city, and because I grew up in the state of New York (Rochester, about 5 hours away from the actual city), I knew that NYC was the best choice due to its proximity and the glamour I had always associated it with.
Fast forward a year later, and the walls of the financial markets in New York were crumbling, with many of my peers losing their jobs left and right. Because I was so young and the newest member of the department I worked in, I never thought I would lose my job (probably that "bullet-proof" mentality that so many young people have), and fortunately I didn't, but our working hours slowed waaaaaayyyy down, and suddenly, new projects stopped coming in.
At 23, I was devastated. I imagined myself working long hours and helping to create new, exciting projects for my team. I knew that I was young and I was excited to learn new skills and help foster the creative growth of the team I worked on.
Unfortunately, it was exactly the opposite of that. Our team worked to do what was necessary, but due to the economy, that was the extent of our responsibility.
In response to that, I started surfing the internet a lot (GChat had JUST become a thing and I spent lots of my day sharing links with my friends to cool businesses and blogs that I found online). I noticed that people were starting their own blogs every day and I loved reading them.
I read blogs and other people's newsletters for YEARS before I thought about starting my own business. But I knew, eventually, that was what I wanted to do. I call those four years from blog reading to business starting the "incubation years."
If I could go back to my blog-reading self, I would have encouraged her to start earlier because just imagine what could have happened if I started 8 years ago instead of 5. Below are some other things I would have mentioned.
1. You won't get it right straight out of the gate.
A very little known fact is that my very first business was called "Lauren Caselli, Copywriting and Content Strategist." (To this day, there's STILL someone in town who introduces me as the person who writes website copy. Goes to show you that with some people, you only have one chance). I really enjoy writing, but it's a pretty solitary profession and it used to take me days to get inspired by a client. Today, a lot of my work is really client facing and project management based, which suits my personality, but it was important for me to start somewhere to decide where I wanted to be.
Truth be told, I love events and strategic planning, but I'm already seeing a shift in my business again, which means maybe fewer 1:1 engagements, but I wouldn't have gotten here without first being "Lauren Caselli Copywriting and Content Strategist."
2. Focus more on what's important and stick with that.
Remember that guy from above who STILL doesn't know what my business is? That used to happen A LOT. I would introduce myself as an Event Planner for strategic companies, and then, minutes later, the person who turn around and introduce me as "The Writer for Companies." My old business haunted me for a lot longer than I'd have liked it to, however, it taught me the importance of really focusing on ONE thing in order for people to understand how to recommend and connect me.
Pro Tip: People want to label you and, although it may be annoying, it helps them connect you to possible clients and vendors. Resist the urge to be everything to everybody unless you're willing to stick to the "everything to everybody" label for a long time (see: Townsend Collective, who runs three businesses and is now known for all three).
3. Don't expect to "figure it out".
If I had a nickel for every time I told myself "when I figure out this business thing is when I'll go on vacation/book a massage/save for retirement/invest in my personal growth", I'd be retired on a beach somewhere.
I had said in my recent newsletter (ps, if you're not on the list, you can join here), I recently hit a ton of personal goals and part of me was expecting to look around and be done once I hit those goals. But I wasn't done. It's just the iterative process of me constantly redefining what's fun and exciting, what I want to learn, and how I want to show up in the world.
I'm finding that I want to write more and share more content and for YEARS I struggled with this. Now I'm in a place of flow and part of me wishes I would have just told myself years ago "Just wait until 2017, and it will be easier."
4. Reach out more
In the beginning, I was really scared of reaching out, and so I would read other people's blogs, listen to podcasts, and try to pretend I was an expert at business running. It didn't even occur to me to ask other people starting businesses for help or to share their stories with me, because I was so afraid of feeling "found out" (aka like they wouldn't think I knew what I was doing).
It wasn't until 2015 when I started asking people to have coffee with me to find out their best advice did I start to notice how much stronger my business sense became and how much more confident I became in my own skills. If I had stopped pretending that I knew everything in the beginning, it wouldn't have taken me two years to realize how much I actually knew.
5. Lead more (even when I felt like a fake)
I've had this conversation recently and the consensus is this:
Getting shit done is really just telling everyone you're doing it and then giving yourself a deadline to do it by.
I get lots of emails that come into my business website from people who ask "How do I throw an event? What's the first step?"
The first step is deciding to host it, then saying loud and proud that you're hosting it. Don't focus on how many people are coming, don't worry about your marketing plan -- just take the damn initiative and do it.
Leading is all about believing that you know how to do something. Most people, given the choice, would rather watch Netflix on their couch. Most people would rather attend a cool event. Most people would rather have all the hard work done for them.
Be the person that does the hard work, and that's how you'll grow your business.
6. Work on practicing mindset (even if it feels mumbo jumbo)
When I started my business, I definitely tended more toward the spirituality side of things (aka I loved setting mantras and goals and doing shit like writing myself a $10,000 check to make me feel rich).
After a few months of that, it didn't really make a huge difference, so I now attempt to focus practically and rationally on building a business using numbers combined with instinct.
However, one thing I WOULD have encouraged myself to do is to surround myself who were about 3-4 years older than me in business, so that I could have observed what they were doing.
The term "mindset" gets a little overblown and is confusing sometimes. Usually, when people talk about mindset, they envision sitting down and meditating and deciding that they're going to make a million dollars.
While that can be a part of it, I like to describe mindset as
"Surrounding yourself with people who you want to be like, so that you can prove to yourself that it can be done."
It's so difficult sometimes when you're running a business to find credible people who are transparent about their own journeys, about how they make money, about what they struggle with, and how they manage to juggle all of it.
But the biggest indicator of success is believing you can do it, and if you see someone else doing it sort of like you want to do it, that belief muscle grows stronger and stronger.
7. It will take you longer than you think.
I set the same income goal for 2014 and 2015, and I FINALLY hit it at the tail end of last year. I was relieved AF, which made this year's income goal a breeze to set and crush. However, the first goal I set took me THREE WHOLE YEARS to hit, and it felt excruciating. Looking back, I could have easily told myself how I to hit that goal sooner and with less effort, but sometimes, running a business is all about going forth with your own pace so that you can get to the place you want to be in the right time.
If we did it all in Year 1, then what else would be left? Keep going, keep going, keep going.
8. You'll never arrive.
There's no arriving. Like I mentioned above, I was waiting for the day when I could sell my business and...well, I never thought about the "and."
Recently, I realized that starting a business or embarking upon your leadership journey isn't about getting somewhere, because there's always somewhere else to get. If there was one thing I could do differently, I'd tell myself that this....THIS...is the important part. The learning, the goal-setting, the collaborating, and the constant learning about who I am, what my strengths are, and how I can bolster my weaknesses.
Have you been in business for a few years? What's one thing you would have told your newfound entrepreneurial self way back at the beginning? I probably should have told myself to see my accountant sooner rather than later, too.