I was writing a post called with this same title and just recently added "with some crying mixed in" after certain events that have happened in the past 2 1/2 weeks. This is my advice to all the aspiring small business owners out there. Education : When I look back on the history of walk in love. and Brooke Courtney Photography (the two buisnesses my wife and I own) this is the step that I really wish I would have used more. If you are out there thinking that "all you need is a website or a camera" and then I will make tons of money you couldn't be more wrong. Those two things will help you make money but they are not the answer to the question "How do I get started?"
The answer to that questions is education. I don't mean go and get a business degree or anyhing like that. I don't have a business degree. It just means that before you take the plunge into the small business world make sure you are educated on your field of interest. When I started selling shirts I started with these terrible Gildan shirts that were so ugly and uncomfortable. I just wanted to sell shirts so it's the first one I picked out. Looking back I wish I would have educated myself on the styles, builds and brands of blank shirts out there. Instead I jumped in thinking "it's just a t-shirt." So often I see friends and other aspiring small business owners skip this education step thinking, "if they can do it so can I." If you educate yourself on what you want to do, whether it's photography, design, clothing or selling sports memorabilia you are instantly giving yourself a leg up on all the people who are just starting with no thought at all. I wish I could go back sometimes and start walk in love. with more education.
Also, ask for help! There is so much knowledge at our fingertips with the internet and there are so many good business men and women out there that are willing to share their story with you. Brooke and I decided very early on that we weren't going to hoard our secrets. We love helping aspiring business owners grow and mature with what we've learned over the years (mostly from mistakes.) Also if you are really serious about going into business for yourself read the book "Crush it" by Gary Vaynerkchuk
Execution: After you are done educating your pants off you better bring it. Owning, running and growing a small business takes execution. Don't expect to open the web store or launch your website and watch your bank account rise without doing anything. Get ready to work and work hard. I get so tired of people expecting everything without doing anything. As I grow in business I am finding that the most important place to execute is in giving your clients the best experience out there. When people come into the store I want them to feel welcomed and appreciated. I want our employees to smile, joke with and make every customer feel welcomed. I also tell them in the same breathe not to be creepers and to just let the customers shop. With photography I want our clients to feel comfortable and happy during our sessions. I want to be able to bring the stress down of a wedding day and not add to it. I am so often sickened by poor customer service to the point where I will not shop in certain places. Give your customers the greatest experience and you will create brand loyalty and word of mouth advertising, both of which cannot be bought. I am just highlighting customer services, but execution is crucial in every part of your business, but they all have their roots in giving your customers the best experience out there!
Dedication: For the first time in my life I had the thought "I wish I didn't own walk in love." For the context of this I will backtrack about 5 months.
When Brooke and I were looking into an inline store at the mall we spoke to the women that we've dealt with in the past concerning the kiosk. We knew the space we wanted and we started working out the details. Now when you are a small independent store in a mall with larger chains you don't get the same deals that they do, mostly because malls want the big brands over the little guys, which is understandable because they do so much more revenue. Anyway, our store space was leased to us a temporary tenant, which means that we have a year lease but if a permanent tenant (5 year lease/big brand name) wants the space we will be relocated. So there was risk when taking the space we did but we felt pretty secure because the mall assured us that no one was interested and the space had basically been vacant for 2 years. We felt safe taking the risk and investing money into the space. It was either take the risk or not open a store at all because we didn't have enough sales history to become a permanent tenant right off the bat.
About 2 weeks ago I received a call from the mall manager telling me that there was a permanent tenant interested in the space and it looked like we were going to have to be relocated.
It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach as hard as they could. I felt sick. I felt like my legs had been kicked out from under me and I was falling. It was one of the worst conversations I have ever been a part of. I thought about all the time and energy we had invested in the spot we had. I thought about the fact that we would have to do that again at our new location. I thought about the investment that I would lose. Brooke and I thought we would go under before we were moved. It didn't even feel like a possibility while we were working out the details of the lease. I knew it was in there but it just felt like it wasn't possible. Like I know people get hit by lightning but I don't go around worrying about getting hit while I am outside. I felt like I was losing so much. I felt betrayed by the mall. I was mad, I was angry. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I was at the last day of my sisters school with the smilebooth in a room that was about to be full of screaming, excited 5th graders so I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy the event.
The event ended and I checked my e-mail. I had an e-mail from my contractor for the store saying that he couldn't do a payment plan and I needed to pay him the remaining balance of my bill as soon as possible. All those feelings I tried to fight off during the event came crashing down.
I felt horrible so I went to my parents house. If my mom and dad weren't the people they are I can't even imagine where I would have ended up in life. Having the two people who raise you tell you that they believe in you is the ultimate pick me up. So the past two weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions. The deal wasn't done and the move wasn't official so we were hoping and praying that we could stay in our spot and finish out our lease, so I tried to just continue on with business as usual. We put up new window displays and photos (that are totally awesome). I told the employees and some close friends about the situation and that we might have to move so they weren't caught as off guard as I was. One of the mall employees showed us the vacant spaces in the mall that we could potentially move to. It felt like I was in the waiting room, with the store sitting on lap.
I hate waiting for things. I am very impatient and the past two weeks have been so painful for me not knowing whether we are moving or staying or where we are moving to. So many questions that I didn't have answer to. I just wanted to control something and I couldn't.
Fast forward to today and a meeting I had with some of the park city staff.
"The deal is about to go through."-mall manager
"When will I have to move"-me
"As soon as they sign their lease we will give you a 30 day notice."-mall manager
And my thought "I wish I didn't own walk in love." slipped into my mind for the first time in the past 6 years. It felt wrong. It came and went and my mind immediately went to this post that I had been working on in my head called "Education, Execution and Dedication" Something I had been thinking about before I even found out that we had to move. Dedication is sometimes the hardest part of anything. It's the hardest part of my faith, my excercise routine, my diet, my relationships and my business.
When it is raining crap from the sky on your business life, will you be dedicated to it? Will you see it through? I am at that cross-roads today. Dedication can be summarized as the giving of oneself to some purpose. So for you future or potential small business owners out there make sure you are dedicated because at some point you are going to be pushed to the breaking point. I could throw in the towel, retreat from the store, sell everything online but I am dedicated to being in that mall, to growing walk in love. and to spreading the love of God through our shirts.
Even if you don't own a business or never plan to ask yourself if you are dedicated to your purpose? Even when it's raining crap.