Sustainability needs lots of entrepreneurs. It needs outside-the-box thinkers and doers to help us find new ways of producing, consuming and being of service to each other. I’ll bet that you, yourself, have a talent or idea you’ve fantasized about making a living at.
I spent 1992 to 2004 as a small business owner, designing and selling journals and cards to natural food stores nationwide, including many Whole Foods accounts. Wildflowers and mythological figures were my best-selling designs, and handmade paper from recycled materials was my art-medium. Sometimes I felt joy and fierce vitality over being creatively self-employed, and sometimes I despaired over the financial difficulties involved. At all times, I would have benefited from the following five tips. (I’ll post Part II with the other five tips later this week.)
Find and use mentors who are truly qualified to advise you. Who is profitably doing what you want to do for a living? (The fact they are doing it does not necessarily indicate profit.) Ask them probing questions about their business and their lessons-learned, and take their answers seriously, even if the truth is not what you want to hear.
Devote yourself to sales and marketing, get someone else to do it – or let go of being in business. This is a hard one for many. The entrepreneur may be passionate about the content of the business (the product or service itself), and see getting people to buy it as a separate topic, or even a pesky intrusion to the passion. The reality is the opposite: sales are your make-or-break. If you can’t embrace that, you have a hobby, not a business.
Don’t imagine you’re available for starting a new relationship. If you’re already in a stable marriage or other relationship, it will be tested by your emerging business, but may stay intact. If you are trying to start a new business and new relationship at the same time, they will almost surely sabotage each other. I suggest these worthy activities belong at different times in a person’s life.
Don’t expect family members or friends to help finance your enterprise. This is your venture, not theirs, and nobody is obligated to share in your risk. Loans are better characterized as gifts, because repayment is statistically unlikely, and failure to repay can ruin trust and goodwill. (A viable exception to this rule may be family members who join or expand each others’ existing legal or medical practices.)
Be willing to be self-employed part-time. At the least, don’t expect to make a living in the first two years of your business. My friend Libby built her therapy practice little by little as she worked full-time at a public agency. A year later, she was doing both half-time, and a year after that her practice was a thriving, full-time concern and the agency job a distant memory. She never had to go into debt to be self-employed.
The bottom line is that the human spirit is creative, and being an entrepreneur is a creative endeavor that demands ruthless practicality at the same time. At its best, it can find solutions to the world’s problems in ways that nothing else can. Read on for Part II of Top Ten Tips For Entrpreneurs.